The short answer is that you should always use a specialist if you can. Strange as that may seem coming from a full service marketing communications agency, it’s absolutely the truth.

The better question is, when should you go directly to a digital specialist and when should you go for one-stop shopping?

First of all, let’s define digital services in the marketing context. These services include (deep breath): back-end CRM, paid search, organic search, social media programs, blog posts, email marketing, website design, landing pages and programming, mobile apps, mobile sites, online display advertising, Facebook advertising, contextual and behavioral targeting and rich media. That’s—what?—15 different categories. Then there’s offline services. Like branding and advertising as well as market research, media planning and buying and—what am I forgetting?

That’s a lot of stuff for anyone to handle. Which is why the digital world seems to be divided into vertical specialists. That leaves it to a marketer to go to 5 or 10 different shops to find specialists in all these areas. Well, good luck with the rest of your day.

Of course, most marketers are not starting from scratch. More typically, you already have some of the verticals covered. You already have a website, you may have a social media program and you may have paid search covered. But what about that new thing you’ve been hearing about? Mobile apps? Or you don’t have an effective CRM program. Or you need to sharpen your outbound email program…

It’s fluid, this digital marketing. You’re constantly adding new things and dropping things that aren’t working. Or you should be.

So, first the case for going to a digital specialist(s). If you’re the type of marketer who likes tinkering with your digital programs yourself and you have the expertise and the time to implement and track results, then you may want to deal with a few specialists—or several specialists—in the various disciplines. Or, if you’ve got more modest needs and a more modest digital budget and just need to add that one extra channel and you’re done, then perhaps going direct to specialists is for you.

The alternative is using a generalist who, in turn, will always use specialists. Like a General Contractor to build your house. In Williams Whittle’s case, we’re the General Contractor. When we have specialists on staff, we use them. When it doesn’t make sense for us to have, say, a mobile app developer on staff, then we make it our business to know who the best-in-class mobile app developers are, and we bring them in.

Perhaps a better analogy is that of a quarterback. A full service agency will QB your on and offline marketing program. We’ll start with an audit to see what’s working and what’s not. We will QB your brand promise throughout your offline and digital marketing program. And we’ll track what we can track, and we’ll optimize for you.

I had a prospective client wonder out loud to me whether he should “just go with a digital agency”. I offered to give him the names of several, but I told him to be prepared to double his meeting schedule because (back to the GC analogy) he’d be dealing with the plumber, the electrician, the roofer, etc.

So, good question: Generalist with specialists? Or, specialists alone? Your choice.