5 Steps Toward Reinventing Your Agency and Becoming Full Service

It’s a never-ending journey in an ever-changing environment

A pivot to full service is a drastic undertaking for an agency.
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Inefficiency sucks. Every client knows this. And there’s nothing more cumbersome than having to deal with seven or eight or nine different agencies to manage your digital, traditional, above-the-line, below-the-line, social, outdoor, TV and product advertising. But that’s the nature of an industry evolving faster in its media than in its makeup. As connectivity and digitization further permeate the marketing bedrock, the pressure on specialty shops to provide “added efficiency” can become oppressive, leaving them with a scary choice: try to find your place in a bigger group or expand what you offer across a wider spectrum of the advert-scape.

This is how you get PR firms serving up brand strategy, websites, social media management and so on. Not that there’s anything wrong with branching out; it’s evolution, and it’s natural. But if you didn’t start out tracking toward full service, layering on new offerings can be dangerous. You risk alienating your clients by biting off more than you can chew or falling flat on delivering what it is you now want delivered.

The fact is that full service isn’t a plug-and-play pivot—it’s a wholesale reinvention of what you are.

Full service isn’t a plug-and-play pivot—it’s a wholesale reinvention of what you are.

Imagine you’re a fantastic sprinter and excellent at cross-training (kudos to those of you who actually are). You can run a mile comfortably in seven minutes again and again. Then imagine yourself at the starting line of a marathon with 26.2 miles of hills and twists and turns in front of you. You’ve trained your body perfectly—for the wrong thing. Your heart and muscles, always so dependable, are woefully ill-prepared for this vastly different activity. There’s a reason people train for months, inching their distance up, strengthening their cardiovascular system and acclimating their brain to prolonged pavement pounding.

Those of us who started out with the intention of being full service in this change-prone media reality are still works in progress; we aren’t done or perfected, and I doubt we ever will be. For agencies just starting the process, it’s worth getting some big existential questions on paper: Can we realistically be full service? Why should we? Do we want to be? Can we plot a sensible course outward from our core competencies with the right connection points, or will our legs give out before we hit the proverbial finish line?

If you can answer all of that affirmatively(-ish), here are five steps to help guide your never-ending journey to be fuller service:

Understand the beating heart of your business

Make sure you understand how you achieved what you achieved and why you’re good at it. Never forget that what you first became an expert at is the beating heart that’ll connect you to a broader service offering. Put this on paper, summarize it, find a strategic differentiator you can return to again and again and convert it to a tidy artifact you can share with your team and clients alike. It’ll protect your heart.

Map it out

You’re going to add to your core, so don’t just pile services on. Think about how it all intersects. How do those new offshoots connect to your center and to each other, and what are the implications of that? Here comes the second artifact: a map of how you intend to evolve and change as you learn to traverse even greater distances. It won’t be right. It’ll be a best guess, a training plan. Expect to update and revise as you evolve and hit your goals.

Don’t incentivize yourself into a wall

Incentivizing a team to capture new biz and flood your new offering with billings and projects may seem like a good idea, but it isn’t. The easiest way to launch a new service is to take it from zero to a million in revenue, which perversely leaves your team in the position of trying to sell something the client might not need, and in turn, driving your credibility into a wall.

Educate your teams

Educate your staff on what’s happening and solicit their feedback as much as you can. New services will change your culture and the workflows (even the careers) of the people on your team. Tell people what you’re adding and why and how it impacts them—because it will, and they may have insights you need. Have the very same conversations with your clients because their buy-in is just as critical.

Stay comfortable with change

The secret sauce of full service is that you’ve never really arrived. Not in this day and age, when media change and develop, and data and tools continuously let us do more than ever before. There will be new connection points and new questions in perpetuity. It’s a marathon with no finish line.

This story first appeared in the September 24, 2018, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.