the-specialist1In our recent Agency New Business 2014 Outlook survey, we asked marketers and agencies to share their thoughts on the importance of specialization.

Before we dive into the results, let me share some of the things that we see and hear from agencies every day.

Many agencies we talk with think that in order for a marketer to take them seriously in a particular space, they have to be “all-in” to make it work for the marketer.

They’re afraid that if they show work in other sectors on their site, marketing prospects won’t take them seriously.  Or they’re concerned if they go “all-in” with one sector, they’ll lose out on opportunities if prospects from other sectors visit their site.

While it’s true that marketers value specialization (as noted below, only 12% state that they don’t find specialization important), specialization doesn’t have to be an all or nothing affair.

Trying to be everything to everybody isn’t a good strategy.

As noted below, marketers are fine when an agency has multiple sectors in which they specialize.  They don’t expect them to be 100% dedicated to one industry – and many times don’t want them to be.

Only 10% of marketers state that they expect the agency to have 75%+ of their business dedicated to their field in order to be considered a specialist.

Having too much focus can actually prove a bad thing.

There was a agency search we managed for a hospital client where too much focus didn’t win the day.  One of the agencies was 100% dedicated to the hospital space and presented work that looked like most of the other work they have done for other hospital clients.  And the thinking they presented really didn’t give the marketer a good feeling about their ability to understand their specific challenge – seemed way too canned.

The winning agency only had about 30%-40% of their business dedicated to the hospital space, but in the end did a much better job making the marketing client feel like they were already ramping up.  They studied the client’s market, they ran some focus groups among their consumers, they smartly tied different strategic directions to campaigns they had presented, and importantly – there was a notable passion for the client’s business that was lost in the “100%” firm.

So what does this mean for you?

Means that if you’re of the mind that specialization is critical, make sure you’re looking beyond just the experience to determine if you have a real partner on your hands.

Look at how well they think about your specific issues as they present their strategic plans.

Look at how creative their best non-advertising ideas are – do they really push the envelope?

And look at the team and their passion for your business.  I’ve seen far too many agencies that get stuck in ruts, doing the same type of work day in and day out…and it can get boring for them.  Are they really energized by your business?

Think about these things the next time you start looking for a new marketing agency.