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How to decide what services your agency should provide

Clients frequently clamor for their agencies to do more. But how do you decide when it makes sense to expand your capabilities — and when you should say no?

If you do decide that there is value in offering a broader solution, how do you go about getting that integrated into your business?

In this episode of the Agency Leadership Podcast, Chip and Gini discuss how they have made such decisions in the past, including what worked and what didn’t.

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.

And I’m Gini Dietrich.

And today we’re going to figure out, you don’t even let me finish anymore. This is unbelievable. I’m okay. I’m ready. I’m ready. I’m ready. Let’s hear it. No, I’m just going to do it straight now today.

We’re going to decide what, how to decide which services you should or shouldn’t offer as an agency. No fun. You’re you’re the, you’re the, I’m the fun killer. You’re the fun killer, so, but, right after this.

Gini Dietrich: Well, now you have to tell us, now you have to tell us what it was going to be.

Chip Griffin: I don’t know. Because I, I, I literally don’t think about it. You, you think I actually plan these opens?

Gini, we, we picked the topic 30 seconds before I hit the record button.

Gini Dietrich: I know, but you had 30 seconds to think about it.

Chip Griffin: But I don’t think about it.

I, I start thinking about it while you’re saying, I’m Gini Dietrich. And while you’re saying that, then I, then I figure out on the phone. No, you’ve the, the moment is gone. The moment has been ruined. I am, I am, I am not going to do it. We are, we’re going to have this as a normal podcast, like every other boring podcast host does out there.

Gini Dietrich: I am not playing ball anymore going home.

Chip Griffin: Nope. I’ll try, I’ll try to come back and have some fun in the middle of the episode, just to.

Gini Dietrich: Oh, okay. All right. All right.

Chip Griffin: So, no, seriously, I mean, you know, we’ve talked about how to develop new skills within your agency recently, but the real question that we need to ask even before that is, Should we be offering this service?

And so, you know, how is an agency, particularly as, as more agencies adopt the peso model smartly, as more agencies understand that there are a lot of different things that they can and maybe should be getting into to expand the solutions that they can provide to clients. How do you decide. What to offer?

How do you decide? More importantly, where to draw the line so that you’re not trying to be all things to all people.

Gini Dietrich: You know, I, it’s an interesting question and I wish that I had some magical answer because I’ve also made that mistake where a client has said, Hey, we need this, this and this. And we go, okay.

And then either we try to figure it out. I think the best example of this. Our chief marketing officer, this was probably five years ago, told a client that she could edit videos. She can’t edit videos, but she wanted to learn how to do it. So she figured that she could do it on, she, she would learn how to do it while doing this work for the client.

And we didn’t charge the client very much money because, She didn’t know how to do it. About four months and maybe 80 hours later, the videos were still not edited. And so I said to her, Oh yeah, I said to her, so what have you learned in this? And she said, I’ve learned that we shouldn’t do things we don’t know how to do.

And I was like, that’s, that’s a good lesson. Yeah. And, and we joke about it today, but the poor client, I ended up hiring a video editor to get it done for them.

Chip Griffin: I would imagine. Yeah.

Gini Dietrich: Yeah. and it happened in like two days instead of. Four months. So, I mean, the client is still a client today because she also thought it was pretty funny, but you don’t always have those, those patient understanding clients and nor should you, that’s, that’s ridiculous.

We shouldn’t have done that. But I was, it was one of those things where I was like, okay, if you think you can do this.

Chip Griffin: Yeah, well it is, it is very easy to say yes, because most of us sitting in that position see dollar signs, or we see a way to please a client, and so our default answer is yes. Yes, right.

I’ve certainly been guilty of that many times in the past. I don’t think I have anything quite that egregious where I claimed I could do something. I had no, no, no. I mean, I certainly agree to do things that I was not necessarily an expert in. and then, then, of course, then I go through the phase where I overcorrect and I say no to too much stuff.

And later on, I say, you know, I really should just have agreed to do that because that actually kind of makes sense as an extension of, you know, Yes, what I was offering.

Gini Dietrich: Yes.

Chip Griffin: and maybe it was something I just didn’t want to do. Right. So, you know, but that’s not always a good decision. So, you know, you can, at least with me, the pendulum swings back and forth, but I would certainly agree if you if you have no knowledge of how to Complete a task.

Probably not the best one to agree to do.

Gini Dietrich: Yeah. And I also think there’s a, you know, to your point, if you’re implementing the PESO model and there are things in the PESO model that you don’t understand how to do, that’s probably not something that you should bring in either. Because if you can’t, if you don’t at least have an understanding of how it works and how it works in inside the model and how you can measure it to be able to direct a team.

You shouldn’t be bringing that in house because you’re not going to be able to, you won’t know if it’s successful or if it’s not, that you won’t know if you, you’ve, you’ve, You know, when you’re interviewing for the teammates, colleagues, if it’s the right fit, you won’t know any of that stuff because you won’t know the, the skills that they have to have to be able to do the job.

Chip Griffin: Well, I mean, I guess the, the, the problem with that, a bit of a devil’s advocate is, you know, you, you never know how to do something until you start doing something, do it right there.

and so, you know, every agency that has ever existed does something at some point that they’re not fully comfortable with even your first client Even if it’s in your area of expertise, you don’t really know how to serve them as an agency, right?

As you’re sure started so so there’s there is an element of learning on the job So I guess the question is how do you figure out? What’s what’s a reasonable amount of learning on the job to do and what’s an unreasonable amount?

Gini Dietrich: Well, I think you did you made an excellent point point last week when we talked about, you know, bringing services in house and it was, do you, can you, can you do the work for your agency?

And in, in doing that. Learn how to do it. So like I was not a social media expert. I was not a blogging expert. I was not a content marketing expert 15 years ago. Today, I would consider myself an expert in content marketing. I was not there 15 years ago, but I taught myself how to do that through spin sucks, right?

I taught myself how to sell informational products. I taught myself how to do online courses. I taught myself how to, to create partnerships. With educational institutions to be able to bring the pay cell model to, to students. I didn’t have those skillsets, but I was able to do it as part of my agency.

Things that I wouldn’t want to do website development, website design, graphic design of any kind, copywriting in terms of ads, like not my skillset, not, not something that we would probably bring in house. so I think you’re of, of the mind of, can we learn how to do this as a team on our own agency. And if the answer is yes, then use your agency as the test.

Or can we bring in somebody that can help bring the agency or our team up to speed and get us where we need to be to be able to do it? And if the answer is yes, then maybe that’s a way you look at it. But if the answer is no to either of those, outsource it or find a partner.

Chip Griffin: Well, and, and I want to come back to that outsource piece, but you said something important before that, which is the word team.

And I think that one of the mistakes that agency owners often make is deciding what to do or not do based on their own personal. Capabilities and comfort levels, and you really need, you really need to think about your whole team and that comes in both directions. So, for example, in my case, I’m sort of a jack of all trades, right?

I’ve I pick up a lot of different things and I can do things at least at an okay level in many different ways. Areas, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that my agency agency should do all of those things because maybe the team isn’t comfortable with all Of that or I might have to invest more to get something.

So for example, I can do decent video editing. I’m not a fantastic video editor But I probably shouldn’t go out and sell that because now i need to bring in a full time video editor or at least You know someone who’s more experienced. So you need you need to really think about your agency as a whole And not just as you the owner

Gini Dietrich: Yeah, I think you’re absolutely right.

And that’s definitely, definitely, definitely a mistake I’ve made when we were adding in social media advertising. I can, I can do that. And I actually enjoy doing social media advertising. It takes a a ton of time. It’s not something that I can do full time. And it also wasn’t for some reason, it wasn’t something I was able to teach my colleagues.

I don’t know why I just couldn’t get them to grasp it the way that my brain worked around it. And so I brought in a consultant to help the team and we still couldn’t get them there. So it was one of those things where I was like, I have to, I have to figure this out. So now when somebody says, can you do social media advertising?

We have a partner that we use for that kind of stuff because they’re better at it. They’re more efficient at it and they have a team that can do it versus just me.

Chip Griffin: Right. Well, and I think that, so coming back to the partnering or outsourcing, I think that’s a really, that should be the starting point most of the time for an agency, when you’re thinking about

adding on additional services that are outside of your existing expertise, right? Because first of all, it allows you to test. Is this a one off? Is this, is this the only client who’s interested in this particular kind of service? You also start to get to see a little bit more about the process, how it works, how long it takes, what the kind of feedback that clients are giving.

Is it, you know, are there a lot of revisions? Is there a lot of pushback? All those kinds of things. So you start to get smarter by working with a partner on those things. So you can do some market research. You can do some skills research. And frankly, You can go to school on them to figure out if this is actually something that you want to have in house.

And that’s, that’s not a dirty thing. I mean, there are agencies that say, Oh, you know, I, I would never want to do that. That, that feels like, no, everybody’s got to learn things, treat them fairly, pay them for the work they’re doing, but you know, you can get smart in the process. There’s nothing wrong with that.

Gini Dietrich: Yeah, absolutely. I totally agree with that. And in some cases. You could say to them, I mean, I have this situation all the time where clients say to me, my team needs to learn how to do X. You can do that. Can you teach it to them? And we will create a five or six month plan where my job is to coach and mentor the team, bring them up to speed and transition out.

My job is not to stay there. So I look at it on the flip side, from an agency perspective, I look at it the same way. So, Can I bring somebody in or do I have a partner agency that I’m working with that can teach my team how to do it? And maybe it’s a six to 12 month, an arrangement and that’s great.

But the goal at the end is to transition out. So the agency gets paid a premium for coaching and mentoring. And they also know it’s not a long term thing that we’re eventually going to be offering that to our clients ourselves.

Chip Griffin: Right. And if you are the partnering agency, the subcontracted agency, even if you don’t have that explicit arrangement with the main agency, you need to appreciate that that may be what happens eventually.

Because at some point, it doesn’t make sense for one agency to subcontract so much work. To another right because it’s it is harder when you got two agencies that are both trying to get a profit margin on it and and and still trying to offer a fair price to a client it becomes more challenging and I know right now at least from what I’m seeing in the agency market space.

There’s a lot more this agencies working for other agencies that I’ve seen. over the course of my career. If you’re going to be doing that, you need to appreciate the fact that that may go away at some point. You need to be thinking about that as you’re doing it. You shouldn’t be doing things that are defensive.

You shouldn’t try to hide information from the agency that’s hiring you to do the work. But you should be aware that at some point, if it grows to be a large enough piece of business, it’s naturally going to make sense for them to take it on in house.

Gini Dietrich: I will say that I’ve seen it work really, really well.

for one of my clients, she runs a very traditional PR firm. They do events, speaking and media relations. That’s what they do. And, and they’re great at it because they’ve, they have a very strong niche and they focus on it. They’re number one in the industry. That’s all they do. And they have a partner agency that does marketing.

And so the marketing agency does the content and the social and the paid and all that, and branding and, and all of that, something that my, my client has zero interest in doing because they are focused on what they do best. And the marketing agency doesn’t want to bring in, doesn’t want PR as part of their offering.

So they partner on clients together all the time. All the time and it works phenomenally well.

Chip Griffin: Right in there there can be those those long term relationships that really do work one area where where they tend to be a little bit stickier for example is web dev work because there are a lot of traditional PR marketing agencies that want nothing to do with managing developers and creatives

Gini Dietrich: me

Chip Griffin: and special.

Person to be able to effectively manage developers i’ve done it a lot over the years it’s not for everyone right and this is with all due respect to my developer friends who may be listening although most of them probably aren’t but that you know they are challenging they they are a different breed.

and you have to be able to speak their language in order to cultivate some respect. And so, so it may be that that’s something that you never, ever want to do in your agency. So it may make sense to just, to leave that as one of those services that you will always partner with and you will never bring in house because that’s just not what you want to be doing.

Gini Dietrich: Yeah, I totally agree. And that, that is one of those for me, that is something we will never do. And we have a list of probably five agencies that we work with, depending on what the client needs and what their budget is and all of that. And then I, I know because of the relationship I’ve built with those, each of those agencies that they’ll take care of the client.

That they, you know, they might, I have one that will stop by with a case of wine every once in a while. Like, but I don’t do it for the case of wine. Certainly I, I do it because I know they’re going to take care of the client. But that’s a nice little perk.

Chip Griffin: The case of wine doesn’t hurt though.

Gini Dietrich: It doesn’t hurt, but yeah.

I mean, they are very, very good, but like, I have a list of people that I, agencies that I know are going to take care of our clients, no matter what the situation is.

Chip Griffin: And frankly, it can be advantageous to have multiple, web developer firms that you work with. I mean, when I, when I was a chief digital officer at DCI Group, we did a lot of contracting out to other, web dev firms to do that kind of thing.

And it was not just because, I mean, we certainly could have built up the capability. We were a large enough agency that we could, and we did do some in house. But one of the advantages, particularly in that space, when working with outside firms, each firm tends to have their own style, right? Right. And so, so a lot of times, I mean, a lot of times I know I’m able to look at a site and say, oh, that’s probably by this agency or that agency, because it just has a certain look to it.

And it doesn’t mean that it’s identical to another client site, but it just, It’s got that fee has that

Gini Dietrich: extra. Yep.

Chip Griffin: So there’s an advantage to working with multiple firms because it gives you different looks.

Gini Dietrich: Yep.

Chip Griffin: and so, you know, it makes sure that you’re not becoming, you’re not falling into that same bucket where clients look at all the work and they’re like, Oh, this all looks kind of the same.

Yeah. Right. Yeah. So, so there is an advantage to having something like that. It also can help with workloads, right? Because typically when you’re doing, you know, website development, as a traditional agency, you’re going to go through peaks and valleys of the work, and it’s hard to, to sustain an even workflow to have a full time team in house.

and so by having multiple firms, it means if you’ve got three, websites you need to build all at once, you can go to three different firms and there’s not. Any competing pressure for, you know, well, should we do this client or that client, right? Right, right, right, right. Yeah. There’s some real advantages.

Gini Dietrich: And I think, you know, budget and all those kinds of things come into play as well, too, depending on what they, what, what they need. Yeah.

Chip Griffin: Right. So I, so some of the things that you need to be looking at here are, you know, the, when you decide in house or, or not, or partner, or just say no, you know, part of it comes down to skills.

Part of it comes down to, you know, can you have a manageable bandwidth? You know, does it, does it justify building out a team? Is the need constant enough and, and across enough clients? Part of it comes down to, can you do it profitably? Right. Because some of these things only work if you do it at scale.

And if you’re not doing it at scale, then, you know, if you only have one person in house who does web development for you, I mean, harp on web development, just sort of stuck in my head, but if you only have one person, can you actually generate enough margin? Do you really just need to be doing it at such volume?

That you, you get the results that you want. Part of it comes down to the story that you tell as an agency, right? Because we’ve talked many times in the past about how, you know, saying you’re full service really just sort of muddies the waters with prospects and then they don’t really know where to put you.

And so you need to be able to make sure that whatever services you’re offering fits. fit well within that story that you’re targeting your ideal clients with. So there’s a whole bunch of different things that go into this bucket. But I think the bottom line is if you are cautious about going into adding additional services, if you start.

By outsourcing or partnering that allows you to continue to gather the data that you need to make a smart long term decision.

Gini Dietrich: Yeah, and I think it’s, it’s definitely something you should be looking at. It’s definitely a great way to grow your agency. It’s a great way to add additional. capabilities for clients.

You know, we talked last week about how I was brought into an ad agency to build their PR department. That new business development was super easy. It was really easy, you know, so there may be ways that you can do that. But if it’s something that’s so far outside of the realm, even if you’re being asked for it, Don’t take the risk.

I don’t, I don’t think it’s worth taking the risk of trying to figure it out. If it’s not something that’s going to be long term,

Chip Griffin: right. Well, and you also have to ask yourself just because you’re asking, being asked for, it doesn’t mean that it’s actually a good solution for the client. Sure.

Gini Dietrich: Right.

Chip Griffin: Right. A lot of clients have been asking agencies lately about clubhouse.

Most clients shouldn’t be using clubhouse. Yes, they shouldn’t. Right. So, so don’t go out and build clubhouse expertise that you’re now selling because maybe it is, maybe it isn’t something that’ll work over the long term. Keep an eye on it, but I certainly wouldn’t be throwing a lot of dollars at it.

Gini Dietrich: No. I just had that conversation with a client.

Moolah, any money.

Chip Griffin: I mean, I don’t know about you, but my phone has a lot less clubhouse notifications today than it did a month ago.

Gini Dietrich: I agree. Yep.

Chip Griffin: So, you know, clear, clearly it is, it has waned in interest for folks.

Gini Dietrich: Well, Chris Penn posted a Google trends image that it went. It spiked and then it just fell.

So if that tells you anything,

Chip Griffin: I just want to say I said that would happen from the get go because it is a the problem is it is it is too interruptive in the way that it engages people. And so it’s hard to sustain something that is. that is that demanding of an individual’s time to be part of the audience, right?

There’s, yeah, anyway, we’re not going to rant. Yes, I agree. That’s enough. But those are the kinds of, of decisions that you have to make as an agency owner. And you have to look at them critically and ask yourself, is this worth it? What will it cost? What will it take? You know, is this fear for the longterm?

Is it for the short term? All of that goes into that bucket to decide which services to offer and which services not to. And we’ve decided to offer a shorter podcast service. So we are not going to keep going for an hour. We’re going to draw this episode to a close. So I, I have a cheesy close. I didn’t have the cheesy open.

Oh, good. Let’s hear it. Let’s hear it. No, that was my cheesy close. Oh my God. Now you’re not even seeing my cheesy close. This is, this episode has just been an utter disaster, but we had some good content in the middle, but the opening and closing of this are just. Wow. I mean, Gini, you and I need to get on the same page because you’re a stomp on the road for me today.

On that note, I’m Chip Griffin.

Gini Dietrich: I’m Gini Dietrich.

Chip Griffin: And it depends.

Thank you for listening to the Agency Leadership Podcast. You can watch or listen to every episode by visiting Agency Leadership Podcast. com or subscribing on your favorite podcast player. We would also love it if you would leave a rating review at iTunes or wherever you go to find podcasts. Be sure to check out Gini Dietrich at spinsucks.com and join the Spin Sucks community at spinsucks.com slash spin dash sucks dash community. You can learn more about me, Chip Griffin at smallagencygrowth.com, where you can also sign up for a free community membership to engage with other agency leaders. The Agency Leadership Podcast is distributed on the FIR podcast network, where you can find lots of other communications oriented podcasts.

Just visit www. firpodcastnetwork. com. We welcome your feedback and suggestions and look forward to being back with you again next week.

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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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