How to run a marketing agency: the inside scoop from 5 greats across the UK and US
There are currently more than half a million marketing agencies worldwide, each with their own individual processes, specialities, and uniquely minded creative team. Marketing agencies are often the brains behind some of the most powerful brands that we see all over social media today from Coca Cola and Burger King to Samsung and Mattel (Barbie).
But what can the rest of us ‘marketing bunch’ learn from the moves of other marketing agencies? Well, probably a fair bit. Their processes are often built on years of experience, discoveries, and strategic thinking.
Thankfully, Interventus, Growth Gurus, Project Bionic, Kenyons, and LikeMind Media were all kind enough to give us a little insight into the inner workings of their marketing agency. Let’s have a detailed look at how these 4 top agencies are ‘running the show’.
Agencies learning from agencies, amiright?
Short on time? Here's our interview with LikeMind Media covering all the ins and outs of their #agencylife.
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- Meet the agencies
- New clients: pitching/onboarding
- The down-low on the day-to-day
- How does ContentCal help your marketing agency?
- Marketing agency approved tools
- Advice straight from the experts
Services they offer: Organic, content, web design, creative, strategy, PR, experimental, event management, influencer marketing
Services they offer: Analysis, strategy, branding, web design & development, content marketing, graphic design, animation, SEO, lead generation, email marketing, social media marketing, paid social, google search & display, programmatic advertising
Services they offer: everything social media, content creation, community management, paid ad management, reporting, influencer marketing, photo/video/graphics, copywriting, strategy builds, consulting, live event coverage
Services they offer: social media management (paid and organic), digital advertising (google adwords, amazon, etc.), design & print, public relations, web design & build, video & animation
Services they offer: Social media, SEO, writing, video, chatbots, social advertising71 Social Media Scheduling Tools for 2021 (with verified reviews)
Some marketing agencies have a big enough reputation that they needn’t worry about searching for new clients. The Clients, will simply come to them *sighs wistfully*. But for the marketing agency who hasn't quite made it to the stage of global recognition and worldwide fame, there are other options...
Interventus and Project Bionic both have a well-oiled system that involves reaching out to clients to bring them onboard. Project Bionic have two dedicated business development managers whose roles mainly consist of bringing in new clients. Inventus similarly make use of their sales team to reach out to prospects using lead generation tactics.
For many a marketing agency, word of mouth is a pretty great way to get new clients onboard. Many businesses collaborate with other businesses and may recommend your services. Furthermore, if you do manage to get one or more businesses in your client repertoire who are from the same sector then you might consider specialising and building a reputation for catering to that particular sector.
Growth Gurus, will put their advertising know-how to good use by using social and display advertising to promote their services to their preferred industries. They’ve also informed us that they get a lot of interest from their blogs which perform well and are geared towards marketing managers.
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When you’re in the process of onboarding new clients it’s so easy to get carried away in a bid to sound impressive. If you’re making false promises or exaggerating your abilities then you are 100% in for trouble. Not only will your colleagues hate you later (prepare for someone passive-aggressively adjusting your office chair whenever it’s your day off), but you’ll be entering into a negative working relationship with your client filled with (most likely) disappointment and loss of trust. You might pull a miracle out of the hat for the first few months, but your client will continue to expect big and impressive results month in month out.
Your client’s situation can also affect how they are brought into the fold. You need to assess early on what exactly they’re looking for and why they want to use a social media marketing agency. You need to them be transparent about what you can and cannot do for them in relation to your team’s skill-set, time, and resources. If they’re not too sure on their branding or style then this is something you may need to help them with before you can get running with any marketing work.
During the pitching process, LikeMind Media also like to explain to their new potential client about the products and services they use and will want to use with the new client. This helps the client understand from the get-go how things will be managed by the agency. This often helps to create trust through transparency but also serves to impress the client with a bit of fancy tech.
If your client does have a clear and defined brand, TOV, and mission, then getting to grips with your client should be fairly straight-forward.
Interventus has a very efficient process for getting the information they need by asking potential clients to fill in a creative briefing form. Following this, the creative director has a call with the new client to run through their responses and better understand their business and goals.
Growth Gurus’ approach is to send one or two directors or an account manager to attend a meeting with the new client. They’ll take the time to discuss the client’s need and work out some achievable and defined KPI’s. Often, Clients will need some time to consider what’s been suggested so they’ll spend the rest of the meeting explaining the different service offerings they have in relation to the industry, goals, budget, and scope of the client.
Kenyons will host what they refer to as an ‘Introductory Session’ as a way to first and foremost discover the needs and requirements of the client. They’ll also introduce their own service, experiences, and past work.
Project Bionic’s approach is similar in hosting a ‘Discovery Meeting’ to learn about the client’s goals, pain-points, previous marketing efforts, tone of voice, brand, etc. This meeting will form the backbone of the creative strategy.
After the marketing agency and client have a shared understanding of what they’re agreeing to, it’s time to get the creative teams involved.
At Interventus, an account manager will get the client set up on their system, and the creative director and social manager will work together to develop their strategy pack alongside some creative content ideas. The account manager will share this strategy with the client and get it signed off. And then badda-bing-badda-boom; a routine will form with the account manager and social manager looking after the account day-to-day with the creative director overseeing output. The social manager will prepare a client report after the first month with recommendations on what they can do going forwards based on the insights and learnings from the first month working with the client.
Growth Gurus will provide a proposal to new clients focusing on the first quarter of their working relationship. Once the proposal is agreed, a strategy is built through a workshop session with a stakeholder of the client firm. The team then heads back to the office and “returns to wearing t-shirts and shorts to do some kick-ass marketing” (their words). They’ll continue to have full transparency with the client on what they’re doing at all times.
The approach of Project Bionic is for the team to immediately start working on the creative strategy including everything from sample content, content wells, paid strategy, best practices, and everything in between. They’ll present this to the client as an initial roadmap to the first 90 days to 6 months of their partnership.
And finally, Kenyons… They’ll continue to work closely with the new client, maintaining daily contact and keeping them up to date with KPI’s, developments, and work progression. They’ll provide a monthly report roundup with additional commentary and recommendations and will take care to make sure that the clients fully understand the facts and figures that are being presented to them.
At Interventus, account managers play an important role in being the main source of communication between clients, social managers, and the creatives, while personally ensuring that the wants and needs of the client are being fulfilled.
Account managers will identify what the client needs in terms of content, and relay this to the social media managers. The account manager will input notes and client requests into ContentCal for social media managers to ensure they’re delivering the desired content. Account managers will often email clients depending on the level of input they have over their account (for example, some clients have promotions or offers or other marketing activity they want to have amplified across social media).
Clients will provide feedback either through ContentCal or directly to the account manager via email or phone. Account managers make sure the social media managers have all the information they need to create content and continue to be the main source of contact with the client in order to save social media managers and creatives from being bogged down with admin duties. Working in this way allows Interventus to work as seamlessly as possible while keeping costs down for their clients.
Growth Gurus maintain regular communication with their clients with weekly update calls, monthly snapshot reports, quarterly in-depth reports, and strategy meetings.
The head of strategy will work with the client on the strategy (of course) and ensure that both the client’s team and the internal team are onboard with what they’re aiming to accomplish, how it will be measured, and how much it will cost. From this point on, the account managers are responsible for weekly communication and ad-hoc requests.
The project manager works to ensure that all projects are done to the best of the team’s abilities, within budget and timeframes while the team leaders take on the work from the strategy documents (alongside requests from project manager and account manager) to provide the best possible service.
Social media strategy examples form your favorite brands
“We are human, we make mistakes, we apologise, we fix them. We build systems; they work, and they fail but we will never forget that in the end we are all just people trying to do the very best we can with what we can.” - Alex Thomson, COO, Growth Gurus
On a daily basis, the team at Project Bionic is either working on their ongoing content or any ‘live’ projects and posts. account managers are talking to clients everyday, hosting brainstorms, or giving presentations.
The paid ads team is constantly monitoring existing campaigns, optimising for results and/or building new campaigns. The photo/video/graphics team are always either out at a photo shoot, in the studio, or editing recent shoots.
The community management team is living in the feeds from 6am - 9pm everyday and they have dedicated four hour shifts to cover what’s happening on social media. The writers at Project Bionic will dedicate Wednesday for writing the next two weeks of content, and during the other days of the week they’ll be editing their work, writing new ads, or working on creative projects for clients.
Kenyons are very organised as a team and very efficient about managing their workload to ensure deadlines are met, and client are satisfied. The digital account manager plays a key role in informing other members of the team about the wishes of the client.
In the average day, the account managers will check emails, calendars, and Trello. Any work that needs completing or social media content that needs uploading will be stored in a Trello board. Meetings and arrangements will then be planned around the workload.
There will be frequent contact with clients as they send over information about uploading content to their social channels. This information will continue to be stored and then distributed to the appropriate members of the team. The client will be kept in the loop regarding the plan and progress.
“I definitely feel that communication is key, especially in my role. The client needs to have their expectations managed, in terms of when their content will be published. This communication stream also provides me the opportunity to feedback on any content that may not be the best quality or in keeping with the brand guidelines.” - Rian Bailey-Weir, Digital Account Manager, Kenyons
Something that LikeMind Media value above all else is transparency. As their name suggests, LikeMind Media are looking to create an open and collaborative relationship with their clients where the agency should be thought of as an extension of the client’s team.
They welcome clients to contact them whenever they want and however they like whether it’s via Slack, WhatsApp, Trello, or by leaving comments within ContentCal. They’re also huge huge fans of having face-to-face catch-ups with their clients.
Interventus appreciates how ContentCal allows them to schedule social content and communicate with their clients. It allows social managers, account managers, and clients visibility over the account and actions in one place. ContentCal removes the need for sharing content calendars using Word and makes the whole process seamless and efficient. Put simply, ContentCal takes away the need to use other systems as most communication can be done via the platform.
Why Interventus use ContentCal... ✨Collaboration ✨Communication ✨Efficiency
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For Growth Gurus, ContentCal helps to reduce the excess communication between social media managers, campaign managers, the graphics team, account managers, project managers, the strategy development team, and the client by offering a unified space to provide the plans and content for social channels. Essentially, ContentCal offers transparency but also accountability and responsibility for the content and channels that Growth Gurus control for their clients.
ContentCal has saved Growth Gurus time as they previously used a mixture of the Google Drive (sheets / docs), Buffer, and email to communicate about what is going out and when. It also gives full visibility on all clients internally, and anyone with access to the system can quickly get to grips with what is being done.
Why Growth Gurus use ContentCal... ✨Communication ✨Transparency ✨Time saved ✨Calendar overview
The most useful thing about ContentCal for Project Bionic has been the visual Calendar view to show a bird’s eye view of all scheduled content. They also enjoy the flexibility of rearranging posts and love using weekly view as a place to check the upcoming content for quality, consistency, and resonance.
The approval workflows on ContentCal are also incredibly useful as Project Bionic needs at least two rounds of approvals on all posts before they can be published. ContentCal makes it simple for this approval workflow to be customised for every client.
Why Project Bionic use ContentCal... ✨Calendar overview ✨Approval workflows ✨Flexibility ✨Quality control
ContentCal has been the perfect solution for Kenyons when it comes to working more collaboratively with clients. Initially, their organic social media activity would have been delivered to the client and signed off via an Excel spreadsheet. Since using ContentCal, Kenyons have been able to work with their clients to fine tune the content, ensuring it aligns with their current business objectives and that they are entirely happy with the content that is being distributed.
The Calendar view has been especially helpful for Kenyons as it’s very user and client friendly and impresses their current social media clients. Internally, it has helped Kenyons to focus on the social media strategy. They’ve utilised the Category Tag feature to ensure they have the perfect number of posts on each topic during a specific time period.
Why Kenyons use ContentCal... ✨Collaboration ✨Calendar overview ✨Category Tags ✨Quality control
One of the most problematic things that marketing agencies can struggle with is communication. This is the number 1 reason why LikeMind Media value ContentCal as a tool to enable complete transparency between the agency and client when it comes to their social media content. If (god forbid) there is a spelling mistake, an inappropriate picture, or something a little off-brand, it’s key that the client can see this mistake and feedback to LikeMind Media with complete ease (thanks to ContentCal’s commenting feature). The tool gives clients an easy way to stay involved with the content creation and approval process.
Why LikeMind Media use ContentCal… ✨Quality Control ✨Collaboration ✨Transparency ✨Comments ✨Approval Workflows
Interventus, Growth Gurus, Project Bionic, Kenyons, and LikeMind Media find the following tools useful within their marketing agency when it comes to managing tasks, communicating (with their team and clients), and creating great content.
Slack is a communication tool that teams use to instant message. You can have individual conversations with colleagues or set up groups to keep everyone in the marketing agency aligned on particular projects.
This tool is a free online form builder. You can use Cognito Forms to build powerful forms for your website quickly and easily.
Adobe Stock provides a wide variety of high-quality images that you can download and use on your creative projects in exchange for a monthly fee.
Use Adobe Creative Cloud to access apps and services for video, design, photography, and the web.
Crimson Hexagon can be used for audience analysis, brand analysis, campaign analysis, competitive intelligence, customer care, and industry and trend analysis.
Global web index gives you access to revealing data on consumer behaviours. You can use this tool to better understand your audience and get smarter with your marketing.
Safely store photos, videos, files, and more.
Use Skype to communicate with colleagues and clients via video chat, voice chat, or instant messenger. You can even record calls to refer to later, if you’d like.
Use Trello to manage tasks and work collaboratively. Use boards, lists, and cards to organise and prioritise projects.
Plutio is a CRM that can be used to manage projects and tasks, proposals and invoicing.
Organise, track, and nurture leads and customers with Hubspot CRM.
AdEspresso is useful for digital advertising. Create, manage, analyse, and collaborate on campaigns for Facebook, Instagram, and Google.
AspireIQ is an influencer marketing platform connecting thousands of brands and influencers. You can make data-driven decisions with their analytics dashboard.
Merchant Centric helps you increase revenue by enhancing customer engagement and turning consumer feedback into insight and actionable intelligence.
Canto is used for digital asset management, allowing you to organise, find, and share brand assets.
Podio is a project management tool that covers everything from structuring a project to organising your sales team.
Synergist is a job costing and project management system that gives you control of your projects and business with live visibility.
Canva gives you the tools to design graphics for all kinds of projects without the need for design skills to help with your social media marketing.
Unsplash offers a library of over 850,000 completely free high-resolution photos to use for whatever you want.
Harvest is a time-tracking tool that helps you to understand how much time you’re spending on particular projects and much you should be charging clients. It's an ideal tool for a marketing agency.
Milenote helps you organise your notes and ideas into visual boards (perfect for showing strategies to clients).
Microsoft Teams allows for instant messaging, online meetings, calls, and web conferencing. It's also great for collaboration on Microsoft Office apps like Word, Excel, Powerpoint, and SharePoint.
Top tips and advice on running a marketing agency...
“Make sure you have a solid sales team in place from the start who understand the product and process that goes into developing social media content. Bad sales people will cut prices and put stress on the delivery team. Ensure you're clear with clients and manage expectations based on their budgets. Don't over promise if you can't deliver, know your limits. I'd rather lose a sale than promise a client the world for pennies. When you can't deliver because there isn't enough budget, the client just sees the bad rather than the effort you put in to make it work. Always manage their expectations. Always. Don't be afraid to say no.
“Make sure you have financial contingency plans. Cash flow is the biggest issue for new businesses and to run out will mean the end of your business.
“Staffing is crucial - don't go cheap and do your background checks on them. We tried cheap and it shot us in the foot as creative output suffered hugely. We've now invested in finding the right staff. It would have been cheaper to make the initial investment into staff from the start rather than test and learn as it’s cost us more than it should have. Buy cheap, buy twice. We turn out content at high volumes and it can be tough having to be creative everyday. So, for us, it was key we found staff that just wanted to come up with ideas and create all day long.
“Also, find a marketing approach for your business that works and focus on going big with it. We tried numerous approaches, wasting lots of money. And be careful of anyone that promises you leads. There are a lot of sharks out there quick to take your money but deliver very little.”
‘“Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.” - Dr. Seuss.
“Don't try to copy or be like other agencies or companies, just do your own thing, build your own structures and do what makes sense to you. People are working with you (as a marketing agency) because of your skills that they value. Don't undervalue yourself and don't over value yourself.
“All-in-all just be honest, if you mess something up, own up to it as fast as you can, do it in a controlled manner, where you explain the mistake, how you plan to solve it, and get your clients permission to fix it.
“Have Fun! I can't think of a more entertaining "office job" where you get to help people grow their businesses and dreams.’
“I've worked at Project Bionic for nearly 6 years and one thing I've learned about ‘agency life’ is that it moves at an incredible pace. Nothing is constant and you have to be somewhat of a chameleon. My best advice for anyone looking to start a marketing agency is to work for several agencies first so you can determine what works and what doesn't. It's also absolutely key to employ a team full of flexible, humble, competitive, and honest people to help maintain a solid and successful brand and culture.”
“Agency life is super-fast paced and there are often a lot of things to do in one working day, so my piece of advice is to make sure that you and your colleagues understand your limitations.
“One thing that i have personally learned from working in an agency is that you need to have an understanding of a number of different sectors, understanding how they work and the content that aligns with them. It can sometimes be difficult to change your thought process to fit the client that you're working on, but it's one of the most exciting parts of the job.
“There are lots of ups and downs for any marketing agency, but the chance to work alongside like-minded individuals who really care about their work is one of life's greatest pleasures!”
“Agencies nowadays need to find their differentiator. Work out what makes your agency different from someone else’s. For us, we focus on traffic and outcomes and being a driving force towards whatever the client is looking to achiev.
“Communication is the biggest thing. If you are representing someone else’s brand you have a huge responsibility. If you’re not able to have real earthy and honest conversations with a client then you won’t be able to do your best job.”
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When we reflect, it’s interesting to compare how different marketing agencies function in terms of job roles, processes, attitude, and mindset. Let us know how your marketing agency is similar or different over on Twitter at @ContentCal_io
READ MORE: What exactly IS 'dark social'?
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