When hiring a full service marketing firm, selecting an agency partner that won’t pigeon hole you into their solution is important.

The old adage that “if you have a hammer, every problem looks like a nail” rings true for marketing services and agencies.  I believe it’s important that the marketing partners you select aren’t always holding a hammer.I recently came to the realization that I’m more valuable to my clients when I offer an unbiased perspective on how best to achieve their particular marketing goals.  And in thinking about this, I’ve borrowed a term I first heard in the IT field: “Service Agnostic.”  What does this mean?  Well, in short, it means I don’t have a preference or a care for what service is used.  But for the purposes of this post and my use of the term with clients, I use Service Agnostic to refer specifically to tactical activities rather than strategic.  I always focus first on what the overall strategic goals are — to increase sales, gain awareness for a new product, differentiate from their competitors, etc.  These strategic goals drive what the tactical activities are.  Perhaps in one example the best tactical approach to achieving the strategic goal of increasing sales is to launch a direct mail campaign.  Or maybe gaining new product awareness necessitates exhibiting at a trade show, and so on.  The point is, I don’t want to have a preconceived preference for any particular marketing service prior to defining project goals.

Going back to the hammer analogy, when you’re faced with a nail you want to use a hammer.  But, you can also pound a nail in with a wrench or even the handle of a screw driver if you’re in a pinch.  Ultimately you’ll end up with a similar result, but if you don’t use the right tool for the job you’ll have some troubles along the way.  And those troubles can cost you time, money, market share and more if you end up working with a marketing firm that is not service agnostic.

While all agencies have particular services that they’re better at than others, if you’re seeking a full-service marketing firm to handle all of your marketing needs, I’d caution you to be wary of specialist firms.  Those are the types that are touting their deft use of their hammers and extolling the virtues of the hammer in their work and website.

An easy example of a specialist firm would be a direct response agency, a firm that works very well handling mailing lists, interesting print production and response rates, etc.  Direct response agency means different things to different people too (and I’m not trying to put them down, just using them as an example).  Yet simply by their positioning, one could fairly safely assume they don’t do much with trade shows, in-store displays or product packaging.  So, if you’re a marketing manager that needs well-rounded marketing services, yet you’re seeking a single-source provider, a direct response agency is likely not going to be service agnostic to your needs.  More likely, all of your marketing challenges will be solved with “direct response”.  The direct response agency already knows and loves their hammer and they’ll use it on everything.  Counter to being agnostic, they’ll actually have a preference for one service over another.

As a marketing manager, you have to ask yourself if that’s right for your needs.  If you can’t find a single firm that is service agnostic and offers all of what you need, I might suggest that you establish relationships with multiple firms and introduce them to each other and make them a team.