For the last decade, digital marketing, social media marketing, and web development have grown rapidly and digital consultants and agencies have popped up all over the place to provide these services. Businesses of all shapes and sizes can now enlist digital services from an agency, digital consultant, or consulting firm.

Agency vs Consultancy Firms

But how do business owners decide between digital consultants and agencies? And why does it even matter? The answer lies in the distinction between how an agency works and how a digital consultant operates.

Consultants see a need while agencies fill a need. Consulting firms are about strategy, about long-term thinking. Agencies are about what needs to be done today. The textbooks say that a consulting firm is often hired to identify and solve a problem. An agency is hired to implement a brief or plan.

A digital consultant investigates while an agency executes.

Digital consultant vs an agency: Textbook differences

The biggest difference between a digital consultant and an agency is the strategy. While there are many similarities between a digital consultant and an agency, the main difference is that strategy and strategic recommendations are traditionally attributed to a digital consultant while the implementation of the recommendation belongs to the agency.

As marketing silos merge and the full sales funnel experience becomes the focus of marketing, so too are agencies starting to offer consulting services and vice versa.

Another important distinction is that a digital consultant works within client’s framework while an agency is given “agency” to act on the behalf of their clients to execute project plans. If you are uncomfortable giving another company agency to act on your behalf, it’s better to opt for a consultant who immerses herself in your business and works with your contracted employees.

Both a digital consultant and an agency can have small to large teams, but in a consulting firm, everyone works together towards one goal. In an agency, every specialist is tasked to complete a portion of the project without necessarily being aware of the bigger picture. There’s a common misconception that a digital consultant always works alone or independently. But this isn’t true at all – consulting firms come in all shapes and sizes. Some digital consultants work alone while others require big teams to complete a project.

What is the real-life difference between a digital consultant and an agency? And why does it matter?

In real terms, an agency is a different animal to a digital consultant.

While digital consultants are often staffed by professional, experienced, mature employees with a solid track record, agencies find themselves home to competitive creatives who have no loyalty towards the agency. This results in a high turnover of staff causing a big problem in agencies. It has gotten so bad in Cape Town that you will often find the same individuals at different agencies from one marketing conference to the next.

Organizational culture can also be a concern with agencies. If you watched the series Mad Men, you’ll probably have an idea of what agencies used to be like, but you’re probably also thinking that agencies couldn’t still be like that. Are they still packed with Martini lunches, sex in the supply closet and rife with misogyny? Business Insider asked the ad industry whether they still behave like the cast of Man Men, and the truth is startling. Even today, there is often a drinking and/or drug culture in agencies to help creatives work longer hours and spend more time at work. It’s extremely popular for agencies to have a fully-stocked bar in the office as this draws new employees and perpetuates the culture. It’s often frowned upon when new employees do not partake in this culture and it can result in the employee being excluded from office gatherings, leading to them feeling like an outsider for not drinking on the job.

Another hard truth about agencies is that they spend large amounts of resources on new proposals and pitches. In an effort to get as many lucrative accounts as possible, agencies often pull creatives off paid projects with existing clients to work on pitches for new clients. In effect, this means that existing clients are financing the acquisition of new clients and not getting the full attention they deserve. Not only does this seem unethical, it has similarities to the protocol of a Ponzi scheme where one investor funds another’s dividends without either investor’s knowledge.

High costs for junior resources. Agencies often have one set hourly rate for each type of service from graphic design to website development, and everything in between. These fees are not always market-related because the specialist working on your designs might be a junior with only one year’s experience. But you won’t know that until you see the work. When a client agrees to pay these fees, they are often unaware of who exactly will be working on their project. It is not uncommon for an agency’s clients to hardly ever see the person they originally met with after signing the deal. With a consultant, you deal with the same person from start to finish, and they have a team of dedicated professional will work together to achieve your goals.

Agencies have always had a place in advertising and media, and the rise of digital businesses who provide digital marketing, website development, SEO and social media marketing services have made it easy for businesses to get complicated, technical stuff done. But how do you find the right digital partner for your objectives? How do you choose between a digital consultant and an agency? And why should you choose Boland Digital as your digital consultant?

digital consultants by Boland Digital

Boland Digital is not an agency because:

1) We offer our clients what they need when they need it

Digital media consulting is Boland Digital’s area of focus and expertise. We know that we can’t do everything and we don’t want to do everything. Our aim isn’t to grow your account with added services so that you eventually rely completely on us. Our focus is to help your business achieve its objectives by proposing digital solutions that will help accomplish them. We strive to recommend improvements that can be implemented and valued immediately. We ask the direct, hard questions that you’ve always needed someone to ask. Does the logo appeal to the right market while establishing the brand’s identity? Does the website deliver value to the business? Is there a content strategy to ensure that marketing efforts stay accurate, relevant and timely? This is what we focus on. We want to make digital work for your business, nothing more and nothing less.

2) We work well with your internal staff and your other partners

Because Boland Digital focuses on creating new (and converting existing) business collateral to digital media, we’re not bent on increasing the scope of our work by taking it away from existing staff, vendors and partners. We respect the existing team structures and work around them because we know that it will be our failure if we deliver our work in a way that’s difficult for your internal team to take on board. Your success is our success, and we know that every business, large and small, has a rich history and a group of hard-working people behind it. We’re here to tell your story as best we can.

3) We work well with our own staff

Competition. High staff turnover. Low commitment. Most agencies won’t want to admit how much time they spend trying to keep their employees working productively. But no amount of bar fridges, foosball machines or video games will take away the interdepartmental politics and unhealthy competition that exist in agencies. We believe that competition among employees is a waste of time. Because Boland Digital is a digital media consultancy, our collective intelligence is focused on meeting a single objective: designing and improving digital media. By working as a team to meet our client’s objectives, we don’t waste time debating the need for an office party to celebrate a new account.

4) Our services are based on the fact that you know your business, we know digital media

We are not experts in agriculture, financial services, healthcare, retail or any other areas of specialty that our clients focus on. Boland Digital’s expertise lies in creating and optimizing interactive digital media that need to contribute to a business’s bottom line and drive return on investment. We have been helping clients meet their business objectives since the very first blogs and Facebook pages emerged. Our consultants help to identify your goals and develop a plan to meet your digital needs. We don’t employ “account managers” whose job it is to learn your business, act as advisors and act as an intermediary for all communication. It would be impossible to learn your business in a matter of months, so we keep our area of focus on what we know. We also trust and respect your expertise in your field.

5) Our focus is on meeting your goals, not on highlighting our vision

As a digital media consultancy, the success of our services depends on being able to translate a business’s mission and vision into successful digital media applications, images, videos and more. Boland Digital’s focus is on enabling your business goals to be met online, and creating a pleasant, engaging experience for your customers. Our focus has never been, and will never be, to stamp our own voice or style onto your website. Our success is based on the increased brand awareness of our clients, and improved return on investment (ROI) for your business. We are not focused on creating a portfolio of work that reflects our own style or voice. At the end of the day, if our clients are the only one who knew about our involvement, that’s okay with us.

What’s in a name?

This is why we work as digital consultants and why Boland Digital was founded as a consulting firm. These distinctions also explain why Boland Digital has never needed to employ a business development rep or sales person. This is also why most of our business comes from referral or repeat clients. As a consultancy, Boland Digital can offer an affordable, effective and efficient service to all clients and partners. We focus on our area of expertise and we recognize the expertise of others.