There’s No Such Thing as a Full-Service Agency

Posted on by Chief Marketer Staff

Doug Austin

The term “full service” gets thrown around a lot in the agency world. The truth is the phrase has become somewhat irrelevant in a time when new marketing channels—and, therefore, agency capabilities—are born every day.

full-service agencyIn years past, “full service” meant an agency offered a full range of mainstream services, like creative, account service, media, and PR. Now, the digital wave has expanded agency capabilities to include everything from Web development and execution to SEO, mobile app development and more.

Being full service is still a good goal for your agency to have, as long as you base the services you offer on client appetite. But that said, every agency still needs to develop its own brand and find its niche. Here’s how to develop yours by identifying which services to offer—and which to cut back on.

Confer with clients. Survey your current clients, as well as potential ones within the industry. What do they expect from their agency of record? What services do they currently use, and which do they wind up going outside their agency for?

Assess your agency. Once you have determined the appetite for the services you currently offer—as well as those that you could offer—it’s time to audit your own agency. Which of the desired services do you already offer in-house? What would it take to develop the services you don’t currently offer? Could you hire for them, train for them, or buy them?

Step up your game. Ask yourself: Is your agency still relevant? If you’re hearing that your clients are using other agencies or contractors for some projects—even if your budget isn’t being affected now—you need to realize that, eventually, their budget will come out of yours if you don’t compete at their level. If there is more work being done than you’re currently capable of offering, it’s time to either train for it, buy it, hire it, or acquire it. You’ve got to upskill and get into the business or risk losing that client.

Determine your expertise. If yours is a local, generalist agency—for example, you primarily do local work for clients like banks, car dealerships, and grocery stores—I would recommend that you look at adding services like digital and PR. If you already have a specialty—meaning you probably are more segment- or channel-focused, rather than geographically-oriented—you’ll want to start identifying best-in-class providers of specialized services simply to keep up with your work volume.

Consider a network. Each full-service agency has its own “toolkit” of capabilities. No one agency has every tool, but together, they make up a comprehensive toolbox. For example, I deal a lot with culinary development. Most agencies would consider the idea of bringing in a chef as foreign, but we have five we can tap into if needed. Being specialized in one area gives you resources to offer others in your network, who, in turn, will let you tap into yours should you need them.

By aiming for full-service while also adopting a specialty, you’ll improve your agency’s ROI, efficiency and client relationships. Plus, you’ll retain clients and keep your work from getting commoditized. It’s a sink-or-swim world, and selling your strengths while building your weaknesses will keep your agency afloat.

Doug Austin is the SVP of Growth & Innovation and leads product and brand innovation sessions for Marlin NetworkHe can be reached at


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