Episode 119

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Duane Melius has worked eight years in journalism, social enterprise, and media production in London and over six years across Southeast Asia in a digital agency environment. He’s previously had clients in banking, automotive, food & hospitality, FMCG, entertainment, and more, and those clients have been both B2B and B2C. He has millions of dollars of Digital campaign experience. Duane specializes in growing teams that use digital channels to reach niche and mass audiences with ROI-enabled campaigns, activities, and retainers.

 

 

What you’ll learn about in this episode:

  • The challenges traditional agencies are facing in going digital
  • Why you need to use digital in your personal life to be able to sell it (and why your team needs to do the same to create great digital content)
  • The importance of mastering the area of digital your agency has as its core competency while keeping familiar with other areas
  • Staying on top of what’s new in digital
  • Qualities that make for great digital employees
  • Using reporting to show your clients how your digital efforts are improving
  • Ways to interview for new digital skillsets that you don’t have inside your agency yet
  • Using a multi-step approval process to make sure mistakes don’t get made with digital content
  • Making the content approval process easier on clients — especially when there is compliance involved
  • The good and the bad of digital tools (and why there’s often more bad than good, especially with social media)
  • Why clients might start to take their social media in-house and what agencies can do to stay invaluable
  • Unlocking the competitive advantage which exists within your people

The Golden Nugget:

“It’s very difficult to create great digital work without personally participating in the great digital revolution.” – @dmelius Click To Tweet

 

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Ways to contact Duane Melius:

We’re proud to announce that Hubspot is now the presenting sponsor of the Build A Better Agency podcast! Many thanks to them for their support!

Speaker 1:

If you’re going to take the risk of running an agency, shouldn’t you get the benefits too? Welcome to Agency Management Institute’s, Build A Better Agency podcast presented by HubSpot. We’ll show you how to build an agency that can scale and grow, with better clients, invested employees and best of all, more money to the bottom line. Bringing his 25 plus years of experience as both an agency owner and agency consultant, please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.

Drew McLellan:

Hey everybody. Welcome to another episode of Build A Better Agency. Drew McLellan here with you, and we’re going to talk digital today. I’ve got a guest that I think you’re going to find both incredibly helpful and fascinating. Let me tell you a little bit about him and then let’s jump right into the conversation. Duane Melius is the head of digital services at Burson Marsteller, Germany. He started there as the employee in that role, and then has evolved actually to being a contractor in that role. He also serves as a global digital marketing consultant. Literally, he said to his landlord is Airbnb and he travels the globe working with clients. Let me give you a little bit about his background.

Duane is a digital native that has more than eight years of experience in journalism, social enterprise and media production in London, along with six plus years across Southeast Asia in digital agency environments. He has worked with global players in banking, automotive, food and hospitality, entertainment, B2B, B2C, he’s covered it all. Interestingly, we’re going to focus our attention is, in the last couple of years, he has worked with other agencies to help them establish and manage social media teams. So working with agencies that are typically pretty traditional in their makeup and really want to embrace and be able to offer a wider swath of digital services. We’re going to get into that. He’s also a popular speaker and is seen in conferences all over the globe. He worked at the digital agency [inaudible 00:02:05] in Singapore before he joined Burson and has had several other positions that have teed him up to be a great guest for today. With all of that, Duane welcome to the show.

Duane Melius:

Thank you very much Drew, and thanks for the wonderful intro.

Drew McLellan:

You’ve done quite a bit in a short span of time. Do you think being a digital native matters today? I know a lot of agency owners who are not digital natives worry that they are forever behind the curve.

Duane Melius:

I don’t think it matters so much to be a digital native, but it definitely matters to listen to them.

Drew McLellan:

That’s part of the challenge, right?

Duane Melius:

Yeah. I think being able to position in the organization in a way that it can respond to their advice is also pretty important.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. In the intro, I talked about the fact that along with your work at Burson and with some of the big global clients, you have worked with agencies that have a rich history of success on the traditional side and have decided either to jump into or expand their digital offerings. When you get there, what are the barriers to success on the front end of that? What’s in the way of that going well to begin with?

Duane Melius:

Absolutely. I think the first thing to remember is that every agency who has a history in the agency business is going through a similar thing right now, in the sense of trying to digitize their services and their skills, their core skillsets. But I think the main challenges and the main barriers that I see a lot of agencies facing, is simply that their workforce, they don’t think digitally native. It’s the best way for me to put this. I think it’s just plain old fashionedness, really. The biggest challenge is just getting people to realize the massive plethora of opportunities offered by this new digital world that’s grown up around us. Because it’s so vast, I think it’s easy to get lost in the vast amount of possibilities are out there. Just developing a good grounding just for their staff to develop a good grounding in digital thinking, I think is the biggest challenge.

Drew McLellan:

Give us an example of something that you ran into that exemplified that so people can wrap their head around it.

Duane Melius:

I wouldn’t call out any one particular scenario, but I’m sure a lot of agency people out there can think of one or two people within their organization that you could call digitally challenged. Maybe they have a Facebook profile with less than 50 friends, maybe they-

Drew McLellan:

Or they’re not on Facebook.

Duane Melius:

Or not on there at all. And then you’re lucky if you get a Facebook profile, but what about Instagram, and don’t even mention Snapchat. I think it’s just, in order to be able to successfully sell digital or to market digitally, I think you first need to be a proper digital consumer.

Drew McLellan:

It’s your belief… This is an interesting discussion that I have with a lot of agency owners particularly those that are on the 50 plus side, who are typically in an agency their size, one of the primary salespeople, but some of them hold to the belief that they don’t have to participate in the digital space as long as their people do. As long as they understand it intellectually, they can sell it. Do you think that’s true?

Duane Melius:

I think you can get by, but in terms of being able to spot the small opportunities, in terms of being able to flow with digital thinking, in terms of being able to leverage content in intuitive ways, just there’s just so much advantage to being on those platforms personally. I think you can get by without being on them, but I think it’s very difficult to produce exceptional work without participating in the great digital revolution [inaudible 00:06:06].

Drew McLellan:

When you get to an agency and you’re going to help them create or expand upon their digital team, what kind of assessments, what are you looking for? What are the clues that tell you where you need to go next?

Duane Melius:

I’m really looking for enthusiasm, and it’s not that difficult to find, particularly among younger staff. Is just enthusiasm to do digital. Usually client leads are chomping at the bit for more digital tools because their clients are asking for them. That’s a good place to start, and you’ll usually find a good, solid base of enthusiasm in any agency. People that are already, they don’t need to be sold on the idea of digital. And then that gives you something to work with.

Drew McLellan:

You mentioned earlier the wide array of choices. I think in some ways that’s exciting for agencies and their clients, but I think it’s also daunting. How do you help agencies begin to wade into the water without getting overwhelmed?

Duane Melius:

Absolutely. One of the things that really helped me get to grips with my digital learning and my digital knowledge, was this idea of T-shaped expertise. Because digital has so many channels, so many different areas that you can explore, you can only really hope to get deep expertise in a few of those areas, maybe one or two of them, and then just have surface level across the rest. You end up with a T-shaped knowledge and expertise, and then the idea is to make sure that your core competencies as an agency. If you’re a social media agency, that’s obviously going to be social media. If you’re a PR agency, PR and so on. Your core competencies are where you go deep on the knowledge, but you do need that surface knowledge of every other discipline within the digital space to be able to put together meaningful strategies and campaigns.

Drew McLellan:

Are you of the belief that an agency should have a digital departments and that the expertise is held in that department? Or are you of the belief that in today’s world, everybody in the agency has to be digitally savvy?

Duane Melius:

If there is a digital department, I think it’s as a cooler in a fun way, a infiltration into the wider agency, because everything is becoming more and more digital and the agency just has to follow, which means everybody in the agency ultimately.

Drew McLellan:

But for you, when you come to a more traditional shop, you’re going to start by infecting or infusing a few folks and then let them ooze into the rest of the organization, right?

Duane Melius:

Absolutely. The model, a nice model is to find members of staff that are already doing normal functions and then offer them to spend a set amount of hours working within a digital team. What that does is it creates a layer of over the organization of digital expertise, and a core digital team that can build their competency and then go out into the organization and infuse their knowledge.

Drew McLellan:

If an agency is listening to us and they’re saying, yeah, we have to up our digital game, how do they figure out which of the bazillion channels they should begin to explore and start to see if that’s the one that, to your T-model, deserves the depth and expertise?

Duane Melius:

For an agency, I would always start with the lowest hanging fruit. Which of their clients are most likely to be receptive to new digital strategies and campaigns? And then begin working on real world case scenarios with those clients to try and sell them digital products and services that are going to help them. The way I would do that is with a landscape, a digital landscape looking into your lowest hanging fruit client’s target market and finding out where they live online. Then once you have that, once you have your landscape, where your client’s target audience are hanging out, then you could begin to build a digital strategy.

Drew McLellan:

Is there a risk for an agency? I see this in some agencies that they get really great and knowledgeable at a channel or two, and that becomes their default for everyone. How do you protect against that?

Duane Melius:

I think part of it is just allowing time for exploration. I allow myself between half an hour and an hour every day just to serve the digital news, trends, and even just skipping through the Facebook newsfeed, the Twitter newsfeed, because that’s the source in the end. It all comes from there. All the news is coming live and direct, is another reason why it’s best for us practitioners to actually be using these tools, is because it’s through the tools we find out the knowledge, the trends and the information that we need to be most current for our clients. I think it’s just creating that culture where you’re continuously looking for growth, the next big thing. You’re continuously sharing innovation among each other. And so you’re pointing towards your north star and you never truly get there. You never truly get to that north star, we are now perfect, our knowledge is now complete. But it’s in the traveling and the journey towards it as individuals and as a team, I think is a very important skill to have in the digital world, just because we are presented with so much novelty and growth every single day.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, when people say to me, “I don’t know how as busy as you are, you have time for Twitter and Facebook and LinkedIn,” and fill in the blank. For me it’s the incubator, it’s the place where I’m watching things be born and tested. It’s at least on my radar screen.

Duane Melius:

Right. It’s the place to be.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. When you go into an agency and obviously you’ve been invited there, in theory, at least on a surface level there, they’re behind this idea of getting more digital. What gets in the way? Once you’re there, what are some stumbling blocks or some barriers or behaviors that get in the way of you being successful? What do you have to move out of the way?

Duane Melius:

To be honest with you now, nowadays it’s not a difficult sell. People are looking for these things, and they’re very receptive towards them. There aren’t really that many barriers in the way, apart from time and resource.

Drew McLellan:

What you’re saying is, it’s easy to sell, and what I’m hearing you say is, and they’re actually eager to implement, so they’re not as resistant to it as perhaps when you started this.

Duane Melius:

Yeah, we’re in a very, very fruitful time in general.

Drew McLellan:

When you get into an agency, obviously you’re looking for some folks that have some enthusiasm, but whether it’s existing staff or you’re helping them hire other people, what are the skillsets or the traits that you’re looking for that makes someone a good addition, either to a digital team or a good digitally savvy addition to the agency team? What do people need to possess or behaviors or attitudes that make them better at this work?

Duane Melius:

I think the first thing is that you need somebody who’s not afraid to make mistakes, because all of this is very new to most people. So there is the sense of being out of your element. Some people thrive on that and some people prefer to feel they’ve built up a core competency and it’s very difficult for them to let it go. I think you need someone who’s willing to make mistakes. That’s the first thing. The other thing I want to say as well is that often agencies think we need to hire in this new skillset to make it work. But as digital goes, there are a lot of transferable skillsets from typical core agency business. For instance, a PR company may have many people who are very good at writing content that can easily move over to perhaps writing content for social media, where they may have been writing press releases and suggested articles for journalists in the past.

A lot of digital skills don’t actually need to be rehired for, and you can work with existing team members, as I say, if they have the right attitude towards making mistakes and they do have a talent for… Again, the digital world is so vast as well and so broad so we need digital content producers. We need coders, we need analytics people. Where those skillsets are transferrable in existing teams, I would definitely recommend training and up-skilling existing personnel rather than looking to hire new talent in. But then again, you may have a bunch of PR people and you need to hire somebody to write code.

Drew McLellan:

Right. But I think part of it is, I’m curious about your opinion on this, at a certain point in time someone who is not at least embracing digital, at least understanding it, they certainly don’t have to be a digital native as we talked about earlier, or they don’t have to be the most savvy person in the shop, but someone who has no affinity or interest in digital, at a certain point in time, don’t they become obsolete in the agency world today?

Duane Melius:

Absolutely. This is another thing that should be stated very clearly to your team members, is that not only is the future of the agency riding on this, but the future of everybody’s careers is usually riding on the creation of a digital team or digital capability within the agency. It’s a very easy sell.

Drew McLellan:

Okay. You’re looking for people who have an interest, a curiosity, a willingness to make mistakes. What else are you looking for?

Duane Melius:

Again, it would depend on the skills, the specific digital skillset you’re trying to build within the agency, but you need good data people, good numbers people to get to grips with the reporting and the ROI side of things, which I think should be seen as a priority within digital as well, because it’s the new kid on the block. We’re always looking for it to prove itself and to show us that it can deliver good ROI. I would definitely recommend getting good data skillsets involved from an early stage. Again, when you’re looking at digital landscapes or you’re doing analysis of client’s digital presence, is just that the skill in manipulating data would always come in handy.

Other skillsets that you need are, content production, and sometimes it doesn’t work very well with more classically trained writers, such as people who have taken journalism degrees or those who might pry it from a more literary perspective. Sometimes those skillsets don’t apply very well to social, which I think is where the creative and not being afraid to make mistakes mindset comes in. Because, if I take the example of social media, when you’re developing tone of voice for a client on social media, you really need someone who’s going to come in and make some slightly more suggestions out of left field, slightly more crazy suggestions that are going to get the creative juices flowing and bring people towards a more authentic way of expression for your clients or for whichever company you’re doing this for. I think I’d leave it at that for now, but I mean, as I say, the skillset required in digital is broad as digital itself.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. As you’re talking about the willingness to make mistakes, part of that is that you have to work in an agency environment where you don’t get in trouble for that, and even moreso you have to work with clients who understand the iterative nature of digital as opposed to, the TV spot is perfect. How do you help your agency clients help their clients understand that really the whole digital landscape is one big experiment and we’re constantly tweaking to get a little better or get a little more ROI? But then to your point earlier, you’re never done and there is never perfect. How do you help clients who are used to living in a traditional space, wrap their arms around the fact that they’re paying for something that isn’t perfect?

Duane Melius:

Absolutely. That’s a really good question. I think it comes about as an overall way of how accounts are managed. If I go back to what I said about having good data people involved and really having a good focus on ROI, it’s about building reporting structures that can help the client along the way. Perhaps in the past, when we had more print based campaigns, we’d have maybe a free month cycle on our reporting. I think it’s more important for digital to have at least a monthly cycle for reporting so that every month you’re coming back and revisiting your content, revisiting your analytics and working with the client on iterations, showing them what is working well and how easy it is to remove things are not working as well and replace them with better.

Slowly as time goes on and as you work with the client and bring them into this space of more rapid iteration, more rapid reporting cycles and more rapid beneficial changes, it starts to dawn on them, oh, okay, I see. We don’t have to be perfect because next week we’ll come back with something even better. Also as part of that as well, I think it’s about creating the proper and the right approval structures for content so that at least there is a CISO, there is a seal of approval on everything that does go out to make the chance smaller of any big upsets happening.

Drew McLellan:

Right. Okay. I want to dig into both the whole idea of this person, this data analyst person. I want to talk a little more about the approval process, but let’s first take a quick break and then we’ll come back and dig into those.

I get that sometimes you just can’t get on a plane and spend a couple of days in a live workshop, and so hopefully our online courses are a solution to that. Lots of video, hours and hours of video, a very dense, detailed participants’ guide, and all kinds of help along the way to make sure that you get the learning that you need and apply it immediately to your agency. Right now we’ve got two courses that are available. We have the agency new business blueprint, and we have the AE bootcamp. Feel free to check those out at agencymanagementinstitute.com/ondemandcourses. Okay. Let’s get back to the show.

All right. We are back and we are talking about building out a digital team inside your agency. One of the things you said before the break was that one of the components or the key skillsets that someone on the agency has to have is this ability to look at data. I did a trends report for agencies and one of the things I talked about is that it used to be a few years ago that all we had to do is show clients some Google Analytics charts and they were happy. But now, as they’ve gotten more sophisticated, so of their demands, and really for many agencies, agencies are struggling to find someone who can connect the dots when they look at the data, because what clients are now saying is, “Okay, I see the data, but what does it mean and where should we go next based on the data?”

In an agency where in many cases the person hiring for that position doesn’t have that skillset, how do you know if someone you’re talking to across the table actually has the chops to do the data analysis that you need them to do? How do you interview for that and how do you figure that out?

Duane Melius:

I think there’s a really, really easy and simple solution to that challenge. I think is a very important challenge to get right and so I would always advise that even if you don’t have anybody on your team that has that skillset, to find somebody who can help you interview for that skillset. Because if you don’t have it, it’s very, very difficult to ask the right questions to ensure that you’re speaking to the right people. I would always recommend finding someone and working with somebody who is already there to help you find someone for your team.

Drew McLellan:

Again, if I’m colorblind, how do I know the person is telling me that it’s green and it’s really green? Even if I’m looking for someone to help me interview well, how do I know that they know what they’re talking about if I don’t know? Which I think to many agencies is a challenge.

Duane Melius:

Results. What you want to see is very, very finely quantified ROI based on objectives. They should always be able to show you a case study where they say, these were my client’s objectives, this is what we did to reach those objectives, and here is how we measured every step of the way, and this is the impact that every dollar had. To the point where it should be on a cost per lead metric or a cost per reach dependent, on the objective of the campaign. If you have a campaign which objective was brand awareness, then it should be cost per reach. If the objective is lead generation, then it should be cost per lead, and they should be able to show you how they constructed the entire campaign and each metric, why it’s important and at which stage of the campaign it’s relevant for. If they can show you all of the pieces of the campaign together, how it fits together and demonstrate that they actually created a positive ROI, then I think you can be pretty confident that the person you’re talking to knows what they’re doing.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, I agree. Okay. Before the break you also talked about one of the ways to help clients wrap their head around the idea that what they’re buying is not perfection, but that it’s constant improvement and experimentation to get closer and closer to perfection. You talked about having a proper approval process to avoid unnecessary mistakes, which might shake the client’s confidence. Can you talk us through a little more of that?

Duane Melius:

Definitely. Usually we have two off restage approval process. Let’s just simplify. The two-stage approval process looks like this. You have a junior member of staff who’s creating content within the office. Their content will be subject to approval by some type of line manager. That might be head of content or head of digital and so on. [inaudible 00:25:58]. That’s the first layer of approval. If the junior person creates a content plan for client A, which is good enough, it goes for approval and then goes to the client for second layer of approval. At that point if the client accepts, then the content would be posted. Really simple actually.

Drew McLellan:

It is simple that I think that part of that, that makes it a tricky wicket is the time. Part of what we’re trying to do in the digital space is be more real time, more reactionary to what’s happening in the world today. I think for a lot of agencies and clients, they’re not used to that turn and burn timetables. Any tricks for getting clients to review copy more quickly, or to make that whole process go faster? Because I think a lot of agencies struggle with that, especially if they live with clients. I know you’ve done a lot of work in some compliant heavy, and restriction heavy industries. How do you manage that when there are lawyers and compliance folks in the mix?

Duane Melius:

A big part of it is going to be the client that you work with and working with tools that make them comfortable. One neat trick we used to use was we’d have a parallel Facebook page when we were working on clients’ Facebook pages, but we’d keep it unpublished so it wasn’t publicly v