Digital Agencies are Failing Their Clients

When I first read the HBR Article “6 Reasons Marketing is Moving In House”, my first reaction was to write an impassioned rebuttal explaining why clients were wrong to do so. As I read the research report from the Society of Digital Agencies that the article was based upon, however, I changed my mind. The report’s data convincingly demonstrates how many agencies are failing their clients by not reacting fast enough to change or by not moving at the “pace of the social consumer.” The CEO of agency Big Spaceship summed it up by describing how agencies are struggling with “elasticity,” “chemistry” and “velocity.”

A far more productive approach, then, is to accept some of the basic premises and describe how HackerAgency, in particular, is evolving.

Agencies are slow

Unfortunately, true. We have been mired in pipeline/waterfall approaches to work. In order to change, HackerAgency is adopting many agile-inspired methodologies. We are encouraging smaller, more dedicated teams who are empowered to make decisions. We are helping team members reduce noise and increase velocity and flow. We are looking at the physical layout of the agency to find ways to improve communication, collaboration and coordination. We embrace change and expect it.

But, even if we cut agency time in half, campaign cycles are often encumbered by labyrinthine and rigid client structures. So we are helping our clients break down their own internal silos by improving program documentation, and making it more vivid, memorable and portable. This helps clients sell ideas internally, and accelerate review and approval cycles. We are bringing clients in earlier to help roadmap projects, so we have a common understanding of campaigns, level of effort and timing.

Are agencies attracting the best digital marketing talent?

At HackerAgency we are investing in training. All directors and VPs have their own budget that they can use at their discretion to create custom training at the team or individual level.

This year we have initiated a Digital Marketing Certification program which is open to all employees. The program extends for 6 months and covers topics such as tag management, analytics and attribution, and online privacy.

We supplement the digital certification with additional training every Wednesday with evolving topics such as mobile video and website optimization. We are making much of this training available to our clients as well, by the way.

From a recruiting standpoint, we are identifying not only the right digital skills up front, but also assessing a willingness to learn and evolve in potential candidates.

Agencies are stuck on advertising

Rather than just executing campaigns, we are being asked more and more for consultative expertise and strategy, especially in the data and analytics arena. Consulting requires a focus on the long-term success of the relationship instead of the short-term gain. It often requires embedded personnel and a new level of immersive, face-to-face client interaction. This new type of relationship demands patience and true innovation, rather than the tried and true convention.

If you don’t like change, you probably shouldn’t be in the agency business. Embracing new challenges is part of the fun of working in marketing. Continuous learning has been our mantra, both for our clients and us. I can’t wait to see what’s next.


Matt Witter, General Manager, HackerAgency