Should you use a Full Service or Specialty Agency?

What is a Full Service Marketing Agency?

We are a Full Service Marketing Agency …

What does that even mean? Typically it means that they are your central point of contact who can provide services in traditional and digital environments, while additionally providing the production elements either through in-house or existing relationships with vendors.

In English?

It means they do traditional advertising, catalogs, digital, direct mail, video, photography and in some cases actual print services and media placements. It means you don’t have to manage multiple agency relationships.

Is Full Service Better? Is it even Real?

No. Well, it can be, if your agency knows what it doesn’t know. But for the most part, it’s not unlike a primary care physician, coordinating your care. The problems arise when the full service agency doesn’t send you or your needs to specialists.

But Don’t Full Service Agencies have Specialists on Staff?

Not in this economy, unless they’re a huge conglomerate, which even then means you aren’t getting the full service attention to your needs.

Chances are a full service agency has a number of marketing generalists, and may even have a few marketing strategists on hand. Ideally the strategists would be your main resource, with an Account Executive, to discover and develop the path to success for your company, brand and needs. Then that plan, that strategy, can be used to follow up with the individual tactics, but by experts in those fields.

So The Strategy is the Heart of it all?

The marketing strategy is a framework to build on. A Strategist will identify the platforms and targeted audiences, and generally identify the calendars, themes, voices and recommended required elements. But then the specialists, working closely with the strategist, will dive deeper and make their specific expert calls on the details, implementations and approaches.

A Search Specialist will take the audience, themes, voice and tone and dive into where the audience can be reached best, what budgets, what landing pages, what segmentations are best suited to meet the goals. Working with designers and copywriters, the content will be written specifically for those audiences, not for the search optimizations, but the individuals themselves, in their language, to get the responses.

Similarly, a Creative Director will work with the strategist to take the recommendations and initial direction, and create the concepts that align with the goals.

It is important to remember that Marketing Strategists are not search specialists, they are not creative directors or designers, they are not copywriters, they are not media buyers. Granted, many have backgrounds, skills and expertise in these areas, and it’s the varied exposure and background to these that makes a strategist great, but a strategist develops the plan, the guide, the specialists, who have the talent, the visions, the analytics, their own dedicated experiences and trend following, to implement the tactics and approaches recommended.

When are True Specialists Needed?

Full service agencies typically do not have high end predictive modeling algorithms or PhD search analysists on staff. They also do not likely have on staff medical and pharmaceutical writers. Chances are their media buying capabilities is initially in-house, as part of the strategy teams, but the power and reach of placement and buying is done through conglomerates. And their PR departments are more than likely teams of press release writers, and not full service Public Relations and Publicity Teams.

Do I want a Full Service Agency?

Full service agencies are wonderful in that you can turn the reins over, with oversight on your end, to manage the agreed upon strategies, but you have to be comfortable that the level of expertise is in line with what is promised. If your needs are focused and require high level management, implementation and continued monitoring, you should be sure they have the capabilities or the awareness at least to outsource to other vendors who have the specialist expertise needed.

But if you are more hands on, and more involved, you will want a strategist, at least. A Strategist can then work with you to get the plan in place, and you can then either go to specialists or work with your strategist to find the right vendors and agencies to support the needs.


You trust your primary care physician to work with you to manage your health, to be your quarterback. But you also trust that he or she will send you to a cardiologist and not perform tests in house that he’s not fully equipped to do.