Jul 23

Integration is also a specialization

If you run a creative boutique, you must be a graphic designer. Maybe a few DTP specialists assist you, perhaps you cooperate with some trusted printers? Moreover, you probably used to design websites yourself, that is why you decided to run a company developing in this domain. You are now responsible for PR and writing texts? Then you must be doing it as one of many companies in this sea of single- or two-member PR agencies. Each of those markets is already developed – it has its “world champions” and pretenders to the title. There are large, fat companies as well as small, “plankton” companies. However, average-sized companies are not nearly as numerous, due to the fact that this transition state is simply unstable.

In an integrated marketing agency business model, you do not have to base your activity on production processes of any kind. Or rather – you produce market implementations, and project managers are your specialists. Hence, hiring a graphic designer or a computer programmer is not among your key resources. What you need are marketers, project coordinators. Those types of companies, however, often combine competences of an integrator with an internal implementation of graphic designing or programming works.

I can say from experience that this is not a viable solution, as each of those specialized functions requires continuous improvement, i.e. investment in development (technology, training) to reach the level on which it becomes competitive in the market. What is important, I consider the development of integration skills a specialization. Only the biggest agencies and companies that developed on the (time-processable) services for two or three customers can afford to have graphic designers, programmers, and marketers in one team. Such models, in time, require reengineering, because they have no potential of fast scaling or directional improvement of competences.

One or two programmers in a creative agency will miss their “geek-only” teams. A lone graphic designer, if he/she is more than just a DTP specialist, will dream of brainstorms taking place in a creative harmony. And a project manager responsible for business efficiency will try to work out not how to deliver customer satisfaction, but how to effectively exploit the “production capacity”. Therefore, creating teams composed of strategists and graphic designers is possible only in micro-companies or in the biggest agencies with more than a hundred employees.

Meanwhile, it becomes clear that it is difficult to choose specializations consciously, as the most determining and limiting resource in the market is the time and the attention of customers who, often implemented in the corporate mechanisms and tensions, have limited resources to form a sustainable and adequate (to the company’s needs) basket of relationships with companies providing services to them. Hence their tendency to outsource – to agencies they know well – a broader range of works than their specialization allows. That is why a PR agency is contracted to create a graphic press folder, and a media house is asked to provide PR services related to a specific campaign. Therefore, it is convenient when a programmer has a trusted graphic designer, and the other way around. The only problem is, this team will not have a UX specialist, a tester, and an agile management-trained PM. It is unfeasible in terms of costs. And everybody knows the market price for a “page”.

Customers buy what they think an effect of marketing project implementation ought to be like. They visualize “how it will work”. They try to measure the expected result and apportion responsibility between their company and the service provider. Meanwhile, if the provider’s processes are incoherent and resources are not integrated, achieving this goal is almost impossible or at least ineffective in terms of budget. Someone will have to work more, because they will assume responsibility for delivering the result. It might work or not. More so because each time it does not, employees of such an inefficient agency will become more and more frustrated, and that, in turn, will entail costs of staff turnover.

A mature way of coping with such a counterproductive (in a long-term perspective) condition is for the agency managers to take decisions concerning development directions of the company. It is not easy to reject contracts if they do not match the specialization you have chosen “once and for all”. An efficient network of inter-enterprise relationships or an effective group of specialized freelancers might be a solution. In any case, it is much better than an inertial expansion of internal structures.