Episode 128

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The truth is that our world as agency owners is in constant flux. Think back to the Mad Men days when we didn’t charge clients anything for creative or strategy. We lived and died off media commissions. That wasn’t hundreds of years ago, that was just a few decades ago. So it’s no big shock that our industry is, yet again, undergoing a transformation.

We’ve seen it coming for a while and for many of you, this may be something you’ve already been thinking about or experimenting with inside your shop.

Most agencies have been playing footsie with content. Your shop may be the exception but for most agencies, they’re good at creating content in volume but we’ve been too focused on getting done and not the true strategy underneath. It’s time for us (for both ourselves and our clients) to get serious about what thought leadership means, owning a distinct point of view/position and leveraging that point of view to generate revenue.

That’s why I was excited to have Robert Rose on the podcast. Robert’s most recent book that he published in September with colleague Joe Pulizzi from Content Marketing Institute is called “Killing Marketing” and it’s going to really stretch your mind in terms of what is possible and what’s coming next for us as agency folks.

Robert Rose is the Founder and Chief Strategy Officer of the Content Advisory which is a consulting and advisory group of the Content Marketing Institute. As a strategist, Robert has worked with over 500 companies including global brands like Capital One, Dell, Ernst & Young, HP, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

He’s the author of three books including “Experiences: The Seventh Era of Marketing,” a book about how marketing is shifting. It was called “a treatise and a call-to-arms for marketers to lead business innovation in the 21st Century.”

 

 

What you’ll learn about in this episode:

  • The rapid changes in the agency business and why those changes are coming more fast and furious than ever before
  • Why agencies need to make a big investment if they want to survive (and why so often they just splash around in the water until it’s too late)
  • Using content marketing to build an audience for your clients based on their specific needs
  • How to use your engaged audience to find more people like them with Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube’s lookalike audiences
  • Why you can’t expect clients to want to work with you if you don’t invest in your own marketing
  • Why Robert believes that your agency blog isn’t usually the best place to host your content (and where you should write instead)
  • Getting back on track when you find yourself falling into the trap of creating generalist content
  • Building client trust by helping them transform into something new
  • Why agencies have always been good at creating stuff for clients but why strategy and measurement need to be our new norm
  • How to start working with a C-Suite level person when your current client contact is not as high up
  • Why a media centric agency is the best kind of agency to build today (and how to retrofit your agency to become a media centric agency)

The Golden Nugget:

“The agency business is changing rapidly, and the spoils will go to those who actually make the investment in making the change.” - Robert Rose Click To Tweet

 

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Ways to contact Robert Rose:

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. Today, we are going to talk about the evolution of agencies and what’s coming next for us as a business model. Let me tell you a little bit about our guest. You will probably recognize his name and are familiar with him, but I will tell you about him anyway. So Robert Rose is my guest today, and he is the founder and chief strategy officer of The Content Advisory, which is a consulting and advisory group of the Content Marketing Institute. As a strategist, Robert has worked with over 500 companies including global brands like Capital One, Dell, Ernst and Young, HP, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. He’s the author of four books now, right?

Robert Rose:

Three books actually.

Drew McLellan:

Three?

Robert Rose:

Yeah.

Drew McLellan:

So this includes the current one?

Robert Rose:

Yeah.

Drew McLellan:

So three books, and two of them in particular, we’re going to talk about today. So there’s a book called Experiences: The 7th Era of Marketing, which is really about how marketing is shifting. In fact, it was called a treatise and a call to arms for marketers to lead business innovation in the 21st century. So again, as we think about how do we help our clients build their business, not just their marketing, I think we’re going to love having that conversation. He and Joe Pulizzi also just launched a book in September called Killing Marketing, which is really fascinating, and we’re going to talk about agency’s role in how marketing is evolving and how we need to evolve to stay current. Robert and Joe also do a great weekly podcast called This Old Marketing, which if you are not a listener, I highly recommend. Robert also is an early-stage investor and advisor to a number of technology startups and serves on advisory boards for several companies like… Is it Akoonu? Robert, is that right?

Robert Rose:

That’s right.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. DivvyHQ and Tint. So, Robert, welcome to the podcast.

Robert Rose:

Oh, thank you so much, Drew. This is awesome. I’m a long-time listener and a long-time fan, first-time guest. So I’m excited to be here.

Drew McLellan:

Well, happy to have you. So this is an exciting time for you with the book launch and lots of interesting conversations, I suspect.

Robert Rose:

It is indeed. I think it’s an incredibly exciting time to be in marketing and advertising broadly speaking. I think it’s just probably… I hate doing this because I’ve got the gray hair to show it. I’ve been in marketing now 30 years, and so I cannot remember a time when it has been more challenging and yet more exciting. So yeah, lots of fun conversations.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. I teach some AE Bootcamps, and one of the things that I tell the, in air quotes, “kids” is I’ve been in the business for 30 years, and I don’t remember a time where the changes come so fast and so furious, and then so big. It’s not little change. It’s big change.

Robert Rose:

Right.

Drew McLellan:

Which is exciting and accelerating, but also a little exhausting.

Robert Rose:

It is. It is.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah.

Robert Rose:

The fascinating thing that’s changing that wasn’t changing when you and I were those kids in those classes is how the fundamentals of what we do as agencies, you know?

Drew McLellan:

Yeah.

Robert Rose:

And how that is changing the very nature of what it is we offer value to clients and providing. That is something because when you and I were coming up through the ranks on the agency side anyway, we were worried about reach and frequency, and trying to figure out media buying, and trying to figure out the strategy of how we take advantage of print, and radio, and television, and even fax marketing for those of us who were in the B2B [crosstalk 00:04:08].

Drew McLellan:

Oh, I remember that. Yeah.

Robert Rose:

Yeah? And all of those wonderful… Somebody asked me one time. They said, “Yo, what was your open rate when you were doing fax marketing?” I said, “Well, it was 100% if you had the right phone number, so.”

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, right.

Robert Rose:

But those things are all out the window now that we are dealing with everything from the different multiple fragmented channels, and platforms, and audiences, and internet of things, and artificial intelligence. It’s all just fundamentally changing what we do.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, and again, for agencies and for all the folks listening, on the one hand, that sounds exciting until it’s your business, and how you pay the mortgage, and all of that. Then, it’s a little daunting, I think.

Robert Rose:

Yeah, there’s doubt. Well, this is true on the client side as well, right?

Drew McLellan:

Sure.

Robert Rose:

I mean, all of the clients that we are dealing with now are undergoing the same fundamental transitions in their business, right? So talk to a retailer or a publisher these days and ask them how they’re feeling. There is a sea change of foot here. As the wonderful, famous Chinese quote goes, “A crisis is simply an opportunity riding the dangerous wind.”

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Robert Rose:

It is ours to take. Those that can adapt can truly evolve into something that will take advantage of all of these changes that are going on and succeed. That’s why I think it’s so exciting.

Drew McLellan:

Well, and I think the other part of it that is exciting is that the spoils will go to those brave enough to step out quickly. Right?

Robert Rose:

Yes, indeed, and truly make the investment. Right?

Drew McLellan:

Yeah.

Robert Rose:

Those that are actually making the change and not just pretending to make the change where they’re throwing somebody over into a corner with the red stapler and saying, “Hey, you’re going to be that change person,” but they’re not really looking at any serious investment. That is exactly right. The spoils will go to those who actually make the change.

Drew McLellan:

The upside of that as I’m listening to you talk is that agency owners by nature are risk-takers.

Robert Rose:

Yeah.

Drew McLellan:

But interestingly, they’re also not often willing to make big investments. So they’re willing to take risks, but they are slow to actually invest. So as you’re talking about not just splashing around in the water, but really getting into the water, that’s how I think a lot of agencies approach content today is they’re in the water, and they’re splashing around and making it look like they’re super active in it, but the reality is they’re staying on the surface.

Robert Rose:

It’s very true. I mean, look, I’ve grown up enough through the agency both on the small and large side of agencies to know that… Look, big agencies aren’t making big investments either. There may be more zeroes behind the dollar sign, but quite frankly, it’s not. It’s incremental as well, and look, there’s good reason for that. Right? In the agency side, we’re looking at our utilization and realization rates because our business is built on the back of people who go deliver services for clients.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Robert Rose:

So the more that those people are sitting on the bench, that is a very dangerous thing for us as we’re trying to meet payroll every week. So when we start thinking about making investments into things that may not pay off for some time, that’s the true risk, right? We’re looking at putting people on things where their realization and utilization rates are going to be woefully low for some amount of time while we figure out how we actually monetize this new service.

I think when it comes to content and the investment there, the biggest mistake I see making is we’re taking the low-hanging fruit of execution of content. So turning ourselves into these content creation agencies, whether we’re evolving out of SEO, or some other website building, or whatever it is, and we call ourselves “a content service,” we’re just delivering content as an executional on-demand service from our client’s blog post, and tweets, and social, and all of those things rather than taking a step back and saying, “Let’s talk about the strategy.” Right?

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Robert Rose:

Remember back in the day, again, when you and I were coming up through the… even the late ’80s and into the ’90s, and as digital started to rear its head, and we started talking about things like, “What is a website, and what is digital?”

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Robert Rose:

The big thing that we all talked about was, “Let’s get strategic.” That’s not just, “Build a website.” Let’s talk about your marketing and your digital marketing, and talk about strategy. It’s the same thing with content now. Let’s not just talk about content. Let’s talk about the strategy and why you’re actually creating a content marketing approach.

Drew McLellan:

Right, and I think you’re exactly right. I think the reason why agencies haven’t delved into this for themselves, not necessarily for clients, but is because… Okay. A billable hour is a billable hour, and if I pull somebody off and they’re creating content for us, that’s a cost to me. So one of the things that I found fascinating in killing marketing was the whole discussion around cost savings, and let me back for a second. I also think that agencies have got to get out of the selling stuff mentality, right?

Robert Rose:

Right.

Drew McLellan:

Because that’s being commoditized.

Robert Rose:

Right.

Drew McLellan:

You can go on e-lancing and get somebody to make stuff for you.

Robert Rose:

That’s right.

Drew McLellan:

You can go to any of the logo farm companies, and for $400, you can get 50 or 60 logos. What kills me to say this as an agency person is… Okay. If you get 60 logos, 40 of them suck, but 20 of them are bad.

Robert Rose:

Right. Right.

Drew McLellan:

For $400, and so we’ve got to get out of the commoditized part of our work, and we have to really start thinking about, “How do we impact our client’s business?”

Robert Rose:

That’s right.

Drew McLellan:

So as I was reading your book and the whole idea of this cost savings, I was like, “Now, that’s when agency can really partner with a client and have impact in a way that most agencies are not going to be able to do.” So can you talk us through a little bit about the whole concept of how content and media can impact cost, and how agencies can play a role in that for their clients and for themselves?

Robert Rose:

Sure, and it’s such an important point because how I start out my workshops these days is to talk about that very thing that you just mentioned, which is this, the idea… What we hear, whether we’re an agency or on the client side, what we hear these days is this idea that content has been democratized, or commoditized, or whatever it is. The difference is, is that the creation of content has not been democratized or commoditized. It is the production and distribution of it.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Robert Rose:

So just to your point, right? Creating stuff, whether it’s a logo, or a banner ad, or a website template, or a look and feel of a press release, or whatever it is, that’s the commoditization. It’s the container of which the design is in has been commoditized. What hasn’t been commoditized is the depth of what’s there, and content provides us a unique opportunity to get to that depth. Now, the key mistake to avoid and where we get the cost savings is not looking at the content purely as a replacement, as a banner ad or a logo, or looking at a tweet, or a blog post, or whatever as a direct replacement for direct marketing.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Robert Rose:

For generating leads. The key is, is that we look at content as building the valuable thing because the content, quite frankly, doesn’t have value, unless it does one thing, which is to build an audience. That’s where agencies can truly start to look at the cost savings as well as the revenue and profitable side of what content can provide. I’ll just give you an example of this. Building an audience. This is on B2B or B2C, and you have an audience that has data rich. I don’t mean just an email address with [email protected] and all of those kinds of things. I mean, an audience that wants to subscribe to the content that you are creating, whether you’re creating it for your agency or you’re creating it for a client. An audience that wants to subscribe to that.

So they’re willing and trustingly giving you first name, last name, email address, physical address, company name, budget size. They’re participating in polls. They’re consuming content, so you’re measuring behavior. All of those things provide you a rich audience dataset that you can start using to optimize your other marketing services that you’re providing. Great example of this is what, for example, Kraft does with their Food and Family Magazine. They have three and a half million opt-in subscribers to their online recipes database, and they use that to upload into Facebook, and do lookalike targeting, and get a 4X media buy effectiveness on what they’re doing on social media, paid media.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Robert Rose:

They’re uploading it or B2B companies are uploading their audience databases in LinkedIn and getting an effectiveness on the buy media that they’re doing on LinkedIn. They’re looking at doing cross-advertising and lookalike advertising across the Google network, whether it’s YouTube or across whatever double-click is supporting these days on publishers’ websites. The other thing is they’re starting to use it to generate insight, and what I mean by that is, for example, I know a company, and this is a smaller B2B company that’s working with a smaller agency. They’re using their audience to actually figure out where they should be holding events, where they should be regionally marketing because with the subscribed database, they actually have better research on their primary audience than any of the research companies. So they’re saving hundreds of thousands of dollars in retail research cost because they quite frankly have a better insight to their audience and where they live, what they do, what they care about than the research companies.

Drew McLellan:

Are they monetizing that too? So are they taking that data, and then packaging it like a research study or research data, and then either sponsoring it or selling it to non-competitive audiences?

Robert Rose:

Well, that’s exactly right. Right now, that turns over from the cost savings actually into what Joe loves to talk about, which is the revenue side of creating and monetizing an audience, which is actually taking that audience, and then providing access to it to either partners or whatever it is, however you want to syndicate it out, and providing revenue opportunities for you as well. So yes, both sides of that. The cost savings is really in looking at… At the end of the day, the bottom line about what an audience can provide is, what does the audience do that a regular person that we’re trying to reach through our classic methods don’t do? So audiences tend to do things more in our favor, and because we have the intelligence and insight about who they are, we can actually use them. I use “use” in the kindest, most possible way.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Robert Rose:

We use them to help us deliver more value through our traditional marketing programs. They will talk about us more. A wonderful example of this, and I know it’s a big company again, but we talk about Red Bull a lot, right? Everybody talks about Red Bull [crosstalk 00:15:32].

Drew McLellan:

Right, right.

Robert Rose:

Of course, the thing I love about Red Bull is I think we can all agree, the soft drink tastes like crap.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah.

Robert Rose:

I mean, it’s just a horrific-tasting drink, and it’s, by the way, the most expensive drink in the soft drink aisle. The thing is what they’ve done, and they know their audience well enough to know this is their audience will recommend the audience that, by the way, has neither tasted or has tasted and hated Red Bull will recommend Red Bull to their friends merely because they’ve consumed content, and so we can have… Because we’re creating an audience, they can reach the hard-to-reach consumers that we’re… So through sharing, through evangelizing our product or our content, can reach the hard-to-reach consumers that we’re just having difficulty doing through paid media. So there’s lots of cost savings there, but the bonus is having that subscribed audience. That’s the asset that we’re building.

Drew McLellan:

Well, A, I think that’s why people mix Red Bull with liquor so that you don’t have the yucky taste.

Robert Rose:

Right. Fair enough. That’s a fair point.

Drew McLellan:

But B, as I’m listening to you, I’m thinking, “How does an agency begin that kind of a conversation with a client or a prospect?” What kind of questions would you ask to uncover where you might be able to impact cost with either an existing client or in a prospect situation?

Robert Rose:

I realized what I’m about to say here is a difficult conversation in many cases because one of the challenges is, of course, is that we’re not having that conversation with a new client. We’re having it with one where we’re already delivering some amount of tactical, probably unstrategic content related services. So back-filling that, and going in, and saying, “Hey, by the way, you know all that content we’ve been creating for you, we should probably talk about the strategy.” Right?

Drew McLellan:

Yeah.

Robert Rose:

So I know that this is a difficult transition in some cases, but the point is, is that…

Drew McLellan:

If anyone can spin that though, an agency person can, right? Right?

Robert Rose:

They may be better able.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Robert Rose:

Yeah, that’s their business. So what we need to do is go have an honest conversation before, ideally, we start getting into the content production side of things and really try to understand what is it that we’re actually trying to build here because if we just are upfront and say, “Listen, we know that you want to get into content. We want you to get into content too. We believe that this is the right thing. Let’s talk about all of the different potential strategic value that this content program can provide to the business because there are many, and we can list them all out just like we just did.”

“There are media effectiveness. There’s cost savings. There’s insight into your audience. There’s awareness. There’s lead generation. There’s creating a better customer, one that spends more. There’s creating events. There’s many, many different and integrated sets of value that we can create by creating an audience through the creation of a content program. So let’s just agree with that, and let’s list those out on the board. Which are the ones that are important? Let’s circle them all and say, ‘Great. Now, we at least have some business goals for which we are trying to create a content platform.’”

“Let’s talk about what we’re going to build. Rather than just creating random pieces of content for your corporate blog, let’s build something that actually demands a subscribed audience because that’s where the value will be created. It will not be created in the content. The value will be created in what action we can get a customer to take. Whether it’s to subscribe, buy now, move through the funnel a little faster, and meet any one of these goals that we’ve just circled on the whiteboard here.”

Once we’ve started to look at what it is we’re going to build, whether we call that a blog, or a digital magazine, or a resource center, or an online university, or an event, or a webinar series, or a talk, whatever the expression of that content, now we have a vision. Now, we have a plan, and so look at this like a product. It is a product that we are building for this company. We are going to build a media product whose purpose is to build an audience to drive value. Now, we have a reason to create scads of content.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Robert Rose:

Now, we have a reason to go get influencers. Now, we have a reason to promote this content in a paid manner because we have a measure ability there that we didn’t have before, which is, how are we doing toward meeting these business goals? That’s the true conversation we need to have, and now, all of a sudden, the content production has reason to exist, and now we know why we’re creating four blog posts a month.

Drew McLellan:

Well, and now, all of a sudden, when the client goes, “X number of dollars for a blog post? I can hire a kid to write a blog post.”

Robert Rose:

That’s exactly right.

Drew McLellan:

They get why that’s not possible.

Robert Rose:

That’s it.

Drew McLellan:

That they have to have the level of skill and acumen that your agency offers to make the bigger picture work.

Robert Rose:

That’s exactly right, and by the way, my response to that is whatever product or service business that that client happens to be in, I say, “Yeah, you’re right. I could actually go 3D print your sneaker too.”

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Robert Rose:

“I could actually go hire a kid to deliver that legal service. Would you do that?”

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Robert Rose:

Of course, the lawyer goes, “Well, no. Of course not. That would be malpractice, and of course, I wouldn’t do that.” “Well, then that…” End scene, right?

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, right.

Robert Rose:

Yeah.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. So in terms of looking at their own business, so put on your agency owner hat for a second, how does this cost…

Robert Rose:

I’m already worried.

Drew McLellan:

How does this cost savings idea actually apply to our own business as well?

Robert Rose:

Yeah. It’s great. I mean, because look, as an agency owner, and I’ve had plenteous bosses in my day, we’re the worst marketers in the world. Right?

Drew McLellan:

Right. [Pablo’s 00:21:10] children. Blah, blah, blah. Right.

Robert Rose:

We are the classic [Pablo’s 00:21:13] children, right? We don’t market ourselves. Now, I will tell you. When I’ve had clients say, “Hey, which agency should we be looking at?” I say, “Go look at the agencies that are doing content marketing well for themselves because that’s the agency you want because they get it.”

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Robert Rose:

So we need to invest in our own marketing, and agencies in particular need to invest in content because that’s what we do. We are, at the end of the day, services companies that pronounce that our thought leadership is differentiating. So we have to demonstrate that. We have to demonstrate that we are thought leaders in whatever vertical and/or horizontal space that we cover as an agency. So the idea there is exactly the same because what we’re trying to do is build an audience. We’re trying to build an audience that reaches the customers, our clients that we are trying to reach. So in any ways, we are ourselves trying to get to a place where the word of mouth, or the referral, or the wonderful awareness of what we do is demonstrated in our content, and thus, we get in front of the clients that we want to get in front of, and they’re increasingly hard to get in front of with paid media.

Now, it will take many, many… One of the things that I often will tell a small agency is, “Yeah, it may or may not be worth it to have your blog be the platform for you, right, because nobody is coming to agencysomeagency.com, the small little agency out in the suburbs, and trying to figure out how you’re differentiating.” Get yourself out on a speaking [inaudible 00:22:49]. Write a book. Figure out your whitepapers and get them placed places. Figure out where your network and audiences living, and breathing, and activating. Then, create a content program that reaches those audiences in the places that they are. For a small or medium-sized agency, that can be the best way to do it. Now, I’m not saying neglect your home base and your… as I would call it, your owned media strategy.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Robert Rose:

Have a place, and hub, and a place where all that stuff lives anyway, and really activate your own visitors as they come in, but utilize your network and the ability to get out and about in the wonderful hinterlands of the internet and the places where your audiences are gathering to make your thought leadership known to the world. Start writing for Harvard Business Review. Get a speaking engagement and go pay for a speaking engagement if you have to. There are great ways to use your thought leadership, and demonstrate it, and start bringing people into your center of gravity, wherever that may be, but it’s truly a time, and it’s what every CEO should be doing. The CEO that spends his or her time of a mid-sized agency behind their desk is one that’s wasting their time.

Drew McLellan:

Or in a client meeting.

Robert Rose:

Exactly. The true mid-sized and small agency owner should be on the road, almost constantly trying to scare up, and use, and demonstrate their thought leadership in the space that they’re in.

Drew McLellan:

Talk a little bit about topic around that. So am I speaking on 12 tips to make your marketing better everyone in the world, or am I speaking to the diamond industry because I’m the expert in selling diamonds to X audience?

Robert Rose:

Yeah, probably the latter, right? I mean, because the world does not need another marketing blog. Let’s just be honest.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Robert Rose:

I mean, the world does not need another top 10 ways to make marketing automation work for your business. I mean, that you just don’t