Digital and creative agency challenges and growth drivers for 2018 [Part 1 of 2]

David Linder

MSc in Marketing from the University of Salford. Facebook Certified Planning Professional Facebook Certified Buying Professional
10 min read

Interviews with eleven agencies of varied sizes on their profitability and growth drivers for 2018 [Part 1 of 2]

Agency growth isn’t optional. In fact, many featured in this post affirm; it’s essential for survival. Common questions which are all considerations to factor into an agency’s strategic plan include choosing where to focus; where to allocate resource; where to find and win new clients; how to retain existing clients, along with developing agency talent and a whole host of other pain points.

Since many of our members work in agencies and grapple with these questions, we thought it would be useful to review how different agencies seek to answer them. So, in this article, we share the views of owners and managers at 11 digital and creative agencies in the UK and abroad who share their challenges and agency growth drivers for 2018. 

For more detailed advice, see our Agency Growth and Management Toolkit.


A New Kind of Kick

Agency focus

We are a brand perception agency that focuses on providing creative direction and brand strategy to businesses and brands. Sometimes we will be working on a reframing exercise and sometimes it can be a complete rebrand, but either way, we help breathe new life into businesses and brands.

Quite often we can also be creating a complete new concept for a business who want to have an aspirational image from day one. Our recipe is the same with either approach, as we firmly believe that there is no future without a story. We help write this with you.

Agency size

We are a four-person agency, with two partners. Our extended team is vast and covers all disciplines in branding. From research and strategy, through to digital and print execution.

Agency location

Our studio is in London, and our client-base is both national and international.

Current challenges

As with any agency we face some regular challenges, that we both expect, and plan for. Political uncertainty, managing and maintaining growth, talent, differentiation and of course keeping ahead of the game.

Growth drivers

One of our key growth drivers is the introduction of new professional sectors. Having built our reputation working closely with a portfolio of fashion brands, we are now working in sectors such as film and television, food and beverage, home interior and the communications and technology industry.

Co-Founder of Brand Perception Agency A New Kind of Kick

Director bio

Paul Young, co-founder of ANKOK. A New Kind Of Kick started in 2014, which I formed along with my friend and creative partner Ross. We have been friends since high school and even studied in visual communication together. We both started out in advertising as a creative team, but I took a detour pretty quickly and found myself in the fashion industry, working with a number of large menswear brands such as G Star and Filson and also creating a number of denim/streetwear brands along the way. This meant that I gained some vital commercial experience, as well as creative. Ross remained in advertising as a Design Director, working with a vast portfolio of global brands such as Land Rover and The Tate. We always collaborated where we could, which naturally lead to the creation of A New Kind of Kick. By this point, our professional skills were in complete synergy, so as a team we were more in harmony than ever. As a result, we take a very strategic approach to our creative and commercial direction, which means amazing work for amazing clients.


Dakota Digital

Agency focus

We are a 360 digital marketing agency but we act as a hybrid agency due to also having a specialism in content creation. We designed the agency this way so that instead of acting simply as consultants and marketing channel managers, we are also able to deliver against the very foundation of what is required to power any brand or campaign, content supporting their identity. So few marketing agencies are able to deliver against content production needs, which in a modern day digital consumer world is a crucial piece of the puzzle. It is this unique add-on to our offering which most often sets us apart from our competition.

We also offer content creation and provision as a varied stand-alone service so we do have clients that use us for content and PR only.

Agency size

The agency is around 10 employees at present, supplemented with contracted freelancers that we have a long-standing relationship with. Opening ourselves up to using trusted freelancers is a big part of the growth plans that lay ahead for us. So long as you are selective and have the means to manage this kind of structure, freelance and remote-worker options have given us access to a far greater pool of superb talent. Though we have learned the hard way that you need to be extremely selective with your choice of individuals here.

Agency location

Dakota Digital’s HQ is based in Mansfield/Nottinghamshire but we also have a Director base close to London in St Albans. Despite this, we serve a global client base with a particularly strong connection to the US and UAE.

Current challenges

The ongoing major challenges for us as a growing agency has been the procurement of top talent. Particularly with entry-level roles in which we’ve found that many of the clichés associated with the late millennial workforce are true. As suggested previously we’re combating this by opening ourselves up to using contracted freelancers and recruiting for positions which allow for 100% remote working. This has allowed us to consider talent from around the nation and even from the US in some cases in order to fill the role with the right person for the job, regardless of their physical location.

Growth drivers

Our growth drivers in 2018 include a first and foremost push to increase our headcount with the right kind of talent. Particularly in the content creation part of the team.

As we’re spending more time promoting the agency now and productising our services in a more accessible way, we are pushing hard to ensure we have the bandwidth to cater for our next round of growth and campaign to add more, increasingly challenging clients.

We have also been sitting on a specialism which is that we have a wealth of knowledge, experience and connections to the Health & Fitness sector. I feel it’s vital particularly for boutique agencies to have a niche and a focus.

While at present we are strong all-rounders, we shine particularly in Health & Fitness sector and have a wealth of exceptional clients and success stories in the vertical to show for it. As such we’ll be looking to build on our existing experience here and create an offering for health and fitness specific marketing and content production.

From what we’ve seen, brands and businesses are crying out for genuine expertise in their area and to work with an agency partner who truly understands their business, their audience and their challenges. As such we will be building a specifically tailored offering for this industry. Perhaps in the form of a new agency structure supporting a dedicated industry team.

I myself am a long-term ex WPP (Mindshare) and Omnicom (OMD) head of Digital & Strategy, and as such have seen the last 12 years of agency trends develop.

Image of Chris Woods at Dakota Digital

Director bio

Chris Woods is a digital marketer and brand strategist. He has over 11 years’ experience growing brands online and helping them better connect with their audience. As well as an author and contributor across the digital and consumer trends space, he is also a Director & Head of Strategy at Dakota Digital.


The SEO Works

Agency focus

We’re a specialist search agency, offering organic search optimisation services, paid search services, and paid social services. Our mission is to get our clients more customers online.

Agency size

35 staff

Agency location

We’re based in Sheffield, London and Leeds (UK)

Current challenges

Given the growth in mobile, the change in paid ad positioning, the increase of voice queries, and changes to “map” local listings, the SERP (search engine result pages) experience continues to change significantly. To combat this we launched an innovative “Local Search Ballistics” product aimed at local businesses who were seeing less and less benefit from the traditional organic listings.

Paid social, real-time bidding and video is now also a significant opportunity for brands, so we have increased our skills in these areas.

At the rate of growth we are experiencing, a large challenge is ensuring we have the right management skills in place to scale and continue to grow successfully. We have faced this challenge by investing in our people and developing their management and leadership skills.

We have undertaken a process of learning and development, working with Professor Richard Field OBE and the Institute of Leadership & Management (ILM) to build a coherent strategy, mission and vision, and ensure our management team have professional qualifications in leadership, coaching and management.

We also see increased competition from smaller start-up agencies. We have faced this challenge by aiming strategically for industry recognition, by looking for speaking opportunities, networking, and relevant awards ceremonies. To do this we needed to demonstrate the quality of our work by putting together case studies based on evidence and giving strategic focus to awards and PR opportunities.

Growth drivers

Our growth drivers are all about integration of services, automation, and cross-channel attribution. The digital market in the UK is still growing – it was worth £8BN in 2016, and grew to £10BN in 2017, so there are still huge opportunities.

As we grow, and the online market evolves, it’s clear that one marketing channel isn’t the most optimal approach for most businesses. Increasingly clients are looking for trusted partners who can deliver a coherent campaign across all of the channels where their potential customers are.

We’ve evolved with this developing complementary services, bolstering our paid advertising team with skill sets to deliver integrated campaigns. We’ve also developed automation technology that takes big data and historical data from campaigns, to further refine campaign performance over time.

Our proprietary “BidBrain” machine learning technology has delivered up to 30% more performance from client campaigns.

Image of Ben Foster from SEO Works

Director bio

Ben Foster is Managing Director of The SEO Works, a multiple award-winning digital agency who have been helping businesses grow online for over ten years. They have a wealth of experience creating digital strategies that help businesses measure, understand and maximise their online potential.


We are Boutique

Agency focus

We help clients find, engage, convert and retain customers across paid, owned and earned media through our core disciplines in media, digital and PR.

Agency size

17

Agency location

Leeds, United Kingdom

Current challenges

Competition and talent.

Competition – lower quality offerings, driving down market rates and the continuing over-supply in the market

Talent – Increasing competition for specialised skill sets agency-side

Growth drivers

Outbound to core targets, agency partnerships and events.

We Are Boutique have always sought out and fostered meaningful agency partnerships. For example, some of our best work comes from partnering with expert creative agencies, to help them deliver the messages they craft to the right audiences, at the right times for shared clients.

Adam Bell from We are Boutique

Director bio

Adam Bell is the Head of Digital at We are Boutique. His role is to help companies navigate the increasingly complex, ‘Digital’ landscape; empowering them to create meaningful customer experiences, at every touchpoint.


Rooster Marketing

Agency focus

We’re a full-service marketing agency, delivering all services in-house. Our speciality is ensuring our clients benefit from an integrated marketing strategy which is effective and consistent across all channels, from the branding and website, through to content marketing and SEO.

Agency size

21 team members

Agency Location

Winchester, Hampshire

Current challenges

Our biggest challenge is managing rapid growth. We’re pleased to be securing not only new clients, but also extremely large projects. These large projects will often involve several members of staff at the same time.

As well as hiring new starters, we’ve had to streamline our work processes to ensure we deliver on time, with the same quality our clients know and keep coming back for.

Growth drivers

Our biggest growth driver this year has resulted from an increased commitment and investment in experienced new team members – this is, in turn, bringing us more work from the other agencies they are coming from.

Often, experienced team members are leaving for a good reason, for example, the existing agency is selling the business, or are no longer offering particular services.

It’s also important to recognise that you can work together with other agencies to support growth – we’ve secured new business from agencies that don’t specialise in areas we do and we’ll in-turn refer clients to agencies that can fulfil a project that we can’t.

Image of Chris Tyler Smith Founder of Rooster

Director bio

Chris Tyler Smith was one of the 3 founding partners of Rooster Digital in 2010. Since its beginnings, he has helped Rooster grow into the highly successful full-service agency that it is today. Chris prides himself on his ability to see digital in relation to a business’s core objectives.


Powerphrase

Agency focus

At Powerphrase we specialize in Web design, SEO, PPC & Social Media Marketing.  We’ve been doing it since 2003.

Agency size

13 people

Agency location

We are located in Southern California, United States. We also have a team in Bangalore, India.

Current challenges

The main challenge we have is ranking for our organic keywords regarding our services and obtaining new clients. Because our SERP rankings are always fluctuating, it’s been hard getting any new clientele. We get a few queries here and there but not as much as we want. Obtaining consistent traffic is tough.

Growth drivers

Some of our growth drivers for 2018 are PPC, Social media & SEO marketing. These are our main growth channels to drive traffic to our site. We rank pretty well for our marketing services but for Web design, it’s very tough as its very competitive.

We focus on PPC on our tougher keywords and social media is more for brand awareness for us. We are getting followers and traffic from it. We also sometimes use Bark to obtain clients.

Our main growth drivers are paid advertising such as Google Adwords, Social media management, and SEO.

Newaz Chowdhury is the CEO and Founder of Powerphrase

Director bio

Newaz Chowdhury is the CEO and Founder of Powerphrase.

 


To be continued…

David Linder

MSc in Marketing from the University of Salford. Facebook Certified Planning Professional Facebook Certified Buying Professional

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