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Four Big Secrets Digital Agencies Don’t Tell: Part 2 of 4

Digital agency pulling rabbits out of hats(Read part one here.)

Earlier this month, I introduced four truisms that many digital agencies aren’t telling their clients and prospects.

1. While they want to be a full service digital agency, they tend to excel at one thing, not everything.

2. Some are repackaging services under new labels and jargon, but what they deliver hasn’t changed.

3. They are frantically trying to hire, but can’t find the right combination of skills.

4. Knowing this, most still aren’t training the talent they already have in-house.

Why did I bring these out in the light? Because it’s time to do something different. It’s time to be more nimble as agencies and talk about our  gaps so we can more easily FIX them. If we can’t find the right skills, frankly, it’s time to aggressively begin training the talent we DO have.

And if we are selling services we can’t execute with expertise, we should either stop selling it and become more specialized where we can perform with confidence, or wait until we have the right staff and/or training in place.

To do anything less feels like an abuse of the trust clients place in us as experts.

We are here to guide them through the minefield into success with company growth and visibility, not pretend to pull warm, fuzzy bunnies out of magical hats.

Many, many agencies are touting themselves as digital agencies when the truth is that they excel at one digital skill. But since “digital” is perceived as a critical skill – justifiably – they are rebranding themselves as digital. But the truth is that a digital agency isn’t necessarily EVERYTHING DIGITAL, and I think it’s better to excel at one area than try to be everything to every client and fail miserably.

I believe it’s also true that companies LOOKING for a new agency often assume a “digital agency” can handle everything digital and aren’t investing enough time in hiring the right fit.

They learn later in the relationship that their digital agency is actually an SEO agency, or that they are fantastic at social media but lack the resources to handle content marketing, or even that the “digital PR” page on their website wasn’t remotely true and the digital agency hasn’t the foggiest idea what that actually means.

It’s important that companies take ownership of the process, adding deep due diligence to the process. Otherwise, you’re a puppet on a string, blindly reacting to compelling copy on the agency website and buzz words dropped by a great sales person that doesn’t actually understand them.


An SEO Mini Case Study

I’m working with a large SEO client this month and I have to say that I’m extremely impressed with them. They engaged me to help with their rebranding, evaluating the digital expertise of their staff and leadership team, and re-packaging products and services they offer to clients. They wanted transformation from a mostly link building shop into a content marketing agency.

Ahhh, if only it is that easy.

We couldn’t pull that particular rabbit out of the hat without scrapping virtually their entire team and hiring anew… assuming the necessary talent was available to hire. In the end, acknowledging this became a very good thing, sending them in a much stronger direction.

If something is forced, awkward and extremely difficult, it’s often the wrong thing. Maybe it’s the universe trying to tell us something.

What impressed me the most about this particular agency was that after reviewing the agency SWOT analysis I gave them – based on one-on-one interviews with staff – and a few very lengthy leadership meetings where we discussed what services they could and couldn’t offer, they circled around to the decision that touting themselves as a content marketing agency wasn’t realistic. Instead, we’re repositioning them as a metrics-based SEO agency, building out the services offered far beyond their former link building focus.

We’ve divided their services into four phases – (1) what they can sell and execute on right now, (2) what can be added to the mix fairly easily with training or polishing, (3) important new services that can be offered within the next six-to-twelve months, and (4) services they cannot offer themselves but can be referred to strategic partners.

Because they were honest, realizing that the only path to real success is building on their strengths, rather than bowing down to what they interpreted as market demand, they have an excellent shot at true excellence. And, as the industry is realizing more and more that SEO still generates substantial traffic and revenue when compared to other digital tactics, I expect their revenue to soar. Their brand is revitalized, they are hard at work filling any gaps in services that we identified, and they are excited about their direction.

I don’t take credit for their smart decision, but I do take credit for launching and guiding the process that brought them to the decision. I also expect to walk them down the path of setting specific timelines, deliverables and accountability to each product and each phase.

Before this process began, they were paralyzed – not able to move forward due to fear of the unknown and overwhelmed feelings at the sheer volume of tasks before them. Having an entire agency learn a new skill is difficult, but imagine when it is changing almost EVERY SERVICE YOU OFFER. Talk about being out of your comfort zone! It had them at a full stop with no idea where to go next.

Now, their passion is renewed and their agency revitalized. Whoot whoot!!

Is Rebranding YOUR Agency or Business Long Overdue?

Just because the industry is changing doesn’t mean abandoning our expertise in favor of the new shiny things. Should you blend them into your current offerings? ABSOLUTELY! But at a manageable, sane level of adoption. It shouldn’t stress you out; it should reignite your passion and commitment to your business.

Some agencies are large enough to be generalists, servicing all facets of digital PR and marketing because they have teams in place to successfully deliver on that promise. Most agencies and ALL independents or freelancers should not. It’s just not possible. The scope is just too big.

Be realistic in evaluating what you can do well, and put processes in place to refer business outside of your core competencies in a way that leaves both the referral and the referree pleased. It will strengthen relationships and you have a much better chance of surrounding yourself with happy clients.

Don’t be afraid to specialize and build a reputation around your sweet spot.

As far as a call-to-action for companies and brands are concerned – I challenge them to invest more time and learning into the process for how they hire agencies and pros. Learn what questions to ask, so you can discover strengths, weaknesses and core competencies before you sign the contract, instead of after.

Learn how to do your own SWOT analysis here and set SMART goals here. The process of doing both is incredibly valuable.

Interested in a similar process for your agency or company? Email me at morgan (at) rockthestatusquo (dot) com. I’d love to help.


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