From the big five, to the marketing agency around the corner. There are a shit-ton of agencies. How do they differ from each other? Is there even a difference between agencies? Because agencies, don’t they all do the same type of work in the end?

The range of different agencies is vast, that’s true. But to say they all do the same thing? That’s where you’re wrong, kiddo!

To keep the overview, we put the different types of agencies on a chart.

On the vertical axis, you’ll find how involved the agency is with business processes. Does the agency feel responsible for making an impact on bottom-line results? Or does the agency only feel responsible for marketing campaigns?

On the horizontal axis, you’ll see how engaged the agency is with operations. Some agencies focus heavily on marketing strategy. On the other hand, there are agencies that focus on the execution of campaigns: in those cases, it’s the client who provides the strategy.

Out of these two criteria, 3 types originate. 

  1. The hands-on agency with a strong focus on the operational side of affairs. They take less responsibility on bottomline company results.
  2. The compound agency, who focuses both on the operational side as the strategic business side. This agency also takes responsibility for bottomline results.
  3. The conceptual agency, met een zwakkere focus op operationele uitvoer en een hogere verantwoordelijkheid opneemt voor bedrijfsresultaten.

it’s rare for an agency to solely be ‘hands-on’, ‘compound’ or ‘conceptual’, though you quickly notice which way an agency leans. 

We zoom in on the different types of agencies on the chart. That way you know where to turn when you’re looking for a partner in digital marketingland. 


1. Hands-on agency 


Do you want to get off to a flying digital start? Then there is music in this type of agency. A hands-on agency has the role of initiator and is strong in the execution of digital campaigns: launching socialmedia ads, taking care of the SEO on your webpage, taking care of Google Ads, and so on. Within this agency, you will find proven formulas for a strong start during your first steps in the digital landscape. This makes the hands-on agency the ideal first station on your path to digital marketing excellence. 

When to collaborate?

Do you have a clear picture of what your problems are? Then this is where a successful partnership grows. A hands-on agency lends itself perfectly to companies at the start of their digital maturity. Do you plan to test certain hypotheses, create evidence and enter the digital marketing landscape without large upfront costs? Then you’re in the right place.

Also, there are a lot of companies with strategic talent in-house. They use the support of a hands-on agency to take on the operational work when they are short of hands.

When to consider another type of agency?

Are you not quite up to speed on what’s possible in digital marketing land? Then you’ll find a hands-on agency offers quick help in the form of a one-stop-shop. This often makes their approach a hit or miss. Does their proposed approach not bear the hoped-for fruit?  Then this type of agency is rarely going to provide solutions on a deeper strategic level. They are less likely to have the reflex to touch the client’s business part. Business and marketing work hand-in-hand. When good marketing stops paying off, it is best to adjust the business. This reflex is less common among hands-on agencies.


2. Conceptual agency 


Sometimes you are so focused on what is in front of you that you lose sight of the bigger picture. A conceptual agency breaks you out of this tunnel vision. This shifts your attention to a perspective in the future instead of fixating on what’s right in front of you.

A conceptual agency specializes in the long term. In doing so, they take on the role of challenger: they analyze your digital efforts & broad professional environment. They support you in questions like, “What KPIs show that digital marketing and sales efforts are going in the right direction?”, “What strategic pillars answer your company’s challenges?”, “What profiles do you need to hire internally so that the strategy works?”, etc.

When to collaborate?

Do you need independent advice on your current marketing approach? Then count on this type of agency. Your company must have already taken steps into digital maturity. A conceptual agency rarely sells a follow-up trajectory. As a result, their advice is often purely strategic. You will have to implement it yourself.

When to consider another type of agency?

Do you want speed, or have a ready-made answer on your desk within one week? Then you’re less likely to find it with this type of agency. Their work is more like the preparation before, and the pit-stops during a long journey. The agency looks at what you need to get as far as possible. Extensive research is essential to come to that advice. Therefore, these processes can take quite some time. It is also easy to make grand plans, but they often lack operational realization. Can you walk the talk?


3. Compound agency 


This agency takes on both the high-level strategy and your digital marketing execution. They know that a strong, strategic vision is the cornerstone of effective marketing. They can help you with strategic questions such as: which benchmarks show the success of marketing & sales; which pillars within your company contribute most to those benchmarks; and which in-house skills you should best upgrade or hire. At the same time, they are also ready to help you set up your digital campaigns.

An all-in-one marketing approach. That’s why this agency often takes on the role of educator. They guide you to the next step in your digital maturity. A mindset where marketing does not stand isolated as a silo, but is inseparably connected to all business aspects.

When to collaborate?

Does your company need an overarching digital marketing approach? Then a compound agency offers everything under one roof. According to this agency, digital marketing is part of the bigger picture. It links to other departments within your company: logistics, finance, customer care, etc. This way you gain efficiency and there is no longer a mismatch between strategy and operations. 

When to consider another type of agency?

Are you at the very beginning of your digital maturity? Then you are more likely to choose a hands-on agency. Within that context, you’ll become familiar with the digital part of your company. It is the ideal environment to build up evidence and experience that you can use later.

Same case, different agency


Every company has the need for another type of agency. To help you envision what the ideal agency is for your company, we’ll take a look at their different approaches. Let’s zoom in on how each type of agency engages with a client.

1. Hands-on agency approach

The fictional company ‘Mr. Miyagi’ is a Bonsai trees retailer. Unlike their product, the company wants to grow. To do so, ‘Mr. Miyagi’ already has a basic webshop that is running reasonably well. How does the hands-on agency ensure that ‘Mr. Miyagi’ can grow further? 

The hands-on agency immediately rolls up its sleeves. The priority is to put Facebook & Google ads live on the current website as soon as possible. This way they create traffic to the ‘Mr. Miyagi’ webshop. Their goal is to strengthen the current digital approach as much as possible.


2. Compound agency

‘Wonka’ is a huge candy store and has already taken its first steps in the digital landscape. On their website, you can order sweet delicacies from all over Belgium. They are already well versed in Google Ads and reaching their target audience.

The compound agency’s approach is the happy medium. They start by fine-tuning the online ads & campaigns. This way they generate more visits to the webshop.

In this process, they look a little further in terms of campaign management than the hands-on agency. They take a strategic look at more complex issues such as attribution. In this way, they improve the campaigns with a strong digital chocolate sauce. 


3. Conceptual agency

‘BuilderBob’ is a DIY store with locations in multiple European countries. Their webshop, Google Ads & Google Analytics are running at full speed. Despite strong marketing efforts, their growth stalled. They approach a conceptual agency.

The conceptual agency starts with extensive research. They do not only look at the marketing aspect. The agency also takes a close look at other business aspects: sales, customer care, finance, logistics, etc.

They turn these insights into an innovation journey for BuilderBob. Focusing on major business opportunities, they answer questions such as: What business aspects can be improved; What kind of people need to be hired for that; etc.


What type of agency are you looking for?


It is best to look at your own challenges first. How mature is your company on the digital front? What type of advice are you looking for? If you have a good idea, you now know what type of agency you should choose.