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Agency vs consultancy: what's the difference, and which is right for you?

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What exactly is the difference between a consultancy and an agency? And which should you opt for when it comes to your digital project? 

There may come a time—or you might've already reached the point—where your digital product needs some external support. The next step is finding the right people on the outside to help. But that can be tricky if you're not quite sure who to approach when outsourcing work. And if you're not clear on the difference between your options—agencies on the one hand and consultancies on the other—it can be even more challenging to know where to start. 

First things first: before we get into the nitty gritty of which one is right for you, let's break down the difference between working with an agency working with a consultancy. 

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Agencies tend to be small and nimble, with a team of experts in a specific field or industry. For example a digital product agency, delivers on planning, strategy, design, and management of all digital products. An advertising agency will create, plan, and manage the advertising needs of their client. A communications agency will be experts in everything to do with, you guessed it, communications. 

Businesses might work with several different agencies to meet business needs because the specialised nature of agencies means that they come in to implement a particular thing and deliver on a specific project.

Consultancies, meanwhile, can also provide a higher level of cross-discipline guidance. Think of a consultant like business sage, there to offer a big-picture view of what's working, what's not, and to help you build a strategy to address your company's top-tier challenges. 

In a way, consultancies have built from the top downwards, and agencies are building from the ground upwards. So while their services might look like they’re overlapping, that top-down, ground-up difference in perspective is key because it shapes how the two forge, develop, and nurture partnerships. 

The former mainly engage with senior leadership, and the solutions they provide filter down the company. Instead, agencies start with their ears closer to the ground and work with, say, project managers from the get-go. Sure, they might be able to vet a strategic solution that’s come from board-level decision-makers to ensure that it works by the time it’s reached the business’s frontline.

How much of that strategy stuff they can do, though, is dependent on size, experience and resource. Agencies that invest large sums in strategic tech capabilities, for example,  might mean budget cuts to their creative departments. On the flip side, agencies that remain true to their roots could simply be unable to compete with high-level strategy from consultancies.

Why the difference isn't always clear cut

While a distinction between the two is vital to understand, the agency-consultancy line is becoming blurrier, largely down two things.

Firstly, technology is more accessible now than it's ever been, and that's especially true of digital tools that do the job a consultancy may have previously done. Take Google's project management software, for instance—software to help your project run more efficiently and productively—your team can sign up for a free trial before even having to consider outsourcing a consultancy to implement new software. 

Secondly, there are a lot of agencies and consultancies out there. And as time has gone on, the demand from clients for a full-service job has skyrocketed. Clients are by and large looking to outsource work from those who can help their business achieve their big-picture strategy goals and be responsible for delivering specific outcomes on particular projects. 

The result? Consultancies started to bring agencies in-house to deliver all of the creative, project-led work. Accenture gobbled up not one, not two, not five but dozens of agencies in the last 10 years. 

Over the fence, agencies haven’t become extinct by any stretch; it’s quite the opposite. Many are bolstering their reputation by establishing consultancy roles in-house to do all the high-level strategy stuff. That's why you might see both business models offering both types of services.

Which is best for your digital project?

Simply put, your needs will lead the answer to this. If you know that you have a set of requirements regarding a digital product, an agency can help you plan, design, create and implement whatever it is you need. Agencies have the tools, resources, and wealth of experience working with digital projects to deliver the best possible job.

If you're looking for guidance and expertise on business decisions, build big-picture strategies, and a primarily advisory service when it comes to implementing those strategies, a consultancy might be best placed to step in. But a consultancy probably isn't your first port-of-call when it comes to executing the running of a digital product from a practical and technical perspective. 

Here's how we do it at Fluent

Fluent is a technology consultancy made up of industry specialists and experts in digital product development. Our approach is flexible, led by your needs, and focused on getting you the best results—whether that's to act as outsourced engineers, to work alongside other agencies, or to mesh with your in-house team.

In terms of our pre-project service, it's there to allow us to flesh out your project aims and determine how we can support you best. Think of it as the making of your digital roadmap. Together, we'll:

  • explore your project's possibilities;
  • advise on your current challenges, and;
  • adapt the systems you already have in place so that they can fulfil their potential.

From there, our engineers roll up their sleeves and get to work on the solutions we've identified for your digital products and services. 

So, if you have already reached the point where your project needs some external support and want a tailored service to meet your goals, our digital product experts are here to guide, strategise, create, design, or build for your project.

Get in touch to chat about how we can help you with your digital project.


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