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Agency challenges in 2018: The Lowdown

The digital world is changing all the time, which means there are plenty of ups and downs. We’re not afraid to talk about the downs.


50 thoughts we’ve all had in meetings…

Working in a digital agency isn’t all coffee, creativity, and calling it a day at 4pm for a beer or two – we wish. Sometimes it can be difficult to keep up with an industry that is forever re-inventing itself, including the clients and people that we work with.

If you work in an agency, you probably already know this, but here are our biggest challenges as a digital marketing agency in 2018:

  1. Brands want to move work ‘in-house’

It’s no secret that brands want to become more self-sufficient. Why spend your budget on an agency when you can do it yourself?

Vodafone recently revealed they’d be taking two-thirds of their digital media buying in-house to ‘take greater control of media and data as part of a broader strategic move to improve the digital customer experience and loyalty.’ 

Despite the trend of ‘in-housing’, there are arguments for keeping an external agency model in place, one of which is the financial resource needed to scale up an in-house team and the second is the risk of ‘snapshotting’. Mark Evans, the marketing director of Direct Line Group, explains the risks of snapshotting by stating that internal teams having less connect with external ideas and therefore only seeing a ‘snapshot’ of what could be.

As this kind of thing happens more often, we’re aware that our role is becoming more consultancy-based, focused on individual projects or wider marketing strategies rather than retained monthly work. Although this is a major, and sometimes worrying, shift, it’s something we relish in. With the in-house role taking shape it allows us to think more strategically and be reserved for services that can help push a brand forward.

Spotify’s Vice President, Jackie Jantos, explains that it was not the intention to bring Spotify’s creatives in-house but now they have a strong team of 90 people who are able to take on a lot of the work that agencies had been responsible for. Now Spotify use agencies as the outside perspective to ensure their messaging and positioning is not solely based on people living within their business. 

  1. Competitors are becoming more diversified

Agencies are constantly adding more strings to their bow, and although there’s a place for agencies with niche specialisms, it doesn’t look like that’s going to change.

A PR agency may also work in social media marketing and a website agency may also handle email marketing, and so on. Albeit great for the industry that we have so many well-rounded marketers, we can’t deny that this increases competition for winning new clients.

If an agency already has their foot in the door with a brand as they support in one area of their marketing, they could be in a more attractive position to take on new areas of work. Knowing how a brand or agency operates and the people you’d be working with is a big plus, so it can be hard to compete when you’re up against a brand’s existing agency.

And, sometimes, if an agency doesn’t have the knowledge within their team to support in a certain area, they’ll look to outsource to a freelancer or another agency, or sometimes even merge with another agency to become a bigger agency with more tools in their belt. It’s all very hard to keep up with and can create an even more competitive agency to go up against.

As a full-service digital agency, we don’t list services that we’re not experienced in as we only want to be as diverse as the work we can offer. With that in mind, we’ve also diversified over the years as and when we’ve needed to. Our services have grown at times and been refined at others, so it’s important that we continue to view diversification as a challenge that also brings opportunity.

  1. Investing in the unknown can be scary

Agency life is often an unpredictable line graph. You never know what’s around the corner.

How do you decipher the difference between brands who want to work with you versus brands that are simply after some campaign ideas? It sounds cynical, but it can happen…

Time gets invested into proposals, pitches, meetings, and even a few lengthy emails before any budgets are agreed, so every new conversation runs the risk of using internal resources without any commitment. New opportunities are a gamble and we like to think we’ve become better at this over time, understanding whether the potential opportunity is worth investing some of our own time into before any commitments are made.

We look to see if the client fits into our criteria as well as how we fit into theirs. With a collaborative checklist in mind, we can be confident that the work we are pitching for is right for us, knowing that we’re going in with the best chance of winning the work. And, if we don’t, we’ll still come away with some learnings to improve for next time. It’s all an investment.

There’s some divide between creatives on this topic, though, as written about by Never Not Creative’s Andy Wright. Some agencies swear against giving anything away for free. We can certainly see the validity in this side of the argument, but it’s something we’ve never been as strict about. We’re nice like that.

  1. Finding the client-agency happiness balance can be a tricky one

As an account manager, it’s in my job description to be a natural people-pleaser. What can I do to make someone else’s life easier? However, making life easier for a client can sometimes mean adding time to your own work schedule (which may already be at capacity).

While it’s important for us to meet a client’s requirements, it’s also important to make sure that methods and processes also work for ourselves and our teams. The key is finding a balance between your own agency structures and your client’s needs, giving them the support they need in a way that works for them without losing your own approach.

Be flexible, but also be firm with specific processes if you truly believe that your ways of working benefit both sides. When you’re working in collaboration with a client in a way that you’re both feeling efficient and creative, it can be a powerful thing.

As you can see from the different challenges we’ve faced as an agency in 2018, marketing agencies must be able to adapt well and often. We’ve personally gone from a completely digital agency with no office and solely freelance specialists to a hybrid model of bricks-and-mortar space and team members, hand-in-hand with remote freelancers who we can pull in as and when we need their specialisms.

Nothing stays the same from one day to the next and sometimes you need to face challenges head on with strength that you didn’t even think was possible.

Change challenges into opportunities wherever possible – it’s a method that has worked well for us over the last 10 years.

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Katie Underwood – senior account manager

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