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Does your agency need to find a niche?

Many agency experts advocate the idea of “niching down” to accelerate business growth.

In this episode of the Agency Leadership Podcast, Chip and Gini explore the benefits of specializing and finding a focus.

At the same time, the co-hosts emphasize that being focused doesn’t necessarily mean limiting yourself to 1 or 2 industries. There are many ways to express your specialization and target a narrower set of ideal clients.

Key takeaways

Chip Griffin: “Most agencies that I work with, even if they don’t think that they’re specializing, they are, they just don’t realize it.”

Gini Dietrich: “It made my life significantly easier when we started to specialize.”

Chip Griffin: “I guarantee you, if you find that focus that works for you, it will help you generate the kind of business that you need in order to scale, and it will make you happy to be running your business every day.”

Gini Dietrich: “Run the business you want, make the money you want, do what you want, and build the business around that. If you’re doing work you don’t enjoy it sort of defeats the purpose.”

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: And today we’re going to talk about niching. Niche or niching. Niche.

Gini Dietrich: Niche. Well, if you’re from Canada, it’s definitely niche.

Chip Griffin: Which is it niche or niche or niche? On that note, right after this.

I feel like I’m losing my touch on these intros. I’m gonna have to step up my game next week. It was just, that was another lame opening.

Gini Dietrich: Although I will say that I was at a conference, I want to say it was Social Media Marketing World. And I was standing in the back of the room with Mitch Joel.

And I can’t remember who was speaking, but whoever was speaking, there was a panel and they said niche and he leaned over to me and he said, niche.

Chip Griffin: Yeah. I mean, look, whatever you want to say, everybody understands what you’re saying, or at least they understand the word that you’re saying, whether or not they understand the concept is another thing, but that’s what part of this episode will be about. So we, we can talk about whether niching down is a good idea.

And if so, how do you choose your niche?

Gini Dietrich: Yeah. So, should agencies choose a specific niche industry to service, and if so, what are some best practices to determining which industry to choose?

Chip Griffin: And this is a question that I get a lot, because I mean, I’m pretty, as I’m sure you see it as well. There are lots of agencies out there who seem to be full service agencies for anyone who can pay. Yes. So they say, geez, you know, I, I listened to this podcast or I read this book or I saw this YouTube video that told me I should. And first of all, I say, timeout, stop.

Gini Dietrich: Hang on a sec.

Chip Griffin: We’ve already, you can go back a number of episodes, listen to how you shouldn’t listen to experts, including us.

Take what we say as some input, but you need to make your own decisions. You can’t just, you know, sign up for whatever we say, as gospel and as the magic formula, the silver bullet that will solve all your problems. And yet there’s something to this one. And frankly, most agencies that I work with, even if they don’t think that they’re specializing, they are, they just don’t realize it.

And as you start going through the work that they’re doing and who they’re servicing. There usually is some degree of a common thread. Maybe not as much as there should be. And so I guess the question is, are you on board with the idea of finding a niche? If so, how would you go about selecting it?

Gini Dietrich: I am on board with it. With a couple of caveats.

So I have a client who runs an agency. They only do media relations and they only work in cannabis. That’s it. And because of those two things, they have grown so rapidly because everybody knows they are the agency to go to for media relations in the cannabis industry. So they do, you know, I don’t know any of the different ancillary businesses, but you know, there’s cannabis and there’s THC and there’s TBD. I have no idea I’m making stuff up. But there’s a lot of ancillary businesses that they can do. And because of that, they truly have become the agency to go to for cannabis. They’ve been able to set their own pricing.

They’ve been able to set their own terms. They’ve been able to set their own expectations and it’s been really, really fun to see it. At the same time, she’s now at the point where I think she’s five years in now, she’s hitting a ceiling. So now we’re talking about, are there other business, like minded industries, you know, like I’m trying to think of something off the cuff. Um, plant-based…

Chip Griffin: this is gonna be interesting. We’re going to watch what kind of connections you make when you think of pot.

Gini Dietrich: Cheetos. Uh…but like truly, we’re looking to see if there are ancillary industries that she could work in to be able to start to build that. So my caveat…

Chip Griffin: So other places where they could do high quality communications.

Gini Dietrich: Um, but the caveat is certainly you should specialize, but then as you start to exhaust that industry, which I think you probably will, after several years, you start to add in other industries that complement the work that you’re doing. Or other services, too.

Chip Griffin: Right. And I, and I think, you know, one of the things that tends to scare people when they hear this is the whole idea of I’m niching down or I’m limiting myself. Oh, I’m putting myself in a box where, you know, I want to be creative and I want to have plenty of opportunities to work for new clients on interesting things.

And I don’t want to scare them away. And that’s one of the reasons why I actually don’t prefer to use the term niche or specialization. I prefer to say, you know, finding focus because there’s a whole lot of different ways that you can focus your business development efforts, how you can identify your ideal client and seek more of them and that could be by industry.

It could be by geography. It can be, and should be by the services you’re offering. It can be, you know, where they are in their life cycle. There are so many things that go into it, sort of the genetic code of your ideal client, if you will. And, and so if you think about those things, then you’ve got that focus and it will allow you to more accurately and easily attract the right clients.

And it doesn’t mean that you have to say no to anyone who falls outside of that. Right. I mean, if someone comes along and it, and you still feel like it’s a good fit, it’s kind of work you want to do. Nothing says you can’t take it. There’s there’s no, there’s no magic about saying, this is my specialty and this is my niche that, that requires you to say no, it just means you need to take a much tougher look at anything that falls out of that circle.

Gini Dietrich: Yeah. And I will say that when I started my agency, I was, we did everything, right. We, we said that – this is so stupid today, but we said that we serviced small businesses because PR firms didn’t typically do that. Well, there’s a reason that PR firms don’t typically work with small businesses. I learned that lesson, the very hard, expensive way.

But we only work with SaaS businesses and because we have specialized, it has made it incredibly easy to have a process, to work that process. And help a client build and scale and to help them implement it internally. It has helped me with hiring. It has helped. I mean, it’s, it makes things so much easier.

And from a team perspective, you’re not trying to find somebody who has food experience and SaaS experience and engineering experience and healthcare experience. You have a team of people who are really great at software as a service, and they know exactly what to do and how to do it right. And that’s how you can scale.

And it has made my life significantly easier when we started to specialize.

Chip Griffin: Well, and that’s the thing, I mean, if you have that kind of specialization, it allows you to both produce better results for your clients, as well as better results in the form of more profits for your agency, because you can do the work more efficiently, you know what produces those results.

And so you can just keep doing that over and over again. And it doesn’t mean it’s cookie cutter. It doesn’t mean that you still don’t have the ability and frankly, the need to be creative for your clients. It just means that you’re not doing a lot of on the job learning every time you bring a new client on board.

Gini Dietrich: Right. Right. And yeah, I mean, it does help you with profits and results and knowing what you do. Like every time we onboard a new client, we know exactly what we have to do. We have to do this, this, this, and this. It’s like, boom, boom. And the clients all were like, “Wow, that was so easy.”

Chip Griffin: Right. Well, the other thing is it allows you to speak the language of your clients.

And so when you’re in meetings with them, particularly with prospects, you’re not having to say, wait, can you define that term? What does that mean? Or, or have that blank look, and then you go running back afterwards and you quickly Google it to try to figure out what were they talking about? Did I write that down?

Was that a C? Did that acronym start with a C or a D because he said it so quickly, I couldn’t really understand. Right. I mean, we’ve all been there where we would feel just too stupid to ask the question in the meeting. So we’re just kinda trying to make a note. We’ll go figure this out afterwards. And sometimes you do, sometimes you don’t and you know, when you’re servicing, you know, just one or just a few industries, it allows you to begin to know those things so that when you’re talking, even not specifically about the work that you’re doing, you know, you’re already in the conversation and you’re not learning as you go.

Gini Dietrich: And I will say that when you’re doing the work and certainly for a business like mine, we’re creating content, we’re talking to journalists, we’re working with influencers, we’re doing social media. Like there’s all this content creation piece of it. We know what we’re talking about and it’s stuff that we’re paying attention to industry-wide.

So like this morning I saw something, that Amazon has just launched their, uh, Clubhouse-like competitor, but they’re doing it from the perspective of a music only so you can be your own DJ, which I think is kind of cool. Um, but I saw that and it applies to so many of our different clients that immediately this morning, I was like pinging different CEOs saying, look at this in tech, check this out.

And I think this is how we can use it. And their minds are blown. Like I’m paying attention to that stuff anyway, because that’s part of my own passion, but it makes life a lot easier to service a client really effectively. And for them to be really happy with the work that you’re doing, because it’s already in your purview, you’re not having to go out and say, oh, I’ve got to learn about X, Y, and Z.

And I’ve got to do monitoring and I’ve got to pay attention and it’s not really something I’m interested in. So, and I have to take extra time to learn it and read it and listen to it. It’s already in your purview.

Chip Griffin: All right. So if we’re in agreement that you should find a niche, a specialization or focus or whatever word we want to use to describe it.

How do you figure out what your agency should zero in on?

Gini Dietrich: I think it depends, which is…

Chip Griffin: Funny you should say that Gini, those words will be coming out of my mouth here in about 10 minutes.

Gini Dietrich: It does depend, you know, I have a really good friend who only does government relations and she wants to get out of that.

But she keeps doing it because she’s good at it. People know her, she keeps getting really good referrals. And so she keeps saying, well, I want to get into restaurants. And I’m like, but that doesn’t. So I think it depends like, could she go to the local restaurant and say, Hey, I can do your PR? Probably. Is she going to enjoy it?

Probably not. Is she going to get paid? Definitely not. Um, but I think it depends. If you look at your agency and you say, okay, This is the work that I enjoy type of work. I enjoy. This is the expertise that my team has and maybe bucket it into two or three different areas and then start to say, okay, based on that, let’s choose one and go down that path.

And if you have a team, allow them to vote too, but start to go down that path to figure out if it’s something that you can pursue as a focus.

Chip Griffin: Yeah. And I love that you’ve talked about those, those two pillars, right? That you and your team have to do the work well, and it should be something that you enjoy or want to do yourself because you’ll be miserable otherwise. The only thing I would suggest adding in a third circle in the Venn diagram, if you will. And that is, what are people willing to pay for? And that goes back to, you know, to your experience. There’s a reason why small business is not a specialization for most PR agencies, because it’s hard to get blood from that stone.

Um, it’s hard to generate revenue from it. And so you want to make sure that, you know, there’s that component in the mix as well, that it’s a viable business opportunity for you. And it doesn’t mean that you – that that should be the only consideration. In fact, it shouldn’t be, you know, you shouldn’t go and pick up, you know, PR Week or Ad Week and see, oh, you know, cannabis is huge right now. I’m going to go after that. Right.

Gini Dietrich: Crypto, let’s go do crypto!

Chip Griffin: Crypto. Oh God. Yes, absolutely. All over that. Yeah. But, but there are plenty of agencies who do that. You know, they go out there and they’re pursuing something because they think it’s a pot of gold. They may not know anything about it. They may not love the idea of it. They may not be following it already, but they just think that that’s where money is to be made.

And the thing is you really need all three of the pieces of the puzzle to fall together. If you’re going to specialize effectively, because if you’re missing any one of those, you’re either going to be miserable, poor, or produce bad results for clients. And all three of those are bad things.

Gini Dietrich: Yeah. And then you’re running a business that you don’t enjoy, which goes back to all the conversations we’ve had previously, which are:

Run the business you want, make the money you want, do what you want, and build the business around that. If you’re not doing – if you’re doing work you don’t enjoy it sort of defeats the purpose.

Chip Griffin: Right. And if you’re one of those folks that says you know, there’s, I don’t really have an industry that just, you know, that’s captured my attention at the moment.

You’ll start by looking at your existing book of business. Start by looking at the clients that you’ve had over the last few years. You’ve probably already had some kind of specialization already. And so you can look at those experiences and say, Hey, are we doing really good work in this particular sector or not?

Right. And if we are okay, now that goes onto the list of, you know, factors for consideration and the more that you are able to learn from your history, you know, that will inform your future decisions and it, and figure out at least the path to where you want to go. Right? So in that case, you know, the example of someone who’s in government relations now and wants to switch to restaurants, that’s perfectly doable, but maybe you start thinking a couple of steps ahead.

And so maybe you start doing government relations for the restaurant industry or things like that, right. That becomes your stepping stone so that it becomes an easier transition or maybe you split your time. Right. And so you’re doing some government relations work and you’re doing other things. We certainly can reinvent ourselves.

We’re seeing a lot of people do that. Now there’s, you know, there’s this, uh, new study that comes out, came out that said, I think what half of the people who have quit their jobs during the great resignation have done so to switch careers entirely. Um, you know, so this does happen. And as, as a reformed political type, a public affairs type, I spent the first 20 years of my career in politics and public affairs.

I don’t do any of it anymore, probably for many of the same reasons as your other friend there. Right. You know, who wants to keep doing that stuff? Particularly in today’s world. And I got out way before the last, I mean, I, I haven’t done that kind of stuff in at least a decade now. So it’s still gives me chills thinking about it.

Gini Dietrich: I just saw a fascinating video interview with Trump, which I will not go into, but it’s about the gas prices and windmills. That’s all I’ll say.

Chip Griffin: I mean, you could also just sit there and watch your hamster go around on a wheel for a while and I think it would be just about as informative.

Gini Dietrich: Yeah, I think it was just about. Although it was entertaining. I’ll send it to you. It was… speaking of politics.

Chip Griffin: Steering back on the course here.

Gini Dietrich: I couldn’t help it. I’m sorry.

Chip Griffin: I mean, Gini, it is my job to take us on these wild tours. Your job is to keep us somewhere on the road.

Gini Dietrich: You now have it.

Chip Griffin: Fantastic. I will be sure to look at that after the show here, because we still need to sort of tie this all up in a bow for folks. Um, but so, you know, the other thing you have to be willing to do is to look and reevaluate your focus from time to time, right? It doesn’t, you know, just because you, you select a focus today and it’s working well for you doesn’t mean that it will continue to work well for you 2, 4, 6 years down the road.

And again, that goes back to the example that you talked about earlier, where, uh, the firm that was focused on cannabis now needs to think a little bit more broadly because they feel like they, you know, tapped out on that opportunity for now for whatever reason. And in order to continue to grow and scale and expand, they may need to broaden that out.

But in those cases, trying to figure out what you can leverage from that past experience, whether it’s the kind of work you’re doing or the kind of people you’re doing it for, that can be very beneficial. Right? So in the case of a cannabis firm, you would certainly want to look at – maybe not the Cheetos or whatever.

Um, but maybe, maybe you look at servicing other industries that have regulatory challenges, right. Or breakout markets right. So there’s some common threads that you can pull together from that work that may not be that direct one-to-one, you know, I, you know, this is, this is going from smoking pot to, I don’t know what, but you get the idea. Having never smoked pot.

I know, I don’t know either. I have a very bad stereotype about getting high and eating Cheetos, which actually doesn’t sound bad, but I’ve never done it.

I mean, I didn’t even know what pot smelled like until like 10 years ago, when I was at a Jimmy Buffett concert, I said to my wife, what’s that funny smell?

And she said, oh honey, that’s pot. How do you not know that?

Gini Dietrich: How did you not know that?! You went to college.

Chip Griffin: You know, and any time I heard rumors of pot being around, I ran away from it. Because back when I was in college, I thought I was going to run for president one day. And this was the early nineties. It was, it was still, I mean, back then, that was still disqualifying me.

We, you know, we let Bill Clinton get elected in 92. I did, I tried it, but I didn’t inhale. What? I mean, I’ve never tried pot, but it doesn’t seem to me like that makes any sense. So, but that was, that was the era in which I was in college. And so, you know, you, if you thought about having a political future, you were very cautious about that kind of thing generally. I have since completely given up on the idea of being in public office.

Gini Dietrich: Running for President?

Chip Griffin: Yeah. Well, I’m pretty sure I’d be disqualified at this point based on, you know, my views not aligning with any existing political party anywhere. So yes.

Gini Dietrich: Well, I don’t think you’re alone in that.

Chip Griffin: Nope, but that’s the system we’re in, but that’s a whole topic for another day.

But what you’ve just seen here is we have things that we enjoy talking about. And so if you have things that you enjoy talking about, if you have things that you know you can do well, and if you can prove that out as a market, then that probably gives you a good hint as to how you can specialize, niche, focus or whatever.

And I guarantee you, if you find that focus that works for you, it will help you generate the kind of business that you need in order to scale, and it will make you happy to be running your business every day, which is important.

Gini Dietrich: Absolutely. Yeah. It’s very important.

Chip Griffin: And it will help you get those great results for clients because ultimately, you know, that is kind of the goal.

It’s not just to make money. You got to produce those results for clients. Otherwise, whatever money you make is not going to last very long.

Gini Dietrich: Yeah. 100%. They’ll be unhappy. You’ll be unhappy. There’ll be no money. Sort of defeats the purpose.

Chip Griffin: And, uh, well, I mean, we may not be out of money, but we’re out of time.

So that’s going to be where we draw to an end this episode of the Agency Leadership Podcast. I’m Chip Griffin,

Gini Dietrich: and I’m Gini Dietrich.

Chip Griffin: And it depends.

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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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