Agencies should be like family doctors
How marketing agencies are broken, and how to fix them.
Welcome to my first newsletter. I write Demand Curve’s weekly newsletter for 71,000+ founders and marketers. But this is where I do deep dives on startup and audience growth.
I’ve run a marketing agency for 6.5 years now. We’ve worked with Microsoft, Ancestry, Tumblr, Pilot, Feedly, and many more.
Marketing agencies, in general, are broken. (And yes, ours was broken too.)
They don’t focus on what matters to their clients. They focus on what matters to them.
First, some context. Realities about marketing agencies:
They have high overhead. Their business is reliant on humans. To scale, they need more humans. Humans are expensive. Particularly if they have office space.
They want sexy logos. A well-known client is often worth losing money on. Having worked with a huge name makes closing clients easier.
They’re only good at a few things. Marketing is very diverse. It’s impossible to specialize in everything. At best an agency is good at a handful of things. They push clients to do those things.
They front-load value, then coast. Most agencies make all their profit with long retainers. A lot of the main value was delivered upfront. Then they coast with profitable maintenance work.
And here’s how a typical marketing agency works:
A company has trouble growing. They decide that they need to run Facebook Ads in order to fix their growth problem. (Perhaps a friend told them Facebook Ads is working great for their business.)
The company looks for a Facebook Ads agency. There are a lot of them. They read an article or get a recommendation and apply to the agency.
The agency, with its overhead, desire for sexy logos, and only being good at Facebook Ads nods its head and says “yes Facebook Ads is what you need.” That will be $15k/mo.
This is completely backwards.
Imagine the medical industry worked this way.
You get a headache. You go on google and see that one of the early signs of brain cancer is a headache. Or a friend tells you, “my friend had a headache, and it turned out to be brain cancer, you better get it checked out!”
You run to the doctor’s office and declare: “Doc, I have brain cancer. Plz giv chemo!”
The doctor, who specializes in chemotherapy, and has a lot of overhead, nods along and says “excellent, I have 10 years of experience in chemotherapy. I’ve cured over 1,000 patients with brain cancer. That will be $50k.”
That would be absolutely absurd.
But that’s exactly what happens with marketing agencies. Companies self-diagnose and then hungry agencies swoop in to sell the cure.
An agency should be a family doctor
Instead, an agency should be like a family doctor. A partner in diagnosing the problem, and coming up with solutions.
A partner that is agnostic to the specific solution—but can refer to and manage the relationship with appropriate specialists as needed.
For example, they’d work with that company to determine if Facebook Ads was even the right area for them to focus on. They’d thoroughly audit the business, product, market, current and past marketing campaigns, messaging, branding, and positioning.
They’d interview employees and customers. They’d dive into the data.
(Just how a doctor would run tests to determine the cause of the symptom.)
Then they’d compile a list of recommendations on what they think would be the highest leverage next steps in order to grow.
(Just like a doctor would suggest treatments to alleviate the symptoms based on the likely causes.)
Facebook Ads very well could be on that list. But it’s probably not the first thing.
This is the entire thesis of my marketing agency, Bell Curve.
We’re a team of senior strategists. We act like family doctors that work with companies to diagnose the causes of their growth problems.
We then use our network of talented freelance specialists to help solve clients’ growth problems. Whether that’s ads, content, branding, building new apps, expanding into new markets, pivoting or overhauling products, or restructuring internal teams.
We’re completely agnostic to the problem that clients have. Because we:
Identify the problem(s)
Find the right specialist(s) to help fix the problem(s)
Manage the team of specialists
This is fundamentally how we think agency-client relationships should work.
You’ll see me champion this for the marketing agency industry to change.
This isn’t to say that every agency should work this way
I think most agencies should stay specialized in a specific task. Like SEO.
Just like people who are good at plumbing should keep their plumbing businesses. And electricians should stay as electricians.
But companies should engage one marketing agency to act as a “general contractor.” That general contractor would then manage the job:
Identify the problem and solution
Bring in specialists to do the work.
Manage and centralize the relationship.
And if a company is sophisticated enough to have its own internal “general contractor” then they can do it themselves.
But many are not.
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