Specialist or integrated agencies?

I was recently part of a discussion at a digital marketing debate in Leeds, where an in house digital communications manager went up against an agency digital specialist to discuss the processes of delivering successful online communications strategies. One of the questions started a debate between general, overall, integrated communications agencies and specialist agencies asking which was the most adept to deliver a successful project.

Is it possible for an all encompassing agency with levels of executives and account manages with general communications skills to deliver the more specialised briefs which are been born of the social media era?

Should agencies start to look at different branches of communications building teams by specific skills and less of an exact hierarchy? Also investigated by the GolinHarris article in PR Week with GolinHarris as a case study.

Of the two models I am inclined to believe that agencies should focus on the strengths of their employees, teamed with the needs of the industry – ensuring that teams have the right skill sets to deliver specialised briefs where needed. I do think that a management hierarchy is needed for career progression and to encourage ambition but with lateral moves available.

From what I can see the problem has the potential to lie with agencies that are entirely specialised – I believe they have the risk of becoming detached from the overall strategy of the businesses they are trying to serve and there is the potential for other methods to be forgotten or underrated. Where several agencies or teams are trying to work together to deliver an overall strategy this may have negative affects as instead of working fluidly the agencies would be competing for information and undermining each other.

An agency with both general and specialist teams would be able to offer insight on more of the campaign supplying the client with more for their money.