The mirage of industry specialism – Why you should consider non-specialist agencies

The mirage of industry-specialism

Why you should look beyond an agency that specialises in your industry

When you search for an agency there are a few things you’re likely to look out for – namely services offered location, size, years since establishment, and prior experience in your industry

If the last of these is something you actively include in your search there’s a fairly high chance you’ll come across an agency that specialises in your industry. It’s an attractive prospect, especially if they offer all the services you were considering and have had a good track record with other companies with a similar target audience/business model. But is it really what you need?

There’s no doubt that previous experience in the same industry is valuable – it means the agency is far more likely to have a better understanding of your product or service in advance, and will have learnt what works for your target audience from previous successes. But this is by no means the be all and end all of what makes an agency great.

With the benefits of working with such agencies laid out, let’s dive a little into why it might not be the perfect solution for your marketing needs:

1. Too formulaic
If an agency has had a number of successes with other companies in the same industry using certain techniques, they may have developed what they see to be ‘best practice’, and take more of a prescriptive approach rather than a collaborative one. Although this doesn’t mean that their methods won’t work, in fact it’s quite likely that they will to at least some degree given it’s worked before, for some brands this way of working may not align with their values.

2. Too much like competitors
There’s a fairly high chance that if an agency specialises in your industry, they may also have experience with some of your competitors. If you want to stand out from the crowd and put your own unique twist on your marketing activities, an agency that has perfected a certain approach in your industry may not be the best choice.

3. What if the industry has got it wrong?
Huge growth often has it’s roots in creativity and innovation, occurring when someone tries something that has never been done before. What we consider ‘the norm’ now might not actually be the optimal solution.

To give one example, how do we think we should market an art exhibition? Let me guess – your answer is probably not ‘with AirBnB’. And yet that’s exactly what marketing agency Leo Burnett did for the Art Institute of Chicago’s 2016 Van Gogh exhibit. In a truly radical marketing experiment, the agency worked with designers and museum curators to transform a studio apartment into the Dutch artist’s famous painting ‘Bedroom in Arles’. The campaign was a huge success, leading to the museum’s largest attendance in 15 years and national media attention.

So I’d like to present the idea that the salvation you might recognise in an industry-specific agency is in fact much like a mirage. Close up it isn’t the perfect solution you thought, but just another agency to be considered with it’s own pros and cons. 

This plays into the reason we always run competitive pitch processes with three agencies. Within agencies that match the criteria of the brief, there will be leanings in interest, expertise and approaches. It’s always best to meet and discuss your brief and your brand in depth to have the best chance of finding the perfect agency that you’re really excited to work with. 

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