November 2nd, 2016

Agencies Must Be More Than “An Extra Set Of Hands” To Survive

Jeff Baum | Associate Director of Services | @jeffbaum71

“In the struggle for survival, the fittest win out at the expense of their rivals
because they succeed in adapting themselves best to their environment.” – Charles Darwin

The other day, I ran across this article by Tonya Dua at asking about whether agencies are even relevant anymore. It goes through the challenges agencies face across the nation – big ones being the talent drain, the intelligence clients expect beyond the data, and rethinking the agency model.

All valid concerns and things we think about as well, but like Darwin stated above, to survive you must adapt and stay relevant. As any marketer knows, the only constant in our world is change and if you aren’t changing with the times, you’re going to fall behind really quickly. PPC in particular is a complex, ever-changing ecosystem and even the most seasoned digital marketer finds it hard to keep up with it at times.

In my mind, there are two ‘categories’ per say of agencies – ones that stand the test of time in relevancy and ones that don’t. The agencies that are relevant today are the ones that adapt to the ‘storytelling’ environment that’s currently in vogue today (in my opinion).


• completely understand their client’s business model
• the marketplace they compete in
• what their goals are
• the chief obstacles that stand in the way of success
• are fast to respond to client needs and seize opportunities

Not only do agencies need to understand this environment, they then need to know how to apply the correct solution to their client’s problem.

Simply throwing ‘best practices’ or ‘common practices’ no longer suffice. Building strategies ground in data and in the context of solving their specific problems and driving positive results separates the agencies that will survive from the ones that won’t.

Clients Look for The Story Now (aka, The Intelligence)

Agencies that depend on their client to provide all the direction or solely view themselves as ‘an extra set of hands’ no longer provides sufficient value. Even if clients choose to drive strategy, the agency must always have a point of view ready to share so they can provide solid recommendations that enhances strategies and amplifies results.

Clients look to their agencies for the compelling business story. For instance, there’s been a shift to where clients care less about the raw data and instead, want to know what the data means, what’s been learned, and how those learning’s are going to be applied to inform strategy and tactics. Agencies that can’t or won’t engage in business storytelling are going to quickly find themselves unconnected and behind the times. Smart agencies spend an appropriate amount of time analyzing performance trends in order to make actionable decisions.

Today’s clients want partnerships where they feel their agency is an extension of their internal team. This is one reason why some organizations are creating their own agencies. Being a consultative partner allows agencies to bridge the gap between being a ‘vendor’ and being a ‘trusted partner’.

Agencies SHOULD Be Taking the “Consultative” Partner Approach

At Hanapin, we use consultative selling. Consultative selling is ‘solution based selling’. For instance, a person is buying a car. A pushy salesperson will try to sell the customer the most expensive car, regardless of need. In this instance, the sales person is interested in their own agenda (getting a big commission most likely) instead of finding a solution for the customer. On the flip side, a consultative sale would mean asking the customer their situation (long commute to work, growing family, etc). Based on this information, the salesperson would look to find a car that’s suitable. This might mean selling someone a Sienna minivan instead of a Porsche. However, the consultative approach put the customer into a vehicle that suits his/her’s very specific situation.

The Talent Drain Struggle Is Real

There has always been an ‘agency vs in-house’ argument that’s very much ‘coke vs. pepsi’ for our industry. Just look at the PPC subreddit. It’s a great community that shares a ton of ideas, yet every once and awhile the freelancer vs. the agency vs. the in-house PPC manager argument comes back around and rears its ugly head.

As more PPC talent is cultivated it should get easier for clients to source their own employees and manage it internally. I’m not sure how other agencies train their employees, but at Hanapin, both our onboarding process and training is rigorous. And it’s a continuous cycle. Employees receive over 100 hours per person per year of training. They also write on PPC Hero, present on webinars, speak at conferences and podcasts, write whitepapers, etc. They are trained so well that we’ve got prior employees now working at the likes of Netflix, Adaptly, Google, and Bing. So we get it. Keeping talent is tough.

However, we recognized that there may be a solution that falls somewhere between an agency and an in-house team and adapted (which all agencies should be doing!) Thus, the in-house partnership program was born.

We wanted to find to a way to work with larger brands that already know PPC or have a team/person working on the account that might want some additional outside resources, both in production and strategy. We charge a lower fee per month for a set number of production hours and assist with analysis and strategy to keep the knowledge base growing, while the client still maintains accountability and control of the account and the goals associated with it.

“I personally love the in-house partnership, in that it’s a simple way for a client and agency to work together. The scope of work is more open-ended and the lower price of engagement means there doesn’t need to be a seismic shift in accountability to the agency from day one. Our team likes it because the stress level tends to be lower while still getting to work alongside some incredibly bright PPC managers on some killer accounts.” – Tom Hootman, VP of Revenue

With digital becoming so fragmented (as Tonya’s article astutely points out), you can and should shift your focus between channels and investigate accordingly while leaving the ongoing management and goal accountability in-house. We’ve found that clients like this, as they maintain control while we get to move into a more specialized role, moving between accounts or platforms, developing solutions and rolling them up to the account. All for about the same price they would pay for someone off the street.

If an Agency Wants to Survive, Then Start Adapting

Hanapin is a digital marketing agency that focuses on paid search, paid social, and display. But whether you’re like us or you doing everything from SEO, PPC, to email marketing for a client, the overall theme remains the same – you have to keep changing and keep adapting. What worked 5 years ago probably won’t work now. Challenges will always exist. I could go on and on about this, but I won’t (for now).

If you are struggling on HOW to adapt, there’s a lot of great resources out there. You can also check out our Agency Hero Workshop we’ll be hosting at Hero Conf in L.A. in April 2017. Our President and fearless leader, Jeff Allen, leads the workshop and will be around the entire conference for questions and insightful discussions.

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