RIP full-service agencies? Introducing Willis Wisdoms

by Becky Willis
As Growth and Partnerships Director, I’ve got my finger on the pulse, ear to the ground and some other body part connected to all goings on in the digital world. Follow me for the latest and greatest in agencies, strategy and digital partnerships.
Published on December 2023

What’s this all about?

As part of our never-ending effort to provide readers with scintillating content, we’re branching out. 

From now on, we’ll be adding the voices of our key agency liaisons, top tech gurus and business masterminds to our already impressive content chorus. 

As Partnerships and Growth Director, I’ve got all bases covered when it comes to the rumblings and grumblings within the digital world, which is why I’m perfectly placed to explain all things agency – and to let you know the full-service model’s headed the way of the dodo.

(If that’s you, don’t worry; there are other ways to fly)

How would you know?

I’m pretty lucky in my role. A lot of what I get to do involves invigorating our partner relationships and keeping a close eye on the happenings in the agency scene – which in layman’s terms means going to lunches, events, gossiping over WhatsApp and generally being in whichever room the ‘influential’ are. 

It’s a tough job, I know, but someone has got to do it. 

The beauty of being in this position at a company like Just After Midnight is we’re pretty neutral (we don’t compete with our digital agency partners and exist purely to help them!) which affords us access to a lot of honest and candid insights through our partner network.

Don’t worry, this isn’t some tabloid-level exposé where I blow the lid off agencies’ darkest secrets… this is more trying to harness some of the collective voices and opinions, and shed some light on the overall picture within the agency scene. 

So here it is, the first Becks’ Blog, Willis Wisdom, Rebecca’s Remarks… whatever you want to call it – I’m starting a series of blogs to share this collective wisdom that I am privy to from arguably some of the finest digital minds in the industry.

Back to the dodo

The first thing I wanted to share with you (‘tis the season of giving after all) is this idea of full service vs. smaller specialists. Yes, I’ve spoken about it before, and OBVIOUSLY there are full-services businesses that do exceptionally well. 

I suppose it helps when you have tens of thousands of employees around the globe and own media businesses, design studios and everything in between. But let’s go on the assumption that MOST agencies aren’t under the direction of a Sir Martin Sorrell. Where does that leave them?

We’ve seen some rather large full-service agencies go off the boil in the last few years – lockdowns, recessions, retaining good staff in the age of the digital nomad, offshoring… it’s all played a part in making running service-led businesses even harder. 

So, how do we weather this storm together? It’s simple. The agencies that have thrived have done two things very well: identified their niche and learned to say ‘no’ to the wrong client or piece of work. 

I hear you; turning down work in this economy? WHAT MADNESS IS THIS?

But it’s really simple – the historical Branson-esque model of ‘say yes and worry about it later’ was all fine and dandy when it wasn’t a race to the bottom on price, and a million other agencies with the same generic proposition on every corner. 

This has caused a boom-and-bust effect that saw agencies winning large contracts, frantically recruiting to deliver the services they’d sold, then having to make cuts when the client inevitably gets bored in 18 months time and did the same dance with yet another poor agency.

I saw a great article from a friend of mine, Kieron McCann at A Few Good People (trust me, you should give him a follow as this guy has an incredibly strategic mind and a finger on the pulse when it comes to this kind of thing) where he talks about what a brand really means to an agency

The TL;DR is that if you’re relying on your people to define who you are and what you do, you’ll come unstuck. You need to have a demonstrable set of services, a solid methodology and a commercial model that actually reflects the value you bring. I want to extend this concept further by saying that if you try to do everything, you’ll end up doing nothing well, so be honest with yourself re what you’re good at and what you should partner up to deliver.

From all the conversations I’ve had with agencies, there’s an awareness that this approach is fundamentally flawed. However, when you’re used to following the immediate money by offering multiple services, it can feel daunting to take the leap and start saying ‘no.’

Client expectation to have a one-stop-shop has also driven this behavior, and it’s our responsibility to help them understand that niche players working together to deliver a common vision ISN’T more project management headaches. 

What it actually offers is a best-of-breed approach, without the bloated lumbering of full-service teams. 

There’s plenty of work to go around – we just need to make sure we’re visible to clients and our identity isn’t drowning in a sea of generic we-can-sort-of-do-everything messaging. Don’t be too proud to admit you can’t be the best at EVERYTHING and start making more friends to collaborate with – trust me, it works 😉

How we can help 

As agency partners extraordinaire, we keep mission-critical client apps up and running for some of the best and brightest. From Grey to Ogilvy, we fill the OOH, 24/7 support gap across cloud, the application layer and any third-party integrations. In other words – the full stack.

So, if you want to team up with a niche player at the top of their game, just get in touch.



With partners across the USA, Europe and APAC, we provide a truly global service. So wherever you or your clients are based, contact us today to find out what we can do.