In an industry as ever-changing and competitive as advertising, reputation-building is key to long-term success. Still, as a popular panel at Ad Age's recent Small Agency Conference in Atlanta pointed out, self-promotion tends to land closer to the bottom of the agency hierarchy of priorities—especially for smaller shops that may not have the same access to networks and resources as their larger counterparts.
Most agencies need to follow the same recommendations they provide to their clients and dedicate more effort toward marketing themselves. This includes a balance of paid, owned and earned media to build awareness and consideration with potential clients.
From relationship-building to effective in-house processes, the recipe for a successful marketing strategy looks a bit different for every shop, but some universal principles apply. We turned to industry pros to hear what works for them, what keeps their teams motivated and what has done the most to help win new business.
Making marketing a priority
One thing is true for a great many agencies: The talent needed to spread the word about their work is already in their own backyard (or cafeteria). For many, it’s just a matter of taking steps to get those teams working not just for clients’ business but for their own.
“Here's my biggest piece of advice: Make agency marketing an intrinsic part of your team's routine and your company's culture,” said Mariah Haberman, VP and communications director at Barkley. “Integrating self-promotion into daily operations and making it a natural part of the team's responsibilities is the only way marketing your agency gets prioritized.”
Haberman also recommended keeping in close communication with client PR teams, who will be equally as motivated to secure good coverage, as well as prioritizing awards and speaking engagements and amplifying stories, not just about work product but work culture.
“These storylines are often differentiators, so don't let them fly under the radar,” she said, adding that employees can often be your best advocates. “You win inside to win outside, and I think agencies often overlook the potency of their own team members as the agency's biggest fans and authentic believers.”
For others, it’s a simple mindset shift to make self-promotion an internal priority, and making the process as enjoyable as the outcome.
“At Curiosity, sales and marketing work together and we act as our own client, allowing our integrated team to do work they believe in, which is fueling our social and PR efforts with consistently thoughtful ideas and activations,” said Christian Jaekle, the Cincinnati-based agency’s marketing director. He highlighted a recent internal project consisting of a 10-minute spoof of the YouTube show “Hot Ones,” which features chatting and noshing on spicy chicken wings.
“Within an hour, we received tons of new subscribers and a glowing email from one of our biggest clients, all for downing hot wings on camera,” he marveled. “Our philosophy is that when you have smart work and an outstanding culture, not everything has to be so serious. Make things you like, and the right clients, talent and PR opportunities will show up.”