Think you can tackle your company’s marketing strategy all on your own? If you can, more power to you. But for most brands, the reach is scarcely wide enough.
The decision to hire a media agency is a huge one. Not just in terms of budget, but also when considering the scope and approach specific to your unique business. What works for Disney or Apple won’t apply to the chocolate-covered cherry shop down the street.
One of the biggest hurdles for a business is the choice between a boutique and a traditional media agency. The former is known to specialize in specific forms of marketing and advertising that often revolve around new media. The latter favors broader marketing approaches that often include established marketing channels, like broadcast and print.
First off, keep in mind that your company’s media and marketing needs change over time, and thus, choosing to go with a larger, more traditional media agency at first doesn’t rule out a boutique (or several), for more specific approaches. In fact, many major advertising and marketing firms outsource media projects to these very boutique agencies, especially as your business grows and its marketing strategies become more sophisticated and specialized.
And examine the scale of projects both traditional and boutique agencies take on. Just because it’s a boutique agency doesn’t mean it only handles mom-and-pop marketing campaigns. It could be tackling international campaigns with tremendous scope, well-prepared for the Coca-Cola and Barbie empires out there.
“We can do it all, but I don’t believe in this day and age you need it all. More is not always better,” says founder of boutique media agency R.Rock Enterprises, Roger Gastman.
Just as writers and journalists have beats, areas of expertise to which they’ve dedicated significant time, so do smaller media agencies. If you’re looking to strengthen one facet of your marketing strategy, whether it’s print advertising, video media or social media outreach, consider choosing a boutique agency with a more targeted approach. Many service a specific type of industry, style of media or content, or even a certain locale.
“When a brand wants to breathe fresh life into a product that’s been out for while or launch something new to a certain demographic … it’s time to call the boutique agency,” says Gastman.
However, your brand may choose to forgo boutique marketing. If your company doesn’t have the budget for a dedicated approach to specific aspects of your marketing, then consider going with a more established, traditional media agency. They’ll be able to provide broad services to cover most of your marketing reach, but keep in mind, a broad marketing strategy might include certain tactics (e.g., broadcast), which, although established and measurable, can get pricey.
It’s the businesses that look for less obvious marketing channels that often find niche success, says Neil Kleiner, head of social at AIS, a boutique media agency within global media network Havas. These “challenger brands,” as Kleiner calls them, “usually have to make their budgets work harder and smarter and so, therefore, choose agencies that take them down the path less travelled.”
That being said, some agencies fall short when it comes to sustaining targeted conversations after they’ve been created — especially traditional firms, which don’t usually specialize in social media outreach, for example. Many times, their expertise lies in creating and implementing content like ads onto social networks, which don’t necessarily help the brand strengthen or engage its community for the foreseeable future, which could hurt a brand’s long-term ROI.
Kleiner cites the age-old debate between specialism and integration. With social media in particular, clients tended to gravitate toward specialists to help make sense of the new medium. “However, with a few exceptions, the specialists came up short,” he says. “Social media rarely works well in isolation and needs to be connected with content and media to truly be effective.”
Even new kids on the block, sometimes dubbed “social media agencies,” have trouble adapting to the changing and increasingly data-driven social marketing landscape. Many make the mistake of appropriating tired print marketing for social media, which more often than not, doesn’t work. Effective agencies implement social-specific marketing content that brands can successfully manage from there on out. After all, it’s about giving companies the tools to connect with audiences — and they can’t accomplish that goal with bland copy or static ads.
President of social media and marketing firm Dachis Group, Jeff Dachis, spoke about the connotations behind the term “social agency” in an article on AdWeek. “I bristle at that term,” he said. “[Social media marketing] is about providing brands with the ability to engage with their passionate consumer communicators at scale. Engagement at scale does not mean buying media or mass communications, which is what the term ‘agency’ implies …. We do not take your traditional brand message and pump it into social channels, because that isn’t going to work.”
Traditional agencies may be slow to adapt to social outreach due to their sheer size, says Michael Litman, head of engagement at 9010 Group. The larger an agency gets, the more processes and layers it encounters, and thus, it becomes harder to adapt and change alongside industry trends and client needs.
“You can compare a traditional media agency to an oil tanker and a boutique agency to a small dinghy,” says Litman. “Both have their benefits and drawbacks. Oil tankers are safer, been around longer and have a greater amount of resources at their disposal. But moving them is pretty tough and needs a lot of people. Boutique agencies are nimble, adaptable, have few layers of hierarchy and are more likely to experiment and iterate.”
Still, traditional agencies have been creating conversations since first opening their doors, although they’re not presumed to be on the pulse of social media strategy. It’s simply that the mediums of communication have evolved, from print and television to include social media. And while that’s a big consideration, it doesn’t change the fact that effective messages make a splash, no matter the delivery method. So don’t necessarily assume that traditional marketing firms can’t also approach social media effectively — it’s likely they’ve been talking to customers for a long time.
In an ideal world, a media agency would combine the strengths of both traditional creative and boutique outreach to form a type of super agency, says Kleiner. “A left brain/right brain approach that can cover creativity, strategy and measurement and analytics. An agency that can truly walk the balance between specialism and integration.”