10 Things We’ve Learned Running an Agency

Feb 04, 2021

Running any business is challenging, but a marketing agency can be particularly difficult. It has taken us well over a decade to understand the foundation and framework that makes an agency successful and still, there are constantly changing variables at play.

Anyone will tell you that one of the biggest challenges with marketing is appropriate attribution. This is the scary question that all clients ask at some point or another: Did my marketing agency sell my product or did something else?

In the realm of marketing, who receives credit for a successful campaign comes down to what we can track, measure, and attribute conversions to, which is not always possible to demonstrate and showcase. This is why it is so important for all agencies to build campaigns with clear targets and measurements so that we are better prepared to show our work and what value we bring to the table. It is a constant challenge, but an important one to address.

Of course, there are rewards too, especially when great clients trust you with their brand and everyone is aligned on what success looks like. There is nothing quite like the completion of a successful marketing campaign where the client and agency both feel like they’ve won. That is the prize.

We have learned a lot building Blue Door and we decided to start documenting the lessons we learned so far.  If you’re an agency, take a read, and hopefully it provides inspiration for how you can fine tune your processes, or transform your outlook.

Prioritize clear communication

While it is a severely undervalued skill, clear communication is the answer to most challenges, regardless of industry. At a marketing agency this is especially true. Whether it be pitching new logo concepts to clients or explaining a client’s feedback to the team, being able to communicate clearly and concisely trumps most other skills and saves everyone a lot of time.

Recognize the difference between great projects and great clients early

A great project is one that fits your agency’s core capabilities and meets your standards for a reasonable budget and timeline. A great client is one that respects your expertise, knows what they want from an agency, and treats people reasonably. In a perfect world, you want both, but this is not always the case and it's important to recognize what situation you're dealing with going into a new project.

Never stop selling

Or, as a client of mine often tells me, "Always be closing." Selling our value doesn't just happen at the start of a new engagement.  It occurs during every single client interaction.  We cannot get overly confident once we have signed a contract, rather we have to convince the client they made the right decision every day. For an agency, we must have recurring revenue and repeat customers and that means selling and showing our value 24-7.

New business development is everyone’s job

It's important to recognize that your entire team plays a role in new business development. Although everyone might not actually be involved in writing a proposal, every team member interacting with potential clients has the opportunity to reinforce or damage your position as an agency, or any business. Each team member is therefore a salesperson and they must take that responsibility seriously.  At Blue Door, all team members are regularly trained on roles and tasks that are outside their responsibilities so that they can articulately sell the suite of services at the agency, versus just their department. We also encourage all team members to join new business calls so they can learn the art of selling and how to communicate our value to a prospective client.

Define expectations and then exceed them

I cannot stress this enough. At the start of every client relationship or new campaign, make sure you clearly communicate the goal of the project, and define what success looks like. Perhaps the most important thing to realize is that setting expectations is a two-way street, and the client must keep up their end of the bargain too. If they can't deliver on their end, how can we deliver on ours? Once expectations are clear, this is when we reach for the stars and exceed those expectations.

Remind clients why they hired you

Your agency has a specific expertise, skillset or a unique process that impressed your client at the very beginning. That's why they wanted to work with you, but client perspectives can change, leading to a pivot request mid-campaign. As agencies, it’s important we take a stance in our projects, and we cannot budge if we feel a client is making a decision that could impact results or our ability to deliver on our scope of work. The short game here would be to cater to your client, forget the market research, and do as the client asks. Although this might be the path of least resistance to getting work approved, once the rubber hits the road, the new direction could be off target and possibly irrelevant. The long game is the path we must stay course with. It’s to educate the client on best practices and the competitive landscape. It’s to disagree. It’s to push harder. It’s to fall back on the years of marketing experience we have (because this is actually what the client is paying for), and to strive for good work.

Don’t deviate from sound processes and structure

This one is easy: Quality stems from consistency, and consistency comes from processes. Establish them early and don’t deviate. Things can be busy. Projects can become increasingly complicated. But your team needs to know how to prioritize and stay productive. Encourage employees to plan their days, tackle projects in large blocks and minimize distractions so they can deliver projects on time. 

Sleep on it

By taking some time and literally sleeping on it, the solution can end up being in a completely different direction to our initial reaction. At Blue Door, we also often encourage clients to sleep on a creative concept or strategy before giving feedback

When everything is ASAP, nothing is ASAP


Know your worth and don’t offer discounts (and definitely don’t work for free) 

We all know there will always be competitors out there willing to do the work that we do at a lower price point. We also know that clients will always try to negotiate.  We must know our worth, avoid discounting, and never work for free. We must remember that there is plenty of work to go around and there are many clients out there who will pay the price for quality client service, hard work, and commitment to results.

Blue Door was founded in 2017 and is based in Toronto, Ontario. The agency employs a growing team of marketing professionals, digital marketing experts and creative graphic designers. It represents clients across the country in the sectors of healthcare, hospitality, technology, travel and fashion.  

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About the Author:

With more than a decade of experience in public relations and public affairs, Laura Silver has worked with clients across various sectors including healthcare, technology, finance and transportation. Specializing in media relations and crisis communications, Laura has created Blue Door as a niche firm specializing in healthcare, hospitality, technology, travel and fashion.