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Like their clients, and just about anyone seeking to grow a business, marketing agencies need to adapt to remain relevant, and firms that fail to do so are destined to join a long list of now-defunct enterprises.
Here are five critical changes to consider to stay ahead.
1. Update your strategy
The Covid-19 pandemic turned the world upside down; consumers have been forced to change purchasing habits, supply chain disruptions have transformed entire industries and new technologies and social media platforms have emerged in response. It’s critical for marketing agencies to rapidly adapt to this new reality, because strategic plans that worked in the past may no longer be relevant.
Leaders in this sphere should carefully reevaluate goals and objectives to ensure they align with the current state of the economy and clients’ needs. It’s important to look at all aspects of an agency’s operations, using the right advice and instituting the appropriate accountability.
2. Rethink staffing and nurture talent
Record low unemployment rates mean businesses are having a difficult time finding quality talent. Trends like the Great Resignation and “quiet quitting” (though somewhat on the decline according to national first-quarter figures) mean that it’s vital to maximize employee earning potential, build better working conditions and encourage work/life balance. Fortunately, there are some key areas where agencies can adapt to continue attracting and retaining the right people.
Personal referrals are a great place to start. Agency leaders often have an extensive network of other business owners and professionals that they can leverage to recommend quality staff. Don’t be afraid to advertise open positions on your LinkedIn profile or to reach out to your network directly.
Related: How To Regain Work/Life Balance
Many agencies embraced remote working in response to the pandemic, as most employers were forced to close their offices, at least for a time. The popularity of resulting hybrid work models was stunning: various surveys have found that up to 70% of employees prefer to work in this way.
Some companies, however — seemingly stuck in their ways — have begun to force people to return to the office, but this could backfire, leaving them uncompetitive in an environment in which many still offer this perk. Instead of fighting what seems to be a new cultural norm, marketing agencies should be open to hybrid environments — in the process better setting up teams for success. This will require shifting company culture to embrace flexible schedules and provide remote-ready technology, including better collaboration tools. An additional benefit to consider when it comes to hybrid and remote work is that businesses are no longer limited to their geographic area when finding talent: It’s now possible to tap into a much larger and more diverse global workforce.
Lastly, employees now have an increasing interest in autonomy and empowerment to build their professional portfolios. So, instead of agencies dictating career paths, staff members should be given the chance to pursue tasks and roles that best reflect their strengths, weaknesses and interests. This can also have a positive impact on the training of new employees — in part by allowing a bidirectional flow of information. Instead of a traditional one-way training method in which seasoned staff members show new ones how to tackle day-to-day tasks, incoming generations can be leveraged to up-skill existing teams by sharing new technologies, for example, or cutting-edge social media trends.
3. Reconsider old standards
As marketing professionals, we are, of course, accustomed to advising clients that marketing is critical, not only to grow a business but to sustain it. Why, then, is it so often hard for us to take our own medicine — to apply this same advice within our businesses?
One contributing factor is that too many marketing agencies apply the approaches of small firms. Simple tactics like referrals, lead forms on your website, blogs, social media posts and email mailing lists are just not going to cut it. If you want growth, you need to apply new strategies.
Start by getting client responses through surveys or other feedback methods — insights on their specific pain points and what’s truly valuable to them when working with a marketing agency. This can also help identify how your firm is differentiated from the competition — what unique advantages you bring to the table.
Marketing today is a science: You need to leverage data to track performance and adjust tactics. It’s also important to create metrics and dashboards that your team can use to make well-informed decisions.
4. Embrace technology
Good agencies will already be leveraging technology to improve efficiency and cut costs, but the new wave of artificial intelligence (AI) tools is an entirely new concept that’s completely revolutionizing the industry. It’s possible to apply it, for example, to engage lower-cost talent to free up an in-house team to focus on higher-margin work, and some marketing firms have already gotten ahead with the adoption of tools like ChatGPT. The good news is that AI is just getting started: It’s not too late to get on the bandwagon.
That said, agencies shouldn’t implement AI (or any technology) blindly. While it can bring new levels of speed and agility, make sure you are using such tools correctly — taking into account potential ethical or legal implications. Carefully review any in-house or client privacy/security/intellectual property policies that might influence its adoption.
5. Shift to a net-zero mindset
Leaders in governments and businesses around the world continue to set their sights on environmental goals. According to McKinsey & Company, more than 80% of Fortune 500 companies have climate-related goals or targets. As the world commits to advancing clean and sustainable energy sources, no industry interested in wide acceptance will be exempt from contributing to the effort— everyone from individuals to businesses to governments will have parts to play.
Many of your agency clients will likely want to work with firms that have similar views and goals, so start thinking about how to make yours more sustainable. Be prepared to capture these opportunities, and to be transparent with clients about your progress.
Resetting your strategic vision, tackling talent shortages and chasing perhaps unfamiliar environmental objectives are major undertakings, and a professional coach can be an invaluable resource to help bring new perspectives and solutions. Each agency is different, so having a coach that specializes in your sector is critical. Finally, the right one will also be there to hold you accountable and support the mission of transforming your company, not just this year, but beyond.