What Challenges Are Agencies Facing in 2018?

Liraz Postan
Liraz Postan

What Challenges Are Agencies Facing in 2018?

Today’s businesses face massive competition. For every business owner looking to scale, it’s crucial to have someone you can trust to help manage the hands-on tasks of growing your business. And that ‘someone’ is agencies.

When it comes to marketing, advertising, ad tech, and more, you may be relying on the expertise of an agency every day. So, choosing the best agency to help you reach your goals is absolutely critical.

But let’s not forget – agencies are also businesses, facing their own challenges. As a client, it’s a good idea to step back every now and again, and see how things look from the agencies’ perspective. This will benefit you, as it will help you make the most of your agency relationships.

So we’ve gone straight to the source, and asked top agency professionals to give us a sneak peek at the challenges they face today, and what they would do differently if they could turn back the clock.

Take a leap into the fascinating world of agencies, and see where they stand in 2018:

Emily Rowe

Emily Rowe from Social Sensei LLC

“By far, our biggest struggle is a talent with a work ethic. I fired four people in 2017-2018, and currently, have a staff of four with one member on retainer. My current team is PHENOMENAL but, wow, was finding them both expensive and time-consuming.

I’ve realized, when you come across good talent, even if you can’t afford to, find a way to hire them. NOTHING is more valuable or helps you grow more than a good team. My whole staff now, I knew back in 2017. I’ll never totally comprehend why I waited a year, and stressed myself out, to hire them.”

George from Matrix Marketing Group

“As an agency, we believe in content marketing aligned with a solid SEO strategy. This requires a consistent editorial calendar filled with great content. We think like an editor, write like an editor, while knowing that we are writing for two audiences. The human reader (our audience) and the machine reader (search bots).

Publishing new content is the easy part, however, keeping older content fresh, updated, and maintained is the harder part.

Plus, I’m watching artificial intelligence (AI) as if related to our content marketing strategy very closely.

One of the biggest challenges of content marketing is answering critical questions like:

  • “What type of content do my customers really want?”
  • “How do I move customers from one stage to the next?”

I see the future of SEO heading to artificial intelligence where hyper-personalized content is created based on detailed data about your audience that previously wasn’t possible.

Marketers and SEOs using old hacks and tricks will find themselves left in the dust as these algorithms get better at matching individuals to the content they want when they want it.

By understanding and harnessing AI, we will find new ways to incorporate these innovations to create better content and strategy. This will help our agency capitalize on the benefits of AI for our content marketing. Ultimately, it offers the user better information and better content.”

Eagan from Get Found Madison

“Right now, it’s the time crunch to serve clients and get results for them. I started as a solopreneur and have built up a team of freelancers. We have been straddling the increasingly blurry line between W-2 employees and 1099 contractors for a while, largely because we haven’t had the resources to hire full-time, and because the skills we need and the processes we follow need to be trained. My main solution has been to train freelancers on our processes as best I can, so we can fulfill the work we’ve been hired to do.

If there was only one thing I could have done differently, I would have hired help sooner. It’s amazing how much leverage this grants you to focus on sales and business strategy instead of day-to-day fulfillment.”

Kent from Anvil Media, Inc

“As a career agency professional specializing in digital and owning my own measurable marketing agency since 2000, I have a few thoughts on agency challenges.

Despite increasing competition, recruiting challenges, and industry aggregation, the number one challenge we face with clients is responsiveness. Many clients wear many hats and are otherwise distracted and unable to respond to our questions or requests in a timely manner. Eventually, the lack of momentum often leads to the relationship ending unnecessarily. If we can build sufficient trust and respect with key contacts on the client side, they are often willing and able to overcome communication and implementation gaps.

If I could do one thing differently, it would be to adapt to changes sooner. We waited too long to restructure our team in order to address the evolving search engine marketing industry, ramp up recruiting, sales and marketing efforts to address competition, and most of all, develop a client retention program.”

Alex from Spatially, Inc.

“The #1 challenge we see is setting expectations early on. We often have customers coming in with either dated expectations or outright unrealistic expectations. The form group consists largely of businesses that found success advertising 10+ years ago, at a time when there was a lot less competition and clicks were a lot cheaper. The latter group typically consists of businesses that haven’t advertised before, and often expect to see dramatic results overnight, not taking conversion or learning phases into account.

In either of these scenarios, we’ve found that it’s critical to have an honest dialog with the customer long before any contracts are signed. We want to understand their goals and help them understand how advertising works and what they can expect. Otherwise, we’re setting both them and ourselves up for failure.

Going back in time, this is also the first thing I’d change. We’ve managed a few large campaigns that blew away all of our expectations when it came to delivering tangible results (customers) at a great acquisition cost. Yet, the customers didn’t have a realistic benchmark and wanted tenfold the numbers we brought in. Had we learned this beforehand, we could have steered the conversation to reset expectations and given them the opportunity to back out if our target acquisition costs were still out of line with their goals.”

Rhea from Outspoken Media

“Clients are asking about how paid, social, and SEO can work together to improve overall spend and cost efficiency. Typically these teams have worked in a siloed fashion across enterprise organizations, but increasingly, in-house teams and vendors are having to collaborate on analysis and strategy.

This is new for us as we’re having to understand entirely new areas of marketing, connect with those data sources for analysis, have more cross-team communication, and deliver meaningful insights beyond what we’ve specifically been contracted for.

Bottom line is that businesses need more value and strategic decisions about their marketing spend, independent of a set service list. These are good challenges as they position us more as a consultant, but they do bring growing pains when it comes to training and staffing a team that can answer higher level questions.

In terms of what I would do differently,  as a female business owner who chose to have children, I stepped away from marketing our business to run the business. The end result is a pipeline that dried up over time and a lot of industry change that was difficult at times to keep up with. Leaning in caused me to lean out of a few areas until I was out of the baby phase of life. Just like Cardi B leaving Bruno Mars’ tour after she realized having a baby and touring six weeks later is a bit much! We think we can do it all, but we can’t and I wish more women had been brutally honest with me about that. Achieving a balance is critical for growth and personal satisfaction. I would’ve had a stronger marketing and business development strategy and team in place before having kids.”

Philip, from PAN Communications

“As the CEO of an agency with a growth trajectory like PAN Communications’, it’s never a good idea to wear too many hats. I found that as we grew in numbers – employee count, number of offices, revenue – I was stretching myself too thin. In 2018, I stepped away from client relations responsibilities to focus on the bigger business picture for our agency. We responded by shifting our leadership roles to accommodate our clients, and by building a dedicated “Client Relations Team,” comprised of two Senior Vice Presidents. These SVPs now act as the liaison between clients and executive management and allow our agency to provide better overall customer experiences.

Not only did this shift give me valuable time back to strategically run my business, but it also gave the SVPs a chance to grow professionally in an area where they each excel. Shortly after the shift, we added a third member to the client relations team to oversee regional client relations efforts. We are already seeing the tremendous impact this team has made on our agency, as clients are relying now more than ever on firms to deliver exceptional integrated experiences. If I could go back in time, I would have created this new role years ago knowing the influence it has had on our agency.”

Joshua Keller serves as co-CEO of Global Agora

“The most significant challenge facing agencies today and moving forward to 2019 is the fragmentation of native audiences. The need to test a product to find which platform is best to market it and where you’ll have the most success can be very costly. Manual testing can be extremely time consuming and expensive. You find out what will be successful through trial and error.

I found myself looking for ways to test and scale at a faster rate, to increase ROI, and launch multiple campaigns at once. I discovered that automation was the solution and ended up creating a software platform, called Maximus, that allows agencies to scale at a larger rate, as it combines machine learning with a media buyer’s expertise.

The native advertising platform is revolutionary in that you spend money in different places, it sees where you’re having success, and then optimizes what works, allowing you to scale at a much faster rate.”


Liraz Postan

Liraz Postan

Liraz is an international SEO and content expert, helping brands and publishers grow through search engines. She is Outbrain's former SEO and Content Director and previously worked in the gaming, B2C and B2B industries for more than a decade.