Agencies, you’re crap.

(At your own marketing.)

We know you’re busy with client work, but excuses won’t cut it any more.

Consulting and tech firms are taking increasingly bigger bites out of our marketplace. Four-fifths of clients now employ in-house creatives – a dramatic leap up from 2017.

In 2019, agencies will need to market themselves better to survive. Churning out great creative and relying on relationships will no longer be enough, leaving agencies exposed when leads dry up.

We don’t want that. Which is why, with the help of the Agency Collective, we gathered founders, creatives and marketing directors from 16 of the UK’s fastest-growing agencies to find out how they market their own business.

What they told us was, at turns, surprising, reassuring and often quite sweary. Their insight will form our first annual Good Agency Marketing report, ready for release in January 2019. In the meantime, we’ll be breaking down their responses in articles, podcasts and videos. To stay in the loop – and receive our agency insight first – sign up to our newsletter below.

First up: the one question that underpins effective agency marketing.

The Golden Rule

What was most striking about our 16 respondents was the diversity of their approach to brand-building and marketing. There is no magic bullet; no single marketing channel that our teams agreed worked for them.

Instead, what guides most of our respondents’ marketing activity is a question:

Does it feel like us?

Here’s why.

Differentiation wins

“There are millions of content agencies out there that are selling themselves on strategy,” says Smoke Creatives co-founder Susi Owusu. “We all know the basics, but what differentiates us as a business is the creative and visual side of our work. Instagram was a natural home for us to showcase that.

It’s a story we heard time and time again in our research. Effective agencies are humble about their place in the market and choose their channels according to that which maximises their point of difference. And the only way to do that is by choosing channels that align with their creative approach.

“If you put one of our magazines up against the National Trust or other kinds of customer-experience magazines,” Susi continues, “our content does look quite different, and that’s the thing our clients always come back to us for.”

The right fit

Choosing the right channel isn’t only about you; it’s also about the types of business you’ll attract.

Brand interaction agency Matter of Form previously outsourced their PR and business development activity. “It was good, and we got a couple of clients,” says founder Anant Sharma, “but it’s not our type of sale. It doesn’t suit the collective disposition of our agency. I don’t think aggressive outbound selling will ever win us the types of projects that we’re keen to work on. Instead, we’re keen to work on a fewer number of the right types of projects.”

In turn, choosing the channels that reflect the work they want to create has helped streamline the business’ sales activity. “The great thing about the type of content we’ve produced is it’s pre-qualifying. The types of client we get tend to be quite involved in the project. They’ve got an appetite for innovation.”

Embrace experimentation

This isn’t to say you’ll find the right channel right away.

Before settling on their Instagram-led strategy, Smoke Creatives experimented with publishing opinion pieces to spark sales conversations, with limited success. Others embraced the opportunity to try new types of marketing as a learning experience – including Tom Head and the team at digital agency LAB.

“We went from over-thinking [our marketing] to saying ‘Okay, well we’re going to use Google, Facebook, LinkedIn and a bit of YouTube, and we’re going to work out, with the concept we’ve produced each month,” says Tom.

“We then tracked everything that we put out, to see if we could get a result back, one way or another. Then, we talk about those results, as well, to create a self-fulfilling loop of content creation. That focus on putting content out that reflects us as an agency, gets us into the right people, and means we can have a bit of fun while we’re doing it.”

Start with ‘why’

The importance of ‘doing what you feel’ in agency marketing means that, while it can be useful to look elsewhere for inspiration, aping other agencies’ tactics exactly rarely works.

“We looked at stuff that other people had done that worked for them and tried to replicate it,” says Kyan co-founder Laurent Maguire. “It didn’t work. Instead, we had to take something that worked for someone else, then put it through our filter and say, ‘Right, if we want to do this, what would our approach be?’”

“A really simple example is a business dinner.  Every quarter, an agency that I know and respect would do a dinner with seven or eight people, plus the founders of the agency. They would go to super exclusive restaurants and get the chef’s table. That’s what we tried to do.  The first one was okay, but it was just too stuffy for us. The second one we did was much more relaxed. People in T-shirt and shorts.”

“It’s a simple example, but it showed that you couldn’t just replicate something that’s been successful elsewhere. You have to actually look at it, understand why it was successful and then make your own version of it that fits you.”

Laurent’s team started their marketing journey by listing 30 possible channels. Critical thought enabled them to discard several options straight away.

“Whitepapers are not us. Email marketing is not us. Using the word ‘lovely’ on everything – fluffy stuff which doesn’t really do much. On that 30-point plan, there are probably ten things we’ll never do, because we don’t want to do them.  They don’t fit with how we like to do things. For the rest of them, we’re open to trying stuff, but it has to go through a filter, first. What would our version of it look like?”

Pressure drop

There’s a final reason why gut-feel is important to agency marketing. In-house marketing offers an outlet for pent-up creative skill.

“For our clients, [choosing the right channel] is completely different, because they’re after much more solid metrics in terms of performance,” says Smoke Creatives co-founder Katrin Owusu. “But I think it’s also really important to have an ‘Is this us?’ space. For me, there’s a lot of compromise around delivering creative work for clients. I’m not saying we’re not happy with the stuff we do or have done, but I think it’s also quite important for that creative energy or enthusiasm to have a channel that does just feel like, ‘Is this us?’”

“[On our channels], we put out our proudest moments and commission work that our clients wouldn’t necessarily think of, or would be a little bit more frightened of commissioning, where we can just express ourselves a bit more.”

For agencies, the right marketing strategies and channels are the ones that best reflect their creative output, broader business goals and the types of client they want to attract.  Which begs the question: how much like you is your marketing?

There’s plenty more where that came from. Receive the results of our Good Agency Marketing report first by signing up below.

Image via Unsplash, https://unsplash.com/photos/YJxAy2p_ZJ4