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How to expand your agency’s capabilities

Successful agencies consistently find ways to evolve their offerings. This requires increasing skills and knowledge for you and your team.

But how do you go about gaining the knowledge and experience necessary to make the necessary adaptations?

In this episode, Chip and Gini explore ways that you can develop your capabilities to better serve your clients.

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 I’m here trying to figure out how to actually do a podcast. So. Oh boy. It’s something new to me and I, I need to learn. Do you think we can learn about that today?

Gini Dietrich: I think we can learn how to do other things.


Chip Griffin: Oh, other things. That’s right. Yes. We’ll be talking about how your agency can expand its skills and capabilities into new areas. Right after this.

So what do you do when you have an agency and you’re focused on one thing and you say, the market really needs me to be doing this. My clients are asking me for this. My prospects are asking me for this. How do you develop that skill or increase your capabilities to be able to meet that need?

Gini Dietrich: Well, I mean, it depends, but you know, my, my, in my experience, I was actually hired at an ad agency, after I worked at FleishmanHillard to build their PR department because they kept having clients ask for PR capability and they didn’t have that in house.

And so they hired, My boss and I, at the same time, and our, our job was to build the PR capability for the ad agency. And I gotta say, like, just as an aside, it was, it was really great work because every one of their clients wanted PR. So from a business development standpoint, we were like, we can do it.

We can do it. We can do it. We can do it.

Chip Griffin: low hanging fruit

Gini Dietrich: seriously. So I, I think there’s a huge opportunity for you to, to expand your capabilities. If you can find the right. Team. And it may be that you outsource to another agency. It may be that you bring into one or two senior level people to help you build it.

It may be that you give up some equity and bring on a part, a, minority stakeholder to help with it. You know, there, I think there are lots of ways that you can handle it, but thinking about expanding your capabilities is I think one of. The best ways to be able to grow your agency.

Chip Griffin: Well, I think the first thing you need to do is step back and say, should I really be doing this?

Right. Sure. We’re there. So we’re, we’re now operating on the foregone conclusion that you’ve already gone through. That you should. But I think it’s, it’s helpful here just to, to pause a beat and make sure that you’re thinking through carefully. If that’s really capability that you Should be developing because oftentimes we have this instinct in the agency world.

If we’re, if we’re getting asked for something, well, sure. We’ll say yes to that. And I mean, I’ve been guilty of that a lot over the years. Yeah, I’ll do that. Sure. I’ll do that. Of course we can do that, but you really have to think. More strategically about the suite of services that you’re offering and make sure that it still makes sense in terms of building your business, scaling, your business, developing the profit margins that you want to have.

And don’t just say yes to everything, because then you become one of these full service agencies, which really is a no service agency.

Gini Dietrich: You know, as you’re talking about that, I think you’re right because, You know, there are certain things that we get asked for, you know, building websites or doing video work, the, the, not the, what SEO specialist job from an SEO perspective, search engine marketing, that kind of stuff will just never, will never offer that as part of our agency.

And I’ve made a pretty clear delineation on that. Can I recommend agencies that we work with? Absolutely. And can we serve as the hub for, you know, if you, if you work with those other agencies and we serve as a hub or we work directly with them to service you for sure, but we’re not going to offer those capabilities in house.

Chip Griffin: And so that’s probably a good topic for a whole separate episode. Judgment, which you do or you don’t. But for the purposes of this episode, we’re going to assume you’ve gone through that, that smart exercise and you’ve decided that this is what you want to do. And so, you know, you’ve touched on a prime example of one way to do it.

And I, you know, to me, it comes into three buckets. And this is something that you’ll hear in a lot of industries, whether it’s adding a new product line or service line or something like that. And you have basically three choices, build, buy, or lease. And so, you know, building is what happened in your case.

The talent was brought in house to create that function. you, you brought in experts who knew what they were doing and, you know, they could sort of, you know, build from scratch. There’s the buy. You can go out and buy an agency, a small agency, typically that does this, the kind of work that you’re trying to get into.

Or you can lease, which is the partnership approach in this case, where you find a trusted partner that, you know, a lot of PR agencies will work with digital agencies and say, okay, this is our trusted partner on building websites or doing Facebook ads or that kind of stuff. And so we love to work together and we recommend them.

So you’ve basically got those three broad buckets. There’s obviously more nuances within each of those categories, but that’s in broad brushstrokes the ways that you can do it.

Gini Dietrich: Yeah, I totally agree. And like I said at the start, it depends, right? It depends on what it is you’re trying to accomplish, what it is, how much you actually think you can bring in a new business to be able to, to cover the costs and make some money.

and, and you know, whether or not you have the capability and how’s to start to craft that as a larger organization for yourself.

Chip Griffin: And I think, you know, the, the build is the one that, that most agencies. We’ll spend the most time on right. Partnerships are they are what they are, right? And you can use them.

Certainly, they generally don’t add as much to the bottom line. It’s really more just a way of meeting the need for the client, right? Sometimes you can make some real money off of them, but more often than not, partnerships are are more for mutual convenience and making sure that you don’t lose business.

So it’s protective as opposed to additive M and A whole nother topic. We can have a different conversation about that. And there’s a whole lot more that goes into that than just saying, Oh, I like that. The SEO work that they do. Let’s let’s go buy that business. So on building, you can do what what happened in your case where you get hired in or you can try to upskill your existing team.

Maybe you’ve got folks In your agency that have some degree of skill set in the area that you’re trying to get into, and they just need to get a little sharper at it, a little more experience or something like that. And so, you know, those are those are ways that you can build and grow sort of organically that capability.

Gini Dietrich: Yeah, and I think there’s also an opportunity for you. To your point, if you have people in house already who have capacity and the willingness to learn and you think that they can do it, you know, maybe you hire a coach or a trainer. Like, for instance, last year I served as a fractional chief content officer for a company and my job was to teach their internal team how to build the content process and the content journeys and all that kind of stuff.

And it took me about eight months, but, you know, I was. And we built the process and we, and I coached and I trained and I mentored and that was my job. They did the work. And then as I felt like they were improving, we gave them more and more to do more responsibility. And now they’re off to the races, they’re doing great.

So I think there’s an opportunity to do that kind of stuff too.

Chip Griffin: See, when you said you were a fractional content officer, I thought it meant that you wrote half a blog post and it just stopped.

Gini Dietrich: That’s what I did.

Chip Griffin: Okay. yeah. So, and I think, I think one of the things that you can do obviously is, is get that outside help in some fashion, whether that’s sending someone to a training, having a coach or advisor, having someone come in on a temporary consulting basis to help you build that out.

That’s something that I’ve done in the past where I, I took on a temporary, digital role within agencies years ago, where I would go in and try to help them build out that, that function within their business for a few months. you know, the, the other thing that I always like to suggest here is when you’re, when you’re sort of upskilling your existing team, experiment on yourself.

So if you’re trying to develop capability in a particular area, you know, we always preach the importance of treating your agency as a, as a client of itself.

This is a great way to both do something that’s good for the agency, as well as to develop those skills and experiment on things. So, you know, for example, if you’re an agency and you’re trying to understand clubhouse, Do it as something related to your agency first, before you start experimenting on clients.

And it’s just, there’s a whole lot of benefit from that. And so if you, if you view it as sort of your own personal skunk works, where you can test out different ideas and test out the skills of your team and, and there’s a much broader latitude for failure. I think that’s a really powerful way to do it.

Gini Dietrich: I think that’s, I totally agree. I mean, that’s how I’ve built my agency. You know, we all learned social media and content marketing, and then I added on the paid stuff later. and that’s how we did it. We did it on ourselves first, just, and really just to figure it out, test it out, figure out what we can measure, what the metrics were.

And then we started to launch it to clients. I love that, that approach. That’s my, my personal. Approach is how I do. Yeah.

Chip Griffin: And particularly, you know, because a lot of the areas where agencies are trying to upscale themselves right now, it is in the digital realm where a lot of things are changing and constantly changing.

It’s a good way just to keep those skills sharp and it doesn’t necessarily have to be at the same scale that you might do for a client. You know, if you’re if you’re looking at your Google Analytics account, and you know, it’s got 2 percent of the traffic that your clients do. Who cares? You got all the same tools and data points and all that.

And so you can still use it to start building those skills. And it’s, it’s, I like it because it allows you to, to push the envelope and, and go into areas where you’re not even sure if you want to, you know, do I really want to get into this? Let’s, let’s kind of see what it takes.

Gini Dietrich: Let’s test it out. Yeah.

Chip Griffin: Let’s test it out. And so, you know, doing that when you’re, you’re treating yourself as the client is helpful. But the other thing is, no matter how much training you do, It’s not the same as actually doing it. You know, you go to school, you learn how to be a doctor until you’ve actually gone through the, you know, the, the internships and that kind of stuff where, where you’ve got the on the job training of, of diagnosing patients, where you’ve got some supervision and that kind of stuff.

You can’t, you can’t just read the textbook and go, Oh, You need that on the job experience. You need the same thing in the agency space. You need to start getting in there, using the tools, understanding how they work in the real world, not in some webinar or class or even at the hands of some consultant.

Gini Dietrich: I had a, an account executive say to me just yesterday, she goes, How do you write this stuff so fast? And I said, well, I’m 20 years older than you have more experience on the job experience counts for something. And she was like, wow. I mean, but my point was exactly your point. You have, you have to do the work.

You can’t say, oh yeah, I’m on Twitter. I’m on Facebook. And, and we talk with, with young professionals about this all the time. You’re using social media. for yourself, for your personal life, but have you ever used it from a business perspective and they, you know, deer in headlights, but I think that’s exactly the point is you have to be able to do the work for the business so that you understand how it works, what works, what doesn’t, you know, what you can measure, what the metrics are.

If you’re asked for certain, types of, of metrics, you’re able to answer those questions and that you cannot, you’re right. You cannot get that without experience. You just can’t.

Chip Griffin: Well, it helps you get to my favorite thing too, which is why are you doing it? And so, you know, a lot of what you learn in trainings is just, is the mechanics of it, but there’s no linkage between what you’re trying to accomplish and what you’re actually doing.

When you start doing it on behalf of your agency, you start to make that connection and you say, okay, well, the reason why I’m putting this content out on Twitter or the reason why I’m hosting this thing on clubhouse or the reason why I’m running these ads and you start to make the same judgments that your own clients will end up making.

And so your perception is entirely different and you learn how to speak the language so that when you’re trying to sell it to a prospect or client, you can say, look, I know how this works and I know what you’re trying to accomplish and I’ve, I’ve felt the pain of how you set it up and we can alleviate that pain for you and take advantage of the opportunity.

Gini Dietrich: And I think that comes into play with anything new. I mean, clubhouse is a great example of that, where everybody was like,

but newsletters

Chip Griffin: fade away. Just like,

Gini Dietrich: it’s kind of funny to see the Google trend. It went, it’s pretty funny. but newsletters, the same thing, everybody’s talking about sub stack and you know, should we be doing, doing paid newsletters and when you really look at it and I looked at it because I wanted to see if it was something.

We should be paying attention to when you really look at it, at least from our perspective, there’s no reason for me to move my content to something I don’t own because I already have it on something I own. I can already measure it. It’s not going to go away if sub stack goes away. Could I use some help monetizing it?

Sure. But that’s not a reason for me to take everything and move it onto something that onto land. I would. Rent or lease, so that I think what I think the point is, is that exactly what you were saying it helps you figure out. Should we be on clubhouse? Should we be using sub stack for newsletters?

Should we be on the next? Whatever it happens to be that comes out, or does it make strategic sense for us to just be like, that’s cool. You guys do that and we’re going to continue down this path.

Chip Griffin: Right, and frankly, as an agency, you need to be experimenting with some of these things, even if you don’t plan to get into them.

Simply so that you can answer the question from a client when they say, you know, I’m hearing all this stuff about clubhouse. We should be, we should do something with clubhouse, right? You can say, well, I’ve tried it out. I can tell you it’s not really there. You know, right. There’s certain, you know, niche value to it, but for, for your purposes, it’s probably not a good fit.

Right. So you can have that conversation intelligently as opposed to that deer in the headlights, like what’s clubhouse.

Gini Dietrich: Right. Fair. Yes.

Chip Griffin: But you know, you, you see that a lot. And I think the, and this whole conversation was spurred because of a conversation, I forget whether it was in spin sucks or somewhere else, but about an agency trying to, to get more into content and content is probably one of the most important areas for agencies to be thinking about if they’re not already.

Yes. Into that for very much the same reason. That you were just talking about as far as Substack and those platforms. You want to be able to work with your clients so that they’re building content out in a place that they own. Everything else should be a way to promote that, repurpose it, but you need to have That core competency because it’s becoming increasingly important, particularly for traditional media relations type agencies.

The days of being able to blast out press releases are behind us. Press releases still have a role, but if your agency is sort of the traditional, you know, we’re just going to send out press releases and set up interviews. And that’s all you do. And you’re not thinking about the other ways that you can get your tentacles into an organization.

You’re going to find yourself out of work pretty soon.

Gini Dietrich: Well, and not only that, and I talk about this a lot because we were a traditional media relations agency. You have highs and lows, you have peaks and valleys. You cannot be in, a story cannot come out about your client’s organizations every single day.

And when, when an organization is paying an agency, they want to see results consistently. They don’t want to pay for the peaks and the valleys. They don’t understand that. You know, for me to get you in Christmas holiday stuff, I have to start in June and it’s going to take me that long to get it. They don’t want to pay for that.

So what we saw was we had these, we had these peaks where we would get, you know, we would have these great stories and then we’d have the valleys where nothing was happening. And that’s the reason I started to look at more strategic offerings for the agency and to evolve what we were doing because I wanted to have consistent work.

To fill in, you know, you know, you have the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and the LA Times, and then you have nothing for two months, you know, you wanted, I wanted to have, be able to fill in those, those valleys and content and social and, you know, some of the paid stuff has helped us do that.

Chip Griffin: And there’s a lot of things that, that clients want to get out there and agencies want to help them with, but it’s hard to get it into traditional media for Yes, there was actually a conversation, I think, again, in the spin sex community just in the last week or so about a client wanting to get coverage for an anniversary of the business.

Yes, that is very difficult these days to get any traditional media coverage on unless this is some major. Yes. Brand, whether it’s in that market or, or globally, and even then it’s, it’s going to be a tough sell. That’s the perfect kind of thing that you can steer towards some sort of a, a content program for people who are already interested in your brand.

Absolutely. So, so, you know, there is a place anniversary celebrations are, have value. They have value for employees. They have value for customers. They, they do have value from a business development standpoint. But not necessarily a pure media relations standpoint. And so if you’re increasing your capabilities and you have different tools in your arsenal to get these messages out, whether that’s your traditional media firm, that’s, that’s moving in that direction, or maybe you’re a creative firm, that’s typically done just advertising.

Now you’re moving into content. I mean, it’s all about the PESO model, Gini, right? I mean, it’s, yes, it is. Agencies really need the PESO model. It turns out. Yes, they do.

Gini Dietrich: Yes, they do. Thank you. You’re welcome. Do you have some sound that could go with that? Like a whistle or. Something

Chip Griffin: wrong one. Oh,

Gini Dietrich: wrong. All right.

We’ll try again.

Chip Griffin: Yeah, but I, I, I will be, you know, expect for that, gratuitous plug of the PESO model.

Gini Dietrich: Thank you. Okay, I will, I will send you a check. It will be voided, but I’ll send you 1.

Chip Griffin: Wow. I’ll just have to hack your bank account then. So,

you know,

we’re sliding off the rails.

Gini Dietrich: Let’s do one more sound.

One more sound.

Chip Griffin: What you want. One more sound. This is see, I should not have shown you that I have the ability to do these. Let’s see. We’ll end on a spooky note. So

Gini Dietrich: I’m kind of jealous. I’m jealous. I want one. Yeah.

Chip Griffin: That brings this episode of the Agency Leadership Podcast to a close. I’m Chip Griffin.

Gini Dietrich: And 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 agencyleadershippodcast. com or subscribing on your favorite podcast player. We would also love it if you would leave a rating or 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 sucks 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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