The Specialist Agency: An Argument For and Against

Earlier this year I had the honor of serving as the morning keynote speaker for PRGN’s semi-annual member summit in Toronto. My topic was on the five indicators of new business success that I consistently see in the agencies I work with (and, likewise, the corresponding indicators of agencies that stay stuck in a feast-or-famine cycle). One of the indicators is a specialist mindset, as opposed to an “all things to all people” approach. This elicited a comment from one of the agency owners in the audience. They tried this specialist agency strategy at his agency and it didn’t work. It had the opposite effect; they couldn’t find enough new business opportunities to sustain the firm. What did I have to say to that? (Gulp) Before I tell you how I responded, let me explain that I’m not a specialist agency hardliner. In fact, this time last year, I wrote about this. To be sure, I see enormous benefits to specializing when it comes to new business. Pitching for new business is a big investment. The more specialized your pitch, the more efficient your investment. That’s because: Generalists seek out clients; specialists are more likely to be sought Generalists differentiate based on price; specialists can afford to charge a premium Generalists will always be tempted to reinvent themselves to suit the nature of the prospect; specialists find it easier to home in on a consistent message that’s effective for the right audience But I also don’t see it as a stark choice. In my piece, I referred to the proverb about the shoemaker’s children who wear no shoes. This is a favorite to describe agencies that can’t seem to take their own advice when it [...]

By |August 7th, 2018|

Your clients are still struggling with ROI from existing customers

Despite a mandate to drive growth, chief marketers are still stuck in a decade-long rut that has yet to see them fully optimize the lifetime value of existing customers. In 2008, when asked if brands were fully realizing the revenue potential of customers, 76 percent said no. Ten years later, 77 percent of respondents to the same question in a new Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) Council audit still say no, and 10 percent say they are not even sure. This is why you and your AEs need to understand the math of a lifetime customer.  We talk about/teach this is all of our AE bootcamps (live and on-demand) and I'm always surprised at how few of the attendees have been exposed to the idea of calculating, monitoring and monetizing the lifetime value of a customer. This failure to capitalize on customer revenue potential does not come as a surprise as the majority of marketers are missing an opportunity to leverage opt-in, triggered communications, including transactional email, to further relationships with customers. According to the latest study by the CMO Council and communication management platform Sendwithus, just 36 percent of respondents are leveraging transactional emails as an opportunity to further the value of relationships. While 30 percent believe they are engaging through triggered emails, it is only to reaffirm or acknowledge a past transaction, not to intentionally develop a more meaningful customer relationship. This occurs despite 94 percent of respondents’ belief that delivery of personalized communications across all customer touchpoints is critical to achieving profitable customer experiences. The new report, titled “Gaining Traction With Every Digital Interaction,” reveals that collaboration around the channels of choice for the customer is critical to turning an automated touchpoint into a [...]

By |May 15th, 2018|

How to Find Top-Level Freelancers to Help You Grow Your Business with Nathan Hirsch

One of the most common challenges agencies of all sizes are facing right now is finding the right people to add to the team, especially as it relates to learning how to find freelancers who are capable of doing the great work that agencies require. Client budgets and programs are growing, agency new business is getting a little easier and so everything should be rosy. But when you don’t have the right team to get the work done – it’s frustrating and frightening.   Ten to fifteen years ago, the prevailing attitude was that agencies needed everyone under one roof. After all, the work is so collaborative. But when the recession hit and people had to reduce fixed expenses to survive, many agencies who swore they would never try to manage a network of freelancers or hire someone virtual crossed over and did just that. Not only did they survive it – but it opened up many opportunities to serve clients in new ways.  Fast forward to today – whether you are in a big market with lots of talent (and lots of competitors for that talent) or in a smaller market that just doesn’t have enough qualified bodies – finding and keeping the right team is a serious struggle. Most AMI agencies have a pretty robust freelance pool and are versed in knowing how to find freelancers. 75% have some sort of flex hours where people either come in early/leave early, come in late/leave late or have some sort of non-traditional work week, be it fewer than five days a week or a full work week but they work from home one or more days. In terms of remote employees, I would say that [...]

By |February 8th, 2018|

Why Your Agency Should Implement a Value Added Marketing Strategy with Sam Mallikarjunan

Our job as an agency is to provide value to our clients and help them woo and win their best potential customers. After all, marketing, according to Peter Drucker, is about understanding the customer so well that the product or service fits him and sells itself. Value added marketing is one way to do exactly that. Agencies are under the same gun – we have to be able to demonstrate value. But the game has changed and many agency owners are trying to re-tool their shop in today’s new selling environment. That’s why I knew I wanted to interview Sam Mallikarjunan, Marketing Fellow and Head of Growth at Hubspot Labs. Sam teaches advanced digital marketing at Harvard and has insight into how successful agencies are selling today and keeping clients by defining and delivering value. Sam will encourage you to roll up your sleeves and really dig into your client’s business so you can help them make sense of all the information that is out there today, understand what needs to be done with and how to measure that information and be a driving force to get it all done. Join Sam and I as we discover all the ways you can provide value to your clients and your own shop with: The way the internet has changed selling so that there’s almost too much information How salespeople can help consumers sift through the breadth of information out there Structuring sales calls so they’re all about asking the buyers questions about their business The power of inbound: competition where no one else is competing Learning to say no to bad revenue Why you need to build buyer personas -- both for your ideal customers and [...]

By |November 23rd, 2017|

Everything You Need to Know About Working at a Virtual Company with Gerald Sexton

Technology has brought many changes to the workplace and one of the biggest has to be the ability and desire to work remotely. Many agencies swore they’d never allow an employee to work from home – be it down the street or across the country.  That tune has changed for sure. Some agencies are making the shift to a work-from-home environment a few days a week or a hybrid agency where some of the staff is in common shared office space and others are scattered around the country.  Today, in our AMI owner peer networks – several of the agencies have taken the plunge and gone totally virtual. My podcast guest Gerald Sexton is the head of HR at a company called Goodway Group.  Goodway is an agency that specializes in programmatic media and they are 100% virtual.  Going all out virtual may not be right for you or your agency at this very moment but Gerald gives us some food for thought with regards to this changing workplace environment and how we can best adapt. If his retention and production numbers have anything to say about it, going virtual has been nothing but great for his agency. Join Gerald and I as we wade into these changes and give you some things to consider by learning: The history of Goodway Group Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about working at a virtual company How Goodway succeeds with a virtual company with employees in 41 states The best tools for managing a virtual company What Gerald looks for in the hiring process to figure out if someone is suited for the hiring process or not Why Goodway looks at their team members results -- not [...]

By |October 19th, 2017|

Are agencies a dying breed?

I always find it fascinating when conferences bring together a panel of professionals and ask them to look into their proverbial crystal ball and tell us how the world will be different. A couple weeks ago, during AdvertisingWeek's conference, a panel that consisted of Jack Bamberger (SVP of Global Partnerships at Oath, Jeannine Falcone, the Managing Director of Digital Marketing for Accenture Interactive, Kelly Mooney, Co-lead of IBM iX Studios, Stephanie Anderson, CMO and Strategy Officer at AI Media Group, Andrew Bailey, Partner and CEO of The & Partnership and Tim Castree, Global CEO of WAVEMAKER) pretty much predicted that agencies will not exist. You can watch the entire panel discussion here. A takeaway quote that you might listen for -- "In 3-5 years, agencies have a 30% chance of  survival." Have no fear -- they're wrong. First note that they all work for companies that sell with the "if you don't want an typical agency" line.  They are positioned against agencies already.  So of course they don't want to suggest that agencies can or will flourish in the future. Which doesn't mean they are completely wrong. As I have said many times, agencies need to: Stop focusing on selling stuff and instead sell their smarts, counsel and insight Need to re-think their pricing strategies Need to teach their account people how to ask better questions/be a strategic thinker Need to invest in continued education for themselves (owners) and rising stars I do believe that agencies will have to continue to evolve (as we always have) to stay relevant.  We have to get back into the C-suite.  We have to understand that we can't exist if we only serve the CMO anymore.  Our job is [...]

By |October 7th, 2017|

The Top Agency Trends of 2017 (Part 2)

Working with 250+ agencies a year gives us a great perspective on the top agency trends that impact (or are going to impact) us all. With that in mind, I hope you were able to listen to podcast episode 85 where I covered the half of the trends that I expect will have the biggest influence on your agency in the next 2-12 months. This solocast will cover the second half of those top agency trends of 2017. This would be a good episode to share with your leadership team because it’s all about the realities we need to be prepared to face in the coming months. Our conversation will cover: Augmented reality and virtual reality: what you need to know about this technology that is coming fast Influencer marketing: connecting your client’s brand with their audience through social influencers who have built an audience around a specific topic Ratings & Reviews: How agencies can turn a profit by solving this problem for existing clients (and how to use it as a door-opener for prospects) Why agencies are developing relationships with more people inside companies than just CMOs Why you need to play nice with the other agencies that you share a client with If you’re not being offered exclusivity, do you need to offer it in return? Selling what you know and what you think instead of “stuff” ROI: why it’s not an optional conversation Why you need to be transparent on your fees Bragworthy benefits like a student loan repayment program Drew McLellan is the Top Dog at Agency Management Institute. For the past 21 years, he has also owned and operated his own agency. Drew’s unique vantage point as being both an [...]

By |June 29th, 2017|

The Top Agency Trends of 2017 (Part 1)

Every year, we’re blessed to work with 250+ agencies and that gives us a chance to develop a serious micro and macro view of the business. While every agency is unique – there are certainly some trends that impact (or are going to impact) us all. Every year, I identify the top agency trends that I expect will have the biggest influence on our business and in this podcast, I walk you through the first half (9 of 19). I’ll pick up the back half in my solocast for June. Grab your notebook and see what your agency can do to get ahead of these trends to make the most of them: Why agency owners are confident again and why new business is easier to come by right now The trend where talent inside agencies has become a scarce resource What to do about having to hire under-skilled employees The challenge of providing clients with the right data Having an answer when clients ask agencies about diversity Opportunities for agencies with old school media Why you have to be great at marketing automation And a few more! Drew McLellan is the Top Dog at Agency Management Institute. For the past 21 years, he has also owned and operated his own agency. Drew’s unique vantage point as being both an active agency owner and working with 250+ small- to mid-size agencies throughout the year, give him a unique perspective on running an agency today. AMI works with agency owners by: Leading agency owner peer groups Offering workshops for owners and their leadership teams Offering AE bootcamps Conducting individual agency owner coaching Doing on site consulting Offering online courses in agency new business and account service Because [...]

By |May 26th, 2017|

How to Develop Thought Leadership Content that Keeps You Top of Mind with John Hall

Thought leadership. Content creation. Owning a topic and being the authentic expert in that space. These elements are critical components of an agency’s business development plan today. As you have heard from me many times, it’s all about moving your prospects through the know-like-trust model so that when they are ready to buy, they already have faith in your ability to deliver. But it’s not just about doing that from an arm’s length through content.  It’s also about doing that the old-fashioned way – face to face. The agency business is really a relationship business, as we all know. So how do you start, nurture and grow your relationships today? That’s what I wanted to talk to Influence & C.’s co-founder and CEO John Hall about because he has the gift.  Fortunately, he outlined his strategies in his new book called “Top of Mind.” John and I discuss the tangible ways of getting networking in this digital and analog age. Listen in as we chat about: John’s new book "Top of Mind: Use Content to Unleash Your Influence and Engage Those Who Matter To You" How John’s book fits into his thought leadership content strategy Why staying top of mind is a great strategy for developing trust Short-term to long-term memory: consistently engaging people so that they remember forever Why you need to make yourself approachable Why showing your failings and foibles does not diminish your thought leadership Why you must understand what is truly helpful for individuals Why you must help people without expecting anything in return How to tell people how you helped them without it sounding self-serving Why you shouldn’t be too aggressive and should build a relationship over time Why you [...]

By |May 5th, 2017|

Defining Category Design and Why it’s Important to Brand Positioning with Christopher Lochhead

Agencies are brilliant at helping their clients differentiate themselves from the pack.  And yet, this is the Achilles Heel for most agencies.  You look and sound just like everyone else on the block, in the pitch or online. It’s not easy to find the kernel of what makes you unique and the right fit for your clients.  And you can’t use the same trite language (full service, integrated, we love to partner with our clients, etc.) and sound different. Maybe it’s not about how do you differentiate yourself from everyone else in the pack.  Maybe it’s about creating a new category so you truly stand alone? That’s the premise of my podcast guest Christopher Lochhead. He’s a longtime CMO, entrepreneur and author who has had just enough of the right mindset, courage and faith to unlock the key to differentiation. His book, “Play Bigger: How Pirates, Dreamers and Innovators Create and Dominate Markets” details the method to his madness -- what he calls “category design.” He explains it as “creating your own niche to become nouveau riche.” If you want to drive growth on both the agency and client side, follow along as Christopher and I go through the steps of adopting category design with: Chris’ career journey that took him from Silicon Valley CMO to coach to podcast host Chris’ book: “Play Bigger: How Pirates, Dreamers, and Innovators Create and Dominate Markets” What category design is and why every agency needs to get great at it Why “category” is as important as “product” and “company” How to position your agency in a category that you can dominate The two kinds of problems that need solving The three questions to ask to start creating your [...]

By |April 28th, 2017|