In the conference and expo world, there’s truly something for everyone. Especially in the United States, you can find like-minded individuals who are enthusiastic about everything from ventriloquism to dressing up like Abraham Lincoln during the apropos “Lin-Con.” Just like you can attend ClioCon, NTL, PILMMA, MTMP, and so many others as a lawyer, we, as marketing agencies, have many different conferences we can attend for different purposes.

At Market My Market, we have supported the MTMP—or Mass Torts Made Perfect—Seminar for years and have even organized our 4thLawyers on the Links” golf tournament to kick off the conference week in style (shameless plug, but it’s a really cool event). This is perhaps the self-promoting side of MMM that looks to create and maintain relationships and ultimately bring in more business, but there’s another side: the one where we’re going to be better business owners and marketers and, in turn, create an even better experience for our existing clients. 

Agency Owner Retreats: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

I just recently attended an “Agency Owner Retreat,” which is a bit more intimate than a conference in that there were roughly 40-50 people in attendance. The agenda was mainly a mix of speakers providing their own experiences of developing a successful, impactful agency. There were a few breakout sessions where attendees could candidly discuss what was working for them and what was not. I’ve always found this approach to be the most effective way to learn new ideas and get strong feedback from a circle of peers. 

In this article, you’ll see what potentially happens behind the scenes when agency owners from all different backgrounds meet to discuss their issues and wins while giving insight into what you may be able to experience on your own from the legal version of these retreats, which may even be happening in your own backyard. 

The Good

Agency Owners Care About Their Clients and Enjoy Saying (Mostly) Nice Things About Them

When I worked in-house for an SEO agency way back when, there was a camaraderie that was formed by creating snarky nicknames for clients, undermining their image, and fostering a slight air of condescension. I always found this to be a lesser business practice, and while it is easy to be disparaging about clients that are more demanding and unreasonable, we’ve taken an effort at MMM to refrain from having an attitude towards semi-toxic clients from devolving. I was pleased to see this was the case at the retreat, too – I don’t believe I heard one person saying anything negative about a client. Even if everyone wasn’t necessarily relaxed enough with strangers to vent about their client base, there wasn’t even a mention or reaction that would have tipped off that sentiment.

Even if leadership jokes about a client being problematic or something worse, the team subconsciously perceives the client as lesser, and it goes into their work and outlook without them even realizing it. 

Agencies Work Hard to Develop and Retain the Right Talent, Resulting in Stronger Capabilities and Client Experience

Agencies generally acknowledge the standout employees they have and work hard to develop them. Just like any other business, employee turnover is expensive and tiresome work. 

Most Agency Owners Are Genuinely Good at the Service They Provide

After numerous conversations about SEO, branding/messaging, social media, web development, etc., my personal consensus is that people know what they’re doing. It’s always a fear that the “person in charge” is just a glorified salesperson who BS’d up to this point and eventually hired a couple of people who knew a few things. People took pride in their craft and got plenty of gratification from building great websites and managing strong marketing campaigns.

Agencies Love Giving Back to Their Community and Being Philanthropic

Whether it was a scholarship, charity, or periodic “philanthropy” day, most agency owners had a sense of community and a desire to give back to their respective industries or geography.

Agencies Have a Tendency to Learn From Reputable and Reliable Agencies and Take Those Qualities to Perpetuate Their Own

I personally get served the most toxic, adrenaline-fueled agency growth ads I’ve ever seen on Facebook – I’m in constant awe and resentment of the platform for this reason. For every 100 ads about client acquisition and scaling an agency, there are quite literally 0 ads about how to run a meaningful agency and do right by your existing clientele. It’s a chasm, and it’s pretty disgusting, to be totally honest.

Though every business needs a plan in place for client acquisition, client retention is arguably more important. Most agency owners understand this too, and instead of garnering wisdom from hyper-aggressive figureheads such as Grant Cardone and Gary V, many agencies look for mentors and sources that understand their agency and their services more specifically. Likewise, they seek people who have experienced modest but strong growth over time and those who have kept their current clientele front and center the entire time. 

And Do So by Spending Time and Resources to Join Groups and Attend Retreats to Operate Their Agencies Better

These agency retreats carry far beyond the hotel lobby and ballroom, much like some of the relationships you may have forged with like-minded people during a run of conferences. Agency owners hold each other accountable for months afterward via email and monthly Zooms, ensuring the takeaways they got from the retreat have an appropriate follow-through. 

The Bad

There Are Predictably Tough Consequences to Agencies Staying True to a 9 to 5, M-F

It’s hard to ding someone for having a work-life balance, but I believe your work ethic and dedication should at least meet, and normally exceed, the clientele you’re serving. Not every team member needs to be available around the clock, but as an agency owner and potentially a member of a leadership team, demands will simply cross over into early mornings, late evenings, and weekends if needed. 

Many agencies are adamant about a pure 35-40 hour workweek, and while that may work for some industries, that just can’t be the expectation in a highly competitive landscape such as legal and many other industries. If you have an issue with your website at 5:15 PM on a Friday and it won’t even be acknowledged until 9 AM or so on Monday, there are going to be real consequences to deal with during that gap in time. 

Agencies Do Spend a Ton of Energy Trying to Sell Clients Without Providing Much Information or Creating a Relationship First

Hard selling to cold leads is the general MO, which I believe is a high degree of short-sightedness. Maybe it has to do with the toxic ads I’m served on Facebook and the end result of it potentially working on other agency owners, but there’s a general belief that potential clients should immediately understand what they do, what the value is, and that you should generally be willing to wear a wedding ring at the end of the first date. 

Engaging with someone to build a website or provide a video shoot is a one-time engagement, and the buyer’s decision period may be different since the product itself is so visual. Do you like the website or video portfolio they provide? What other information do you need besides price and timelines before moving forward? The relationship component comes into play with the monthly retainer and potential long-term outlay of time and money. Does this team really know what they’re doing? How much peace of mind and established expertise/credibility do I need before doing this engagement for 3, 6, or even 12 months? This is what segues into one of the most common offerings you’ll see in the digital marketing space (and have seen for perhaps 10-15 years already up until this point)…

Blueprints/Audits Don’t Seem to Have Much Value

Apologies in advance to anyone on my side of the table pitching audits and blueprints as a foot-in-the-door to potential clients, but the angle is relatively simple for most agencies: create a heavily templatized document that outlines all of the issues with the website and marketing plan, provide just enough information for it to make sense and just enough detail for someone to potentially do it on their own, and then segue into another phase where the agency ultimately receives the contract to execute on all of the issues that were exposed. There’s a reason this is such a common agency offering. It’s easy to create, makes the agency money, and puts the potential client in a situation where they feel they won’t adequately solve the issues that were uncovered without a competent agency doing it for them.

You may think from reading this section that I am strongly against audits and blueprints, but that isn’t the case. I’m simply against this being used as a marketing tool to heavily favor the agency. Blueprints are critical for mapping out a long-term plan for marketing on a website, and whether it is free, paid, a part of your first month of work, etc., is the variable at hand, not whether or not a blueprint or audit on a website should be performed at all. Be sure to know what makes an agency’s blueprint or audit plan the price that it is because I can guarantee if you speak with enough agencies, you’ll be presented with the option to purchase one frequently.

The Ugly

Agencies Are Generally Really Confused About Where They’re Going to Go With A.I.

Digital marketing seems like it’d be positioned next door to A.I., ChatGPT, and whatever else is around the corner, but you’d be surprised. Most agencies are treating A.I. like it’s the next iteration of the internet, even though there are an extremely high number of instances of what we consider “A.I.” today that has existed for the better part of the 2010s. The interface, accessibility, and speed in which A.I. performs are mostly what has changed.

Without truly understanding it, agencies will cherry-pick the parts of it that will benefit them the most. In the article I wrote, “The AI Play is the Death of Transparency Digital Agencies Have Been Waiting For,” I explore some of the red flags associated with Digital Marketing’s association with new advancements in A.I. The more seemingly random an agency’s interpretation is of what’s happening nowadays, the more confused they probably still are.

Finances Are Measured Poorly and Many Metrics Are Ignored Altogether

There were a lot of yikes moments when speakers came up to talk about standard accounting, taxes, forecasting, and finances. I wouldn’t say the concepts were too basic, admittedly some parts became quite complex (I think they were trying to inevitably pitch their own services to the financially-wayward agencies in the room). But more advanced calculations aside—such as Effective and Actual Cost Rates—some agencies simply didn’t have Savings and Operating accounts, or a sense of cash on hand to weather a couple of months of sales lulls.

And So, a Couple of Bad Months May Mean the End of Many Smaller Agencies

The agility and flexibility of a small agency is a plus, but a poor grasp on finances is extremely touch and go. I’m not here to preach about best practices for team compensation and what a business owner needs to put back into the team and the company, but there were a few instances that appeared to be huge disparities that could really hurt an agency without a financial cushion, especially during seemingly recessionary times. Though it certainly wasn’t rampant, a couple of instances of double talk regarding an utmost priority to grow and develop a team, immediately juxtaposed with personal preferences that would hinge on living beyond one’s means, was not representative of anything that could be considered grounded values. 

All in all, it was a great experience, and I would always recommend doing a more intimate conference or retreat, especially if you feel your immediate social and business circles have stagnated and you could benefit from the additional insight.

Contact Market My Market for All Your Digital Marketing Needs

Networking your company at a marketing conference can help drive your business forward. Maintaining a strong marketing strategy and cementing yourself as a professional is a fantastic way to get people talking about your business and to make meaningful connections. 

Market My Market offers a combination of services to help your professional presence expand. We specialize in digital marketing and are ready to speak with you today. Contact us by calling (800) 954-9441 or completing our online contact form to talk with one of our digital marketing experts.