Specialist vs. Integrated Agencies Discussion

Specialist vs. Integrated Agencies Discussion

When I was a kid, I was a guy at DC Comics. This means that I loved Superman. He was the original superhero who had it all: super strength, x-rays and thermal vision, immunity, super hearing, and frozen breathing. It was also faster than a speeding bullet. This is very fast.

Then DC invented The Flash, “The Fastest Man Alive”. Since then, comics buffs have debated the eternal question, “Who is faster?” Superman and The Flash finally had a race to settle the issue in 1967, but it ended in a draw. The pair have run eight more races in the comics over the years. In the end, Flash started winning them over.

DC apparently decided that was best for its lineup of superhero brands. After all, what’s the point of a flash if another superhero runs faster – and does everything else better, too?

The same is the case with public relations and marketing agencies. Our tendency is to expect the specialist to be better than the specialist.

Discussion of the specialist vs. the general specialist

A major in marketing is a natural differentiating factor. That’s why agencies that provide multiple services must overcome this belief by creating synergies that make merger a better option.

A well-managed integrated agency has some inherent advantages over specialized firms.

For example, if you’re a CEO and you hire separate agencies for PR, social media, website design, brand strategy, SEO, and content marketing (to name a few), those are six different bills to be paid each month. It’s also six different times that I have to repeat myself whenever a company’s strategy changes, a big announcement comes out, or I just want to keep everyone updated. Any thing.

I also have to deal with the fact that everything in digital marketing is inextricably linked today. Is it possible to separate content from SEO or social media from media relations? Not effectively.

And good luck in getting a consistent sound for the brand with so many trumpets. It just doesn’t work.

Partner to achieve big goals

Having one strong agency partner can also help a brand stay on track with its program.

Oftentimes, a client comes to us with big goals. CMO has been given direction from above to do any number of things – create awareness, increase site traffic, and improve the sales funnel. We started a program for them and in the first few months, that’s what we’re working towards.

But then other things start competing for CMO’s attention. Someone in the sales is asking for a new warranty piece. Or the sales group must be redesigned. Or they need a new page to be added to the site. Slowly this unique focus on strategic goals is fading away. The urgent trumps the important.

It’s understandable. As a marketer, your table gets crowded. Roll your eyes. Or, guidance from one leader begins to compete with guidance from another.

When this happens with my agency’s clients, we consider it our job to redirect the focus back to those original strategic goals. This only works when you have one strong agency partner who, like you, can see the big picture and step in to help.

Back up the promise of integration

All this represents a very good case of integration. Of course, a major consideration for brands, as well as for the agencies they serve, is how best to implement an integrated strategy. Silos can make working across disciplines toward common goals difficult. This is true for both agencies and corporate marketing departments.

If you are a brand seeking the assistance of an agency, make sure the agency is organized to make cross-functional collaboration seamless. Every team member working for your brand – across PR, content, social media, design, and strategy – must speak with one voice on your behalf.

If you are an agency that wants to break down barriers to deliver the benefits of integration to clients, the first step is to start organizing around solutions rather than capabilities. For some agencies, this may require major changes in your organizational chart – for others, just a change in the way you think.

JACK of all trades can be a master too

The saying goes, “Jack of all trades, is not a master of anything.”

This form of speech is said to have been first used by Robert Greene, a sixteenth-century English playwright, in a pamphlet of 1592 banishing a new playwright on the scene for being not only a writer but an actor.

That conceited playwright name? William Shakespeare.

A specialist does not necessarily have to be inferior to a specialist in any particular discipline. Factor in the synergies of integration and a specialized agency can make a compelling case for your business.

And by the way, I still think Superman is faster than The Flash – no matter what DC says.


Scott Paradel is CEO of Idea Grove, a consolidated public relations and marketing agency, and editor of the online publication Trust Signals.

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