10 Rules of Marketing Agency Transformation


Marketing agencies have the opportunity to prosper in the coming age of marketing services, but they must make the choice to disrupt, or be disrupted.

That was the core message of The Marketing Agency Blueprint book-launch webinar on Dec. 14, which I conducted with Brian Halligan (@bhalligan), HubSpot cofounder and CEO (who also wrote the book’s foreword), and Peter Caputa (@pc4media), HubSpot’s VAR program director.

Nearly 1,700 marketing professionals registered for the event, which demonstrated the commitment and desire of agencies to drive an unparalleled transformation of an industry that is ripe for disruption.   

The 10 Rules: Webinar Highlights

1) Eliminate Billable Hours

Inefficiency is the enemy of success.

  • Billable hours are tied to outputs, not outcomes. The focus should be on quality and results, not hour quotas.

  • Compensation level does not equal value (aka “salary-rate fallacy”).

  • Clients should not pay for the inefficiencies of senior execs to learn the digital game.

  • Efficiency and productivity are the primary profit drivers.

  • We are multi-taskers—distractions lead to higher costs, lower quality.

  • Prices should be value based, and results driven.

  • The burden should be on the agency to build systems and processes, and put the right talent in place, to efficiently and profitably deliver services.

  • How do you maintain or increase profits in current model? Raise hourly rates, or demand pros work more hours. Neither creates more value for clients.

2) Transform into a Hybrid

A real-time world demands real-time agencies. 

  • Every firm is a tech firm. It requires immersion and integration.

  • Services must be integrated, and silos removed.

  • Digital is ingrained into the firm’s DNA.

  • Maintain diversified revenue streams—services, education, training, publishing, and licensing.

  • Find your role in the emerging ecosystem.

  • Collaboration will drive success.

3) Think Talent and Team

Talent cannot be replicated.

  • Great teams finish first.

  • Talent is your firm’s greatest asset.

  • Build through the draft. Bring in free agents to accelerate growth and take your agency to the next level.

  • Recruit and retain A players—high performers who themselves are hybrids. They must be intrinsically motivated.

  • Agencies are most productive and efficient when functioning near capacity. Know your soft and absolute capacities.

  • Create a career destination, not a steppingstone.

4) Build a Scalable Infrastructure

The best plan is to prepare for perpetual change.

  • Make decisions that fit your growth goals. This includes hardware, software, staffing, partnerships, advisors and office space.

  • Plan for current (0-12 months) and short-term needs (1-3 years), with contingencies for the midterm (3-5 years).

  • Expansion is driven by the desire to attract and retain talent.

  • Agencies are bound by the limitations of human resources.

  • Build agile systems in the cloud, and rely on trusted solution providers. 

5) Devise an Inbound Marketing GamePlan

Doing is the key to differentiation.

  • Be original, or at least put an original spin on your brand positioning.

  • Clearly establish the agency brand, and then give your team the freedom and support to build theirs.

  • We need fewer talkers and thinkers, and more doers.

  • Use content and community to build preference and loyalty.

  • Run integrated campaigns focused on search, social, content and PR. Prove your abilities by doing it for yourself.

6) Control the Sales Funnel

Everything is sales.

  • Fill the sales funnel at the top, nurture in the middle, and convert at the end. Then the real work begins.

  • Gather and leverage lead intelligence at every stage of the funnel. Know your buyer personas.

  • The three core elements of a sales system are people, tools and process.

  • You are always selling—an idea, vision, service, agency brand, personal brand, and your firm.

  • The prospective account manager/lead consultant, not a salesperson, should dictate strategic recommendations and service packages.

7) Commit to Client

All clients are not created equal

  • Loyal clients lead to higher retention rates, greater profit margins, more predictable cash flow, and stronger referrals.

  • The greatest value you can bring to clients is staffing their accounts with A players.

  • Time-tracking, project-management and CRM solutions are essential.

  • Agency management, as it relates to client loyalty, comes down to intelligence and action.

  • The best partnerships have shared values and complementary cultures.

  • Case studies are rarely made of conservative companies.

8) Deliver Results

An agency’s value is measured in outcomes.

  • Marketing executives—your clients—are drowning in data.

  • Prototype agencies turn information into intelligence, and intelligence into action.

  • Shift away from arbitrary metrics—impressions, reach, ad equivalency and PR value.

  • Become measurement geeks and analysts. Learn to love data.

  • Adapt to changing business environments and evolve client campaigns in real time.

  • Activate builders and drivers.

9) Embrace Failure

Never hesitate to head in a direction others fear.

  • If your model is broke, fix it. Don’t ignore your instincts for change.

  • Someone, or something, will eventually disrupt your agency, it might as well be you.

  • Fear of failure trickles down to employees, and into client campaigns. Make is safe for employees to fail.

  • Disruptors thrive on change, easily tire of tradition, and pride themselves on their agility. They excel at taking calculated risks.

10) Pursue Purpose

It is purpose, not profits, which defines an agency.

  • True entrepreneurs will never be satisfied with riches alone. They build to create something of great and lasting significance. They must affect change.

  • In order to find happiness, we must be a part of something greater than ourselves.

  • An agency’s purpose may be innate and unspoken at first, residing in the minds of its leaders.

  • Purpose evolves as the agency and its employees mature.

  • Success is not easy, but things worth achieving never are.


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