By Adria Saracino published September 10, 2012

Why Hybrid Marketing Agencies Rule the Consulting World (and How to Prepare Your Agency for Domination)

Six. That’s how many types of agencies exist in the consulting realm, explained Paul Roetzer of PR 20/20 during his session at Content Marketing World, “Building and Growing Your Content Marketing Agency and Consulting Practice,” which was based on his book, “The Marketing Agency Blueprint.”

Of all the players in the above agency ecosystem, one is destined to prevail: the disruptor.

The disruptor shakes up the industry, approaching consulting differently and threatening the well-being of the other types of agencies outlined above. Roetzer dubbed these disruptors the hybrids — agencies that are agile and quick to offer integrated marketing campaigns with the end goal of bringing in more revenue for their clients. No tactics, no shortcuts. Just results.

These hybrid disruptors are changing the consulting landscape. The question is, are you in or are you out? Here, I’ll break down the takeaways from Roetzer’s session, outlining what makes up a hybrid agency and how you can set your firm up for disruptive success.

The opportunity that is a hybrid agency

Large marketing agencies are slow-moving beasts. They are in too deep to change their internal structure into one that allows them to be agile enough to respond to an ever-changing online marketing industry.

Large firms will never be hybrid agencies. So how do they respond? They buy up smaller digital agencies in order to meet the needs of their clients. They buy their way into being hybrid, and that, my friend, could be an opportunity for you in and of itself.

But say you want to fend for yourself and dominate the hybrid agency scene. How could you possibly succeed in a burgeoning industry with intense competition?

The truth is, most smaller agencies that are primed to become hybrids don’t want to change. They are led by people who just want to get by; who are content with the 9-to-5 lifestyle. They don’t have the skin to be progressive; meaning, the hybrid agency landscape isn’t as competitive as you would think.

What makes a hybrid agency?

Hybrid agencies can be broken down into seven basic characteristics:

1. They’re more tech savvy. Digital is engrained in their DNA. Hybrid agencies are made up of tech enthusiasts who have their finger on the pulse of a constantly changing industry. They are quick to test new products, tools, and processes in order to be more efficient. In order to consistently be on the cutting edge, they almost always apply the agile marketing methodology to their work flow. They move fast, leaving those that can’t keep up in their dust.

2. They offer integrated services. Hybrids don’t do one-off projects or short cuts. They remove silos that exist among SEO, content marketing, PR, and social media in order to deliver the whole package to clients. And I’m not talking sporadic campaigns around each of these specialties — they develop long-term strategic plans to overhaul their clients’ marketing departments and ensure that they are seeing results where it matters: leads, revenue, and cost savings. They think like the end user and don’t get caught up in the minutia of social shares or links, because at the end of they day they understand revenue-changing conversions are the only movements that matter.

3. They have versatile talents. Hybrid agencies understand they are only as good as the sum of their parts. Employees are their No. 1 assets, and they make sure to build an expert team that can deliver integrated campaigns. And if they don’t have the capacity to offer a certain type of service, they will partner with relevant agencies that can. They believe in integrated service to the core and won’t stop delivering just because of a lack of resources.

4. They ensure diversified revenue. Why do they preach integrated services so much? First, they believe it’s the right thing to do. Second, they understand it allows for multiple revenue channels. Hybrids believe no company should rely on only one source of revenue. They build internal teams that bring in different types of projects, and they all work together in order to deliver the full package to clients. They believe this so much that they make sure no new client is more than 20 percent of revenue because if the client leaves, the hybrids know they will have to fire employees. And they won’t jeopardize their No. 1 asset.

5. They are committed to clients. Just as they are committed to their employees, hybrid agencies are fiercely committed to their clients. They understand that loyal clients lead to higher retention rates, greater profit margins, more predictable cash flow, and stronger referrals. Thus, they do everything in their power to ensure they gain their clients’ trust. They are in the business of long-term relationships with clients and truly affecting change… not just making the monies via a revolving door of in-and-out clients.

6. They live and breathe an entrepreneurial culture. Hybrid agencies live by the tenet, case studies are rarely written about conservative companies. As such, they create a culture that fails fast because they understand someone or something will eventually disrupt their agency… might as well be them. They also know fear of failure trickles down to employees and into client campaigns, so they make it safe for employees to be innovative. They build an environment that cultivates their No. 1 asset, giving employees the freedom to make decisions and take ownership of projects.

7. They are strategists, not tacticians. Hybrids won’t take on clients looking for tacticians hell bent on delivering quick win schemes. They take themselves seriously as strategists and won’t tolerate clients who request anything less. Even when under pressure, hybrids stay true to being consultants, and can steer a client into the right direction with finesse. And at the end of the day, the client respects them for it.

Oh, and RFPs? Hybrids won’t touch ’em. They understand the ability to develop strategy is their greatest asset (behind the employees who develop them). Why would they give it away for free? They take being strategists seriously and expect their clients to do the same.

How can you become a hybrid agency?

Besides embodying the seven characteristics outlined above, there are some actions you can take in order to develop a hybrid agency’s core competencies.

Move away from an hourly payment structure. Billable hours are tied to outputs, not outcomes. Marketers are multi-taskers at heart, and distractions lead to higher costs and lower quality. Clients paying on an hourly scale are paying for your team’s inefficiencies. For example, one person takes 3 hours to do a press release, another person 7 hours. If both are of equal quality, why is the client paying for that inconsistency in your workforce? By being transparent and eating costs where appropriate, you will build trust and retain clients.

… But don’t lose efficiency measurements internally. However, working in “billable hours” internally is useful as a way to make sure no client project gets left behind. By having employees log time, you’ll be able to make sure your team is working as efficiently as possible to make sure you don’t overwork a project.

Make your agency a career destination, not a stepping stone. Remember, employees are hybrids’ No. 1 assets. As such, hire on the right candidates and constantly focus on retention, honing each of their skills and giving them room to grow. When hiring, you want to hire A-players who are hybrid workers themselves. The important traits of a winning hire are:

  • Analytical
  • Creative
  • Instrinsically motivated
  • Listener
  • Web and tech savvy (or incessantly curious)
  • Strategic
  • A team player
  • A writer

“Writer” is bolded above because it’s the most important hard skill for a new hire to have. Think about it: Most of what we do comes down to copywriting. From writing copy for social media campaigns and promotional emails to developing client reports, writing is one skill that creeps into every task a content marketer will encounter. Since good writing skills are developed after years of practice, look for writers (journalists? Even better!) because you can always teach marketing.

Revise what you report to clients — talk in their terms, not yours. Stop reporting on outputs and concentrate on outcomes. At the end of the day, your client needs to prove conversions. This includes metrics like total leads, cost per lead, and sales. Particularly if your point of contact needs to report to a CMO, give him something he can bring back to his boss.

So stop reporting on minutia like links or rankings and take your measurements all the way through your clients’ sales funnels. It will build trust and make sure your agency is taken seriously as strategists.

At the end of the day, hybrid agencies are the consulting firms of the future. If you’re in the position to develop into a hybrid agency, do so now in order to set your firm up for sustainable success. And if you’re not, best start asking yourself why and figure out a way to become one or acquire one fast.

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Author: Adria Saracino

Adria is the Head of Outreach at a creative internet marketing agency. When not connecting with interesting people on the web, you can find her writing about style at her personal fashion blog The Emerald Closet. Follow her on Twitter @adriasaracino and stay in touch.

Other posts by Adria Saracino

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