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Agencies succeed through consistency and evolution

When Gini shared in a recent episode that her success has come from doing the same thing for 15 years, a listener pointed out that she has continued to evolve.

The two are not mutually exclusive. In fact, the best agencies usually combine the two.

Rather than chasing trends, successful agencies consistently produce excellent results for a well-defined set of clients.

At the same time, these high-performing agencies continue to evolve and adapt as tools and techniques change.

In this episode, Chip and Gini elaborate on how to blend the two effectively — and pitfalls to avoid.

Key takeaways

  • Chip Griffin: “Some revolutions work. Many fail spectacularly. So, evolve instead.”
  • Gini Dietrich: “Do it on your own dime, figure out what works and what doesn’t, and then launch it to clients later.”
  • Chip Griffin: “The most important time to be consistent is when you’re struggling to generate business as an agency.”
  • Gini Dietrich: “These are the kinds of things that you should be testing, not saying let’s put all our eggs into this basket and go for it.”

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The following is a computer-generated transcript. Please listen to the audio to confirm accuracy.

Chip Griffin: Hello and welcome to another episode of the Agency Leadership Podcast. I’m Chip Griffin.

Gini Dietrich: And I’m Gini Dietrich.

Chip Griffin: Gini, I think we’re just going to do the same thing every episode. So we’ll just, we’ll say the same words over and over and over again.

Gini Dietrich: So easy. Perfect.

Chip Griffin: Right after this.

I mean, then we could, we could turn this into a daily podcast. If we just record ourselves once and just play it in a loop. I mean, we could come out every hour on the hour.

Gini Dietrich: I love it. Let’s do it.

Chip Griffin: Be like some of those awful TV commercials on cable news that just seem to run forever and ever and ever. No, I guess we probably shouldn’t do that.

And as an agency, you ought to continue to evolve and not do the same thing over and over again. But I wanted to pick up on something that we talked about in a recent episode. I can’t remember now whether it was the last episode because they all blur together. I think it might have been the last episode, but it was a recent episode.

Yeah. And, and one of the things that you said as part of that episode was that part of the reason why you have been successful is because you’ve been doing the same thing for 15 years. And I think we want to a clarify that you didn’t mean do the exact same thing over and over again for 15 years, but I think it is also helpful for us to look at the difference between evolving – which I think is important and chasing shiny objects, which is really what we were discouraging folks from doing in part in that last discussion where we, you know, we talked about, you know, the problem of being a Clubhouse agency or a cannabis agency or any of these other things that, that have come and gone over the years.

And so, so how do you figure out how to evolve appropriately and, and have enough consistency that people know what to expect. from Arment Dietrich, but still keep up with the times.

Gini Dietrich: Yeah, so I will clarify first and that is we have always been a communications firm and in the last 15 years, we have continued to be a communications firm.

We haven’t been a social media agency. We haven’t been a content marketing agency, even though I love content marketing and we haven’t become a search engine marketing agency. We, we have always been a communications firm. We have added in the things that make sense as we’ve evolved. And during that time, I wrote two books, I went on a speaking tour, I launched the PESO model, I launched into undergrad programs at nearly every university in the country.

Like, there are things that we have done to evolve the work that we do and to get better and become better experts, but we’ve always been a communications agency. Are we PESO model led agency for communication? Yes. That’s because that’s the way that I have evolved in my agency and then introduced it to the industry.

But my point was that we didn’t, we didn’t say, okay, well, now we’re going to be a social media agency, and now we’re going to be a TikTok agency, and now we’re going to be a Clubhouse agency, and now we’re going to be an AI agency. We’re a communications firm, and we add those things in as appropriate.

Chip Griffin: Right, and I think that’s, that’s vitally important, because you have absolutely evolved with the times. The tactics and techniques that you’re using today are not the same ones that you were using back in 2010 for example. There’s a lot of things that have come along between now and then. I mean, back then you didn’t have this phenomenally successful podcast called the Agency Leadership Podcast either.

Gini Dietrich: For instance.

Chip Griffin: I mean, so, and I, I, I think that’s probably the root of all of your current success. Right.

Gini Dietrich: I’m sure it is. That’s what I point all of it to.

Chip Griffin: Excellent. Excellent. But you know, I think that, that it’s understanding who you serve and understanding how you serve them that needs to remain as consistent as possible. Tweaks around the edges. But then how you do that needs to evolve with where your clients are, where their audiences are, their targets. And it’s not we all need to keep up with with what’s going on out there.

But we need to be careful that we are not getting so far out ahead of our clients and their audiences as communicators that we’re now playing in a sandbox that is so tiny that it’s not going to benefit our actual clients. Because they care about their results today. They don’t, they’re not really focused on the fact that, you know, maybe in five years, their clients will be doing X, Y, or Z that they want to know where they are today and how we can help them.

Gini Dietrich: That’s right. And I, you know, you said this in the last episode too, and you just repeated it now, but I think it’s, it’s worth repeating, which is who is your client and how do you service them? So you, your, your client, let’s say your client is a $10 million business that focuses on wellness and beauty.

You, the tactics that you use to help them are going, should remain the same so that you can get, become an expert at it, and then you bring in artificial intelligence or you bring in different social media, or you bring in whatever the new shiny penny is, if it’s appropriate to help them get their results, but not focus solely on that.

Chip Griffin: Right. And, and part of it too is looking at, at what is no longer working or no longer working as well. Sure. And so this is where, if you are a media relations focused agency, you need to be looking at other things. If you aren’t already, you need to be looking at other things to bring into the mix because media relations is becoming more difficult.

There’s a lot fewer journalists out there to actually pitch on stuff. And, you know, a lot of what you’re getting out there doesn’t have the same level of impact today as it did 10, 20 years ago. And so you need to be thinking about how do you weave in more of the paid, shared, owned, all those aspects of the PESO model and frankly other stuff, right?

I mean, how can you do other things that help your clients to meet their goals and are adjacent to what you’re doing already, right? I always encourage you, if you’re going to expand your set of services, and I think we had an episode about this a long time ago, but if you’re going to expand the services that you’re providing, keep them at initially as adjacent to things you’re already offering rather than starting something that’s completely disconnected, right? Because that’s where you’re more likely to have success because what you’re doing is an incremental change. So it’s, it’s easier on you. It’s easier on your team. It’s easier on your clients.

If you all of a sudden go off in a wildly different direction. That’s where it becomes much more challenging. So, you know, if you’re a media relations agency, I, you know, you might not start with, I don’t know, putting on major conferences and running events as your, you know, as your additional service, you may want to, if you’re going to go down the events route, go something smaller, start with webinars, then, you know, maybe move to small in person events, things that are more akin to what you’ve already been providing to your clients and that your team is experienced with, because that’s how you can evolve as opposed to just chasing those shiny objects.

Gini Dietrich: Yeah. And to, to continue to use that example, if you’re a media relations agency and you want to add in content marketing, then one of the things that’s easy to do is to add on contributed content. So now you’re still using your earned media chops and you’re using your owned media chops because you’re, you’re probably going to have to produce that content for the client once you, you place it.

So now you can add that on. You can add on podcast pitching. Like there are other things that you can add on that are ancillary to the business that you already have to help you grow into those areas without saying okay Now we’re a content marketing agency. Let us write all your content for you

Chip Griffin: Right and evolving one step at a time is helpful too, right?

So if you want to go down that content marketing path starting with contributed content and not saying we’re going to do contributed content and we’re going to do blogs and we’re going to do You know online magazines and we’re gonna do podcasts and we’re gonna do video and we’re gonna do all these things all at once. All right Pick incremental steps because that way you can start implementing it.

You can test it. You can see how it works with your own processes as an agency. You can see how it produces results for clients. You can see how you can generate profits and how to price it correctly. If you do all of those things, you’re putting yourself in a much better position to continue that evolution as opposed to trying to turn it into some sudden revolution that may or may not work, right?

I mean, some revolutions work. Right. Many fail spectacularly. So evolve instead.

Gini Dietrich: Yeah. And one of the things that we always do is we, do the work on ourselves first. So, you know, when blogging became, it was starting to like hit the main waves, we launched Spin Sucks. It was terrible. It was horrible. But, because we did it on ourselves first and we figured out what was going to make it less terrible and actually work, then we were able to launch it to clients because we already understood how it worked, what worked well, what didn’t work well, what you needed to include, how to use it for, you know, certain different kinds of results.

We already knew that by the time we launched it to clients because we had tested it on ourselves first. So that’s a way to do it too versus instead of saying, well, We’re going to add all this stuff on for services so that we can grow our clients and then failing spectacularly because in a lot of cases you’ll fail.

And you don’t want to do that on the client’s dime, so do it on your own dime, figure out what works and what doesn’t, and then launch it to clients later.

Chip Griffin: Right, and you’ll push the envelope a lot more effectively if, if you know that you have that safety net of it’s, it’s just your own stuff that’s being risked.

Yep, yep, absolutely, yes. Right, and, and frankly most of the things that, that we would experiment with are not going to be completely destructive to the agency. They may fail. But that’s different from causing any actual lasting damage and, and the vast majority, I mean, unless you’re going out and doing something truly nutty, in which case you probably have a larger problem than the suite of services you’re offering, you’re probably going to be okay.

And so if you treat yourself as your best test subject, you will be able to learn these things. And oh, by the way, you’ll actually probably end up helping the agency in the process. Because as you perfect it you will be able to help attract more good clients. You will be able to produce better results for clients.

So all of the things that you will achieve by testing things on yourself will carry the ball forward more effectively than, you know, almost anything else you can do. And certainly more than just chasing that latest trend that you read about in, in PR Week, or you saw on someone’s blog post, or you heard about on a podcast or that, you know, Gini talked about in her latest talk. You know, those, those are all things to absorb and think about.

They’re not necessarily things that you need to throw out what you’re doing today and pursue.

Gini Dietrich: Yeah. And you know, it’s funny because I did a recent Spin Sucks podcast episode on the idea that, that digital agencies are dying, which was the topic of ours. And I referred back to this, this podcast, of course, but I took a little bit different slant on it.

And I said, Here are some things you should be thinking about. And, you know, from an artificial intelligence perspective, Open AI just launched ChatGPT, their store. and you can also create your own GPT to personalize and do that things with clients. And a girlfriend texted me and was like, well, wait, what, what?

And like got all absorbed in the fact that she could. Create GPT products that she could then sell the clients. And I was like, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. Test it. Figure out what works, what doesn’t, how you might use it with clients. But I’m not telling you to go into the store and create something and then sell that product to clients.

Please don’t do that. We’re not ready for that. No one’s ready for that. Please don’t do that. To your point, like there are things that you’ll want to test. Like if you’re using social media, you’re going to use TikTok differently than you’re using Instagram. You know, maybe you’ve scaled clear back on, on Twitter and you know, or X, whatever you’re supposed to call it now.

Like, those are the kinds of things that you should be testing, not saying, okay, well, let’s put all our eggs into this basket and go for it.

Chip Griffin: But the other thing I’d like to say about the importance of evolving rather than, you know, sudden changes and you know, the importance of having consistency in what you’re doing as an agency.

I think the most important time is counterintuitive. It’s when you’re having trouble,you’re struggling to generate business as an agency. .

And this is when I often see agencies say, well, you know, I’m really struggling to get clients. We’ve lost a bunch of clients. So I need to change up entirely what I’m doing. So I think we ought to be, you know, we ought to go from being a media relations agency to, you know, an inbound marketing agency, or, you know, we should, completely change our target audience.

We should focus just on cannabis or crypto or whatever, because that’s what we hear is big today and we need to give up on, you know, retail or restaurants or whatever it was we were doing before. The reality is that assuming that you’ve had an agency that has been able to generate business in the past, and this does assume that you did have success at one point, you should lean back into that success.

Figure out how to evolve it for the current market. Figure out, you know, why are you struggling? Is it because you’re not out there having conversations? Is it because you got a bunch of low hanging fruit in your first few years and now you really have to be more intentional about your business development?

What is it that you need to change from a business development standpoint? And perhaps what evolution should there be to the business? But generally speaking, you want to lean into what you had success with in the past in terms of services that you were offering and the kind of clients you were going after, because you’re much more likely to be able to replicate that than to do something entirely different from a services or targeting standpoint.

Gini Dietrich: Yeah, absolutely. And it’s what you know. So you’re an expert in it. So that it makes you more compelling in general because of that. So don’t try to like do something completely different just because you’re stressed out that business isn’t coming. That’s not the right approach. I completely agree with you.

Chip Griffin: Right. And it is, it is the hardest. I mean, I, I get that it is hard to resist big change when you have big problems. Becaue, in your mind, I’ve got this giant gap I need to close and you sit there and say, well, I’ve already been trying. And the reality is maybe you have been trying, but take a look and see, you know, what tweaks could you make to what you were trying before. And candidly, a lot of times people haven’t been trying as hard as they think they have because they, in part, because they’ve already started to panic, right?

As soon as, as soon as you start losing business or revenue starts looking bad. You start to panic and you start making bad decisions and you start becoming scattered, right? Because one of the things I see is that agencies that are struggling will often then launch 10 different initiatives to try to get clients because they’re like, if I just, if I do all these things, maybe something will pay off.

Maybe it will, but you’re much more likely to have success. Just if you, if you look at the evidence, you’re much more likely to have success if you pick one or perhaps two things and just do them well, do them consistently, and that’s how you will attract the business that you need in order to dig out of that hole and then move on to your next level of success.

Gini Dietrich: Yeah, and it’s, I mean, you’ll be more comfortable. You’ll have more success. You have a better, you have better expertise. Like there’s all the, all these ancillary benefits that come along with it. Add in the other stuff later. Don’t do it when you’re stressed out and need to have, generate revenue really fast.

Chip Griffin: So I think our bottom line message is that it’s important to be consistent in what you’re doing, who you’re serving, and how you’re doing it, because that is how you will have long term success instead of being the person who chases whatever the trend of the day is, sort of like a dog might. You know, just chasing whatever is in front of them and for those of you listening for those of you listening in audio you do not see that we have a guest co host That the doggie intern has joined us And it appears the doggie intern is the doggie intern wearing a sweater or something?

Gini Dietrich: She is wearing…yes, because it’s 5, 000 degrees below zero outside.

Chip Griffin: But yet she’s inside. And I’m assuming that it’s not 5,000 degrees below zero inside.

Gini Dietrich: It’s not inside, but she has to go out, which is why I’m holding her because I don’t want her to pee on the floor.

Chip Griffin: On that note, I think we will draw this episode of the Agency Leadership Podcast to a close, both because I don’t want the dog to have an accident and because I just don’t even know where to take this from there. So I’m Chip Griffin.

Gini Dietrich: Say bye bye. I’m Olivia Benson. Say bye bye Olivia. I’m Gini Dietrich.

Chip Griffin: And it depends.

Or maybe the dog needs Depends. I don’t know.

Gini Dietrich: You’re right.

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The Hosts

Chip Griffin is the founder of the Small Agency Growth Alliance (SAGA) where he helps PR & marketing agency owners build the businesses that they want to own. He brings more than two decades of experience as an agency executive and entrepreneur to share the wisdom of his success and lessons of his failures. Follow him on Twitter at @ChipGriffin.

 

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, the lead blogger at Spin Sucks, and the host of Spin Sucks the podcast. She also is co-author of Marketing in the Round and co-host of Inside PR. Follow her on Twitter at @GiniDietrich.

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