Marketing is collaborative by definition. No matter how good the product or service, how strong the positioning, without effective collaboration any branding project will most likely suffer. Working with outside Marketing partners is almost mandatory for any company that takes Marketing seriously.

In most cases the Brand Manager has two options when it comes to working with outside collaborators: full-service agencies and individual specialists. Choosing the right Marketing partners can mean the difference between mediocrity and excellence in any Marketing project.

Full-Service Agencies

Usually positioned as the “one stop shop for all your Marketing needs”, the traditional agency model involves maintaining full-time personnel with a wide variety of skills: market researchers, brand strategists, trade show organizers, public relations specialists as well as graphic and web designers.

Some of the advantages that the full service agency model offers are:

  • consistency in communicating the brand message across different communication channels
  • easier collaboration since the marketer deals with only one agency instead of many individual specialists
  • cross-industry experience
  • time-efficient in executing integrated multi-platform campaigns

Based on my experience there are two major drawbacks to working with a full-service agency.

First, they are in most cases more expensive than the independent specialists, since they carry a lot of overhead. Although you might be interested only in a web design project, they quote you received my reflect the cost of additional personnel regardless of their involvement in your project. That being said, a lot of agencies have become very “lean”, and collaborate with independent specialists rather than keeping full-time staff, thus managing to be more cost-competitive.

Second, I find that during the hiring process agencies do a great job at “wowing” the client. They bring their best people to the table and the owner gets personally involved. Everything looks very promising. However when you get down to business you discover that you’ve been “downgraded” and your contact person is an employee in an entry-level position that doesn’t always understand your needs. That’s when the difficulties in communication and frustration start to surface.

Again, this is just my personal experience working with agencies. I am sure there are some great ones out there.

Independent Specialists

Personally I’ve always worked better and get more things done faster with the independents for various reasons:

  • they are specialists in their field of expertise
  • communication is much easier and less formal
  • less people involved in the decision making process
  • usually less expensive than the traditional agency

The big challenge is of course maintaining the brand consistency across different projects and communication platforms and preserving a unified “look and feel” of the brand. You have to be able to provide the strategic direction and detailed guidelines for each project. Time management skills are also mandatory.

So What Type of Marketing Partner Is Best For You?

Honestly, regardless of the business model, it all comes down to the individual who manages your project. I had the opportunity to work with great agency people as well as brilliant independents with excellent Marketing skills.

As a broad rule, if your projects involve a lot of coordination and multi-platform communication, and the time-to-market is short, than a full-service agency might be your best option.

If your Marketing is focused on a few channels and you want in-depth specialized knowledge, than you can’t go wrong with the independent specialists.

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