agency specializationI have to admit, I was somewhat surprised when I read our latest National survey among marketers: 2013 RSW/US Agency-Marketer National survey.

We always knew that agency specialization was important.

We see it every day when we represent our clients.  The tighter we can be when we reach out on their behalf by either shouting out a specific category or media expertise, the more successful our efforts.

But we also knew that talking and presenting an expertise didn’t mean you had to dedicate your entire being to that space.

We always felt that some of the folks out there that were pushing agencies to turn their entire being into a finely tuned and targeted machine was a little much.

In this latest survey report I tell the story of a client we represented whose positioning when we walked in the door was all about “expertise in service marketing”.

It was a great story because he had the chops AND the content to back it up.  He was an avid blog poster (of content that showcased his thought leadership in the space), he developed great mailing materials for our program, he supported our efforts with all the right tools.  And the beauty of the positioning was it was broad enough where we could touch a whole lot of folks across a number of service sectors, so the opportunities were there.  We did a nice job of opening up doors and he won some business in a few different service sectors.

One day a consultant walked in the door and suggested he needed to dial it down even further, so he did.  The suggestion was that if he became the expert in a finely tuned space…if he built it, they would come.

Sorry but those days are over. neil_sedaka-the_trala_days_are_over

Referrals and network opportunities have been waning for years.  Fewer marketers moving to fewer companies with just as many agencies vying for opportunities.

Back to the story…

So this agency opted to focus on a specific space within the service sector, one not known for big spending, but one where this agency had a fair amount of experience and this consultant felt he could “own”.

At the end of the day, the positioning proved too narrow, the prospects database was too limiting, and the time it took to “re-establish” his entire agency’s positioning created some serious financial ills for the firm.

Our survey suggests that if we were to ask a marketer about this particular agency, they would have said:

  • “Unnecessary move!”
  • “No need to focus your entire agency on one sector.”
  • “I’m ok with you have as little as half of your agency focused on a specific space.”
  • “I think we can benefit from other experiences you have with other client sectors.”

The results were rather revealing…

Surprisingly, close to 60% of marketers state that an agency only needs 50% or less of their business focused on a sector to be considered a specialist.

And while marketers value specialization (77% say it’s important), fewer of them (47%) relative to their agency counterparts (62%) think it is more important today than it was 3-4 years ago, suggesting a possible change in attitude.

I think (and have always felt – and frankly am seeing this more an more as I represent more marketers on the AgencySearch side of our business) that if you can make the marketer feel like you know their category (no matter your level of expertise in their space), they will feel good about you.

What marketers hate is you just talking about yourself.

Agencies need to showcase knowledge of the space, and they need to share smart, strategic thinking applied from the marketer’s industry and other industries they’ve worked in.

This, and a lot of enthusiasm , is what will win the day.

Not the sign outside the door that says:  The Sneider Agency:  Expert at One Thing…So Come and Get It!

Mark is a 30-year veteran of the consumer packaged goods, advertising, and marketing service industry. Mark started his career at DDB Needham in Chicago prior to earning his MBA from the J.L. Kellogg Business School at Northwestern where he majored in Marketing and Economics. Prior to starting RSW/US in 2005, Mark was General Manager for AcuPOLL, a global research consultancy. Sneider worked in Marketing for S.C. Johnson and KAO Brands. Sneider has been invited to speak at numerous Agency events and network conferences domestically and internationally including the 4A’s, Magnet, NAMA, TAAN, and MCAN. Sneider has been featured in prominent industry publications including Adweek, Media Post, e-Marketer, and Forbes. When not working (which often seems like not often), Mark likes to run miles, go to church, and just chill with a hard copy issue of Fast Company.