The “Full Service Agency” Fallacy
Generalists or Specialists?
I’ve noticed a strange trend with creative agencies recently that baffles me. Creative businesses, from marketing firms to design agencies, claim they are full-service. What does that even mean? Full service applies to restaurants or gas stations, where a server or an attendant will come to you, take your order, and render appropriate services. When “full service” is the brand position, the cost becomes the differentiator. The best differentiator is value. And you get the best value from specialists and experts, not generalists. I call this new trend the “Full Service” Fallacy.
Why specialize? A creative firm is hired to help a business achieve its goals. Often, the business doesn’t know the root problem; they know an issue needs fixing. The business needs a specialist to help diagnose and then prescribe/deliver solutions. The creative firm hired should be an expert in what the business needs help with and have leaders in those fields on staff. For example, a business’s website doesn’t generate enough traffic or leads, or its brand identity doesn’t properly portray its personality. Should they seek out a “full service” firm to solve their problems and expect a great return on their investment? Or do they seek the best business web design and brand identity design firm, like Propr? In other words, if you are having heart issues, would you seek the help of a general practitioner or a Cardiologist? People and businesses seek out specialists and experts.
So why do firms commit this fallacy so often?
For one, it could be they aren’t very good at anything and think that the “full service” positioning makes them more enticing. These firms use phrases like “we make it easy” in their collateral and conversations. Huge red flag because web design and identity design are often hard, stressful, and uncomfortable for a business. The results are the goal, not making it easy.
Another reason for this fallacy is that the firm may not have a true value proposition or too many bills to pay, so they use “full service” to essentially say: “we won’t turn down any paid work.” Here you will have a super easy sales process and onboarding before you get raked over the coals by rework, scope creep, change orders, and often no end product. A specialist firm would ensure the project is scoped out properly because we want to deliver a great product just as much as you need one. In fact, a specialist firm will have proven frameworks or workshops—plug: The Propr Brand Strategy Workshop— that will improve and empower you and your team. Or published books on subjects relevant to their expertise, like Bobby G’s book, Build Your Brand Like You Give a Shit.
A third reason for the “full service” fallacy is to appear bigger in size. Sure, bigger can be better sometimes, but better is better, and different is more better. If you had a heart problem, would you go to the bigger doctor’s office with dozens of decent doctors or the specialist with the best doctor in the world?
So what if my business has extra creative needs?
This question often comes up from my clients. The answer is simple for Propr; we are experts at brand strategy, messaging, web design, and brand identity design, but we sure as hell are damn good at designing presentations, pitch decks, marketing and business collateral, posters, packaging, etc. But those are not our specialty; we do not take these projects on individually. Avoid the firms that do if it is not their specialty. If we are redesigning your company website and refreshing the identity system, we can redesign and update the rest of your customer-facing materials. But there is no “specialist at full service,” which sure sounds ridiculous.
Avoid the full-service fallacy firms, vet agencies by their services and capabilities, and find the best specialist for your needs. Your business’ health depends on it!
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