Specialist or Generalist?
That is the question.
A few years ago, my wife and I acquired a typical Art Nouveau town house in The Hague. A beautiful new home which had been inhabited by the same family for half a century with no serious refurbishment efforts. In other words, the place was a dump. Fortunately, we found a builder with good references that was able to fix it up in the way we envisioned. For a decent price, with only the usual planning issues.
Living next to the sea requires frequent maintenance. But when the outside paint started to completely drop off within a year, we knew something was wrong. The builder fixed it, to no avail: six months later the same thing happened. After a second try we concluded that doing the same thing and expecting different results is indeed madness. A settlement was agreed and we each went our ways. The outside walls still in very bad shape.
Not long after we received a personal letter from a painter. In it he informed us that the house was designed by the well-known architect De Wolf who often worked with unique materials, sand stone in this case. The letter stated the origin of the stone, its specific characteristics, with the painting method it required. This obviously peaked our interest. Today all is well: the house is, and will remain, beautiful, thanks to an expert paint-job in combination with a maintenance contract that minimizes unnecessary future investment.
The parallel with marketing services is evident. As Client Service Director for a leading advertising agency I learned this first hand. The company policy was to obtain as much business as possible from each client, even in fields we were not very good at. As a result, much time was wasted in managing the mediocre quality of these additional services. Frustration, internally and with the client, was abound, and jeopardized some major accounts. Was it worth it? I doubt it.
Strategy agencies can offer naming, naming agencies can offer positioning strategy, design agencies can offer both and advertising agencies all of the above. Of course, a lot of knowledge will be available in any agency about the adjoining fields of branding, brand development and communication. This is after all essential to create an effective solution. But the question is whether it’s truly a core competence that can be delivered at the required quality level.
Sometimes it works well to offer a complete package. A one stop shop can be convenient if dedicated experts and processes are available to make it work. Too often this is not the case unfortunately. The additional services are done on the side for commercial reasons or out of genuine enthusiasm. Lacking the depth and true expertise required, this can, and often will, lead to a superficial or ill-conceived short-term solution. Clearly this not in the best interest of the client.
Conclusion: it’s worthwhile considering a specialist, especially for strategic matters. Invite them to share their story, learn and gather enough facts to make a good decision. Combine partners if needed. It may seem a more complex road at first, possibly more expensive as well. But creating the optimal conditions for long-term success and minimizing the risk of failure is just common sense, for both clients and agencies.
Had our builder acknowledged his lack of expertise and partnered with, or sub-contracted, the right specialist he would still be in our employ. A missed opportunity— old houses are never finished.
Joachim ter Haar