5 practical ideas to stay ahead in digital agency business

Running an independent digital agency business is a tricky affair in any part of the globe. Speak to any startup agency founder, they would tell you exactly what pain they went through in setting up their company. Poor cash flows & bad debts, intense competition & price wars, fear of losing your business in a minute, lack of skilled manpower & high attrition rates are some of the factors that can demolish all the motivation of any digital agency entrepreneur.

Maintaining high profitability is on the top priority for any digital agency startup, it allows them to stay positive and make better business decisions.

Here are 5 practical ideas for business transformation of any digital agency:

Focus on your core digital service offering

Most of the “so called”, “integrated”, “one stop shop” digital agencies make this mistake of offering everything and they eventually end up offering nothing. While the idea of an integrated service offering is indeed a great one, but to deliver it successfully to clients, is a different ball game altogether.

While strategy lies at the heart of everything, it is very important to know if your creative, media or technology talent is your core strength. For better operating margins, focus on your core services in which you can scale your operations, hire more talent and add new clients easily.

Make technology your best ally

When it comes to productivity, most of the digital agencies in India are way behind their global counterparts. It is ironical to see that most of the digital teams are still using archaic processes to deliver client’s work. In most of the agencies, productivity & collaboration tools are still considered to be way too tech-ish. Agency owners must understand that technology is not just an enabler but can lower the cost of operation significantly.

Breed entrepreneurs, not just employees

I am sure, most of you would just dismiss this as a nice joke but let’s face it, attrition would continue to haunt you in your agency business. Even increments and appraisals can’t stop people anymore. After all, we are living in the times of “Entrepreneurship” & “Startups”.

The new breed of employees is looking for exponential growth in their careers, and they are prepared to do anything for it. However, if you build a culture of ownership and entrepreneurship in your organisation, chances are you would get to retain your best talent who would eventually earn you a lot more revenue in the future and at the same time, save you the cost of training new talent.

Build..Master..Repeat

While it is always good to have big retainer clients in any agency business, but not every agency can have that luxury. However, what is more important is to have a practical view of your business and the market. Unlike any product based business, it is difficult to quantify what you are selling in a service business, but there is a way in which you can quantify it for real, i.e. by calculating the effective man hours of your employees for which you are paying them. Companies like Accenture have mastered that art for ages.

Find out how much business you need to generate, in order to utilise 100% bandwidth. This would give you a break even point, beyond which you can maximise your operating margins. Small time agencies lack the vision to think big and hence could not visualise the whole canvas. They spend most of their time worrying about how to find their next big client. The solution lies in looking at people’s time just like any other tangible product.

Get innovative, find something tangible to sell

If you’ve been to a grocery shop, you would understand what I am talking about. Grocery shops in India sells a lot of side items (like wafers, snacks, newly launched products etc.) for which they pay only after those products are sold. It’s the real estate which those brands wants to occupy to sell their products. Guess what, something similar is also possible in the digital space. While you are selling your digital services, you can also sell different marketing products of tech companies & startups like their CRM, marketing cloud, social listening tools etc. Not just it would position you as an advisor and thought leader in the market, but it would also create a parallel revenue stream for the agency.

Here’s why digital marketing agency face high attrition rates

Lack of skilled digital marketing talent and high attrition rates of existing resources has literally choked the growth of digital agencies in India.  This trend remains consistent across independent local agencies and large global conglomerates. Based on my past discussions with few leading recruitment consultants, in managerial roles, the average attrition rate stands at around 10%, but the overall attrition rate in the advertising space is around ~30% and it remains in the same range for digital startups.

Although, global network agencies like the Publicis, WPP, IPG, Dentsu etc. face less challenge compared to their local counterparts due to their bigger bench strength and the number of opportunities within the group companies.

Human capital is the back bone of any service sector company, but poor human capital management makes digital agencies in India extremely vulnerable to the concept of attrition.

Why is attrition rate so high across digital agencies in India?

Agency work culture demands highly skilled & motivated employees which is a rarity in these times. Most of the people are working for fast career growth (financially or otherwise). While skilled employees have more than enough opportunities to choose from at any given point of time, exponential growth of digital advertising in the country has resulted in high demand and less supply of skilled manpower.

In my decade long experience as a digital marketing expert, I’ve worked with all type of digital organisations, from big agencies to large enterprise companies and the early stage startups, but when it comes to attrition, digital agencies are the most vulnerable lot.

Here are some of the key reasons for high attrition rates in digital agencies:

Dynamic digital projects

Over the years, digital projects have become more and more non-linear, courtesy the growth in the number of digital channels & platforms. There is so much to learn for digital professionals that nobody like sameness in their daily job.

Newer challenges

Employees in digital agencies are always looking for newer opportunities and would like to challenge themselves on a daily basis to increase their productivity and create innovative campaigns using unique ideas and technology. In agencies where the clients are more open to innovation and experimentation, get to retain a lot of their creative & servicing talent. And, that’s a fact!

No time for upgrade

With such enormous pressure of timelines and delivery, it is very difficult for the talent in digital agencies to upgrade their knowledge & skill. Most of the digital client servicing professionals have not done any specialised certification (like GA or Analytics), nor they intend to do it. There’s a time when everyone feels that they are hitting a dead end in their learning. At that very moment, they call it a quit.

Poor Appraisal Policies

There is no doubt that a lot of people (including myself) work in the digital marketing and media business for the sheer romance of it. But you cannot ignore the monetary compensation aspect, especially when majority of the workforce is hired on entry / junior level. I agree money is not the only motivating factor but, it definitely complements when the job satisfaction is high. A lot of agencies use operating income as an excuse for poor appraisal because they have signed high value clientele by compromising their profit margins, which lead to poor employee appraisals and eventually high attrition rate.

High work pressure

Being a part of service sector, advertising industry was always a high pressure affair. Words like ASAP are extremely popular in the client – agency parlance. There is no respite or escape for the execution teams including servicing, strategy, creative, media and social. Single creative resource is working across 2-3 live project at the same time, leaving him with little mind space to churn out ideas. The situation is a lot worse for client servicing teams who have to turn themselves into an octopus in order to manage multiple conflicting project timelines across multiple teams. The result is, only the tough hearted survive the onslaught, while the rest start looking for greener pastures.

How to write digital marketing brief?

Is your client servicing person sounding repetitive & still talking about SEM, SEO & Display in the weekly strategy meetings?

Does your weekly marketing reporting dashboard still looks the same with acronyms like CPM, CPC, CTR etc.?

Are the strategic discussions in your marketing team still hovering around reducing cost per acquisition?

If any of the above is true, then you should definitely fire few people or the agency because the world has moved on from these archaic goals & matrices. With the tsunami of smart devices hitting the shores of our digital world, there is a massive change in the adjacent marketing landscape. Last I heard:

PC sales were at an all time low & following a negative growth trend,

Smartphones & Tablets sales was expected to overshadow PC sales by the end of 2013 (read IDC report on Connected Device Projections by 2017 & Tablets sales forecast)

Google had started doing mass production of its next generation wearable tech Google glass – Read this

And guess what , in the middle of all this phenomenon change, your client servicing & digital marketing teams are still discussing about how to optimise your cost per acquisition.

Frankly speaking, it is not your mistake, most of the digital teams around the world are still obsessed with making your brand a super successful social brand on the Facebook, twitter & pintrest but deep down inside your heart says that all this is nothing but a wild goose chase. Having said that, I am not out-rightly denying the importance of these tried & tested cost effective marketing tools. It is just that the thought process needs to adapt with time.

In my opinion, mobility will soon force the brands to change their brief to the servicing teams so that they can successfully achieve the long term marketing objectives. Ideally, the new marketing brief would surely have below 2 components:

  • Find out ways to catch & engage with the target audience while they are on the move. In short, make the brand adaptive to mobile environment.
  • Optimise the marketing plan across all current & foreseeable devices (PC was yesteryear story, Mobile & Tablets will easily cover next few years. This is very important because off late pace of growth in the digital device industry has just gone exponential. Keeping the integrated Acquisition, Engagement & Retention plan ready which is connected across all devices & platforms would become the next big thing among brands( Read about Cross Screen Marketing )

It is high time that marketing teams should start re-calibrating their marketing briefs for the client servicing teams as otherwise they might miss the mobile bus like the way a lot of them did when online took the world by storm.

6 ways to execute low budget digital campaign

This is a very common situation faced by most of the digital companies (especially ad agencies) these days. Personally, I use to be so scared of the moment when my client would say that there are limited budgets or the budgets are slashed just when I was about to present a million dollar media engagement ( of which at least I was fully convinced ) or a fancy “IPL / BPL / ITPL type” sponsorship deal.

You could actually hear a stunned silence in the meeting room which is full of planners, client servicing and of course the business manager. Within 5 minutes, your entire servicing team would lose the taste of their machinated coffee and you (as Account Manager) are looking for a place to hide.

You don’t know what would you tell your boss, should you update the CV in the meeting room or after reaching office? Your quarterly revenue target now seems like a “mission to mars”.

Here’s what I have to say, don’t lose hopes yet. It is not just about money right now, there’s a lot more you can do to hold that client forever. Control that moment and use it to your advantage.

In a situation like this when you have to run a low budget campaign and the client is not willing to pump in more dollars, instead of panicking and letting that small budget go to alternative marketing or not being spent at all, you need to bring your best saviour forward – Content.

Here are few ways in which you could run low budget campaign in digital:

First

Find out the most critical needs of the client at that very moment, make a comprehensive wish list shared by the client. It could be,

  • generating leads for their upcoming product
  • creating engagement within a target segment
  • building reach in a specific geo
  • driving traffic to their corporate website
  • increasing video views of their new commercial.

and so on and so forth.

Second 

prioritise the wish list & discuss it with the client as to what is the most important need at that point of time. Lets just say, it is building reach in a specific geo location.

Third

There is no need to do an integrated digital marketing when the budgets are limited. Instead, generate as much powerful branded content (in the form of images, text & video) as you can using this money since that will help you generate buzz, not just in that geo but everywhere. Most importantly, a brand can host that content on their site to drive powerful SEO for a long time.

Create strong powerful ideas for local audience to create some UGC as a part of your campaign. It could be a simple concept around selfies/ videos or anything for brand advocacy would do just fine.

Fourth

Utilise free media channels like social & email databases to promote it within the targeted Geo. Make sure you cover all the possible digital touch points to seed the branded content. In fact, try creating as much liquid content as possible and distribute it outside conventional social channels like Facebook, Twitter, google+, blogs or Instagram.

Fifth

Offer your client best value for money in that limited budget by generating series of localised video content for the specific geo (even better if it is in native language) that can be distributed on diverse video platforms like Youtube, Vimeo etc.

Sixth

Show him the huge value you’ve created by achieving multiple marketing objectives within the limited budget you were given. The report should have the following:

  1. Unique hits on website
  2. Video views
  3. Content downloads
  4. Leads Generated ( through Content Marketing )
  5. Social Engagement – new users added on Facebook/ Twitter
  6. Liquid Content Created

Low-Marketing-Budget-Content-Marketing

Remember, there is nothing better than seeing a smile on the face of your client, and if you really offer him value when budgets are low, he would spend with open heart when there are bigger budgets.

Why you need a specialised Digital PR agency?

In the advertising & marketing communication world , this is one of the most commonly debated topic, does your brand really need a Digital PR company when they have a well established conventional PR agency? More often than not, the brand assumes that their current empaneled PR agency is capable of handling any contingency or marketing problem. But in today’s digital universe, that simply isn’t the case.

When it comes to the question of a digital PR agency versus a traditional PR agency, we know that digital agencies offer capabilities that are beyond the scope of firms that focus on a more traditional public relations approach.

Why you need a specialised Digital PR agency?

  • A digital PR agency is much better equipped to offer its clients reach across a range of online and offline sources. The content messaging they create is often customised to the need of modern socially active and upwardly mobile individual.
  • From online media placements to social media engagement, a digital PR agency delivers outcomes that extend beyond the limitations of a traditional PR firm.
  • Though both a digital PR agency and a traditional PR agency share the same communication objectives, i.e. to enhance their clients’ reputations and increase visibility among targeted audiences. The key difference however, is the way both of them approach a marketing problem. A digital PR company would always think of creating multiple manifestations of the marketing communication which can be leveraged across different content channels and a range of consumer devices.
  • Compared to a traditional PR agency, a digital PR agency has a lot more channels in its toolbox. Although many digital agencies also handle traditional media placements, they have the ability to leverage websites, blogs and other online placements to deliver real-time messages across an increasingly sophisticated array of global, web-based channels.
  • Traditional PR is often a one-way conversation in which the brand presents key messages for consumption by core audiences. But a digital PR agency specialises in creating two-way conversations and authentic dialogue with audiences, generating exciting opportunities for brand interaction and customer engagement.

Given the state of technology, most public relations firms are eager to brand themselves as digital. But there are several core capabilities that only a digital PR agency can bring to your business.

  1. SEO. A quality digital PR agency would always think of various ways in which it can optimise your marketing content to get better search rankings.
  2. Content. A digital PR agency would always look at content in terms of bringing not just advertising value & eye balls but building powerful thought leadership messages from it.
  3. Social. Having a specialised digital PR company would allow you to bring better social experience of your marketing idea. They can cross leverage the same marketing thought across multiple social channels and deliver a much better return on investment for your brand.