Don't Sell Your Agency Short -- Offer Clients a Full-Service Menu

When You Specialize, You Can't Offer Full Value or Maximize Growth

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In a world of mega-agencies and continuous consolidation, most small agencies pigeonhole themselves. Digital, apps, e-commerce, social media -– they choose one leg of the advertising world and hone their expertise in that realm. It seems to make sense: If an agency has fewer than 100 employees, do one thing and do it well.

But small agencies are selling themselves short with this approach. They can and should do everything their brands need them to do. Being a full-service agency –- offering everything from strategy, media, broadcast, print, in-store, digital, mobile and product-level positioning -– is the way to deliver real value. Unless your goal is to be acquired by a larger agency, diversified services are the route to acquiring world-class clients and growing sustainably over time.

How do you still offer the advantages of being small? It's about focus. Focus on a smaller roster of brand clients that live in a similar consumer space, versus a single service across a wide spectrum of clients that do not share consumers. You're still honing your expertise, but in a much more widening direction. Being a full-service small shop is difficult. But how can you be truly accretive to a brand if you're just creating Facebook pages or designing print ads?

Real branding happens when you design and execute the complete consumer experience -- creating awareness via print, outdoor ads and TV, and driving consumers into dialogue using online, mobile apps and social interaction. Finally, it's converting them online or in-store with point-of -sale messaging. Only a full-service agency can offer the consistent storytelling over time that this approach requires.

Sounds great, right, but how can you do everything for multibillion-dollar global brands with a team of only 50 or 100 people?

First and most important, create the right team. At a minimum, you need traditional, digital and retail strategists; creative teams divided into broadcast, traditional, digital and retail across each brand; and a robust digital team with strong app-development and user-interface experience and close ties to ad-tech providers. You also need a production team to work closely with third-party vendors like printers and production houses, as well as an analytics team to measure and prove the impact of your campaigns across channels.

You can do all this with a 50-75 person team, staffing up if you land a big account. The shift has costs and takes time, but if you want to be true to the value proposition, you have to invest. And do not be afraid to let go of the past -- people, ideas or clients.

Second, avoid bandwagon-jumping. In advertising, a new trend pops up every 12 to 18 months, from blogs and social, to branded content, viral video and podcasts, just to name a few. You need to adopt only the ones that help you tell a brand's story more effectively and efficiently. Not every new advertising concept works for every brand. Do you answer the demand for today's new buzz, or focus on the totality of the brand and the set of solutions required for growth? The full-service structure requires you to view your relationship with the brand as that of a true custodian.

It's tough competing against mega-agencies, but worth it, especially winning against them in a pitch. At our agency we thrive on the pressure that comes from a partnership in which we are the core driver for an account with $2 billion in annual sales. Our first core account billed $50,000 in the first year, and we were stoked. Today that account is worth $11 million in billings. We helped them grow from a $200-million to a $1.4-billion business. That's both fun and lucrative. As important, it has created the cash base for our next wave of global expansion.

Scott Mellin is CEO of Factory Design Labs.
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