If we’ve learned anything from our Good Agency Marketing study, it’s that there are few hard-and-fast rules for agency marketing.
What separates successful agencies from struggling ones is that their marketing machine reflects their position in their marketing journey: their size, positioning and goals.
These are unique to each agency. But there is one important aspect of marketing that most of our agencies are agreed upon: teams.
Here are the 4 people you need in your agency marketing department, according to the UK’s leading agencies.
1. The Marketing Manager
As explored in our previous articles, the biggest challenge in agency marketing is not setting plans; this is what agencies do best. It’s in executing them. That’s why nearly all of the agencies we spoke to credit their decision to employ a marketing manager as the factor that caused the biggest jump forward in their marketing performance.
Events agency Rapiergroup hired a marketing consultant to review their marketing performance and set a 12–18 month vision and strategy for the business. But this plan would have likely stayed on paper were it not for their decision to hire marketing manager Luke, says director Rob Brazier:
“In a fast-paced agency world, you always want everything to happen now. It’s fine defining a strategy and your overall business goals, but it was only really until Luke started that we actually got some momentum. You had someone that was here, had a fresh perspective on the agency, had the energy and appetite to really push it through. Then work with the wider team to make sure it actually happened.”
Digital product design team Kyan credit their marketing manager with kickstarting their development into a marketing-led business – even while the remit for the role was hazy to begin with.
“One of the first things my board advised us to do was to hire a marketing manager,” says CEO Laurent Maguire. “I didn’t really know what to do with a marketing manager, but I decided to hire one and see what happened. Nick joined us, and I think it’s fair to say that for the first three to six months, we struggled to nail what our approach to marketing was going to be, but a few things fell into place. Nick was with us for two years, and by the end of that period we had a plan and an approach that was working and that we were happy with.”
Finding the right manager is crucial. For digital agency LAB, their choice of full-time marketing manager reshaped how the business thought about marketing – giving it the guts to be bolder, and therefore more effective, in future campaigns.
“Teodora, our marketing manager, came in just over a year ago but I would say the difference was we did safe marketing before and now we push ourselves a little bit more,” says sales and marketing director Tom Head. “The safe marketing is doing the things that won’t ever cause a stir but probably won’t ever transform your agency, and the pushing-the-boundaries stuff is where we are now. We did have somebody in marketing previously, but we didn’t have the same ethos in terms of what we wanted to do in making sure our marketing stood up to scrutiny if somebody else looked at it. We didn’t have the same test-and-learn approach that we have now.”
In each of these instances, marketing management is separate to marketing direction. The manager is busy ‘doing’ marketing – which is what makes them so valuable to distracted, perfectionist agency teams who have the best intentions around marketing but repeatedly fail to get it done.
2. The Writer
Most of the agencies we spoke to depend on content marketing to build their brand. Employing – or having easy access to – a skilled, fast writer has therefore made the difference between having and executing an effective content marketing strategy.
“We have a junior marketer called Esme who recently graduated from Cambridge,” says Anant Sharma, CEO of brand and e-commerce agency Matter of Form. “She’s very smart and doesn’t require an editor, which is always positive. That can use up quite a lot of time.”
For brand agency Smoke Creatives, hiring a wordsmith intern enabled the two-person team to stop making endless marketing plans and crank up their marketing productivity.
“Our turning point eventually came when we did actually manage to get an intern in who was a journalistic, marketing and creative graduate, who we could then operationalise our plans with,” says founder Susi Owusu. “That’s probably only happened in the last year, that we’ve been able to regularly blog and put up content and imagery and talk about what we do and demonstrate what we do.”
For B2B storytelling agency Rooster Punk, hiring a writer was a deliberate move to grow the business, fast – as founder James Trezona explains:
“We’re are a young agency that’s only been going for four years. The story starts before Rooster Punk, when both Paul and I were running larger agencies in the same vertical, focused on tech and B2B. But what actually drove our early growth was the fact that our second hire was somebody with a journalistic background. Gemma had previously worked at B2B Marketing, and so knew the industry and the players. As B2B Marketing was a startup in the time she’d been there, she’d seen that growth and had that attitude of just getting shit done; not being overly bothered about needing a very clear brief.
“As a business, B2B Marketing was all about getting stuff done, as opposed to some journalists or some publications which are a little slower working. So, that was a considered decision because we were conscious that for us to grow as quickly as we wanted to grow, we needed someone who had the diligence and organisation skills that somebody like Gemma from a journalistic background had. Her passion was getting stuff out there. It also immediately gave us a route into B2B Marketing as a vehicle.
“Very quickly, Paul had a column in B2B and we were able in that first year to create a level of industry noise way above our peers. We already had a monthly article in the top publication. We had stuff constantly going out. We had blogs. We had an enormous amount of content going to the marketplace; the level of content that even relatively large agencies struggled with because that was a huge, huge part of our focus.”
3. The Sales Director
For many of the agencies we spoke with, integrating sales insight into their marketing activity was a key lever for success – with each agency recognising that sales and marketing success can only be achieved by working closely together.
“As a sales director, I have a deep insight into what our clients require and what they’re interested in,” says Simon Cooke of Wordpress agency Pragmatic. “I’m reading every single brief that comes in, meeting clients, talking about their projects, understanding their needs from a one-to-one point of view, and I think that’s where a lot of marketing directors are not getting that direct info. They’re making their assumptions based on market analytics. I’m able to talk to our clients day in, day out and we’re able to tailor our content based on that, but also put that in line with our core service offering.
“An example might be that, having met a client recently, we discovered that this particular client was far more invested in the design process and wanted to invest more than we thought in design. We would have probably pitched a more technical response to what their requirements were, but because we were in there early I was able to talk to that client, understand what they needed, and so on. The outcome of that is that we will certainly be developing more design-led marketing material that’s in line with our core service offering.
“Rather than a blanket marketing approach where we look at industry trends and try and create content to get numbers in, it’s much more of a targeted effort. We’re able to handpick the types of clients that fit our profile and develop specific marketing material that suits their requirements. That’s where that commercial director role really plays out nicely.”
How sales and marketing roles are differentiated within agency teams depends on where the business is in their marketing journey.
For B2B marketing agency Really B2B, the decision to separate sales and marketing roles provided renewed marketing focus, as marketing director Gemma Roalf explains:
“Previously, we’ve always had a sales and marketing director. So we’re very fortunate in that our sales team and our marketing team work extremely closely and extremely well together. We really have got that alignment that I know a lot of clients and other marketers are looking for. So, it’s always historically been a dual role and now we’ve just taken that step further to build the team out a little bit further. Initially, we were looking for a marketing manager – someone to support the sales and marketing director in the day-to-day. I raised my hand and said, ‘I'd be really interested in coming across to that side,’ and we built the marketing director role out from there, which is exciting.”
For innovation agency Rare Design, separating sales and marketing in this way creates challenges of its own:
“One of the biggest problems I think bigger agencies have is that they have a person employed to ‘do’ new business,” says managing director James Hirst. “They’re given a list of people to call, provided with the agency’s credentials and told to go and do their best. The agency expects instant results, but that’s an old-school way of thinking that doesn’t work these days. It means that sales and marketing teams work in silos. In smaller agencies, we must push in the same direction, for the same thing – that’s what my focus is at Rare.”
4. The Founder
For many business owners, ‘doing marketing’ means farming the work off to a marketing team. But all of the agencies we spoke to recognise that this is a short-sighted approach and that the agency founder has an integral, active role to play in marketing because marketing shapes, and is shaped by, the direction and momentum of their agency.
“I would say, of my working week, 40% is spent working in marketing and business development,” says Born + Raised founder and MD Andy Weir. “I meet those guys weekly and they both sit immediately outside my office. The rest is working on business operations, finance, meeting with my senior management team, and every now and then getting involved in a few projects as well.”
For Becky Simms, CEO of search marketing agency Reflect Digital, staying engaged with her marketing team is a given – as it is for her wider leadership team:
“Kirsty Dawe, our MD, has been at Reflect Digital since day dot – as have a lot of the other senior heads within our leadership team. I report directly in to Kirsty and we meet on a regular basis to keep updated with what’s going on, which is great from my point of view because Kirsty’s been there from the beginning when we just had to get things done in marketing. We just had to push to make sure we grow. We’ve absolutely still got that mentality running through the veins of the agency.”
Matter of Form founder Anant Sharma has even made a fixed commitment to the amount of time he spends on marketing each week:
“Recently, myself and my business partner Fred have freed up 50% of our time each to focus only on marketing. We’ve made a promise to each other to not hide behind things that might be a lesser priority than the thing that’s driving sales in this business, which is us being in market, interviewing people across different sectors, putting together white papers that we write ourselves, and really immersing ourselves in the sectors that form our sales strategy.”
For Anant, that means being unafraid to roll up his sleeves:
“We’ve tried outsourcing things like white papers before, but ultimately, the kickback you get from doing them yourself is that you become a subject matter expert. You also expose yourself to the gamut of people you choose to interview, which is, frankly, a soft sales tactic in itself.”
Successful agencies know that effective marketing is a group effort, dependent on sharing insight across the business to build effective, customer-focused campaigns. But to do that, you need the right mix of people and personalities. After all: your agency is only as strong as the people within it.
Image via Unsplash, https://unsplash.com/photos/Ev1XqeVL2wI