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What is the Difference Between a Marketing Consultant and a Marketing Agency?

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“The best marketing doesn’t feel like marketing.” – Tom Fishburne

Businesses who are in the process of optimising their marketing strategies may eventually find themselves with one pressing question on their minds. 

This question is: what are the differences between a marketing consultant and a marketing agency? 

It may seem like the differences would be slight at first glance, but make no mistake, they are certainly present. 

In essence, a marketing agency is typically a larger, multi-personnel business that specialises in advertising and PR. Agencies tend to be rather ‘bottom-heavy’, which means that they operate primarily using their range of expertise and their ability to scale. Their scaling is often almost completely execution-focused.

Marketing consultants, on the other hand, usually do things differently. 

Instead of being focused primarily on execution, these consultants can be considered the thinkers in contrast to the agency’s doers. Some have a coaching-centric approach that’s carefully considered and well ordered. Ultimately, this empowers a business’s own teams and outside agencies to execute and manage a marketing strategy. On the other side of the coin, consultants may not always be able to master scalability, as you will see below.

Scalability and Availability

One of the most marked differences between consultants and agencies is the abovementioned scalability. 

A single consultant is only human and will usually be limited to an 8-hour workday. If they have many clients on their roster or require time off, you will need to wait patiently for the attention your business needs. A single consultant might not be able to guarantee their consistent availability, so it’s up to them, to be honest about how scalable they are in terms of your company.

Scalability is where an agency holds the upper hand. 

A large agency will always have a professional at hand to answer questions, handle marketing emergencies, and get work done timeously regardless of tight deadlines. They can also grow with your company, be it a start-up or a global brand, with relative ease.

Professional Experience

A comprehensive and reputable marketing agency will likely offer more combined experience across its whole team than an individual consultant can. By the same token, many consultants offer the benefit of being highly specialised in certain fields. 

If you’re hunting for a very specific set of skills, the right consultant could be just what you need to meet your company’s full spectrum of needs. 

Agencies boast a depth and array of expertise across multiple sectors and industries, which strengthens the quality of their service. They may be adept at offering accurate knowledge and skill, while also being able to scale alongside your business as it grows.

Range of Perspective

Another key difference between consultant and agency is the range of perspective on offer. 

Consultants are single people, and will thus be limited to their particular experiences, work processes and skills. There is nothing inherently disadvantageous about this, as long as the business finds a consultant who is highly capable and has a skill set that is well-matched with their requirements. 

Besides, consultants are the ‘thinkers’ of the marketing world, and often have the time and resources available to generate innovative and exciting ideas for your marketing pursuits.

An agency offers multiple perspectives from all of its different members, making it something of a marketing think-tank. Considering how dynamic sectors like digital marketing are, it can definitely be an advantage to gain the perspectives of a team when making long-term decisions.

Project Completion

In a classic business agreement, marketing consultants will be compensated for their time when performing an analysis. They will then move on once the project has ended, leaving their clients with a report containing recommendations and ideas. Alternatively, they may request to be kept on retainer to address any issues that arise in the future.

Short and sweet marketing assistance might be just what a business is looking for, but agencies offer a different approach. Many agencies adopt more accountability for the implementation and success of their strategies, tweaking them as they go to achieve the best ROI possible. 

Learning and Education

Consultants can provide opportunities to educate a business’s team on marketing principles and strategies, so long as they have the time to educate their clients and stay abreast of the ever-changing industry. 

This focus on education and coaching can be highly advantageous to businesses, as it empowers their members to take their operations into their own hands. The trick here is to find a consultant who is willing and able to up-skill and train your team as they work with you.

Some agencies also make a point of teaching their clients how to approach marketing more effectively. A larger agency can also offer professional development and up-skilling workshops for their employees, which keeps them up to date with the latest industry trends and developments. This fresh data can then be passed along to clients alongside the latest marketing methods.

Different Marketing Processes

Consultants often market themselves as offering a highly personalised approach to servicing their clients. They develop marketing strategies based on each individual project they handle. This can make for some truly unique and creative work, but it can also lead to inconsistencies in clients’ experiences and the quality of marketing output.

Most agencies use pre-set and predictable systems and processes to ensure consistent results for their clients. The final results might not be as niche or customised, but these agencies can make up for that with reliable service quality. 

The Bottom Line

At the end of the day, it’s up to each client to identify their own priorities and business needs and to choose a marketing option accordingly. 

However, if you are looking for creative and innovative thinking and a coaching-centred approach to marketing strategy, a consultant could be exactly what you need to get your business on the map

  • Marketing agencies specialize in advertising and PR, while marketing consultants offer coaching-centric and innovative approaches.
  • Agencies have scalability advantages due to their size, while consultants may be limited in availability.
  • Agencies have more combined experience and expertise, while consultants may be highly specialized in certain fields.
  • Consultants offer unique perspectives and ideas, while agencies provide a marketing think-tank with multiple perspectives.
  • Consultants complete projects and offer recommendations, while agencies implement and tweak strategies for the best ROI.
  • Consultants provide opportunities for education and up-skilling, while agencies offer professional development and workshops for employees.
  • Consultants offer a personalized approach, while agencies use pre-set systems and processes for consistent results.
  • Ultimately, it depends on the client’s priorities and business needs to choose the best marketing option.