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.


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.

Think Transformation, Think Razorfish!

The following article is originally published in The Financial Express by Mr. Jaideep Mehta (MD, IDC India & South Asia)

New ways of consuming IT are emerging

Many analysts and observers cite 2015 as one of the most challenging years for the IT industry. Financial performance was challenged relative to historical numbers.

Many analysts and observers cite 2015 as one of the most challenging years for the IT industry. Financial performance was challenged relative to historical numbers. Large players are struggling to fire up growth, and margin maintenance is becoming a significant challenge. With some notable exceptions such as Mindtree, Tier 2 and small companies are more severely impacted on both counts. The forecast of 12-14% growth seems, sadly, unachievable: high single digits is probably a more realistic number. Talent retention is on the agenda like never before and top technologists decamp for the greener pastures of the booming start up world. Then, there are the markets: aside from the relatively bright demand in the USA, global markets range from slow to downright grim.
These are symptoms of a more problematic phenomenon. History will judge 2015 as the year when the traditional high profit, high growth model of the industry started being dismantled. 2016 will see an acceleration of this fundamental disruption. The key driver is the industrialisation of the technology sector, massively disruptive innovation, and the resultant emergence of new ways of consuming IT.

The digital transformation wave has pervaded corporations globally. The IDC Digital Transformation Maturityscape Index, built on more than 2500 assessments globally, shows that more than 60% of the companies are at Stage 2 or 3 on a 1-5 scale. Many are still struggling to get off the starting blocks, but realise it’s a game of survival. Practically every company we speak with, anywhere geographically and across vertical industries, is actively investing to understand and leverage digital technologies, processes and methods to drive superior business performance.

Consequently, in 2015, 120% of industry growth has been driven by these investments: traditional IT, though 70% of total spending, is shrinking by 4.5%. In other words, what the IT services industry is best at doing is in secular recession.

The challenge for the Indian companies is that these programmes are driven through high engagement and high iteration projects, which do not lend themselves to offshoring. So, the traditional advantage they brought to the table is substantially reduced. Organisations are building front-end or “on site” teams to be able to give clients the assurance of service, and to demonstrate capabilities.

As digital transformation starts with customer facing processes, the software underlying these programmes tends to be design-led. A capability that fundamentally does not exist in the engineer-dominated industry which failed to see the wave coming, and steadfastly ignored all leading indicators till it was too late. Now, it is collectively scrambling to buy this capability, often at premium prices and with post-acquisition integration challenges such as salesforce integration and enablement, cultural fits and margin dilution issues.

Finally, engaging clients on digital transformation initiatives demands depth of end-user industry knowledge and consulting capability which is rare: to partner with a bank on retail banking customer transformation programmes, for example, demands a depth of understanding of retail banking processes, customer preferences, channel migration issues and digital marketing disciplines which even the largest organisations find themselves challenged with. Consulting and domain teams are being invested in to overcome this challenge. Tuck in acquisitions buttress existing capability.

All in all, digital transformation programmes remain a challenging business for the industry to dominate. It has ceded ground to the likes of Accenture, Razorfish and others who are significantly outperforming the industry from a growth performance perspective.

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How to handle angry clients in a digital agency?

One of the key reasons why clients hate modern day digital agency is due to poor quality customer servicing.

Very seldom you would find a digital agency who has a strong account management team at their disposal. Not that they are ignorant about the importance of an account manager, but sometimes they just choose to ignore it.

In my personal experience, most of the business I’ve won or retained is due to the quality of servicing I provided to my client at each and every stage of their business.

A powerful account manager can literally become the match winner for any business. He can navigate the client’s business out of rough waters and most importantly become a powerful bridge between the agency and the client.

One thing which most of the agencies forget is that Advertising is part of service industry and your service quality is the only differentiator between you and your next door competitor who is anxiously waiting for you to fuck up. Even the best of the agencies can’t take their business for granted.

There is no doubt that to handle angry clients is an art. I myself have gone through hundreds of tough client calls & meetings where things could have gone out of control within a matter of minutes but I kept my patience and came out victorious.

Vendors (ad agencies) cannot afford to allow client servicing team sit on the back seat forever. Client servicing needs to take the driver’s seat right away without much delay. A client servicing strategy for any agency or publisher means nothing but a customer focused strategy. The time has come when each business owners must re-look at their business priorities.

It is important to first acknowledge the fact that you are not just in the technology business or agency business or content business but you are in servicing business.

After all these years, I firmly belief that not just the digital agency but any business lose their clients due to poor account management.



How to write client proposals in a digital agency?

If you are new to digital sales, its an uphill task for you to come into the groove straight away and start getting revenue for the company from day 1.

However, you can certainly build an intent to make a difference to your pipeline by calibrating your digital agency proposals or RFPs by keeping into consideration the below points:

Product Relevance

First, and the foremost question you must try and answer for the client is why your product relevant for the brand in achieving their most critical brand marketing objectives (both strategic & tactical). So whether it is expanding the brand reach in an exclusive territory like a particular ethnic group/ community or it is driving a strong engagement amongst a niche audience across different geographies. Remember, in any case, how you will target the brand’s core audience will remains a key focus.


Second, explain how your product/offering brings any strategic leverage for the brand. In simple terms, does it allow the brand to venture out and experiment or play with their current brand messaging in a more innovative way? If your proposal is also offering run of the mill solution to the brand, chances are that your sales person would end up standing in the long queue outside with other vendors.

Domain Experience

Third, what’s your relevant experience in the domain? Not all clients but certainly the high spenders like to work with selected vendors whom they believe have the technical prowess & proven expertise to deal with any future troubleshooting situation, especially when there is serious money at stake. If you position yourself as somebody who can just do the job well by offering competitive pricing, the person on the other side of the table ain’t gonna take you seriously. Agency planners need to see the WOW factor in your proposals every time and nothing better than offering them relevant case studies examples of their client’s competition. So next time, make sure you beef up your proposals with certain strong case study examples.

Understanding of Brand Objectives

Fourth,  have you understood the long term objectives of the brand? For instance, if the brand is launching itself in different geographies, it would expect its partners to bring key market insights on the table to allow him to take future decisions about the brand positioning vis-a-vis the competition.

Vision for Scalability

Fifth, is your approach scalable in future? Interestingly, very rarely I’ve seen this approach in vendor proposals where they talk about how they will span out a strategy which will evolve in the long run and would benefit the brand by offering scalable solution. More often than not most of the people offer a short sighted approach which may or may not give long term returns to the brand. For instance, a lead generation strategy should also come with future customer engagement plan for better customer acquisition.

Digital Agency vs Digital PR Agency

Digital PR agencies are in the business of creating content for a long time through which they can offer lot more value to the brand in a socially dominated digital ecosystem.

As a matter of fact, PR is perhaps much better placed compared to any other player to build digital brands as they are closest to the process of influencing audiences.

Public relations companies could well change how social media is looked at in 2015. Considering digital is the core focus of all offline content providers & news publications, PR can play a huge role as the content curator for their respective clients and help them in monitor & eventually dominate social media landscape.

How to hire digital marketing agency in India?

In a continuously evolving media environment, where on one side, the opportunity to market your brand has increased due to increase in the number of communication platforms, it has also added to the list of problems for any brand/ marketing manager of choosing multiple vendors for diverse requirements like online media, offline media, BTL, creative, CRM. Technology, PR etc.

Unlike the west where most of the clients believe in having specialized units for every task, Indian clients want a one stop solution, which is sometimes not a good idea.

Though most of the big traditional media companies claim that they have the expertise for end-to-end solutions, often that is not the case. A client should be wise enough to figure that out during the pitch process. (Also read : Decoding Digital DNA, A Strategic Perspective for PR Agencies in India )

A lot of agencies outsource their operations to small vendors and that’s quite regular in our industry but the fact remains that this increases the turnaround time & even results in poor quality due to miscommunication between various agencies & vendors. This is one of the reasons why a client should go for specialists (even specialised consultants who can reduce their pain points and build a smooth process driven marketing approach would be a good idea)

No single agency can provide all the specialised services with highest efficiency & quality. In fact, if the agency can focus on their core specialty, they would be in a much better position to get more business compared to ever so growing number of studio agencies.

6 points all clients must look at if they wish to give their business to any single digital marketing agency in India:

1. Objective : Has the agency been able to interpret the client’s objective clearly? Often agency is too busy selling what they want to sell and forget the client’s core purpose of advertising.

2. Process Understanding: Does the agency understand the business processes of the sector? This is very important as they need to be aware of the purchase life cycle of the products and the existing sales process which will help them craft their engagement campaigns for the brand more strategically.

3. Money Saving: Is the agency interested in saving client’s money in any form, either by improving their business processes internally  or by saving costs through their media planning abilities ( not buying or not even lowering their commissions because that is negligible cost saving ). Has the agency demonstrated any such cost saving measures in the past for any other client.

4. Core Expertise: Client should upfront ask the agency about their core expertise and see the work only in that domain. Though an agency might showcase their credentials across range of services but client should see the crux on day 1 itself.

5. Vision: An agency should also demonstrate their next 4-5 years vision for the client in the digital space keeping an eye on the technology, market & consumer insights which is critical for any brand.

6. Customer & Market Understanding: An agency should also bring their market intelligence by doing a thorough research on the product &/or category so that they have a clear  understanding of their final goal of getting the right audience through right communication & channel.

7. Mobile Understanding: Considering Mobile devices would soon outgrow the digital medium, which means that every agency needs to build a road map for the brand’s digital assets transition from online to mobile. Does the agency have those resources who can think about creating a separate Mobile Experience for brand’s audience?

I believe this would help any client to understand if the agency can handle their brand in the digital environment or not. If the client is not convinced then I think they should definitely look at the option of hiring various independent specialists for the job.

6 ways to turn your Client Servicing team into a ‘Gladiator’

Is client servicing really the most thankless job in advertising? Is he actually the un-official postman in the team? To a lot of senior marketing chaps, client servicing is the “slumdog” who would never become a millionaire. May be they are right, after all what value does a client servicing adding to the whole process other than behaving as the courier boy between the creative/ media & the client. Though in some cases it may not be true, there are agencies where a CS guy is double hatting as planner as well. But, often he/she is looked upon as the punching bag between the creative & the client.

9 years ago, I started my career as a client servicing professional in the super mad world of digital advertising. To me, client servicing was never a dull job. My day was full of action,  meeting clients in the morning, decoding briefs & de-briefing the creative in the afternoon, meeting publishers by evening & submitting the plans by night. In the middle of this madness, there was hardly any time to think about the other side of client servicing.

Anyways, things have changed, though most of the people who are not creative enough & certainly not an MBA either, they start their career with CS but no longer it is an aspired job profile. Most of the recruiters glorify the hidden dumbness of the client servicing role. But to be honest, none of this is adding any value to the agency or the client.

Can we really add a bit of spice to the life of client servicing person so that he starts looking at the most mundane job in an altogether different fashion?

The answer is Yes.

Here are some of the possible ways in which a client servicing person would be more than just a brick in the wall.

Change his job description

Do not call him a servicing person, sometimes it feels like “I’m a waiter” and serving you food. This is something which needs to be adopted across industry i.e. client servicing should be replaced by client advisor which would bring a sense of pride in his work and rather than assuming that he is just a dumb resource in the company, he would start using his logical side of the brain a lot more often.

Build ownership

Client should always know that his single point of contact is his client servicing person, the more he trusts the CS, the better it is. More than just a feeling of getting things done for the account, there is a sense of ownership at work that a CS would start to develop. Initially, most of the Account managers are born lazy, unless you build a sense of purpose to their work, you would never be able to get the best out of them.

Reward them

Lets accept it, there is no better way to make someone stand up and take responsibility than acknowledging his work by way of monetary reward. I understand the concern of the Agency that the CS is not a profit function ( read next point ), but there is no harm in rewarding their performance by giving them gifts during their appraisal.

Pre-Sales support

I can bet, this is something which 95% of the agencies ( online or offline ) have not thought of properly. Think of it this way, an agency is nothing more than its intellectual capital and you need hands to create it. Once you start grooming them like presales, over a period of time, they would get the larger picture of agency business and can contribute to the revenue directly. As a function, presales is unexplored in the digital domain, which in my opinion should form one of the most critical functions since digital demands constant knowledge upgrade & research. Everything is changing so fast around you, that your business & creative team won’t be able to keep a track of it. Client servicing should actually fill this gap by providing market insights during pitches and keeping track of the trends & competition.

Make them socialize

‘How many agencies spend dedicated time on their own social campaign? I mean the solution which you are desperately selling to your clients, you haven’t even done 1% of that for yourself. Strange!

How about making the client servicing team the official brand ambassadors for the agency and make them spread your name wide in the social sphere. A part of their job should focus on building compelling case studies of the agency’s recent work ( in association with the creative & business teams ) and spread it like wild fire on social media. It is a great learning for the servicing person that would teach him lessons in branding & communications & beneficial for the agency in terms of generating fresh leads & prospects.