Integrated agency? Need a specialist? Do you buy, recruit or hire?

With two of the UK’s top grocers headquartered in West Yorkshire the marketing community up here tends to keep a close eye on both Asda and Morrisons – after all most of them work for one or the other.  So there was discussion last week about the news stories naming Morrisons as a possible buyer for Iceland.  After their purchase of online kids retailer Kiddicare last February, Mozza’s new approach to business development seems to be ‘if you haven’t got it, buy it in’.

Which led me to think about how agencies approach a similar problem.  Forgot to set up a digital department five years ago?  Suddenly need to be an expert on redemption rates or press packs?  As an agency MD, you seem to me to have three options:

1) Buy it in.  Find a stand-alone smaller agency that does nothing but specialism X and buy them lock, stock and client list.  On the upside, you get a ready-made department with a client list that will at least partly offset their running costs and that can hopefully be cross-sold other specialisms too.  On the downside, you may have to integrate a culture ever-so-slightly at odds with your existing set up…

2) Recruit a specialist and let them build an empire.  You’ll need someone senior enough to eventually lead a team but who doesn’t mind getting their hands dirty in the meantime.  Which will make the press release writing / social media updating / desk research / contact report writing bit pretty pricey in the short term.  And do you direct their resources to bringing in new business or supporting your existing accounts?

3) Hire it from other specialists only as and when you need it.  Either a separate agency (a lot of purportedly integrated agencies seem to do this with PR or digital) or hire freelancers (obviously my preferred solution :-)

I’m not saying that there’s one right answer.  But anything is better than the old-fashioned agency approach of “that will be a nice problem to have”, “we’ll deal with it when we win it” and “we’ll just have to blag it”…

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