Episode 22

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Jami Oetting is the editor of Hubspot’s Agency Post, which is a blog for advertising and marketing agency professionals. She led the launch of the publication in 2011 and its growth before Hubspot acquired it in 2013. Hubspot works with about 2,500 agency partners and about 15,000 customers worldwide. Now, Jami’s blog is one of the largest blogs for agency professionals. It offers incredible content to help agency leaders grow their business.

 

 

What you’ll learn about in this episode:

  • How agencies can and should be getting clients now that we’re not bound by geography
  • Why getting business through referrals is still viable — but why the source of those referrals is changing
  • Why buyers have as much if not more information than sellers and what that means for your agency
  • Using inbound marketing to attract the right kind of clients (and turn away the wrong ones)
  • Why you need to stick with inbound marketing content creation
  • Why you absolutely must specialize on a niche if you want to survive
  • Why you will struggle to attract great employees if you don’t have a strong new business plan
  • Why you need someone on your team who is responsible for marketing your agency
  • How to come up with content for your blog
  • Why interviews are a great way to create content
  • What agency owners can do right now to get the ideas from this podcast into place

 

The Golden Nugget:

“People who have a library of content get a lot more leads and traffic.” – @jamioetting Share on X

Click to tweet: Jami Oetting shares the inside knowledge needed to run an agency on Build a Better Agency!

 

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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!

Intro:

If you’re going to take the risk of running an agency, shouldn’t you get the benefits too? Welcome to Build A Better Agency, where we show you how to build an agency that can scale and grow with better clients, invest in employees, and best of all, more money to the bottom line. Bringing his 25 plus years of expertise as both an agency owner and agency consultant to you, please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.

Drew McLellan:

Hey there, everybody. This is going to be a great episode of Build A Better Agency. Drew McLellan here to guide you to strengthening your agency so you can enjoy all the rewards of business ownership without all of the worries and headaches, which is why I know today’s guest is going to absolutely rock it for you. Jami Oetting is the editor of HubSpot’s Agency Post, which is a blog which I’m sure most of you are already familiar with, but it’s a blog for advertising and marketing agency professionals. She led the launch of the publication in 2011 and its growth, and then it was acquired by HubSpot in 2013.

HubSpot, as you all probably know, works with about 2,500 agency partners and about 15,000 customers worldwide. And now, Jami’s blog, Agency Post, is one of the largest blogs for agency professionals. It offers incredible content, tips, insights, stories that help agency leaders grow their business. Jami graduated from the University of Missouri’s journalism school and worked as a strategist at a full service agency. So she comes from our world, prior to deciding that writing about it was more fun than living it. So, Jami, welcome to the show.

Jami Oetting:

Thanks, Drew, for having me.

Drew McLellan:

So, Jami and I have had lots of conversations around new business and certainly has been gracious enough to write about Agency Management Institute on her blog, and we’ve actually appeared at some workshops together around your business. So that’s really where I want to focus my attention. You kind of are in the catbird seat looking at all kinds of agencies and how they are behaving over the last five or six years. So that’s kind of what I want to pick your brain about today, if you’re good with that.

Jami Oetting:

Yeah, for sure. Let’s do it.

Drew McLellan:

Awesome. So agency, new business used to be a matter of, back in the good old days, used to be a matter of agency owners and leaders showing up at a rotary or a Lions Club or industry trade conference, and networking and kind of getting to know each other. And by building relationships, they secured clients and they got referrals. Even today, when I asked agency owners how are you getting clients, the one way they all point to is the referral model. But in today’s world, as agencies realize that geography shouldn’t be a barrier anymore, and especially the agencies that have decided to niche themselves and serve certain industries or verticals, or offer a certain set of services.

Now all of a sudden, they can serve clients anywhere in the country or in the globe. And that makes bumping into somebody at a trade show or at the rotary meeting a little more challenging. So I’m curious how you’re seeing the idea of getting new clients, how do you see that evolving over the history of Agency Post and even in your career at agencies?

Jami Oetting:

Yeah. I think you’re completely right in the fact that, and it mirrors what we see in the workforce as well, that people aren’t bound by geography. You can take your laptop anywhere and start an agency, you can run an agency from anywhere, and you can work with clients from all over the world, basically. And so I think the model of solely relying on referrals and solely relying on what business you can drum up in your backyard, basically, it doesn’t make sense, really, anymore. That’s fine to have that as part of your strategy. But there’s a whole world out there of clients that are looking for specialists too, which I think is the other part of that.

Is that you used to have all the agencies competed basically on offering five different core services. And now agencies are specializing in verticals, they’ve got different tactics that they specialize in. And clients really want to add these type of agencies to their rosters. And so they can’t just look at the agencies that are within a 20 mile radius, and where do people go to look for some information that they don’t know, they go to Google. Right?

Drew McLellan:

The magical Google.

Jami Oetting:

The magical Google. We search for information that we want to find. And I think that plays into the referrals too, is because agency still lists referrals as the biggest source of new business, it’s the most valuable source of new business. We see the stats, we know that they convert at a higher rate and have a higher lifetime value. And so I get that. But I think the flip side of this is that the way that people give referrals for professional services or for any service really, is very different now too. And that’s mostly driven by online as well.

So we tell people that we found this interesting company online, right? Or someone says, hey, do you know anyone that provides this service? They might ask their friends that still and you have that word of mouth, but a lot of people go straight for Google to find the information they want. And they read about agencies that are publishing thought leadership pieces on different blogs, like Agency Post, or they come across their website, or they come across their social profiles. I mean, that’s all part of that footprint. And that is really how we’re driving referrals now, I think.

Drew McLellan:

Absolutely. What is the statistic? I see all kinds of stats around this. But between 70 and 80% of the buying decision is made by clients looking for agencies before they ever contact the agencies. So much of it today is about our digital presence and how we present and package ourselves online so that people can passively sort of shop us before they’re ready to have a conversation with us.

Jami Oetting:

Yeah. I think the thing is, and this makes sense because the agency business is in a business of selling. Even though we are, we don’t like to think of ourselves that way. Right?

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Jami Oetting:

No one likes that four letter word. But the agency business hasn’t had a really good relationship with the idea of sales. And so they’re not, I think, as attuned to the fact that buyers now have more information than the sellers do, in some cases, because they’ve done all this research online. And I don’t think that people can exclude the agency business from these larger trends of how people are buying and selling. And that’s why sales reps used to be valuables because they had this briefcase of all this information that buyers could not access. Right?

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Jami Oetting:

And now, buyers have as much, if not more information than sellers do, basically, because they’ve maybe talk to their friends. And they have individual recommendations or testimonials, that type of thing, that that agency maybe has never heard before. And so you have to go into the idea of selling your agency or generating new business with a completely different frame of mind, which is, how can I give people as much information as possible upfront, so that they can not only learn who my agency is, what services we provide, our case studies, our successes, who our executives are, who our other clients, are all of that information.

But also can get to know that agency’s personality a little bit through the way that they write and describe themselves and tell their story online. So that clients can, one, self-select a little bit, basically, that agencies don’t spend so much time going after new business that they have no business going after really.

Drew McLellan:

Bad fit clients, right?

Jami Oetting:

Yeah, exactly. And people self-select. When I look for service online, I look up the rates for what that plumber costs. I don’t want to relate plumbers to agency services, but it is a service. And you buy in a similar way.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. As consumers, we get it because that’s how we shop. But it’s difficult for us as business owners to understand that we’re being shopped in the same way. What I find sort of ironic is, this is what we’re doing for clients all day every day. We help clients understand this, and yet, for some reason, it seems to be a challenge for agency owners to wrap their head around that there’s nothing wrong with the old model of getting clients, it’s just not enough anymore.

Jami Oetting:

Exactly. I think the other thing is that this is going to become more and more of an issue as younger marketers rise in the ranks of those client side companies. Brands, basically, they’ve grown up making purchasing decisions this way. They don’t know another way. They don’t go to lunches where you have a couple drinks and that’s how you decide what agency you want to work with. That idea is very foreign to them. And so I think, if anything, this is going to accelerate in the next couple of years.

Drew McLellan:

So we’ve got to get ahead of the trend and we’ve got to be comfortable with this new version of selling.

Jami Oetting:

Yes, exactly. And comfortable with that word, I think is the other side of that.

Drew McLellan:

Absolutely. I think you’re right. I think agencies have sort of held themselves above the idea that they were salespeople for so long, that it’s sort of a dirty word to your point earlier. And the reality is, we sell every day. We sell to clients, you’re selling internally inside your organization to try and get somebody to get something done, and we certainly sell to prospects.

Jami Oetting:

Well, yeah. And I think that’s because, and we talked about this a little bit, but it’s also like I referenced earlier where salespeople used to have all this power, because they had all the product specs and everything in their briefcase that they carried around from client to potential client. And now because they have so much information, it’s not so much about selling, but about being able to provide customized information, and specific knowledge and things that that potential client or prospect wants to know.

That once you actually get to the point where you’re having that conversation, then the agency can make a very tailored recommendation. And agencies are, historically, this is what we do. We’re not IKEA. We make custom solutions for our clients. And so that teaching and educating and being able to provide individual knowledge and individual recommendations is what we’re really good at, we just have to get them to that point.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. I think you’re right. So as you observe agencies across the spectrum, the agencies that have really wrapped their head around this and have really tweaked their new business model to understand that they have to be ready to be shopped. And they have to be able to position themselves online in a certain way to attract sweetspot clients. And also I keep telling agency owners, it’s not about just attracting the right ones, it’s also about repelling the wrong ones, the ones that are going to be a bad fit, or you’re not going to be able to make money. Better to deal with that right up front by being very clear about who you are and who you are not. But as you look across the spectrum, and you see agencies that are doing this well, what do they have in common? What are they doing well.

Jami Oetting:

So I think that really leads to what agencies are doing around this whole idea of inbound marketing for the sole purpose of business development. And part of that is that they are, like you said, they’re defining their niche. They’re defining what they want to talk about and who they want to talk about. And part of that they need to figure out who their ideal client is, if they don’t have a profile already, they go into building those kinds of buyer personas to be able to understand, what do my readers care about or my prospects, which is the same thing in this case? What do they want to know about? What are their challenges and struggles? And what can I help them be more educated on? So I think the first thing is really finding that area and defining what you’re going to talk about. And what’s equally as important in that practice is what you’re not going to talk about. Right?

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Talk a little bit more about that.

Jami Oetting:

So I can say that I’m going to talk about healthcare marketing. So like kind of if I’m a agency and I have a strong practice in healthcare marketing, and I know that these are my best type of clients, and so I want to attract more of these type of clients. So I’m going to start a blog about healthcare marketing. But I think there’s so many different segments in there. So you could say, health care. Well, we’ve worked with some health organizations that are more like wellness side of stuff, that are like chiropractors. And we find that they’re not the best type of clients or we find that would create this kind of confusing mix on our blog of content that’s partly for this type of person and partly for that type person, and then you have two conflicting areas. So you really need to kind of also on that other side, figure out who you’re not going to talk about, that might be closely aligned with your core niche.

Drew McLellan:

Right. It’s I’m going to do pharma, but I’m not going to do hospitals, or I’m going to do doc clinics, but I’m not going to do midwives or whatever. What you’re saying is, be careful that your niching down narrow enough.

Jami Oetting:

Yeah, exactly. Because you want to capture your core audience, and you should be alienating a large percentage of your actual audience. That should be your goal in some ways.

Drew McLellan:

Absolutely.

Jami Oetting:

The other thing I’ve seen that people really have to approach inbound marketing, content creation at that core, is they have to commit to it. So a lot of times what I see is that people, they start blogging, and they posted on their website, and they come back, and in that first day, they get some shares. And then two weeks later, they’re like, well, this didn’t work. So I don’t think we’re going to do this whole blogging thing anymore. Right?

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Jami Oetting:

That’s approaching it from this idea of just throwing something at the wall and hoping that someone comes up and picks up your business card and says, I want to work with you. It’s really a long term strategy that people have to commit to. We’ve done some studies on this that people who have a library of content, they get a lot more leads and a lot more traffic than those that have like less than 300 blog posts or something like that. So you really have to build up that library, and you have to do it in a thoughtful way, which is starting with understanding your niche, doing keyword research, understanding what people are actually searching for, what are the actual problems people have? Really committing to it.

And then doing it like you would do any other campaign, which is setting goals, and then figuring out how to reuse those campaign assets elsewhere. If you’re writing these great blog posts, use those in email nurturing campaigns, and create this full funnel experience for the prospects who are visiting your blog and subscribing to your email. Make yourself accountable to those goals at the end of every month. Just like you should do for your new business person, is figure on a monthly, quarterly, yearly basis what goals are we hitting? And why are we not hitting those?

Drew McLellan:

It’s interesting because I know the listeners are nodding their heads, because this is the speech they give their clients every day.

Jami Oetting:

Yeah, exactly. I’m like the most horrible blogger out there. I’m a reminder for all agency professionals of what they say to their clients.

Drew McLellan:

But you know what, they don’t do it. I mean, so they know it, but they don’t do it. I know you’ve talked to people who have been successful at it. So what are they doing differently? Is it as simple? If you remember the conference that we were a together, what I told them in my presentation was, here’s the silver bullet to do business, you have to decide to actually do it every day. But is there something that the successful agencies are doing to actually be accountable and to make the commitment for the long haul and to create that library of content? And to be brave enough to niche? Is there something different that they’re doing or that they know that our listeners need to hear?

Jami Oetting:

I think you’re totally right, Drew, in that doing it every day and just committing to it is part of it. I think the other part of it, I talked to an agency, and they were out of Colorado Springs, and I’ve written about them before. They had historically been a direct mail firm. And they started committing to inbound a couple years ago, and then they really started to specialize about a year, a year and a half ago, something like that. They just realized that they weren’t going to exist in a couple years if they didn’t do something different. And so I that’s kind of like a very dreary prospect, I guess, to say like, this is why you should do this.

I don’t think it’s out of scope here to say that if you can’t do this for yourself, and if you can’t commit to this type of ongoing inbound new business prospect, there are agencies out there that obviously get away with not doing any inbound. They get a lot of mentions in the press. And they’re looking most likely to be bought up by someone else. But for those of us who want to grow really strong, really successful independent agencies, I think it’s important that you need to then diversify how you’re bringing in new business. And then if you’re not attracting people that are outside of your current sphere of influence, because like I said, the referrals is great, but that drives up eventually.

You’re not setting yourself to attract the people who are going to be CMOS in five years, and thinking about the way that they’re going to make purchasing decisions for services, I don’t know, I think that’s a question to think about of whether or not … What your agency would look like in five years if you started this today, versus what it would look like in five years if you didn’t do this.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. One of the one of the things that, as the CEO of AMI, that I get to look at the financials of 100 to 200 agencies a year. I will tell you that when I look at the bottom line, there is a direct correlation to specialization and niching. And being able to have a new business program that just chugs along and tells a different story to the generalists out there. And the generalists are struggling to not be commoditized and to still make money. And I think that the struggle … The hill is about to get even more steep for them.

Jami Oetting:

I think you and I talked about the fact that if you’re not specialized, basically, the only thing you’re competing on his price. Right?

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Jami Oetting:

I think people will pay more for something that they see as higher quality, more expertise, that they hope will give them better results. I think the other thing that’s interesting about this is that if agencies can do this for themselves, if they can put themselves above the needs of their clients, it really changes the way that the agency operates as well whenever the agency is its most important client. And that’s the one client it doesn’t want to lose or fail or mess up. Right?

Drew McLellan:

Yep.

Jami Oetting:

I think that brings an entirely new outlook for not only the leadership, but also the staff. Because part of … I see it on agencies, websites, which are somewhat of a mess between if they’re writing for prospects, or they’re writing for their current clients, or they’re writing for talent. But the other issue is, obviously, going to be talent retention in the next couple of years. And that’s going to determine whether or not you’re going to be able to win new business because of the work that you’ve done, because of the talent that you have in your agency. And that young talent is looking for companies who they can relate to. I think a lot of times we do that through content.

Drew McLellan:

And I think they’re looking for companies that they can rely on. So I want a strong, stable company. And so part of the as agencies struggle, you’re certainly an employee shortage that we are in the midst of now, and I don’t think it’s going to get better anytime soon, especially for digitally savvy agency employees. And agencies are struggling to attract the right kind of people. And again, the agencies that are having better luck at that are the specialists who can really articulate who and what they are all about and who and what they are not all about.

Jami Oetting:

Yeah. If I were to apply for an agency job now, I wish that I had gone in and asked, “What is your new business plan? How are you guys generating new business?” Because as a young agency employee, if you realize that they can’t answer that succinctly in an interview, and they can’t list anything that is sustainable versus we sit someone in a chair and had them cold-call and design mailings and go-

Drew McLellan:

Or the hit or miss of referrals, right?

Jami Oetting:

Yes, exactly.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Right. Then as an employee who has choices today, because everybody’s trying to hire, why would you go work there?

Jami Oetting:

Yeah, exactly. I’m going to go down the street to the startup where I’m not going to have to deal with needy clients, and I’m going to get to do a lot of different things. And I can call myself an entrepreneur.

Drew McLellan:

Right. Or I’m going to go to the agency that has their act together because that feels more stable to me.

Jami Oetting:

Yeah, exactly. I think talent is going to become more savvy if they’re not already in figuring out how stable is this job, especially for a lot of people who went through the recession and were laid off. I have friends who were laid off four or five, six times in like an eight-year span of time, just because every company that they joined, then faced layoffs. So stability is one way, I guess.

Drew McLellan:

Yep. Absolutely. So as you observe agencies who are doing it well, are there some best practices? So for our listeners who are saying, okay, I get it, I have drank the Kool-Aid, I got better about this. I’m good. I’m a niche myself. Are there some best practices that you’ve observed that helps agencies do this well?

Jami Oetting:

Yeah. I think part of it is setting goals. And that is one of the most important things that I’ve seen that leads to success. I mean, I don’t like goals either, but I still track them on a monthly basis. And it really helps me think about what I’m doing and not just I’m creating something, but also the results of that. And then it holds people accountable. Right?

Drew McLellan:

Yep.

Jami Oetting:

I think the other thing is making someone on the team responsible for marketing the agency, and responsible for getting these things done. That person, if you can afford to have an entirely … A higher, a headcount for that role, that would be fantastic. If they need to take on one or two clients while they’re doing this other thing, I think you can make that work. But it’s hard because I understand how the client stuff can can come first a lot of times.

So I think having someone who is solely responsible for this on your team, and someone who can wrangle the owner to write or interview them, who can come up with ideas, who can coordinate with your creative team, to get designs, all that type of thing. You need someone whose main goals and success at the agency is also associated with the success of the marketing of the agency or the new business results. If you have a new business person that really buys into that and should support that in a big way.

Drew McLellan:

Right. So you’re creating a lot of content, here’s what I hear agencies say, I know I need to do all this, I get it. We just can’t get it done because we’re always so busy putting out client fires or whatever. So I’m assuming as an editor of a very busy and active blog that you too run into how in the world do I get all this done? And how do I stay on schedule? Are there some tricks or tips that you can offer agency owners on how to create this content on a regular basis?

Jami Oetting:

Yeah. So there’s a couple things that I do, because I get it. And my full time job is writing. But I still get pulled into all the meetings and events and stuff like that, which can mean, by the time I get to my desk like today at four o’clock, I’m not going to have much time to write a blog post for today. Right?

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Jami Oetting:

So there’s a couple things. One thing is to understand the formulas associated with writing blog posts. So there’s the how-to blog posts, there’s the list blog posts, there’s an infographic, there’s all of these different formulas, and we&