Agency Smarts

Time to Retire the Digital Jedi

Long after the Web evolved into a marketing tool that could be used by brands, agencies scrambled to hire executives that knew digital. Advertising became so obsessed with the idea of digital that they felt the need to change the way they did business to keep up with the rhetoric. Digital Jedis and other strange roles were created to ensure clients knew that the agency could do digital. But what has the role of digital really changed? And is it necessary to differentiate agency executives with traditional and digital nomenclatures? We are winding down in the shiny-object stage of the digital invasion, and, luckily, saner heads are prevailing. Like print and broadcast, digital is simply a medium — it is not a strategy. Like all mediums, it comes with its own set of etiquettes and rules, but in the end, good brand strategy should be driving how agencies guide their clients. Because digital is so ubiquitous, there isn’t a person in an agency today that shouldn’t be taking digital into account with every client decision they make. Digital isn’t just a way to access information or entertainment. Digital has become an overlay that touches nearly every aspect of daily life. Even if you are using traditional media to drive a message, there is (or should be) a digital play or connection within that process. The collision of these two moments, agencies becoming more mature in terms of their digital jedi chops and consumers weaving digital technology into every aspect of their lives, is forcing agencies to rethink how they position their digital skills. Fortunately, we’ve moved away from silo departments to a more holistic core-competency model that permeates throughout an entire agency. Agencies need to [...]

Why you need to stop billing by the hour

If you're like most agencies, you are still primarily using the billable hour payment. This model relegates you to a manual laborer rather than a solution-driven partner. It also puts you and your clients at odds, rather than forging a better alliance. The good news is there's another way. Why do agencies use the billable hour? The main reason agencies still rely on the billable hour model is because this is how it has always been done. Change rarely comes naturally, whether we're talking about individuals or large corporations. People find it easier to keep doing things the same way instead of learning a new system. And truth be told, billing by the hour is definitely an easier process because most agencies are set up to track employees' time. But this method no longer works. It's outdated. Back in the days of heavy media buying, when the lion's share of billing was based on commissions, this method was great. But today's market is drastically different, and it has different needs. What's wrong with billing by the hour? This model is to the disadvantage of both the agency and the client for a number of reasons: It puts you at odds with your clients. They want to spend less, and you want to earn more. You don't get the opportunity to work together to discuss the value of your work, so one or both parties are usually dissatisfied with the payment. Similarly, it creates risk for clients since they don't know how many hours of work you will need to do to complete the job. They're forced to accept whatever bill you give them, which can make them suspicious and wary of you. It implies that [...]

How to Prevent Scope Creep when Scaling Your Business with Ryan Meo

If there’s one type of project that every agency struggles to do profitably – it’s websites. But what if it was possible to do web dev and not lose your shirt? My podcast guest Ryan Meo runs ScaleSquad.com, a private label website services outsource solution for agencies. He and his team have web dev down to a science, making great revenue on the types of projects that many agencies struggle to deliver on time or anywhere near the budget. One of the secrets to their approach is to focus on what their clients aren’t getting instead of what they are. Ryan and I spill all of his secrets starting with: How Ryan started selling websites -- even though he didn’t know how to build them Taking a custom service like web design and making it scalable Why you have to prevent scope creep by being firm with clients on what their deliverables are (or by moving them up to a higher package) How Ryan is able to charge a low, flat rate for his websites and why he puts a lot of focus on what isn’t included in those packages How to prevent scope creep, especially as a web dev shop Why you shouldn’t turn away customers who can’t afford your bespoke services Why agencies make a big mistake by talking too much in the initial call with a prospect Building a strong relationship with an outsourced web-dev shop like Ryan’s Why your project manager makes or breaks your agency The importance of over-communication How to mitigate unrealistic expectations What the ideal agency looks like for Ryan Ryan Meo has worked with hundreds of agencies and built thousands of websites over the years. About 10 [...]

4 Ways To Compete With The Big Guys

Right now, there’s a lesson big business owners are beginning to learn: Never underestimate the underdog. In a modern world, bigger isn’t always better. In fact, in an age of rapid communication, social media and light-speed tech innovation, people crave connection, and there’s no better place to find it than at a small business. After all, where else will you find someone who’s offering a smart product with a human touch? Now it’s easier than ever for a savvy small business to compete for high-level brand partnerships on a global scale — even when going against the biggest businesses on the planet. Sometimes, prominent brands worry about partnering with smaller businesses. Usually, it’s a question of manpower. While being the “big” client means more attention, it also means the brand will work with a smaller staff who might not offer the same time, expertise or experience. Of course, these reasons aren’t always founded in reality. (In fact, they might be the opposite of how your small business works.) But in order to score that big account, you have to show these potential clients why they should trust your business and how your smaller company can tackle a big account even better than your bigger, more established competition. Small-Time Business Proving yourself is never easy. But it’s important to remember that smaller can be stronger. After all, a smaller company has more at stake when it’s striving to impress, and that means it will put its best work forward — every time. At a small company, your clients can count on working with a senior staff member without paying an inflated fee for layers of junior-level staff. And your clients are treated with care and attention, [...]

When Agencies Self-Destruct

In old cartoons and action movies, the idea of self-destruction usually involved a giant red “self-destruct” button, just waiting to be pushed to trigger an explosion of impending doom. When pressed, it initiated a countdown, and the characters scrambled to get away before they were engulfed in flames. In agency life, self-destruction sneaks up on agencies struggling to maintain their own new business pipelines while serving their clients. But, if left unattended, it can have equally catastrophic results. Client Work Comes First Typically, agencies are brilliant at creating strong brands, grabbing an audience’s attention, and generating leads for the clients they serve. On a daily basis, they help these clients convert leads into customers and turn those customers into loyal, frequent buyers. Sadly, when agencies spend the day helping their clients build their businesses, they tend to neglect their own lead gen and new business needs. Agency Needs Aren’t Met With Urgency Agency life is driven by deadlines and client needs. Employees spend their days putting out fires: shifted deadlines, PR crises, and customer complaints over social media. Unfortunately, this same sense of urgency isn’t present when it comes to doing work on their agency’s behalf. Client deadlines (and billable hours) often win out over a few hours spent focusing on internal growth. The Vicious Stop-and-Start of Business Development This cycle of self-neglect often continues until an agency loses a big account or some other crisis strikes. Suddenly, it doesn’t have enough business to sustain itself and faces layoffs or other drastic measures. Only then do agencies typically gear up the new business machine, using the tactics they preach to their clients every day. But as soon as they get busy with client work again, these [...]

How Can Agency Account Managers Build Better Client Relationships

Innovation doesn’t happen when you’re taking orders from a client. It happens when your agency and your client work together to build something groundbreaking and different. And that’s where every agency sets out to be: on the cutting edge of new ideas and trends. Today, thriving agencies aren’t just selling their clients marketing tactics; they’re helping them solve business problems and build better client relationships. The advantages of business savvy So, how can you begin to earn the kind of client relationships you’re looking for? You have to start by earning your clients’ trust and the first people to begin to build that relationship are the ones communicating with them every day: your Account Executives. It’s not enough for your Account Executives to simply be good communicators, though. They also need to prove that they’re good Business Advisors, and that means understanding every aspect of business, from finance to production to distribution. It’s simple: The more an Account Executive understands how business works, the more effectively he can serve his clients’ businesses. Here are a few proven benefits of Account Executives with real, working business knowledge: 1. It allows you to create better, more complex solutions to your clients’ problems. The best account management allows your agency to be a valuable resource for your clients, rather than just a vendor. Having smart, proven business knowledge to back your creative recommendations won’t just help you sell to your current clients. It will also differentiate you from other agencies that are still simply selling “marketing stuff.” 2. It allows you to charge a premium price because you can document the value you deliver. Your Account Executives won’t just run more profitable accounts. They’ll also be able to prove [...]

The Key to Cultivating Digital Talent Is a Great Digital Teacher

So you’ve just hired a recent college graduate to handle your agency’s social media accounts. Congrats. Your Twitter account might get a few more followers, but you want more than that, right?  The truth is that it takes more than hiring digital natives to make your agency digitally savvy. Don’t get me wrong — hiring fresh, young (and less expensive) employees can add tremendous value to your team. But a lot of agencies only have one or two people managing the company’s entire digital presence; many times, those employees are younger and not fully up to speed on your overarching strategy. Your agency’s veteran staffers are the ones who understand the core business and how to think strategically. To reap the full benefits of digital tools, you need to make sure everyone in your shop is comfortable in the ever-evolving digital landscape. Not sure you can get your more experienced employees to work alongside the young digital natives on your staff? That’s where a talented teacher might come in handy. What a Digital Teacher Can Do for You Hiring a qualified teacher to make sure all of your employees understand online platforms is a great way to get everyone on board. The 35-year veteran who hates the idea of Facebook can hardly argue with learning new digital strategies if everyone else (including the boss) is getting that same training, can he? Great teachers will, of course, have their own methods, but here are a few things they should do: Develop individualized plans for each employee to identify gaps in his knowledge base and provide training to fill those gaps. Partner junior employees with veteran mentors so younger employees can become more familiar with the nuances [...]

How to Make Metrics Relevant for Creative Teams

As a marketing executive, you understand that metrics matter. When your creative teams work together on metric-oriented goals, you can serve your clients better, reduce mistakes and miscues, and maximize every dollar spent. Unfortunately, while you may love metrics, odds are your creative staff doesn't. At least, not yet. One reason creatives don't pay attention to company metrics is because they don't understand how they directly influence those results. Inherently, people want their work to carry significance, and they can become disheartened when a company's most important goals don't seem to correlate with the work they do each day. In the end, no one wants to feel like a member of the "B team." This is especially true for creatives, whose work is often forward-facing and publicly representative of a brand or company but disconnected from the bottom line. Part of making creative team members understand why metrics matter is helping them understand their role in achieving metrics-based goals. Follow these three tips to demonstrate how metrics are relevant to everyone in the company: Only focus on metrics that actually matter Whatever you do, do not make metrics the flavor of the month. Asking people to focus on a different metric each month is extremely demotivating. It teaches people to disregard current metrics because they're only 29 days away from a different one. Instead, identify two to four key metrics to regularly track as a core part of operational assessment. Don't bog anyone down with an overload of data that isn't important; just focus team efforts on metrics that matter and demonstrate their importance by offering incentives for achieving or exceeding these goals. Make it relevant If you want metrics to be a focus for [...]

Marketers: Take Digital Out of Your Vocabulary

“Going digital” isn’t a passing trend. Companies are learning — and proving — that building a flexible, integrated agency with a digital emphasis is essential. And that lesson is still being learned the hard way, even at the world’s most prestigious organizations. BuzzFeed leaked an internal report from The New York Times this week, providing an intimate look into how one of the world’s leading journalistic institutions is struggling with the exact same problem most agencies are: integrating digital into its existing company structure. So, what can this teach the rest of the world? It shows that combining traditional and online media isn’t easy for any company, and even the most prestigious of organizations make common mistakes, including treating it as something that’s separate — and often secondary — from the rest of operations. Digital Dividing Lines Although many companies have employees who specifically focus on online media, all employees need to think about it. Whether they’re focused on strategy, creative, or media, they need to know the landscape inside and out. Why? Because digital isn’t a department; it’s a way of thinking. When digital was new, it was used as a buzzword to set innovative agencies apart from those that weren’t savvy. That’s not true anymore. Today, it’s a given. When you tell a client your marketing firm does digital, it’s like telling them that newspapers have writers on staff. Duh. Most clients now realize that a mix of channels and strategies — including digital — is the most effective way to communicate with customers. They know that most potential customers don’t just wander into a store to shop. Instead, consumers start their search online. Digital helps your clients snag customers earlier in the sales cycle. But there’s [...]

A Solution To The Agency Talent Dilemma

In a recent article in The Wall Street Journal, 4As President and CEO Nancy Hill commented on the talent crisis in the agency world that Unilever’s Keith Weed mentioned at Cannes Lions. Hill argued that top talent can’t afford to work for advertising agencies — where entry-level salaries are often less than their student debt load — and that client demands have created an economic environment that makes it impossible for agencies to compete with companies like Google and Microsoft for the most creative young professionals. The agency talent problem won’t be solved by throwing money at new hires — nor is it reasonable to expect clients to pay high-level fees for entry-level work. Yes, clients hold agencies hostage with cumbersome payment processes and the disintegration of the agency-of-record model, but as long as your agency is paying industry standard or better, you should be able to find good people who want to work in an agency. There isn’t a lack of talent, merely a lack of time. People seek agency jobs for many reasons, and salary is only part of it. They like flexing their creative muscles, solving business challenges, working on a variety of accounts and projects, and collaborating with smart, creative individuals.  These are the people you want to employ. The real problem isn’t that talent can’t afford to work for an agency. The problem is that most agencies look for an employee three months after they need one. The people hungry to work in agencies are out there, but you need to give yourself time to find them. When your agency signs a big client and you’re pressed to lighten the load, you often rush into hiring someone who may not be [...]