Episode 454

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Every year, we go out into the field to understand the biggest pain points and priorities for both agencies and clients. This year, we took data from the 2024, 2019, and 2014 Agency Edge Research studies to compare how client expectations have changed over the years.

This year, the burning issue was client-agency trust — what clients look for in an agency, how an agency can retain clients, and what causes a client to look elsewhere for another agency.

To help make sense of all the changes, Susan Baier from Audience Audit joins us to discuss what agencies can do and are already doing to impress clients. We’ll break down the three distinct client segments that emerged, their unique attitudes towards agencies, and what factors drive their decision to hire or fire an agency partner. We also discuss how to position your agency for better alignment with client priorities.

If you’re looking to learn how to better position yourself to win and retain more clients in 2024 and beyond, don’t miss our deep dive into the data to gain a competitive edge in your agency.

A big thank you to our podcast’s presenting sponsor, White Label IQ. They’re an amazing resource for agencies who want to outsource their design, dev, or PPC work at wholesale prices. Check out their special offer (10 free hours!) for podcast listeners here.

client-agency trust
client-agency trust

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • What clients think agencies do really well
  • Changes in client-agency expectations over the years
  • Agency advocates, begrudging buyers, and exacting experts
  • How attitudes have changed toward having a trusted agency partner
  • Why agencies are having more in-house staff than before
  • What agency management fatigue has done to change client-agency relationships
  • What does agency trust look like to clients?
  • Do clients want an agency with a niche, or generalists?
  • What makes an agency a poor fit for a client
  • How client-agency trust can push a client to look for a new agency

“We saw some really significant differences in a few categories about how clients are thinking about agencies and handling their marketing.” - Susan Baier Share on X
“While one of these may feel more comfortable, it doesn’t mean there’s not value in understanding all three segments to think about how you approach conversations in the business development process.” @DrewMcLellan Share on X
“Agencies have to understand who they are and what they want to be know for, and be clear about how we talk about ourselves.” @DrewMcLellan Share on X
“There’s tons of great news in here about what builds trust— strategic thinking, helpful thought leadership, being in the game, and being helpful to prospects even before they've hired us.” - Susan Baier Share on X
“There is a selling advantage to being a niche agency. The more their audience is specialized, the more they want an agency that also specializes.” @DrewMcLellan Share on X

Ways to contact Susan:

Resources from Susan:


Hey everybody. Drew here. You know, we are always looking for more ways to be helpful and meet you wherever you’re at to help you grow your agency. It’s one of the reasons why we’ve produced this podcast for so long, and I’m super grateful that you listen as often as you do. However, there are some topics that are better suited for quick hyper-focused answers in under 10 minutes. That’s where our YouTube channel really comes in. For quick doses of inspiration, best practices, tips and tricks, head over to youtube.com/the at sign Agency Management institute. Again, that’s youtube.com/the at sign or symbol.

And then Agency Management Institute, all one word. Subscribe and search the existing video database for all sorts of actionable topics that you can implement in your shop today. Alright, let’s get to the show.

It doesn’t matter what kind of agency you run, traditional digital media buying, web dev, PRR brand, whatever your focus, you still need to run a profitable business. The Build, a Better, Agency Podcast, presented by a White Label IQ will expose you to the best practices that drive growth, client and employee retention and profitability, bringing his 25 plus years of experience as both an agency owner and agency consultant. Please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.

Hey everybody. Drew McLellan here with Agency Management Institute, back with another episode of Build a Better Agency. So Every year, we go out into the field in partnership with audience audit, and we do research based on what we know you need to know. So as Susan and I from audience audit, we’re talking about how do we think about 2024 and what do you need to know? The pain point in 2023 was without a doubt, biz dev, many of you did not land a single client in 2023. And there were certainly exceptions to this rule, but for most of you, it was a very difficult year from a biz dev perspective.

And so we decided to focus our attention on how do we, how do agencies get found? How do they get new clients, and how do they get retained? How do they keep those clients? So we have explored those topics before. This is actually our 11th year of doing the agency edge study, and we’d explored this topic in 2014, so 10 years ago and 2019, so about five years ago. And we decided to look at those two studies as the foundation of the 24 study and then add some more questions. But what we wanted to see was not only what’s happening today in 2024 from a client’s perspective, but also how has it changed.

And so Susan is here with us today and we are going to talk about the results of that research. So I think you’re gonna find it fascinating. We found it fascinating. We’re also gonna talk about a webinar that we’re gonna teach or conduct live on July 9th so that we can really dig deep into the data. But we only have an hour and this is just not enough time for us to get into the nitty gritty of all the questions. But it’ll give you a good taste of what the research showed us. Before I bring Susan onto the show, just wanna remind you, we have a couple really great workshops happening for agency owners and leaders in October. So the first one is called Build and Nurture, your Agency Sales Funnel.

So this is really all about building a marketing and sales plan and program tied to thought leadership and being a subject matter expert. And you can call it an authority or a subject matter expert or a thought leader, but it is two days of actually building out the plan. So you will leave with a plan. We know that if we just teach you how to do the plan and then we think you’re gonna go home and build it, it won’t happen. So the workshop is actually very roll up your sleeves, get to work and build the plan. That is October 8th and ninth in Denver. And then the very following week, the Mercer Island Group folks are with us and they are teaching a workshop on written proposals.

And that could be all the elements of a written proposal. So it’s the proposal itself. So it could be in something as formal as an RFI or an RFP or it could just be a sales proposal. But we’re also gonna talk about cover letters and case studies and bios and all the pieces that go into a written proposal of any size and shape. This workshop, we taught it in January of 23 and it got rave reviews. And so we are back in 24 with this workshop. This, that workshop is October 14th and 15th, also in Denver. So you can find more, more information about both of them.

If, you go to the A MI website, so agency management institute.com, and then go to the how we help section of the website and you’ll find workshops and you’ll find both of those workshops, the description, the timing, the pricing, all of that on the website. So both of these are awesome. What a great way to kick off 25 is to prep in the fourth quarter of 24 to a, have a thought leadership position and a marketing plan to launch in in 24. So you sort of roll into 25 with a pipeline that is starting to get active. And also what do you do? And people in that pipeline say, yep, I want a proposal.

So both of these workshops rock solid. We get rave reviews and we would love to have you join us. So, alright, before we go any further, let’s welcome Susan to the show and get into the research. Thanks Susan. Welcome back. It’s good to have you back on the podcast.

Thank you. Always nice to be with you, drew.

So today, as I said in the intro, what I want to talk about is the agency edge research that we did in 2024 that we just unveiled not that long ago at the Build a Better Agency Summit. And I wanna make sure everybody, so I want to talk about the result, I wanna talk about the survey itself, why we decided to do what we did, yeah, what we learned. And then certainly want to tell everybody how they can join us live in July to walk through every single question and ask all the questions they want to about all the nuances of the study. So I think we can get that done in an hour. What do you think?

I think we can give it a good try.

Alright. The college try. That’s


Alright, so this study, the 2024 study, so Every year, for those of you that are not familiar with this study, this is our 11th year of doing this study and Every year, Susan and I have a conversation around sort of our observations about where what has agency owners kind of scratching their head or frustrated or banging their head against a brick wall. And certainly as we were coming out of 23, there was no question that our focus needed to be on biz dev and how agencies get found, hired and retained. That that was certainly the, the hunger that our agency owners after the, the dearth of opportunity in 23, that everybody was like, we really need to figure out how to crack this nut.

So we realized that we had done a study on this topic in 2014. That was our

First study actually.

Yeah, that’s right. And 2019. So we took those studies and we repeated the study in 2024, we added some other questions, but for the most part what we wanted to see was not only what’s happening right now, but how has it changed

Looked at this, we looked at the same profile for respondents. So these are clients of, you know, that are good targets for small to mid-size agencies, less than half a million dollars in revenue, less than 20 million in a marketing budget. And 87% of these respondents, which is consistent with our previous, have actually participated in hiring a new agency wherever they are. So, you know, it’s a good opportunity to compare what we saw five years ago and 10 years ago. And we found some interesting things.

And, and again, it’s always important I think to remind everybody that this is not like Susan and Drew just doing a survey monkey survey and then deciding what it says this is, this is legitimate research with, you know, I think it was what, a 4.2 point margin of error. So we have a 95% confidence level in this. Yeah. So this is very,

Very high statistical mobility. Yes. This

Is reliability, this is, this is the real deal. This is not, you know, Susan and Drew

Just, we’re not faking it,

Just stopping people on the street. So

That’s right. That’s right. So yes. You know, how can agencies get hired in 2024 was a topic. And one of the things, I mean, I know that we’ll talk about the segmentation, if you’re familiar with this research you’ve seen since the beginning, how we sort of identify these different sets of attitudes, these mindsets that exist in an audience. So no audience is monolithic and, and this audience is no different. They have different perspectives. But I think one of the interesting things about this year’s study that sort of frames it up really nicely, drew, is how we saw some really significant sort of differences in just some categories about how clients are thinking about agencies and about handling their marketing.

And a lot of ’em are very favorable for agencies. So it’s always nice to be able to share some good news,

Right? Yeah. In the last couple years that, that the good news has been a bit few and far between. And so you’re right, I think we both took ABR a breath of relief when we saw that there are some significant shifts in how clients view agencies and a positive light. And Susan, let’s look at some of those. One of them is that they believe, so we looked at sort of the, the shift in the percentage of people who strongly agreed with these, with some certain statements, right? So, so this is, this is indicating a much stronger belief in a certain statement. So we had a, we had a 19% change to the positive of respondents saying that the main value of agencies is developing strategy.

And for many of you, you have been making the shift from making things to being more consultative and providing more strategy and being smart enough to get paid for it. And so this was one that made me feel really good, because what you wanna sell is what they’re saying they really value. And in fact, it’s, for many of them, the main value is what we do is developing strategy.

Yep. For sure. The other, some other things where we saw really statistically significant point increases on this value of agency’s question, agencies are the best resource for tactical marketing execution that’s up by 16 points. And the best resource for the latest marketing trends up by 14 points. And the best research for effective marketing strategies differentiated from just being able to develop the strategy, actually having a strategy that works right is up 11 points too. So those are all really, really positive in terms of what you go to agencies for.

And, and interestingly enough, they also were much more positive about themselves, I would say. Yes. So, so when we, when we sort of asked them about their own acumen in terms of marketing, they gave themselves some pretty good grades. So they, again, a 20% point increase in, we keep up to date on new marketing approaches. We 19% upstroke for, we know the best tactics for our needs, but good news here, uptick of 15 percentage points. We need outside experts to assess marketing effectiveness.

Yep. And, and 10 points that we need outside experts to determine our marketing needs. And then again, 14 points we up, we understand marketing environment well. So we’re, we are seeing this mix and it’s interesting, we’re gonna talk about this more later. There’s a thread that runs through all of this and this mix I think represents it. Yes. We are more knowledgeable. Yes, we have our fingers on the pulse of marketing better than we used to, and yet still we need experts to help us parse out what is right for us to do and make it work well.

Yeah. Yeah. One of the other, one of the other shifts that we saw was how they view agent their agency relationships. And again, good news. So a 16% uptick on long-term relationships are important. So they’re not changing out their agencies, you know, like Kleenex and 14% uptick on agencies are a critical partner for success.

Yes. And then the favorite, ever since we ran it back in 20 14, 1 of the most popular attitudes hiring an agency is a necessary evil. We actually saw 10 point decrease in strong agreement with this. Right. Versus 2019, which is lovely. All, all good news, I think. Yep.

Yep. So you’re gonna see, and, and If, you are a regular listener or you have been at the summit before, you’ve paid attention to the agency edge work that we’ve done for the last decade plus, you know, one of the themes that is that often bubbles up is clients’ attitudes about agency specialization. And so interesting that some of, some of the things we saw as a shift since 2019, again, a 20% change to the positive or or increase agencies need to specialize in a particular aspect of marketing. But ironically, an 18% uptick in agencies need to offer a wide variety of services.


And we’ve seen that in the last couple of years in agency research. And I think it got to the point in 2023 where at least I was like, okay, what’s going on? ’cause those seem contradictory. So we did a little bit of a deep dive into that question, and I think we’ve got some answers for folks This year about what that actually means. We do have a 15 point uptake too. I know the a MI community is happy to hear about this, that small agencies are more focused on client needs, which is kind of nice. That’s, that’s a, that’s a good increase for smaller agencies. And there’s a, an uptick in the belief that marketing today requires a lot of specific technical expertise that’s up by 11 points.

And then again, back to niche, best to work with individual experts in each marketing discipline, 10 points up. So yeah, all good news, I think, and, and we’re gonna dig into some of that a little bit later.

So our research, when I say our research, it’s really Susan’s company’s research, but the work we do together, it’s our research, it is ours. Right. But I’m just saying it’s, it, it is always attitudinal segmentation work. And so in 2014 and 2019, although the numbers were a little different, interestingly, even though there was a five year gap in doing the research, we had the same three segments of respondents. So Susan, can you just explain a little bit about how the segments kind of bubble up from the data? Yeah,

Absolutely. So unlike a lot of approaches you may be familiar with, with sort of group people into buckets, we don’t decide ahead of time what the buckets we’re gonna be and just see how many people are, are in them. We give respondents 40 or more sort of attitudes, like those statements that we’ve been reviewing that had the, you know, strong increases versus previous years. So every respondent rates every single one and has the option to say, I agree completely, or I agree dis complete, I disagree completely. Or something in between. And then the math basically clumps together people who link multiple of those attitudes together, whether they realize it or not, the more they agree with one, the more they agree with others.

And so, even though that is an organic assessment, not even the analyst knows what those statements are when running the, running the analysis. You’re right. We, we ended up with the same two groups significantly. So ten three groups, we didn’t change the names, the, the same three groups. We didn’t even change the names those two years. Right? Right. But This year, you know, again, the same set of attitudes. We added a couple and we, and we pulled ones that really had, had an impact on the segmentation, but we really ended up with three groups that to varying degrees are different than last year, but all to some extent. So this,

So three new segments,

Three new segments, right? Yeah. Right. So This year, we’ve got agency advocates that’s 29% of our group begrudging buyers, the largest group at 43%, and exacting experts 20, 26%. And I will tell you that while agency advocates and begrudging buyers have remnants of our 2014 and 2019 segment identification in them, exacting experts is brand new. So we’ve really seen some changes in the landscape over the last five years.

And I, and I would argue that all three segments are new enough that they are brand new. So they, again, they’re, yeah. So, so we’ve seen significant, so you’ve been feeling it as, as you’ve been out in the field trying to find clients, but the data is now supporting that our clients, our buyers have a whole new view on hiring agencies. And so again, we wanna walk you through what these three segments talked about and what they value. And just a reminder, this is not a good or bad or evil, first of all, all of you probably have all three of these segments in your existing clients, and you’ll start as we describe sort of the attitudes they have and the beliefs they have.

You’ll start to recognize your clients in that. But for each of you, while one of these may feel more natural or more comfortable, it doesn’t mean that there’s not value in you understanding all three segments and using these segments to think about how you approach conversations in the business development process so that you are speaking their language or you’re at least recognizing their language to decide if they’re a good fit for you.

Yep. For sure. There are benefits and challenges that come with each of these segments depending on what your agency looks like and what you’re interested in doing. So the first group we have is those agency advocates. As I said, this is 29% of the landscape in 2024. These folks really do want long-term partners for success. They trust agencies, they believe in their ability to craft effective strategies to do good technical execution, but they also believe that agencies bring a lot of new ideas to the party insight, unbiased opinions, which are valuable.

And they believe that these agencies should be experts in a discipline, but again, also offer a wide variety of services. So maybe it’s helpful to talk about that. It seems like, it seems counterintuitive, but I think Drew, you’ve got some ideas about sort of what’s really driving these folks.

Yeah. So, so for those of you that describe yourself as a full service integrated agency, you’re gonna align well with these folks. If, you have an area of specialty. So again, we do, we serve clients that have medic that are in the medical device category, but we are full service integrated in terms of the things we do for those clients, right? That’s the ideal client fit for them. So the, these are guys that want you to sit at the strategy table with them at the planning table. They, they don’t just want your tactical support. I, this is, you’re the emotional support agency for this. These kind of clients. They want, they wanna love you and they want you to love them back, and they want all of that support.

Yeah. These are the folks who are going to really bring you in, not just to help with their marketing, but really help ’em with their business and Yeah. Right. They, and they want agencies that’ll stay with them for a long time. So trust is really important for them. But once you have their trust, they’ll work with you for years. You know, they’re, they’re really solid. They really value our expertise and are willing to listen to it and follow it. They see agencies as a critical element of just running their, running their business,

Right? Yep. So, so the begrudging buyers are a little different. So they, this is a really interesting attitude. Remember this is the largest segment,


Right? They believe agencies are necessary, but, and I, I find this fascinating, but marketing itself is not a high priority for them, right? So they also believe that outside marketing help costs more than it should. So these are gonna be the ones who are gonna push back on your pricing a little bit. They do have the time they say to do their own marketing, but they don’t have the expertise. So they acknowledge that agencies have a depth of expertise that they do not have in-house. So we’re necessary, but marketing’s not as big a deal to them. Right. They also believe that marketing is too complex to do without the help of professionals like us.

Yeah. So begrudging because they know they need us. This is the necessary evil people. And as you’ll see, these folks spend quite a bit of money on marketing and they know it’s complicated and they don’t have the time to do it in-house. And they appreciate the expertise of people that they do, but not in the same way that those agency advocates do, where they’re looking for years of partnership and strategy. These folks are like, handle my marketing and will be good. And they actually tend to change out agencies more often. They like to be on the lookout for agencies, right. That they could try, even if their current agencies are doing a good job. They kinda like shaking things up a little bit.

And you know, the, we saw, this was the only group where we saw some really interesting demographic differences. So with respondents under 40 in the study, 55% of them are in this category. So If, you are dealing with a client contact a buyer decision maker under 40, you’ve got a 50 50 chance at that. They’re actually one of these begrudging buyers clients who are spending more than half a million dollars on marketing. Also, 54% of them are begrudging buyers. So big overall, you know, it’s not that there aren’t folks in here, 36% of the folks that have under two 50 k or in this group too, but it is, they are disproportionate at, at that over half a million dollar budget level.

They are also disproportionate, 60% of the folks who have more than five agencies are in this group. So you are looking at folks who are, tend to be younger from a buyer standpoint on average, tend to have bigger budgets on average, and had to have more agencies on average than the other, than the other segments do. All of which provide maybe opportunity, but also challenges depending on what kind of relationship you want with your clients. Right?

Right, right. Yeah. The, this, this is the group that is going to be most likely to commoditize us a little bit. Yep, yep. And so you just have to know from your agency’s culture and what you want for your business that’s a good fit for you or not. Right?

Yeah. Yep. I mean, bigger budgets, good opportunities, right? But don’t plan on a long-term relationship with these folks. So keep your, keep your biz dev going.

But, but if you’re a generalist agency, this may be the ticket for you that they, they want an agency that helps them execute. So they’re not, they’re not inviting their agencies to the strategy table as often. So they don’t really, they don’t believe that you, that they need the depth of expertise of a specialist as much as some of the other groups. So again, if you’re a generalist agency, this may be a great fit for you.

Sure. And I think these are the clients who more than any, because of the number of agencies that are gonna have on average, really appreciate, appreciate agencies that can play well with their other agencies For sure. And, and with the team in-house. So Yeah, for sure. Good to know. The exacting experts are the, are are the third group and exacting experts are 26% of our audience. These folks really do believe that they have a handle on what’s going on in marketing and what works well for them. They say they have the expertise to do their marketing, but not the time. And they want agencies to consistently bring them new ideas and recommendations without us having to ask.

And this is one of those attitudes that we added after we did last year’s study on how to get more work from existing clients. Right. And this was one of the things that they said, we’ve got, we’ve got budget available, nobody ever asked us for it. So, right, right. So we added this in and this is the segment that became, had one had that attitude as part of their defining characteristics.

So one of the things that’s true about this group is they’re gonna be very demanding in terms of your depth of expertise. Yeah. So they, they know their stuff, or at least they believe they know their stuff and they want somebody to be able to go toe to toe with them. So they are not gonna be looking for a generalist. They want someone who understands not only marketing and what you’re good at from a marketing channel point of view, but that you really understand their industry. They also, because they think they are quite bright and know quite a bit, they want an agency that is not coming in thinking that it’s the agency’s job to teach them how to do marketing.

They, they want it to be a 360 learning environment. We wanna learn from our agencies Absolutely. But we also want our agencies to be open to learning from us.

For sure. And if you’re an agency that has a niche that aligns with this clients, it’s probably gonna be a marriage made in heaven. They, they, they feel they’re experts and they want agencies who are experts too. Specialists are gonna be critical. But if you’re that agency, they’re gonna be very pleased with you. So I think as we look at this landscape, drew, there’s sort of this shift that’s happening. Yeah. So tell me, tell me sort of how you look at this and, and what’s your takeaway in terms of the different segments that we found this time in the, in the, in the landscape.

Well, I, I, again, as we started the conversation, I do think there’s a lot of good news. I I think there’s less disdain for agencies than what we’ve seen in the past. Yep. I always was, I always was uncomfortable with how little some of the segments thought of us in the past and, and that’s kind of gone away. So they, but the, each of the segments value something very different. And so this gets back to the point that you and I make, you know, throughout the year about agencies have to understand who they are and what they want to be known for. Is it a depth of expertise and strategy? Is it an industry or audience specialization?

Is it a channel or deliverable, expe or expertise? Is it that we can do a little bit of everything we have to understand who we are and be more clear about how we talk about ourselves so that these folks can look at us and go good fit, bad fit, and we can ask better questions to also go good fit, bad fit.

Yeah. I think it presents yet another opportunity for agencies to be really strategic about their new business development program and their thought leadership efforts and stuff like that. Because if you’re the wrong fit here, you can bang your head against the door for days on end. And that claim is never gonna hire you because they don’t see what they’re looking for in your agency. So it, it’s worthwhile to sort of take some time. And it doesn’t mean that you need to pick one of these, but you do have to have a strategy for being relevant to, and delivering on what these different types of clients are gonna want if you’re gonna go after more than more than one of ’em, which, you know, you certainly can. I think it’s interesting to look back at, you know, having done this first 10 years ago, which was right on the edge of what became an overwhelming collapse in our society of trust in any anything.

In any one. Yeah. Right. And I, you know, it’s fascinating me to see that this trusted agency partner, even the group that we might think of as the most negative towards agencies, right. That’s that.

Or that at least they think of us as a commodity. They’re not negative about us, they’re not negative, but, but they’re not oohing and eyeing about us either.

That’s true. Yeah. And even in that space, they do appreciate expertise of agencies and they know they need it. So I think this idea of having a trusted agency partner to a lesser or greater extent is present across all of these. And I, I think that’s an interesting potential reflection on what’s happened societally, where clients just don’t know exactly who to trust anymore because a lot of their old standbys are not, have not proven to be very trustworthy.

But I also think it, I take heart in the fact that they are more trusting of their agency partners in this study than they have been before. Absolutely. So suggest to me that it literally took us as an industry 10 years to re-earn that trusted position. So this is me now sort of standing on the mount and talking, not that the data says this, but this underlines and underscores the importance of us being a trusted partner and figuring out what trusted partner looks like to our clients. Like what are the things we do that exude that we can be trusted and what do we do that erodes that trust?

And how do we fix that very, very quickly? Because it literally took us as an industry 10 freaking years Yeah. To get back to this trusted position.

Yep. For sure. It’s easy to, you know, hard, hard to build, easy to lose. Yep. For


They say. For sure. It doesn’t, it doesn’t take much. So let’s talk about some other differences that I thought were really interesting versus what we’ve seen in previous years. Do you wanna take a break first?

I was gonna say let’s pause and take a break and then we’ll come right back and we’ll look at some of the other sort of interesting takes that this year’s data gave us. So we’ll be right back. Hey everybody, thanks for listening today. Before I go back to the interview, I just wanna remind you that we are always offering some really amazing workshops and you can see the whole [email protected] on the navigation head to how we help scroll down and you’ll see workshops and you can see the whole list there with descriptions of each workshop. They are all in Denver and we’ve got them throughout the year for agency owners, account execs, agency leaders, CFOs. We have a little something for everybody no matter what it is that you’re struggling with, people, new business, money, all of those things we’ve got covered.

So check ’em out and come join us. All right. Let’s get back to the show. Alright. We are back with Susan Byer from Audience Audit and we are talking about the 2024 agency edge research study. Again, our 11th year in the field talking to folks, either clients or a couple times we’ve talked to your employees about the things that we now are top of mind for you. And we knew in 24 it was gonna be all about getting new clients in biz dev. So Susan, before the break we were, we started to segue into some of the other sort of aha moments that we had in some of the data points of the study. So let’s, let’s jump into some of those.

Yeah. So If, you look just overall, one of the things we saw was that having an in-house staff with full-time employees of whatever size is more common now than we’ve ever seen it. 76% of our client respondents said they had that and 20% of ’em said the size of that staff was only one or two employees, which is a significant increase versus the 8% that we saw five and 10 years ago. So more common in-house teams, but also on average a little smaller.

Right. And, and in 2014, just for context, it was only 51% had in-house staff and now we’re at 76%. But to your point, it so more people have in-house staff, which frankly I think is good for us. I think it’s, it’s much easier to do our work when you have an advocate inside the organization. I also think it’s good for us that the staff is smaller, which means they have less bandwidth.

Yeah. Either, either they’ve got a couple of people who are well versed in marketing who just don’t have time to do the tactical stuff or they have a team of worker bees. Right. That doesn’t, that doesn’t really have strategic guidance. So either way, great opportunities, I think for agencies. We, we are also seeing more clients working with one agency than we’ve seen before. And this reverses a trend, drew, that you and I have been talking about for at least the past six or seven years.

Yeah, for sure. So, you know, this is always a pain point I think for agencies that they have to share the client with others. And, and what we saw was, you know, in, in 2014 the number of respondents that only had one agency was 19% and we went up 20 percentage points. So 39%, and this is regardless of segment. Yep. 39% of all the respondents are only working with one agency, 42% This year two to three. And then we get down into 13%, four to five or 6% more than five. So this is a big shift in all cases. Yeah. That it is shifting to our advantage.

Yeah, for sure. And when we sort of probed this question about what’s optimal for folks, regardless of what they’re, the number of agencies are working with right now, what do they think is optimal? And this is fascinating because yeah, the overwhelming majority, 74% of the agency advocates 61 of the begrudging buyers and 71 of the exacting experts actually said that optimal for them is working with a smaller number of agencies than they currently are. So not only are we seeing a greater percentage working with only one agency, but the attitude seems to be let’s get down to fewer agencies.

And I don’t know whether that’s a function of the consolidation in the industry or trust the importance of trust or what’s going on, but it is a, that is a really interesting result to me.

Well, and we’ve heard over the last few years that it was exhausting for them to manage all of the agency relationships. And so I think this continues, they’re now taking action on that, on that sort of agency management fatigue. If you will Yeah. By saying, you know what, it would be better to have fewer. So this puts a lot of pressure on us as agencies to be really good at what we do because otherwise we’re the odd man out. Yeah. And so if they’re gonna skinny the field, we wanna make sure that we’re the ones that are bringing them a depth of expertise, proof of the impact that we’re having on their business. And again, I wanna underscore new ideas.

Yeah. And I think it, it, it dovetails with this increase we’ve seen in the perception of the value of agencies, the value of expertise, the trust level in agencies because across the board here, and admittedly to some lesser degrees with some segments, but they are looking for expert advisors and it makes it very hard to have 15 expert advisors. ’cause there just aren’t, there aren’t that many agencies that are positioning themselves and have the chops to stand up to an expert reputation.

Well, and it’s exhausting to have 12 people telling you what to do and no one’s telling you the same thing. ’cause they’re trying to throw the other guys under the bus and say, yeah, I totally get it. Right. Yeah, for sure. But this, this does, this does again remind us how important trust is because one of the ways, one of the reasons why they can skinny down the number of agencies they have is because they have a depth of trust in the agencies that they are choosing to work with. And so we did explore that in terms of help us understand what trust looks like to you. Yep. Client, right? Yep.

And you know, this was a sort of a choose all that apply question. We put a whole bunch of stuff in them and said, you know, w what really drives trust for you in an agency, number one on the list at 46% was that people on their account are knowledgeable and experienced and at 45% show they show proof that they could deliver the results that we want.

So not, not a surprise, they’re looking for documentation of the ROI for sure.

Yep. But then we get shares helpful advice and resources with us before being hired. There’s the thought leadership. Yep. You know, let’s see what you know before we have to pay you for it and really understands our industry. Both strong indicators of expertise and niche, you know, recommendations by somebody that I trusted. Show me proof that you’ve been able to solve our project for other clients. Specializes in working with folks like us. Again, schedules of values, alignment, conversation 38% that’s comparable to what we saw in last year’s study about something that clients want do. Are we on the same plane when it comes to how we think this relationship would work? Should work And what’s important in it.

Right. So this is a great, this is a great moment to remind you all. I mean there’s so much data in this study and we can’t possibly do a justice number one in an audio format where you can’t see it. And number two, we only have so much time today to be with you. So I wanna just pause for a second and remind you that we are gonna be, Susan and I are gonna be live on July 9th at 2:00 PM Mountain time. And again, this will be in the show notes and all of that, but 2:00 PM mountain time on July 9th. And we will literally walk you through every question. You’ll see all of the interactive data visualization, you’ll actually get access to the data visualization so you can kind of slice and dice the data the way that makes most sense for you.

So if you’re feeling like, gosh, they’re going fast or I, I wish I could ask them questions or I know they’re not reading us the whole list, you’re absolutely right about all of that. Yeah. But we do wanna spend the time with you on July 9th. So put it on your calendar now. We’ll tell you about it again when we say goodbye. But I just, this feels like a good time to remind you that we do wanna give you a deeper dive into this. We also have a 60 page executive summary that does a deeper dive into all of this data and we’re gonna give you a URL in the show notes for you to go and be able to grab the executive summary and sign up for the webinar. So just know that that’s coming

For sure on that trust list. By the way, drew, the lowest response we got 17% on the list was that the agency has services that cost less than those of other agencies. Yeah. Not a compelling trust builder to to, to be offering your services at a discount compared to everybody else. So tons of great news in here about what builds trust and I think it’s what good agencies are good at strategic thinking and and helpful thought leadership and sort of being in the game and being helpful to prospects even before they’ve hired us. Yeah, sure is really, it was really good. So let’s talk a little bit more about this niche or generalist thing because I really wanted to deep dive into this ’cause this was bothering me a little bit.

So we asked some new questions This year. So one of ’em was, alright, If, you had your choice If, you could If, you could structure the ideal set of agencies to work with your organization. Would they be all generalists? Mostly generous generalists, an equal mix of generalists and specialists. Mostly specialists or all specialists. And 87% of the clients in our study want at least some specialists. Only 13% that say they want all generalists. And the highest percentage, 29% is actually all specialists. So it continues that trend we’ve seen of looking for specific expertise.

The folks who prefer all or mostly generalists are more likely to be that middle group begrudging buyers, as you’ve talked about, four 45% of them say they would prefer all or mostly generalists compared to only 16% of the agency advocates. And 21% of the exacting experts, on the other hand, preferring all or mostly specialists in the forties for all three groups. 41% advocates, 44% begrudging buyers, 48% exacting experts. So the interest is there.

Right. So again, again, I think not to beat the, not to beat the drum, but I will continue to always beat this drum there. There is a selling advantage to being a niche agency. And interestingly one of the questions we asked was, how about you client? Are you niched? And no surprise the A, the clients who self-identify that they have a niche that they sell into a niche prefer niched agencies. So the more their audience is specialized, the more they want an agency that also specializes.

Yeah. So there’s really no negative to having a specialization and talking about it and having a niche. One of the things that we saw in this, in this study actually is that having a reputation for a niche is as or more valuable than just having the niche. I think there’s a lot of us out there as agencies that sort of harbor a niche in our hearts, but we’re afraid to put it on our websites. Right. Or talk about it. ’cause we think it’ll be limiting. And in fact that reputation of having a niche is a big deal too.

Yeah, for sure.

So I think, you know, like you said, there’s so much to talk about in this. We’ve got a whole section of the study that is specifically around how these folks are finding agencies, evaluating them, having conversations with them and then hiring them. And there’s just a wealth of data about what people are doing, how it’s changed, and the kinds of things that are triggering them to actually engage with our outreach when we, when we make it. And I think, again, positive for agencies, they don’t mind outreach, but, but most of them are getting outreach from agencies they’ve already heard of and they know and that’s where things start to go someplace. So we’re not gonna go into that now, but, but there’s been a lot of change with respect to that and niche has become an important part of that For sure.

You know what, one of the things we asked was what makes you recognize a poor fit in an agency? And the things we heard were like lack of understanding of our goals. Right? Your online presence doesn’t support your claim. You haven’t done homework into my company that one of these quotes said, that’s a huge ick. You know, so I think just some good refreshers on how they’re going through this process. So ton of stuff in there and there’s, you know, information to your point, we saw the impact of niche. There’s lots of folks who consider that as part of their hiring decision with agencies. So you’ve gotta If you have one for God’s sake, please make it visible.

Yeah. And If, you can have a reputation based on it even better.

Yeah, for sure. So no, no surprise, one of the things that triggers the clients wanting to hire a new agency is per, per poor performance of their current agency. So we talked, we asked them about that. So for example, 23%, 23% of the respondents said, you know, when the marketing initiatives aren’t generating the ROI, we’d like, so again that it may be that you’re not generating it or you can’t count it or you can’t prove it. So it’s those sorts of things. Another thing that triggered hiring a new agency was if the in-house team doesn’t have the expertise to handle something, or again, 23%, that seems to be a key number, disappointed with the performance of a current agency, right?

So much of this is the trust thing again. Right? Right. Yep. It’s like, it’s the reverse side of it. If we, if If you said that you have the expertise to do something and you’re not able to do it in the eyes of your client If, you can’t handle your customer service effectively, like you said you could if, if things aren’t working like you promised, you could, there’s a loss of trust there and they’re gonna go try another agency in the help of finding somebody that actually lives up to the promises that they’re making. So, you know, that’s hard on agencies, but I don’t think that’s any less than we would want in our vendor relationships either.

That’s right. It feels, it feels reasonable. And again, kind of back to your niche comments. So 71% of the respondents, regardless of Segment said the agency having a niche gives them an advantage in being hired. So again, you know, you get to decide what kind of a business you run, but under, but recognize that If, you want to give yourself every edge. One of the ways to do that is to have a specialization.

Yep, for sure. So I think, you know, the, the threads that run through this study for me are we, we see different priorities in different segments to some degree, but fundamentally expertise, results, delivering what you promise and having good customer service always top the list for what for, for what clients want and expertise more than ever This year.

You know, and I and I I do think we were both a little surprised by some of the ways they want agencies to reach out to them and some of the ways that they find agencies. And again, we just don’t have time in this hour to go through all of that. But we would love for you to join us on July 9th. Again, 2:00 PM Mountain, July 9th If, you go to agency management institute.com/ 2024 Agency Edge, you will be able to sign up for that webinar. We will send you some reminders and you know, normally those webinars, gosh they take us almost two hours sometimes, don’t they Susan?

Yeah. To really go through and we’ll record it. So If you If you sign up and you can’t be there live obviously. We’ll send you the recording, we’ll send you the deck, we will send you the executive summary. But If, you can be with us live. You will literally, we, we’ll walk you through every question we ask, the insights that we gain from those questions. You can ask us questions live and again, we will give you access to the data visualization so you can kind of search and probe the data based on what’s important to you.

Yeah. And one of my favorite things in those webinars, I mean people don’t do two hour webinars very often, but I, you know, we, we do them Every year and we get a lot of interest in them because we’re going through the data If, you, you know, If, you have time download from the show notes, the 60 page executive summary and, and run through it and come with questions because we are happy to be in the data visualization with you exploring why we said this or recommended that in the executive summary. So we do it, we do it for you. So we really want you to dig in and tell us how we can help.

So again, that URL is agency management institute.com/ 2024 Agency Edge. And so, and if you’re in the Facebook group, we’ll put it there. If, you are on the newsletter list, we will put it there. So if you’re driving or you’re on a treadmill or you’re running with your dog, do not stop to text yourself this or ball or do any drive into something. We, we’ll get it to you another way. But, and, and honestly If, you go to the a MI website and you just search Agency Edge 2024, it’ll, it’ll find it for you. But we would love to have you there. We would love to do a deeper dive with this. But overall the good news is there was a lot of good news in this study.

So they are very engaged in their agency relationships. They find value, although the value is not the same in their agency relationships. And they recognize the value that we bring both from a strategy point of view and helping them get things done. So overall, I will say this was a much happier set of results than sometimes we’ve had. That

Is no doubt. That

Is no doubt. And it feels good to be giving you some good news.

It does. And they wanna talk to agencies, they like outreach, they’re interested in learning about us. So I think, I think this study has lots of opportunities for agencies to take advantage of in a really changed marketplace than we saw. And

A lot of, I think, and I think a lot of very clear directives of things you can do Yep. To be found, to get hired and to be kept as the agency, as they skinny down their roster. So thi this is really, this is a guideline for you a, a a, an opportunity for you to figure out how do you get on their radar screen, how do you win their attention, how do you win their trust, how do you keep that trust and how do you keep that relationship long term? So lots of good takeaways that are very action oriented I think out of this study.

Yeah. I think you combine the how do we get new business 2024 study on how do we get more from our current clients from the 23 study. Agreed. And you’ve got a roadmap for really doing a great job with your business development efforts.

Absolutely. Absolutely. So as always, Susan, thanks for coming on the show. It is, it is fun to be partnered with you guys on this for so long and obviously we’re gonna keep at it, but I’m grateful for your expertise and that we get to sort of sort through all this data and find meaning in it together. So thank you.

Me too. It’s my favorite, favorite part of the year is doing this study with you Drew. Yeah, thanks for

Having me on. Of course. Alright guys, this wraps up another episode of Build a Better Agency. Again, lots of just, just in us sort of cherry picking some highlights of the study, lots for you to take away to talk about with your leadership team to begin to implement or some recognize some traits in your own clients, but we have much more on the table for you. So please, please, please. Agency management institute.com 2024 Agency Edge, even If, you just download the 60 page executive summary. You’re like, I do not wanna hang out with Susan Andrew for two hours and I don’t wanna watch a video of them for two hours. We’re not for everyone, that’s fine. I think we kind of are, we’re a lot.

I’m okay. But if, if you’ve decided that you don’t wanna do that, at least get the executive summary because that’s gonna be a great tool for you in terms of sort of mapping out your new business strategy and Susan’s, right? The one two punch of the 23 and 24 study. How do I get more from the current clients and keep them happy and how do I get more new clients and keep them happy? You nailed those two things and life gets a whole lot better for us as agency owners and leaders. So yes indeed, please take advantage of that. And of course, huge shout out and thank you to our friends at White. Label IQ. They have been the presenting sponsor alongside of us, both at the podcast and the Build to Better Agency Summit for several years.

And we are super grateful to them. So if you’re looking for help on white label design dev or ppc, head over to White Label IQ dot com slash aami and check out the special offer they have for you as podcast guests. Good, good people born from an agency so they understand your world. They’re great partners to agencies all over the world. Yeah, great folks over there for sure. Yeah, for sure. So check them out and when you do, please tell them that we sent you so that they know that we’re grateful for their support. And guess what, I’m gonna be back next week with another guest and we’ll be talking about your business and how to make it stronger and better. So I hope you come back too. Thanks for listening and I will see you soon.

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