Business, Marketing

Why Specialization May Kill Long-Term Agency Partnerships

December 21, 2014

If you’ve followed the advertising and marketing industry news of late, one item that might have caught your eye is the growing number of brands reviewing their media buying, advertising and brand representation. From Jaguar Cars moving their 6 year, $100 million global account from Euro RSCG Worldwide to Spark44, to Disney Media ending their decade long relationship with Publicis Groupe’s Starcom, long-term relationships between brands and those who represent them are coming to a close. Just how the number of players who stay with one sports team their entire career is diminishing, so is the number of brands that stay with an agency for an extended period of time. “Do it all” agencies that once handled the branding, public relations and marketing for large brands are seeing their responsibilities broken up and divided amongst several different agencies.

So what is the cause? What is causing brands like Disney and Harley Davidson (Former agency: Carmichael Lynch) to reconsider the future of their advertising, marketing, and entire branding? The answer is specialization.


Specialization is defined as “the act of making something suitable for a special purpose.” In the case of the “do it all” agencies, specialization is a word that can be hard to come by. Because of the growth and speed of information and content in the digital space, there is an accelerated market adoption rate when it comes to new products, messages and brands. This has led to the the need for agencies with quick turnaround times without the sacrifice of quality.

From Facebook campaigns that need specific applications built for Fan Pages, to social monitoring tools that help a brand listen in on the conversation, finding a one stop destination that is able to do ‘everything,’ is becoming more and more difficult. Due to the rapidly growing number of opportunities that the digital space presents and the lack of specialized individuals, the need for agencies to recruit individuals with an expertise and background in the digital space is at its’ highest.

It what can be best described as a supply and demand problem, ‘do it all’ agencies need to begin addressing their needs for specialists in different areas of the digital space before it’s too late.

The Orange Versus Fruit Problem

One reason why smaller, ‘one-stop shop’ agencies succeed is because they are able to focus on one specific area which makes finding talent easier. In comparison with larger, multifaceted agencies, these ‘one-stop’ agencies don’t need to go out and recruit talent in multiple areas. Just how it’s easier to go to the market and pick out 15 oranges rather than 1 of each fruit, this is the same reality that agencies will go through.

So how can multifaceted agencies compete? In the end it will come down to the overall commitment and recruitment strategy of these agencies. In order to compete with specialized agencies, ‘one-size-fits-all’ agencies need to have a holistic approach to the digital space that encompasses all areas of the digital space. A common mistake that some may make is to hire a Digital Manager to handle all of their clients digital work. While this is a good start, it shouldn’t stop there. Rather, every area of the digital space needs to have some responsibility. By clearly outlining all the possible areas that the brands they represent may need, the agency can then hire groups of specialists to help address them. From individuals who specialize in digital promotions and sponsorships to those who have a background in digital copywriting, by building a team that can manage high-quality campaigns and strategies from start to finish, client retention rate will increase as well as lead to new ones.

The Digital Space Moves Faster

Former First Lady of Argentina, Eva Perón, once said that “time is my greatest enemy.” Along the same lines, time is an enemy for ‘do-it all’ agencies. While common sense says that given enough time, you can do anything, the problem is that the digital space may be the exception to that rule. With every new day, a new area of the digital space finds itself in demand. Coupled by the advent of new technology and the fast paced nature of the digital space, agencies that are trying to play catch-up can be at a disadvantage.

Ultimately, brands that decide to move towards smaller, specialized agencies will do so because of cost and quality. Although it may be difficult for larger, do-it all agencies to compete with these specialized agencies, in the long-run they may be able to win if they are able to make changes now before it’s too late.

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