Integrated vs Specialist: have agency models changed in 2013?

Over the last 12 months, we’ve started to see some significant shifts in the agency model and client-agency relationship. Having been involved in working with and running a number of agencies since 2003, I thought I’d share the direction I see things heading.

In some way this is a series of mini-posts, so you might want to grab a cup of tea first! But it should go to show the challenges agencies face in order to keep evolving and stay on top of their game.

What does the perfect digital strategy look like?

Rather than starting by looking at agency models, I always find it more useful to look at the bigger picture of what brands are doing and what they need.

Try asking yourself “if budget and restrictions/internal bottlenecks were no object, what would the perfect digital marketing strategy look like?”. Presumably this is likely to include the integration of owned, earned and paid media:

And then you can work backwards:

  • What are the main goals you are looking to achieve?
  • What marketing channels can help you to achieve your goals?
  • How can the channels work/integrate together?
  • What type of people do you need to get involved?
  • What can you manage internally vs. using external expertise?

Ultimately it’s taking a budget and spending it where it works best, with short, medium and long-term goals in mind.

It’s not about SEO, PR or content marketing, it’s simply being able to share your brand’s story to your target audience and converting them into customers.

Once you’ve figured this out, you can then define everything else afterwards. It’s important toknow the budget you have to work with early on, so that you can set targets and control realistic expectations from the outset. 


Otherwise you’re unlikely to ever win if those expectations aren’t clearly aligned.

If you flip the question of “what should an agency offer in 2013?”, to ask “what does a client need in 2013?”, you can start to build the right approach to match those key requirements. Otherwise, you run the risk of offering services that aren’t as useful or valued.

Integrated or specialist agency?

To succeed in 2013, brands really need a multichannel approach. This means they have two choices:

  1. Work with an integrated team (either in-house or externally – usually a mixture of both) who can bring everything together under one roof.
  2. Work with a number of specialists in each area.

Of course, there are pros and cons to each. You might lack the in-depth quality a specialist can give you in a particular area.

But, in that approach you may lose the bigger picture and miss out on many efficiencies of being able to work together more closely as an integrated team. There’s no right or wrong answer, but it’s important that you maximise the synergies between channels such as SEO, PPC and social media:


We’re finding we’re more often talking to brands who are looking for digital marketing partners to work alongside their team, as opposed to managing individual channels with separate agencies. This means supporting them with:

  • Skills they don’t have internally – perhaps it’s content production, blogger outreach, social media marketing campaigns, SEO expertise, PPC management.
  • Training internal teams – for example, making sure the content team is aware of SEO/PR/social media marketing best practises.
  • Strategic consulting – to reinforce ideas or get internal buy-in with advice from a neutral party.
  • Assistance to build their own team – working alongside brands in interim management positions to identify where they need new skills/job roles and help them recruit key personnel to strengthen their teams.

It always varies based on the client – larger brands often prefer to work with a number of agencies with different expertise and specialisms. Even then, each team still needs to be fully aware of other activity outside of their own campaigns that can make an impact and be used.

I’ve always found holding agency days to be incredibly valuable too, as that helps you to understand other areas that are being worked upon in more detail, one I attended showed some great demographic profiling information from a CRM agency which I was previously unaware of, and then able to put to use within content and search campaigns.

Plus, getting to know everyone involved allows you to build a relationship outside of the client – which can be very useful if you need to get things done quicker by communicating directly with different agencies/suppliers, without the need for client to be involved in every step.

Continue reading on

Categories: Brand, Digital Advertising, Strategy

Tags: , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


Technology news, trends and analysis covering mobile, big data, cloud, science, energy and media

Brand Leadership Blog

The leading forum worldwide for executives and researchers addressing the challenges of building and sustaining great brands

Digital Buzz Blog



Startups, entrepreneurs, ideas. Let's make it informal

Brian Solis






Marketing Pilgrim - Internet News and Opinion






Simple, effective and affordable small business marketing consulting

Get Elastic Ecommerce Blog



Partner, Transformation Group

%d bloggers like this: