Hanapin is running into more and more sales deals where the prospective client is basing their decision on whether they want to hire a specialist, which is us, or a generalist, which is sometimes their traditional agency of record and sometimes a full-service digital agency. This post will go through the various aspects of that decision-making process.

Client Request – “We Want A Single Point of Contact”

Pros: Clients are rightfully concerned about their workload. They’re outsourcing the work, which is one of the main reasons why – beyond expertise – they’re hiring an agency in the first place. The thought is that by hiring an agency for all of the various disciplines they need help, there’s a single person they can communicate with, streamlining the communication process and also decreasing the chances of miscommunication. It’s also a single point of contact that, in the case of poor performance, you have one person to “yell” at.

Cons: Various digital disciplines are becoming so competitive that, while having a single point of contact is ideal for communication, it’s not practical for performance. The person communicating with you cannot be an expert in every discipline, so they’ll bring in a subject matter expert (SME) to speak with you. In many of those cases, while that single point of contact can coordinate meetings on your behalf, which is one less thing you’ll have to do, you’ll still need to speak with the SME in those meetings and one-on-one in follow-ups to get the type of detail you may need.

Client Request – “I Want An Agency Who Knows My Entire Business”

Pros: For obvious reasons, you want an agency that knows as much about your business as possible. You want them to understand:

  • Your branding
  • How you want to be presented to the world
  • How various parts of the business interact with each other

In general, you want a confidant who can help you with big problems or troubled parts of the business because they know as much about your business as you do.

Cons: Agencies, by their very nature, will never know as much about your business as you do. Because they’re not working in your business on a day-to-day basis like you are, they will only know what you tell them. Boutique agencies, like Hanapin, will know their discipline extremely well and while they won’t know your business as well as you do, to win your business, they should know it better than other agencies. The confidant that prospects are looking for when they want a generalist is actually a business consultant, someone who is trained in the art of business and management consulting and has a good financial background to help you make and think through those decisions.

Client Request – “I Want Somebody Who Can Manage Both My PPC and SEO Because They’re Both Search”

Pros: From a macro perspective, PPC and SEO are both information retrieval, aka library science. And while one is advertising and one is public relations, in their most basic forms, they’re both website traffic. And, because the results for both PPC and SEO are intermingled on the page, the client feels they need an agency that can manage and understand both.

Cons: Managing PPC and SEO require different skill sets, even though to the client they’re both based on keywords.

PPC is analytical and requires a person who can sit in front of a computer in Excel for eight hours a day. There are some creative aspects to it, i.e. ad writing, but it’s less of a marketing / creative activity and more of an analysis activity.

SEO, while some aspects are analytical, is much more creative and nonlinear in nature. The goal is to create enough good content that attracts links and visitors to your website, which in turn increases your rankings. There are also many more technical aspects of programming and web technologies that are required in SEO than PPC. So while a PPC agency works with and builds landing pages, there are fewer technical aspects because those pages aren’t required to be crawled by a search engine.

My last three points aren’t so much pros and cons about whether to choose a specialist or generalist. They are about how certain characteristics of your account should inform your decision to hire a specialist or a generalist.

Small Budgets

If you have a relatively small budget, let’s say $15k monthly or less, and you already have a traditional agency of record, I would advise you to hire the traditional agency of record (or full-service digital agency) to manage your PPC. The reason for this is because no matter how good the PPC agency is, if you’ve hired a traditional agency of record, it generally indicates you’re a larger business and a $15k monthly budget would have a very small impact on your business. And regardless of the impact that a PPC agency has on that portion of your budget, it’s not likely to offset the cost in a meaningful way.

(If you’re spending $15k monthly or less and don’t already have a traditional agency of record, the advice in the previous paragraph doesn’t apply to you. Consider hiring a specialist or generalist based on the advice I give in the rest of the article.)

Large Budgets

If you have a relatively large budget, let’s say $500k annually or more, regardless of whether that is a small or large portion of your overall marketing budget, it’s a large enough number in and of itself that you should likely hire a PPC agency. The agency will be able to impact your business enough, spending between $40-$50,000 a month, that they should be able to make up for their fees both in terms of saving wasted spend and increasing account performance overall.


If your account has an array of technical issues (i.e. tagging or tracking), or:

  • There are multiple accounts with multiple brand managers
  • There are a million keywords or a million ads
  • You need to track from click to sale for lead generation
  • If there’s any demonstrable amount of complexity

I won’t say that you should hire a PPC agency, *but* you should at least speak with them to validate the depth of complexity in your account. Maybe they’re simple problems that, to someone not familiar with search, seem like complex issues and can be fixed easily. Or maybe there are blind spots you’re not aware of that a PPC agency could identify and help you manage.