top of page
Image by NASA

Marketing Academy.

Choosing a marketing agency: types, costs, pros and cons [update: 2024]

Choosing a marketing agency is a crucial decision for any business looking to grow and thrive in today's competitive market. In this article, we'll explore the different types of marketing agencies, the associated costs, the pros and cons of each option , and provide practical advice on how to choose the right agency for your specific needs.

Without marketing, you can't build a brand. And without a brand you can't grow any business with tools other than discounts and an immense commercial network. FRANCESCO GALVANI, CEO of Deep Marketing

If you don't build a brand, you will lose the ability to create the so-called " leverage effect " from the roots. In fact, the deepest meaning of marketing is all here: not only to increase short-term sales, but above all to increase long-term margin, turnover, customer and resource satisfaction, maximization of investments, retention of the best talents in the company, customers more loyal and of much higher quality. Marketing means branding, and branding means building leverage. Pretty simple, right?

My name is Francesco Galvani , and I am the CEO of the Deep Marketing agency. Our purpose goes beyond that of normal agencies and our experience as well, given that, as former managers of multinationals, we are the first in Italy to position ourselves as a true outsourced marketing office that is extremely flexible, managerial, and which drastically reduces typical costs. of internal staff. This is the crucial point, and it is very close to my heart.

In the next lines I will analyze for you the pros and cons of every form of marketing and communication agency and "proto agency", combining aspects of cost, service, usefulness and advice based on my experience.

In the following image, a reasoned map of the types of agency and proto agency we will talk about.

Map of agencies
Map of marketing and communication agencies

However, let's start with three classic questions that anticipate the choice of a marketing agency.

Can my company do without marketing?

Is it possible to live without marketing , despite the premise about the importance of branding? The answer may seem paradoxical, but yes. It's definitely possible. There are small historical and consolidated companies led by "old-fashioned" entrepreneurs who have a product of extreme excellence and a widespread commercial network that ensures a constant flow of orders and customers, and a certain market security. Marketing fights with these realities because the owner doesn't feel the need, and isn't even sensitive to frills like the idea of a brand . These companies don't really have "brands", but "talking" extensions of the SKUs. In the short term they are therefore perfectly fine without marketing.

The problem comes over time, when fierce competitors appear who instead do marketing. As long as the competitor is young and has an average product, everything is ok. But when the level of its product rises, the company that owns a brand under construction and invests in marketing, in a competition that lasts for years , steals market share from the historic company . For obvious reasons: it does not depend on acquired customers and agents alone. It has a brand that "pulses" and attracts new customers and new resources.

In summary: in the short and medium term we live without marketing. In the long term and in a market where new competitors may enter, no.

Should I hire people who deal with marketing?

Having resources totally at your disposal and tied to us 8 hours a day is always an excellent idea, if there is economic and organizational rationality . But for an SME this is almost never the case. The math doesn't add up and neither does the management of the activities.

For two simple reasons:

  1. Even the most junior resource has a significant business cost . A marketing specialist with a few years of experience cannot earn less than 1300 euros net per month. Which as a business cost becomes double. To which we must add thirteenth and fourteenth, a computer, potentially an office, staff and indirect costs. We are calmly talking about at least 3000 euros per month in the best case scenario. For a resource with little experience, otherwise we get double. With 3000 euros per month we can have a lot of services from an agency or an outsourced office like Deep Marketing!

  2. Even the most competent person does not have infinite competence . Modern marketing consists of a tsunami of channels to manage, offline and online media, mountains of operations, languages, skills, tones of voice, different software, different sensitivities, skills that are not compatible or assimilable. It is not realistically possible to equip yourself to have a "minimum" amount of professionals in house and cover all the marketing channels necessary for a company, no matter how small. Five people wouldn't be enough, and there would still be holes. Worse: skills must adapt to the trend of work and the market, not the opposite. And this changes rapidly. It is therefore necessary to change skills and roles in a marketing office often and quickly. With hired resources this is literally impossible, except for large corporations.

In summary: hiring is a sensible and recommended choice only if we can count on many different professionals and allocate their hours efficiently. Something only allowed to the very largest realities.

What are the benefits of an agency?

So let's be honest. For a classic SME or a non-giant company, it often makes no sense to have an internal marketing office . At most you can hire a junior operator or a person who works in customer support. In some rare cases, an internal marketing manager makes sense, as long as he is someone capable of getting his hands dirty and choosing his partners well.

In summary, the benefits of an agency are mainly three:

  1. Cost savings : With an agency, you pay only for the services you request, avoiding the fixed costs associated with an in-house team.

  2. Access to advanced technologies : Agencies have the latest tools for analyzing and executing campaigns, ensuring optimal results.

  3. Flexibility and scalability : Agencies can adapt their services based on the needs of the company, allowing marketing efforts to be scaled up or down as needed.


And we get to the heart of this analysis.

How do you choose the agency? In the form of a communications agency, a marketing agency, a consultant or a web agency?

Below is the list of what the market offers, starting from the "almost" agencies.

And the market is a mess , I can assure you. I therefore outline a list without any claim to be exhaustive, it is just the synthesis of my experience of two decades in the profession, both on the client side (for 15 years) and on the supplier side (for 5 years).

Nomadic agency
Agency or digital nomad?

How agencies are commonly divided

Marketing agencies can be divided into several categories, each with their own specializations and benefits. You will typically hear these definitions used:

  • Full-Service Agencies : Offer a full range of marketing services, from strategy to creative to campaign execution. They are ideal for businesses that need comprehensive, integrated support.

  • Specialized Agencies : They focus on a specific area of marketing, such as SEO, content marketing, or social media management. They are perfect for companies that need specific skills.

  • Boutique Agencies : Small agencies that offer a personalized and tailor-made service. They are often chosen by companies looking for a more intimate and dedicated approach.

In my opinion they are not sufficient or particularly clear groupings. For this reason, below, we will go deeper and create more practical subdivisions in line with customer needs.

Let's start from scratch.

The "proto" agencies

Let's start with the simplest and cheapest offer on the market: freelancers, web agencies, performance agencies and SMMA. We see.

Free-lance collaborators

As we expect, the definition of freelance is no more complicated than it appears. A freelancer can manage any marketing channel for you , from advertising on Google and Facebook, to social networks, e-commerce, a website, magazine publishing, offline advertising, even public relations or events.

I do not advise against this form of collaboration, also because it would be hypocritical on my part, given that my first freelance job was precisely this: being a consultant. But it is good to understand the limits of the thing and which freelancer to choose : I had 15 years of experience as a manager when I started my own business, so I proposed myself as a freelance digital marketing manager , that is, I found all the collaborators necessary for the company, I coordinated them, I negotiated and was the liaison between the company and other professionals, interacting daily with the administration and the CEO. Even though I had several clients, I represented an external function head for each of them.

If you want to find a freelancer, I recommend exactly this path: look for an expert consultant . You don't have the skills to be the one to find marketing professionals, manage them, understand their language, direct them, evaluate them. You have something else to do, a company to follow . If you think you can solve the matter by paying as needed only those who manage your digital campaigns or the site, you are off track. It does not work like that.

Warning: super alert!

Don't fall into the temptation of naively thinking that a freelancer costs less than an agency . At all! If you are dealing with a consultant with long experience, be prepared for a consistent fee . Forget about hotels with three stars or less, travel at his expense, and don't skimp on the non-competition agreement, please. It backfires on you.

If this seems absurd to you, you need to remember the concept of opportunity cost from the economics book. Your consultant manager's time is capped, it is a limited amount. And as his amount of seniority increases, it is a waste of money for him to dedicate this time to you compared to having a bouquet of clients. While an agency can weight the cost across multiple professionals of different levels, and be more flexible. You have to build his loyalty.

I myself was paid much more as a consultant than I was for providing the same services through my agency. And it's very normal. As much as we are attentive to the customer and give him a dedicated manager, the time given by an agency is much less "scarce " than that given by a single loyal and dedicated consultant.

Web agencies

The natural next step for many companies is to replace a freelancer with an alternative form of freelance under another hat, i.e. the web agency. They are attractive because they promise to manage "only the marketing you need" (i.e. digital advertising and little else) and generally cost little, around 1000-1500 euros per month if they are normal agencies, much more if they are linked to a famous name .

With classic web agencies we have two big problems:

  • It is not true that in 2022 marketing can be limited to "digital advertising and little else" , wish it were that simple. An agency must be able to accompany you throughout the entire crescent of marketing channels, and there are dozens and dozens of them, otherwise you will lose the market. Otherwise you'll end up with the same guy who only knows how to use a hammer and convinces you that he can make a house with it. Indeed, even draw it.

  • Too many web agencies in Italy focus on the "personal brand" factor of one or more of the founders . For some bizarre reason, the idea has spread that companies should pay to have personalities, not professionals . So the former flood the advertisements with their big faces, give a thousand conferences, courses, interviews, pay for articles (has anyone mentioned "Forbes"?) to be defined as the new gurus. And you believe him, you get fleeced, and you find yourself with a match at the end of the month.

It does not mean that the web agency should be excluded a priori. Never! But it must be understood with brains and by looking with a little salt at serious realities, those in which professionals are competent - just evaluate their profile on LinkedIn and the quality of their communication. And - for the love of God - staying away from those where the founder's face comes first compared to the services offered and the professionalism.

A very important note about web agencies is that there is a tendency to include in this definition even those that are large software development companies extended to some marketing channels. There is no point in underlining the obvious: they have nothing to do with the web agencies we discussed in this chapter, there is only a similarity in the name.

These are often companies that have a turnover of several million euros with a wealth of programmers, accounts, meeting rooms and representative offices. By profession they create programs and management systems, and incidentally some of these programs are portals, websites, marketing tools. So they put other services on top. I know the matter well because during university I collaborated with one of these, and in hindsight they look more like traditional and structured companies than marketing agencies.

My advice is not to exclude them a priori, even if the cost can sometimes be anything but low and they are not really "native communication experts". But it's always good to know serious players .

Le SMMA - Social Media Marketing Agency

Very bizarre animals but much talked about, SMMAs - that is, web agencies specializing in social media - are often presented as the solution to every evil. They promise growth in followers , visibility for a few euros, social management, and maybe some advertising campaigns. They are tempting because they are cheap and do not require a large media budget investment (i.e. money to put into advertising), given that theoretically it is enough to pay the agency team to increase visibility.

Alas, it's just a beautiful dream. 90% of SMMAs are made up of kids who have found a way to earn money by selling services that appeal to the market. But with often unacceptable quality , and sometimes practices that are not totally clean, such as purchasing followers. The real cancer, however, is further upstream: these kids are first of all victims of scoundrels who have made them pay well for a course bordering on fraud, with pre-packaged recipes, second-class templates and handbooks to be applied to manage the activity on social networks. There is no skill or teaching of the trade, only the mechanical transmission of qualitatively unbecoming methods of work, carbon-copy posts and advertising campaigns, often aesthetically unpleasant.

No marketing strategy based only on social networks can work . There is no evidence in the literature, and the experience of any marketing manager will confirm the seriousness of this illusion.

In general, I recommend staying away from SMMA . By doing so, you could absurdly help many people, taking money away from despicable ways of exploiting children, who in turn often decide to abandon their studies with the illusion of easy enrichment in an agency of this type.

Performance agencies

Indeed, at the top of the food pyramid of "proto-agencies" in terms of allure are organizations specialized in what is called "performance marketing". Big words aside, the idea is very linear: they don't really deal with marketing - which, I remember, mainly consists of creating brands and leverage - but with procuring sales and potential customer lists in the short term , and in more or less reproducible ways. .

Here the matter is too complicated for just one chapter, we'll talk about it again. But suffice it to say that these are companies that are sometimes quite important and have turnovers of millions of euros, which are roughly divided into two groups:

  • Those who create a site optimized for local traffic and indexing on Google for your area, and perhaps manage some campaigns for support and minimal social management.

  • Those that bring you potential customers or are expressly focused only on making you grow sales in your online shop.

The tools change between these two groups, but the objective is identical: purely commercial.

On paper it seems like everything a company needs to win the battle in the market, in practice it's not even a dream . Both because these entities are forced to work on large numbers and cannot devote much attention to them, effectively using standard mechanisms with you . Both because there is a reason why marketing exists and it is very different from commercial work. Short-term oriented activities tend to bring in second-class contacts and customers over time, with more attention to quality than quantity.

In my experience, sooner or later a company understands that all in all it doesn't need many customers, but EXCELLENT customers. Customers who don't waste time, who are well profiled, who already know the brand, who don't negotiate, who don't "break up". Because they are loyal a priori to the brand (from the marketing work), therefore loyal, faithful, which give excellent margins, with which to create long profitable relationships.

“Performance” agencies are honest in this: they promise to bring customers and contacts. End. It is not their interest and they are not structured for the quality of these contacts and to grow the brand. Their philosophy is clear. In fact, they are salespeople dedicated to digital channels, rather than marketers.

How much of the iconography of marketing managers is still true?

Classic agencies

Very good. It's time to deal with the classic agencies, the textbook ones.

"Vertical" communicators

An interesting type of marketing agency is the so-called “communication agency”, or “ vertical creative agency ”. Having worked a lot in the fashion sector, I have met quite a few. We are usually talking about very structured realities and always with several years of activity behind them.

And often, damn expensive.

These are groups of rather knowledgeable and verticalized professionals in a particular market and in particular channels. As I mentioned, they are very present in fashion and represent a large slice of the market because it is believed that in this sector very specific and heterogeneous skills are needed compared to other markets. This is true, but only partially.

What is true : fashion is " image ", therefore the aesthetic ability and mastery of contemporary visual messages is a large part of the profession, just think of what it means to organize a photo shoot , from the models to the backdrops, to the type of photo and meaning of the shots. An agency must know how to do it, case closed.

What's not true : This is now true for almost every B2C consumer product. The communication needs of different markets are much closer to each other than you might think. This is why I am not a big fan of the approach of those who "encapsulate" themselves in a single sector, because I find it not very fertile, risky for the business of the agency itself because it becomes a victim of economic cycles, and incapable of transferring innovation across the markets , one of the roles of those who do marketing.

An exemplary case: we recently worked with an important brand of accessories for mobile phones and computers. I assure you that the skills we have exploited in the Deep Marketing team and the results of the work are equivalent to what could have happened if we had worked for a fashion brand. From the photo shoot, to content writing, to advertising planning, to the obsession with visual performance. Same process.

Let's understand each other: here I gave the example of fashion, but it applies to many sectors. There are specialized communication agencies for tech, food, education and design . Wherever there is a large, important market, you will have some type of vertical communications agency. Who will get paid well for the aforementioned specialization.

I will share with you a curious fact: the cost for the client of vertical communication companies is correlated, much more than the other companies in this article, to its geographical position . A specialist communications agency in Milan or Rome will cost considerably more than one in Parma or Viareggio. The reasons depend only superficially on the different cost of living and salaries. In truth, they have to do with the supposed prestige and related potential contacts associated with certain locations . I've always found all this bizarre: if it actually makes a lot of sense to pay more for a well-connected public relations company – see below – what's the point of covering a communications agency that does something else for a living with gold?

In truth, we all know the explanation, and we must admit it to ourselves, if we are intellectually honest. Just as it is easy to be dazzled by the reputation of the founder of a very ordinary web agency, so we are not really insensitive to the glitter of prestigious locations, especially for agencies that already stake all their value on being associated with special market sectors. Très chic !

In essence: if you intend to rely on these actors, don't be dazzled by location, city, and shouted specialization. Talk to former clients of the same and check whether the agency in question is in fact attentive to the client's needs, knows how to personalize strategy and creativity, is present, and is not unnecessarily bureaucratized. Then evaluate.

PR and event organizers

A special type of communication agency is Public Relations firms. Often a mysterious definition, they have professionals who are perfectly inserted in the market segment in which they operate and in contact with journalists, influencers, VIPs, stakeholders. This allows them to give visibility to their customers through constant seeding and relationship with these actors. There are obviously economic exchanges, no one gives you visibility for free. But an excellent PR agency makes the difference and allows you to get where advertising alone might not take you . Public Relations companies are in my opinion the only communication agencies that can legitimately define themselves as "vertical in a certain market", simply because their relationships are long-term investments targeted in specific sectors . Deep Marketing, for example, has an absolutely exclusive and valuable partnership with PR professionals specializing in technology and personal care. While some less vertical services are managed directly by our team.

Even more interesting point: PR agencies often deal with the organization of events. Something that scares many companies due to the very high costs and the risk of failure. But it is something necessary, especially in the post-Covid era, when people are feeling the need to come together again. Nothing replaces the emotion and human connection of “face to face”.

Deep Marketing, thanks to its partnership with industry leaders, offers quick and efficient solutions for every type of event , from corporate conferences to concerts .

Speaking of events , their organization is a crucial aspect of marketing and requires specific skills. Here are some tips on what to consider when choosing an event organization agency:

  • Meticulous planning : Make sure the agency has a detailed plan for every step of the event.

  • Creativity and problem-solving : The agency must be able to manage unexpected events and find creative solutions for every challenge.

  • Experience and skills : Check that the agency has proven experience in organizing events similar to yours.

If your marketing agency does not offer a PR service – offered directly or in partnership – you will almost certainly have to find someone to support you in this regard on your own, especially if you deal with B2C business. Real marketing is also made up of Public Relations.

Marketing agencies "tout court", or "full service"

And we come to the end of our journey, we conclude with marketing companies as well . Heirs of the legendary Madison Avenue agencies in New York. Where you can breathe content , art direction, absolute creativity, supreme quality, whiskey and neurosis. Their DNA is almost the same in the various versions, what changes is only the approach to the relationship with the customer and the cost , which in turn is correlated to their fame and the seniority of their professionals.

They take care of everything for you. Every possible service and channel in marketing and communication. This is why they are often called "full service", or integrated

Paradoxically, most of them do not have stellar sales. Often much more contained, for example, than "performance" companies. But this should not deceive you: the reason is the care they give to a few specific customers . A real marketing agency is in fact capable of managing every single marketing channel at 360 degrees, most languages, media, creativity and technologies. This is a profession of several greater degrees of complexity than the actors seen in the previous chapter, but it is something necessary to guarantee a total service to the customer.

If Deep Marketing does not define a coverage contract for specific channels a priori with its clients - which means that in a short time we can go from a simple online campaign to a strategy worth hundreds of thousands of euros on multiple media - many marketing companies Yes. Because the agreement with the customer is always devoted to a specific project, more or less explicitly.

The very large, excellent and very expensive marketing companies such as Leo Burnett or Ogilvy can, for example, typically make advertising creativity and visual media management agreements. Focusing on the PR or media planning front only with an explicit review of the process and the contract with the client , and certainly after a specific analysis. This is because we need to change the strategy, the people involved and the customer accounts. And the same goes for many smaller companies, which follow the model of 1) project, 2) customer account, 3) specific dedicated team.

Marketing agency costs have a practically infinite range . From 1500-2000 euros per month to 200 thousand. Precisely because they cover all possible channels and scenarios.

Map of marketing and communication agencies

Marketing agencies map
Marketing agencies map

Deep Marketing

Deep Marketing is a real marketing agency of the group just seen, but it has a different vision, simply because we do not come from the world of agencies, but of corporate management . Our clients do not have an "account" and a project at their disposal, but an expert project manager and an external office . The project manager will therefore be the first to advise, as a consultant, to expand or reduce communication channels, expenses, analysis criteria and types of creativity and content to be produced. And, in case of assent, it will be his responsibility to exploit the appropriate resources of the agency.

Quickly, with an almost instantaneous and seamless cost adjustment to the customer.

These are different philosophical approaches. I wanted to give my agency what I asked of my suppliers when I was on the client's side. Obviously this means that we must be "very good" at organizing ourselves quickly, at having professionals who cover the entire knowledge of the marketing channels, at keeping track of the work, and at maintaining a deep relationship with the customer but without getting vampirized, as always happens when important bonds and mutual trust are created. But they are challenges that we set ourselves immediately, and that we keep under control. Others don't have these tasks, but that doesn't mean it's the best choice for the market.

This is why our services cover every marketing need: branding, strategy, online and offline advertising, social media, coordinated image, commercials, events, shooting, PR, planning, press office, app development, sites and e-commerce, content management, mentoring, growth hacking, design of commercial spaces and shops, strategic support for choosing locations, normal and financed training.

Our managers and professionals are constantly training and evaluating. Our model continues to evolve, as does our testing and adoption of state-of-the-art technology platforms. For example, we have recently activated partnerships to let our customers sell through Alibaba in Asia and to manage subsidized finance in the form of courses, equity and business credit.

If you are interested in having a chat to better understand the model and how we can help you, you can fill out this contact form without any obligation.

As you can see, we love and love talking about our work!

Bonus: Avoid the fuffaguru!

Choosing the right marketing agency can make the difference between the success and failure of your marketing efforts. Take the time to evaluate the different options, consider the costs and benefits, and be sure to avoid fake experts. With the right agency at your side, you can build a strong and lasting brand, capable of competing effectively in today's market.

Be careful though: in this article we have seen an ideal universe , but the truth is that in the world of marketing it is easy to come across false experts or " fuffaguru " who promise miraculous results without having the necessary skills. And there are more and more, especially in agencies.

Here are some signs to recognize and avoid them:

  • Lack of demonstrable skills : Be wary of anyone who can't show a solid CV or concrete case studies. If a few years ago you were involved in something else, perhaps your love for marketing hides more than anything else a love for "grain" and a botched preparation, perhaps through other gurus and their "magic methods".

  • Excessive personal fame : If a marketer is more famous for himself than for his clients, it could be a warning sign.

  • Lack of concrete results : A true marketer should be able to demonstrate tangible results achieved for his clients. Without always mentioning the usual 3 case studies on thousands of students/customers.


bottom of page