Tag Archives: agency

Agencies Should Start Thinking More Like Consultants

January 14, 2017

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This post originally appeared at MediaPost

Consultant Steve…more than five years ago

For the last five years, my account managers have called me Mr. Scopecreep. I’ve never been able to see a problem and not try to fix it, even if it’s outside my lane or scope of work. As a result, I tend to get involved in conversations or meetings I may not technically be getting paid for. While this used to be viewed negatively — I over-serviced my clients, I worked longer hours than I should, and I was responsible for more than a few bright red cells on profitability spreadsheets — I’m starting to think it may not be.

After nine years as a consultant and five more at ad agencies, I’ve realized maybe the problem lies in how agencies build scopes of work rather than how I’ve interpreted (or ignored) them. When I was a consultant, our clients bought our people. They were buying our consultants’ specialized expertise, unique experience, or both. The who was more important than the what. In the agency world, though, our clients tend to buy the stuff our people produce.  The what is more important than the who.

Unfortunately, because much of what agencies produce has been commoditized, clients have squeezed agencies on costs. This has driven profit margins down and pitted agencies against one another in a “how low can you go?” game that doesn’t have a winner. Consultants, on the other hand, have stayed above this. Instead of selling stuff, they continued to sell the people who create the stuff. And that’s a lot more difficult to commoditize.

From Deloitte Digital to Accenture Interactive to IBM’s iX, big consultancies have taken advantage of the gap agencies created. They’re buying up agencies and integrating them into their management consulting practices, giving clients true business partners who also now offer cutting-edge creative marketing services, too.

If agencies want to compete, they have to start thinking more like consultants. Here’s how.

Sell your people, not what they create. If there’s one thing clients hate, it’s when an agency wows them with senior people and then passes the work to junior staffers without the same experience or expertise. Spend time talking with clients about who will work on their business and commit to keeping them on the business. Make sure clients understand the value your agency brings to the relationship isn’t what these people create, it’s having these people on your business.

Invest in your people. One of the complaints agencies have about marketing their people is there’s a lot of turnover and they need flexibility to switch out people as needed. You can’t market your people if you can’t hold onto your people! Consultants invest in everything from onboarding to training to tuition reimbursement. If agencies invested more in treating their people like primary assets instead of secondary parts, the clients would, too.

Be a partner, not a vendor. To manage razor-thin margins on what’s becoming more project-based work, agencies have gotten good at creating detailed, specific contracts. This keeps client requests focused and the agency from losing their shirt in the process. Unfortunately, it also means the agency doesn’t see the forest for the trees. This turns agencies into little more than vendors responsible for creating a deliverable. Consultants, on the other hand, strive to be strategic partners who focus on solving business problems and integrating the systems, processes, and people required to run the business.

If agencies started thinking more like consultants, they’d realize the real growth opportunities lies in partnering with clients to write the briefs instead of only executing against them.

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Who Owns Content Marketing?

October 9, 2015

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Shepard Plants Flag - GPN-2000-001120

Rather than rushing to plant your flag in content marketing, invite others to participate.

For more than 12 years now, I’ve worked at companies that have been committed to integrated marketing. That has given me the chance to work with a really diverse group of really smart people who are experts in their field. I’ve had the opportunity to collaborate on really big integrated marketing campaigns and to tap into industry-leading expertise and experience. I’ve always said that the actual integration is the best and worst thing about working in an integrated agency. The people in these agencies tend to be both simultaneously very competitive and very collaborative.

Most of the time, this works out just fine. There are mutual feelings of trust and respect and everyone’s pretty collaborative. There’s a lot of open dialogue, a lot of drop-by meetings, and a lot of “take a look at this and let me know what you think’s.” Sure, there may be some disagreements over the creative idea or budget allocations, but at the end of the day, everyone trusts each other to do what they do best and get the job done.

But any time there’s a new trend, tactic, or channel, this collaboration turns to competition. This happened with websites, with social media, and it’s happening again with content marketing. We continue to make the same mistakes we did before. Open dialogue gives way to back-channel alliance building. Drop-by meetings become scheduled status meetings. “Take a look and let me know what you think” turns into “here’s what we decided.” All of these really smart, really competitive people suddenly have all the answers and instead of collaborating, they compete against each other for ownership over the new toy.

  • Who owns websites? IT? PR? Marketing? Agencies?
  • Who owns social media? IT? Agencies? PR? Marketing? Legal?
  • Who owns content marketing? Agencies? Brands? Publishers? Marketing? PR? Social Media? Creative? A dedicated content marketing team?

There’s an argument to be made for and against everyone. Creative has a claim because for decades, they were the ones responsible for creating things. Digital has a claim because hey, everything is digital! PR has a claim because they have the best pulse on the audience. Social Media has a claim because much of the content is created for social media channels. And so on and so on.

Why don’t we stop competing with each other to build a content marketing walled garden, only to realize that yes, successful content marketing isn’t done in a vacuum? Content can literally encompass everything a brand creates, from commercials to blog posts to online videos. And so if the creation of that content is expected to live in a single department, you’re creating a lot of duplication, inefficiency, and competition that doesn’t need to exist. Can’t we just accept that everyone should have a content creation mindset and skip ahead to the collaboration and mutual trust and respect part?

Brands are creating a LOT of content across a wide variety of media. This is a space we can and should all play in. If you’re in marketing, you’re now a content marketer in some capacity. Congratulations. Now, let’s start working together to create content that people actually want to see.

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Running a PR Department vs. Running a PR Agency

September 15, 2014

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Picture courtesy of Flickr user popculturegeek

The PR skillsets and attitudes differ whether you’re leading a PR agency or you’re leading a PR department in an integrated agency

Running a PR department within a larger agency is very different from running your own PR agency. From the employees that are hired to the way PR is even talked about, the skillsets don’t necessarily translate from one to the other. Try to run your department like an agency and watch as you slowly isolate your team from the rest of the agency, leaving adversarial relationships in your wake. Run your agency like a department and get ready for lots of frustration when you’re unable to expand and scale your work. After leading a number of PR and social media teams within large organizations as well as working with a number of people who run their own agencies, I’ve realized that while both roles may have the Director title, the two roles are very different in a few fundamental ways.

  • Bigger isn’t necessarily better. Doubling the number of people on my team isn’t a success metric. Sure, I’m always looking to grow the agency’s business, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the PR business should also get larger. Sometimes, growing the PR business on a particular account may not be part of the agency’s strategy. Sometimes, securing another PR-led account might mean I’m not able to dedicate the time/talent to other integrated accounts.
  • PR vs. PR. There’s no single definition for what PR should or shouldn’t entail. In many organizations, it’s everything – media relations, investor relations, events, social media, web content, etc. In others, it’s only one or more of these. In an integrated agency, you have to understand what aspect of PR you’re responsible for and what other agencies are responsible for and work with them. In many cases, I’ve found myself working right alongside another PR agency because they’re responsible for the client’s overall corporate communications whereas my team is responsible for the earned media portion of an integrated campaign.
  • PR isn’t always the answer. There’s no hammer searching for a nail here. When you’re leading your own PR agency, you’re always advocating for your agency and trying to secure additional hours/scope. In an integrated agency, you have to not only understand PR, but also paid media, SEO and SEM, Digital, Social Media, User Experience, etc. You have an entire toolbox of capabilities at your disposal and you have to understand how and when and where to leverage them all.
  • Learn to give to get. Sometimes when I’m part of these huge client meetings, I’ll say something like, “you know, I’ve got $10K in my budget that I could slide over to the Digital team if that would help get the site up and running on time.” People will still look at me like I have three heads. “You’re giving away the PR budget????” Well yeah, if there’s another strategy or tactic that will help meet our business objectives, why wouldn’t I? When you’re working in an integrated agency, you have to understand that whatever money you take is coming from someone else’s budget. Show a willingness to share budgets and resources with other departments and it’ll come back to you, often from departments with much deeper pockets.
  • Your clients are brand managers, not PR people. There are going to be times where you absolutely kill it from a PR perspective and it won’t matter one bit to the client. You might be uber-excited about that opportunity you’ve secured with that morning show, only to have your client shrug his/her shoulders and say “eh, we’ll pass.” The hits, the placements, the coverage that gets PR people all excited doesn’t always have the same effect on people who are responsible for the overall marketing campaign. To them, every dollar that gets spent on trying to earn media is a dollar that could be spent paying for guaranteed media. You have to understand and empathize with their plight and figure out ways to fit PR into that mindset rather than getting frustrated that they “don’t understand PR.”

As more and more agencies integrate paid, owned, earned, and social media in their own ways, the PR professional needs to evolve accordingly, especially those in senior level positions. It’s one thing to have a leadership role at a PR agency, but unfortunately, many of those lessons learned and best practices no longer apply to leadership roles at a PR department in an integrated agency.

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