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More or Fewer Vendor Partners—Which Is the Right Choice?

marketers discussing vendors around a table

While it is somewhat hard to believe, we are already wrapping up 2018. And it’s the time of year when many companies, maybe yours included, are evaluating budgets for the upcoming year and deciding where they are going to invest moving forward. Perhaps you’re going to revisit your decision on partners, and you’re considering either consolidating your group of vendors or agencies down to one or two, or expanding the list to include multiple vendors.

If either scenario sounds like you, you’re in the right place.

In this post I’ll be covering the pros and cons of working with multiple vendors or agencies as compared to only working with one or two, as seen through the lens of marketing.

Starting with the positives: The case for multiple agency partners

There are certainly pros to having multiple vendors working with your team. In fact, there are more than can be covered in the scope of one small blogpost. Here’s the top three that come to mind:


An agency that only works on cost per click advertising campaigns is going to have a large amount of expertise with Google Ads—probably more than most full-service agencies. Similarly, a vendor who only does social media strategy and execution is going to know social channels extremely well. A specialized partner will know what works best in each medium, and what works for a variety of industries.

New Perspective

I know you may be thinking, “Working with any marketing agency is going to give me a new perspective,” but let me clarify: new perspective on your specific topic with industry-specific background. This is basically like getting insight from your competitors.

Chances are, if you’re choosing a smaller, more specialized vendor, they work with many people in your industry. They’ll be able to use that collective knowledge to inform decisions for you and your team, as well.

Industry Knowledge

As alluded to above, industry-specific knowledge can be a big upside to working with multiple vendors. It’s more likely than not you’ll find an agency that does digital marketing for only companies just like yours, whether you’re making computers or running a local financial services firm.

As much as people will tell you experience doesn’t matter (and sometimes they’re right), having prior information and experience to fall back on is helpful. Especially when it comes to learning how they can best help you and your company.

The Benefits of Bringing on a True Marketing Partner (or Fewer Vendors)

At this point you may be thinking, “Wow, I guess I should just start outsourcing to smaller, specialized agencies,” but hold on. Here are three reasons to consider the full-service partner:

Business knowledge the company has accrued through their wide variety of experiences

Take a look at McKinsey & Co. Largely considered the best business management consultancy in the world, McKinsey has 23 different industries listed on its website. Twenty-three. Does that make them any less qualified to help your team succeed? Doubtful.

In fact, it’s more likely that there’s carryover between those 23 different industries—that expertise in one provides insights and opportunities to industries only very vaguely related to each other. Business is different in different markets, no doubt, but principles apply everywhere. The more you see and do, the better you are able to apply those principles to help your team win.

Strategy is at the core (recommendations, opportunities for growth, etc.)

For a specialized firm, their concern is with retention year to year. They want to be your partner for that ONE THING every year. If you don’t actually NEED social media advertising, but that’s what they do, what is the likelihood you’ll actually be told you don’t need it?

On the flip side, a full-service agency is going to earn your business by continuing to help your business grow. It doesn’t matter what the strategy is for that—they have a service line to help. Therefore, the focus is on the most effective strategy for you and your company. Where can you grow? What opportunities are out there? Your full-service partner can likely help with all of them.

The time it takes to find a vendor

The old adage of time being the only thing we can’t get back is unfortunately all too true. As a leader in your organization, you’re thinking, “How can I optimize my time? How can I best use this set of hours to grow the business?” Well, spending hours and hours sourcing a vendor certainly isn’t it.

That’s why you see so many businesses rely on the RFP process. It seems like an efficient way to find a partner. While the reasons why the RFP process isn’t the best way to buy are a topic of their own, the idea of time applies here. Find a full-service partner to be your marketing arm, and you just cut down significantly on the time it takes to get a project rolling and completed up to your specifications. Now go use that time you saved on something to grow your business even more.

Here’s exactly why you should NOT choose one or two vendors

Coming from the point of view of a person working for a marketing firm which openly says we are working to be your full partner, you may expect me to say there aren’t downsides to choosing a single full-service vendor. I’d be lying. There are always trade offs. Namely:

Broad expertise vs. just what you need

At a larger agency, you’re going to have people with a myriad of experiences. Some of these will be beneficial. For example, at Element Three, we have people who have worked with NFL teams and other sports organizations for large portions of their career working alongside experts in the B2B technology vertical. These two are fairly different industries, as you can imagine, and the fact is the expertise from both is coming into your work.

The level of expertise is broader at a larger agency, and if you’re looking for something super narrowly focused, you’re unlikely to get it. It’s more likely that you’ll be able to find at least one person at an agency like this who’s pretty good at everything, rather than someone who’s a savant-type expert at the specific thing you’re looking for.

Typically more expensive

Agencies grow in head count when they seek to service more areas of the marketing landscape, and as they earn new business. Typically, this also means they are in higher demand than smaller firms, and (rightly so) charge a higher fee to work with them. In the world of professional services your brain is your value, and larger vendors normally attract higher certifications and levels of talent—thereby costing more money to work with.

Does their process fit your needs?

Finally, we have the process. Ahhhh, the buying process. To be blunt, smaller and more specialized vendors typically have a very quick process—because it is all they do. If your service offering is creating WordPress websites and that’s it, you have a very clear set of inputs you’ll need to begin work. With a larger vendor, there may be extra steps past the initial input.

Now the downside: Why working with multiple vendors can be...less than ideal

And last but not least, we have the cons of working with a ton of specialized agencies.

Brand message across channels

At Element Three, we argue that brand is the last true value of a business. In a world of intense competition, there are always other options. Nike, Apple, and Google don’t dominate their industries because they have the clear-cut best product (in fact, many Apple products cost more for the same specs as their competitors), but because they have the strongest brands which people can emotionally identify with.

You want to be one of those companies? Your brand message has to be the same, all the time, in every message. Working with multiple agencies makes this hard to accomplish. Not impossible, but very challenging, and there’s a higher likelihood for mistakes.

Outside perspective

Of course working with any partner outside of your organization is going to give you some outside perspective. But, going back to the NFL and B2B technology example above, how similar are the ideas you’re seeing to what everyone else is doing? Sometimes bringing in perspectives from seemingly unrelated industries can give you innovative ideas you never thought would be applicable to your business—and that might be your leg up.

Time commitment to find and vet an agency

Time is money. Always has been, always will be. Every time you have to open a wide search to find a vendor for a specific project, you’re spending money finding that vendor. This isn’t complicated—working with multiple vendors takes more time and therefore costs you extra money in the time it takes to find those partners. Having one partner that can handle all of your needs relieves this.

What’s Best? That’s Up to You

The honest truth is that there is no “one size fits all” answer to the question of whether you should be working with multiple vendors or a single vendor. Clearly, as a full-service marketing firm, we don’t shy away from wanting to be your full marketing partner. It is what we do best, and we believe we do it very well. However, we also know our blueprint isn’t the right floorplan for every home buyer.

Feel like you’re ready for a full-service firm? We’d love to chat. Not so sure that’s you? We’re looking forward to it when you’re ready, and wishing you all the best with your marketing just the same.

Joe Mills Team Photo at Element Three

“Whatever you are, be a good one.” This advice has served Joe well as he’s worn many hats throughout his career – from college soccer player to marketing expert to Business Development Manager. He’s passionate about using big ideas to build mutually beneficial partnerships, because “to help yourself is to help others.”