"Full-Service" Agencies vs Specialist Agencies

key takeaways
  • Full-service agencies provide a one-stop-shop.
  • They are sometimes cheaper but at a cost to quality.
  • Full-service agencies are spread too thin.
  • Specialist agencies refine their craft.
  • Specialist agencies attract specialists.
  • They go way deeper in subject knowledge.
  • They are more efficient.
  • Greater efficiency drives down the price.
  • Specialist agencies are more consistent.
The tradeoff: Convenience vs Value
BY james April 14 2022
Over the past decade we’ve spoken to thousands of businesses about their experiences with other agencies. Sadly it’s a common tale of woe, where the agency over-promised and under-delivered. The most popular and successful agencies all have one thing in common; they specialise. They only do one thing, and they do it extremely well.

In doing so, they refine their craft. They define processes that streamline delivery, iteratively learning and improving so the next project is even better than the last. They only need to worry about one field, which means that they can deepen their knowledge and become an expert far faster than those who are spread too thin. They also attract the top talent, because they are the best at what they do, so they attract equally specialised employees who would never consider working at a generalist agency.

Their focus takes them to the point where delivery is consistent, results are predictable, and clients get what they are promised. Not only that, but they get known as the experts in X, which means referrals increase. It creates a virtuous cycle of improvement and growth.

The opposite of this are agencies who try to win every opportunity that comes their way. For each new project they have to learn brand new processes - effectively reinventing the wheel and making mistakes as they go, at the cost of the client. Being so spread out across services and industries gives them very little time or resources to go deep and refine their craft. The breadth of services and clients also means that their learnings from the last project are hard to apply to the next. They struggle to deliver and they have no edge. This leads to unhappy clients who are unlikely to refer new business.

Full Service vs Specialist Agency comparison chart

At face value, an agency who handles everything sounds much more impressive than an agency that only handles one thing. But the reality is quite the opposite. This is likely why so many businesses choose the wrong agencies and subsequently have negative experiences. It’s likely why the reputation of the agency industry is in tatters.

We have had our own journey of discovery when it comes to specialisation. Being naive to these facts in the early days, we took on all the work that we could win. We were extremely generalist and it led to a lot of mistakes and a few unhappy clients. The experience of letting a client down is not something that ever leaves you. This pain is what drove us to find answers - it led us to join multiple agency networks around the world, and learn from industry titans on how to do it right. Ten years later we’re proud to now be the ones advising other agencies on the subject.

Being so focused on business growth first and foremost made the journey to specialisation particularly challenging for Grow. How do you help a business grow if you cut out 90% of the services they require? Not to mention, how do you cut out 90% of your revenue and stay in business? We landed upon a unique approach to solving this problem.

The first step on our journey to specialisation was to look back at our 100+ clients and every single service we provided from day 1. We created endless pivot tables on plotted charts to dissect the data and found out that we are really good at growing B2B (Business to Business) companies. Whilst we didn’t cut out the channels we used, we at least knew we could focus on a specific industry and become great at that.

This meant that any new lead which came in which wasn’t perfect for us, we could introduce to our network of strategic partners. For example, if a lead came in looking for social media marketing in health & wellness, we could reach out to our network and find agencies who specialise in social marketing within the health & wellness industry. It was a match made in heaven.

Meanwhile we doubled down on growth strategy, which is the essence of why we exist. Helping companies to untap their full growth potential. We developed our systems and processes to deliver faster, more reliable, and more comprehensive growth strategies over time. The question then became - who will implement these strategies? We still have our marketing team who are aces at delivering B2B marketing campaigns, but we need them to work on growth strategies and manage the projects.

Then I had a brainwave. We could give the implementation work to our network of strategic partners, whilst we focus on managing the entire delivery and providing consultation to keep the strategy and targets on track.

By bringing together a collection of specialist agencies, it means we can deliver a wide range of services without sacrificing the specialisation required for the strategy to be a success. We can provide the breadth and the depth. The quality and the quantity.

Multiple Specialist Quality-Quantity chart

The cost for the client isn’t substantially more - in fact, because these specialist agencies are not reinventing the wheel all the time, they can make far more progress in less time. The same channels need to be worked on; they are simply worked on by more agencies, who all have similar overheads and pricing. So rather than paying a large sum to one agency, clients can pay smaller sums to several agencies.

We then took it a step further and decided to remove those little complications of payments and communication. So now our clients can pay us, speak to us, and we’ll manage the payments and communication with the agencies. We act as a CMO of sorts, yet clients can speak directly to the agencies whenever they want. It gives our clients the best of both worlds.

Although this is how we structure all new projects, we do still have a legacy of existing clients who work directly with Grow for the implementation. This is how we managed the transition from old to new, but soon enough all our clients will be benefiting from this new approach.

This is how we’ve specialised, and we’re never looking back!


James Pardoe

Starting his first business at age eight, James Pardoe has been building, marketing and growing businesses ever since. He has helped hundreds of businesses double their annual revenue within a few short years.

James holds a unique combination of skills spanning business, psychology, design, development and data science. He has shaped Grow’s approach to encompass all of these disciplines, to build an ecosystem that plugs into businesses and builds sustainable long-term growth.

James is also a father of three, a consultant for Google, and a partner in a branding agency.

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