Agencies and Consulting Firms: What’s the difference?

Agencies and Consulting Firms: What’s the difference?

In this piece, we break down the difference between agencies and consulting firms — a question that we’re asked more often than not.

Here are the main talking points you’ll get in this article for you to share at your next Cocktail Hour with colleagues:

  • How the know-how of agencies differs from consultancies
  • The consideration of company vision and project timelines
  • More money… more problems? Budgets and output
  • Getting an end result that makes your company shine


The year is 2017: Pierre Trudeau’s kid is Prime Minister, telephones can be used as televisions, and both agency and consulting types are starting to see their respective colours bleed across the lines that normally separate them.

Gradually, the two sides have begun seeking each other out more and more — and in a few instances, even bought each other up — to keep pace with the increasing demands of those who want precise, data-based strategies fuelling their big, brilliant creative concepts.

From a high-level perspective, agencies will perform any type of professional task for you and there are ones for all sorts of verticals and industries. Conversely, consultancies will help solve a problem. But therein lies the blurry lines: the best of the best might even do both.

Choosing an agency over a consultancy really depends on your needs. Choosing whether to go one route over the other, however, can be tricky — especially if it isn’t particularly clear to you what sets them apart.

Here are four key items to consider in the agency versus consultancy conundrum.



Agencies — even ones considered small by agency standards — are almost always larger than consulting firms and, as such, there’s a wider range of creative talent, account managers and media managers available to attach to any given project. Big agencies usually mean major resources and talent pools, but AdAge argues that smaller, boutique agencies have the agility to adapt in a rapidly changing digital landscape due to their size.

There’s only one notable pitfall that comes with working with a huge agency, which is the possibility that you may become privy to internal politics. This can manifest itself as a lack of communication between creatives and directors, or the possibility that your team may consist of people who don’t work together often, especially when freelancers get involved.

Consultancy teams are used to working together on everything, so there’s already a built-in rhythm that you’re not always assured of getting with an agency. Consulting firms are comprised of specialists in a certain field, and they’ll be tasked with solving your problem if it fits their suite of knowledge. When you ask a consulting firm to map out digital strategies, you’re getting people who specialize in just that: mapping out digital strategies. It’s what they know best.



Working with consulting firms allows clients far more latitude to push their vision for their own brand because the consultant’s voice doesn’t factor into the final campaign in the same way a creative agency’s might.

Rather, consultants leave their mark by working unheralded on all of the nitty-gritty elements that let the client’s vision stand out: collecting deeper data, improving the user experience, driving traffic, optimizing, etc. A good consultant won’t shy away from telling you if you’re going in the wrong direction, while an agency will take your idea and give you hundreds of options to choose from. Depending on what you’re looking for and what your team needs, both options can prove useful.

When working with creative agencies, clients typically choose their partners based off of their vision and past impactful campaigns, reflecting on how the agencies’ style can enhance their brand. It’s important to note that creative processes often go through several rounds of conceptualization before landing on the right idea, so often, the turnaround time is a bit longer, regardless of the agency’s size. Digital agencies who specialize in other media can pick up your campaign where you left off, press “send” and manage your budgets.

Since consultants usually try to wholly immerse themselves in their clients’ teams, the turnaround time to align on vision and concepts is usually faster. That said, depending on the size of the consultancy, you may not have that huge reserve of past work and campaign successes to convince your boss of the investment.

Ultimately, it’s about finding what team and timeline fits best with your needs.



When you receive a proposal, what’s the first thing you look at? You scroll right down to the cost, like any reasonable professional. How big your business and your budget are, as well as the breadth of your mandate, are all factors that’ll help you make your decision.

Naturally, if you’re running a smaller operation requiring a quick turnaround that’s on-budget, consulting firms will be right up your alley. On the other hand, if you have more wiggle room, time and resources, you might opt for an agency.

BDG Expert Tip: Get alignment on your budget and timelines from the stakeholders in your company from the outset so you can do your research accordingly. Get roadmaps with key deliverable dates and timelines from the possible partners during the selection process for top transparency and planning, and see if the projected costs are sensible.



At the end of the day, what matters most are the strength and results of the solutions your agency or consulting firm devises.

Agencies are known for creating some of the most engaging, emotional, inspiring, insert-other-positive-adjectives-here brand campaigns the world has ever seen, but the process is usually a little longer than working with a consultant. Likewise, agencies that specialize in certain areas can often pick up your campaign planning right where you left off and execute.

On the contrary, consultants will dig deep into your business and solve problems. They tend to be more hands-on and provide quicker, more direct solutions to issues faced by each of their clients because they’re specialists. Agencies will do the work necessary to find solutions for their clients, but it requires time spent, both by creatives and account directors, learning the ins and outs of the brand and industry.

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