From the big five, to the marketing agency around the corner. There’s a shit-ton of agencies out there. How do they differentiate 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 bottom-line company results.
  2. The compound agency, who focuses both on the operational side as the strategic business side. This agency also takes responsibility for bottom-line results.
  3. The conceptual agency focuses less on the operational level. Their approach is almost purely strategic, with a focus on bottom-line results.

it’s rare for an agency to be 100% ‘hands-on’, ‘compound’ or ‘conceptual’, though you quickly notice towards which side 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? This type of agency will be your most promising pick. 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 a proven approach that helps you 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 is a perfect partner for 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 entirely up to speed on what’s possible in digital marketing land? Then you’ll find that hands-on agencies offer quick help in the form of a one-stop-shop. This often makes their approach a hit or miss. When it doesn’t work out, the hands-on agency will rarely 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 side.


2. Conceptual agency 


Sometimes you’re 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. They shift 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. They take on the challenger’s role and 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 consider a conceptual 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 within 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 build that advice. Therefore, these processes can take up quite some time. It is also easy to make grand plans, but they often don’t offer 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 towards the next step in your digital maturity. A mindset where you know marketing does not stand isolated as a silo but connects inseparably to all business aspects.

When to collaborate?

Does your company need an overall 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 stands side-by-side with 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 start of your digital maturity? Then you are more likely to choose a hands-on agency. Within that context, you’ll become familiar with your company’s digital part. It is the ideal environment to build up evidence and experience that you can use later.


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.