Archive for March, 2017

Secrets to Starting Your Own Agency: Agency Owners Tell All Part I

March 30, 2017

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Marilyn Heywood Paige shares the real-world application of IMC in marketing agencies.

Not into 9 to 5? Thinking about starting your own marketing firm? Before you jump in, ask yourself if your primary desire is to practice integrated marketing communications (IMC), or if you love the idea of running a business and managing others who practice IMC.

When I graduated from WVU’s Integrated Marketing Communications master’s program, I started my own marketing consulting firm. Within two years of launching, I merged with a larger full-service marketing agency in Denver and never looked back. In my short stint as an agency owner, I learned that there’s a huge difference between running an agency and working in one. They require very different skill sets. So, while I liked utilizing the skills, I’d acquired in the IMC program, using them accounted for just 30% of my day as an agency owner. The rest of the time was spent networking, selling, managing vendors, billing, and accounting—things I didn’t especially want to do. I learned that I didn’t want to run an agency, I wanted to work in one.

If you’re not sure if you want to go solo, or if you’ve decided it’s the right path for you, here are words of wisdom from agency owners to help you understand more about running your own agency.

So You Want To Start A Marketing Agency

I polled successful agency owners from around the country (and a few in the UK) on what their biggest lessons were in their first year running their agency. There were a few themes they all had in common, so here is the summary of their wisdom on finances, charging for your services, and demonstrating your value to the client. In my next blog, I’ll reveal what they had to say about hiring employees and getting clients. Learn from their mistakes and shorten your pathway to profits.

Finances

Many agency owners I polled outlined the need to get your finances in order and not just hope it all falls into place.

Be Strategic

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“The biggest lesson I learned was how important it is to be lean and strategic with spending and ALWAYS aware of your financials. Without your arms around your financial situation, you’re not able to make informed decisions, flex/spend/save where you need to and ultimately, you’ll put yourself out of business.”
Karen Cummings, founder, Radiant Marketing

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Dave Hartshorne, director and digital consultant at dijitul in the UK concurs. He says, “Get your finances in order, and the rest will take care of itself. Management and accountancy software should be implemented into the business before you even start talking to customers.”

Charging for Your Marketing Services

It’s one of the hardest things to do, and the most necessary. Knowing what to charge is difficult, and many first-year owners struggle with it.

Be Confident in Your Abilities

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Will Coombe, Co-founder of Sharpe Digital an SEO company in Central London said, “In the beginning, we did not value our time enough. Looking back, there was a lack of confidence to set our fees high. This attracted the wrong kind of client and meant we were taking on too much work for not enough compensation, all leading to stress and a lack of growth.” His advice is to, “Have the confidence to charge more. If the service your agency is offering is truly exceptional and delivers value to your client, set your fees higher than the market average. This will qualify the prospective client and mean you can do a better job for more pay when they work with you.”

Coombes said it well. If there’s one thing I’ve learned is that if you don’t charge much, your client won’t value your service, no matter how good you are.

Do More Than Good Work

Many new agency owners think that if they just deliver a good service, customers will appreciate the work, referrals will come, and the business will flourish. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.

Show Your Worth

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Toby Danylchuk, co-founder of 39 Celsius in San Diego had extremely sage advice. He said, “Never stop proving the financial value of your work to current clients. You are a line item expense, and if you can’t prove the value of your work, the client will leave. For example, ‘Here’s how many leads we delivered this month at an average cost of $x per lead – this led to $x of revenue. Or ‘We improved the conversion rate on the site by x% which increased sales by x.’ “

Danylchuk continued, “If you can’t demonstrate what the economic value is of the work you are doing for your clients ongoing, they will either judge your work as a cost not worth continuing with, or competitors will pitch them, and they will run off to be someone else’s client. Never stop selling your value!”

Danylchuk is dead right. There are hundreds of digital freelancers and agencies in any given metro area and thousands across the country with whom you will compete. Clients often suffer from shiny object syndrome, a condition which makes them think that someone else has the magic bullet, so they are too often easily lead astray.

So how can you, the newly-minted college grad, compete? By doing your research and taking their advice. I will cover agency owners’ tips on hiring employees and getting clients in the next blog.

You can start your own agency. You just need to be smart and informed about it. Stay tuned for more great insights from successful agency owners who started from where you are now.

Marilyn Heywood Paige is the Vice President of FiG Advertising and Marketing in Denver, Colorado. She earned her Master’s in Integrated Marketing Communications from West Virginia University in 2013.

Other articles by Marilyn Heywood Paige

March 16, 2017

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Jenn Cartmille is expected to graduate in December 2017. She currently resides in Columbus, Ohio, where she is the Marketing Manager for the Greater Columbus Sports Commission. 

If you’re anything like me, the thought of going back to school while working full time can be overwhelming. It’s easy to be flooded with notions that it will be impossible to balance work and school, the ROI will be minimal, and the ultimate question, “How does this apply to my career goals?”

I get it, I had all those thoughts plus some when I researched graduate schools. My undergraduate program and internship experience placed me in a favorable position upon graduating in 2011. However, as I immersed myself into the “real world” and began the professional journey, it became clear that my career was taking me down a path I hadn’t originally intended.

You see, I was focused in communications and PR but, welcomed opportunities that led me toward marketing.  I soon developed a passion for content marketing, brand management, and how organizations can take an integrated strategic approach to marketing.

Upon discovery of the IMC program, it was obvious that WVU understood the importance of working while obtaining your degree and all those worries in regard to graduate school washed away. Funny how that happens when the right fit comes along. Speaking of the right fit: Soon after being accepted into the program, I took a job at the Greater Columbus Sports Commission (Sports Commission) as Marketing Manager. A new position for the organization, my role was designed to focus on brand-elevating and client-relevant marketing strategies.

Talk about new beginnings.

The Sports Commission is a non-profit whose vision is to transform Columbus into one of the world’s best sports destinations.  We bid on sporting events to drive tourism to the city. Once Columbus lands a sporting event, it is our job to service the event and make sure people, both locally and outside the city, attend the event. In addition to those portions of our job, the marketing department supports the Sports Commission brand.

Fast forward (almost) two years and I’m nearing the end of my graduate journey. As I reflect on these past couple years, I can say without hesitation that I would not have been as successful at the Sports Commission without this master’s program.

I have used the Sports Commission as a “client” in numerous classes, which in return has been a catalyst for the development of the organization’s IMC plan and its first marketing campaign that isn’t event-driven. Additionally, a website redesign is set to launch in June, a focus on in-house content marketing, dedicated efforts to web and social media analytics, all of which have transformed the way we approach our vision. The coursework and WVU professors have all been part of that journey with me as they’ve guided, critiqued, and pushed me to be the best marketer for the Sports Commission.

There are so many benefits to the IMC program and I could happily list them over a cup of coffee any day. However, if you leave this blog post with any piece of information, I hope it is this: The IMC program provides the tools for taking a holistic approach to how marketing, communications, PR, business development, events, and operations all fit into one to support and accomplish your company/organization/brand’s goals.

And for that, I will calculate the ROI on the IMC program for the remainder of my career because it will continue to prove its worth well into the future.

March 2, 2017
Jennifer-Maltba
Jennifer Maltba began her journey with the IMC program in August 2012; graduating in December 2014. Her favorite thing about the program was its ‘learn today, use tomorrow’ philosophy, which she felt truly made this a one-of-a-kind program.  A month after graduating, she took the position of Marketing Manager at Cvent, a global meeting and event technology provider headquartered in the DC area.  When not creating integrated marketing campaigns and tracking Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs), Jen can be found planning her next trip to somewhere new, exploring the neighborhoods of DC in search of the best food, or taking in the latest museum exhibit in our nation’s capital.   
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As I began my search for a graduate program in early 2012, I was looking for something that would complement my undergraduate degree of advertising communications and marketing.  I also was keen on finding a program that would have lessons that I could utilize in my current position and in the future.

In an email sent to me by the WVU IMC Team in July 2012, they promoted the program perfectly:

“The successes of our students and graduates are proof that the “learn-it-today, apply-it-tomorrow” focus of the IMC program works. Students are able to take the knowledge they gain from their courses and immediately apply it to their professional careers.” – WVU IMC Team (July 2012)

Their ‘learn it today / use it tomorrow’ theme is not just marketing spin; it is something I found true course after course.  One day I would be reading about SEO and audience insight and the next day I’m in a meeting with the web and digital teams discussing this topic.  Now two years after completing my MS degree, I continue to wish that I could go back and participate in the program again and again.

Beyond the immediate use of knowledge, there were two other factors I considered –
1) Would a fully online degree have as much clout in a future employer’s eyes as if I had gotten a degree on a campus?
2) Did the flexibility and focus of the program outweigh the loss of the “traditional” structure and face-to-face interactions with peers and instructors?

Back in 2012, fully online programs were not as well-known or as predominate as they are now.  Only a few ‘brick & mortar’ universities had started to dabble in providing programs to students who would never step foot on campus.  So at the time it was extremely important to me, and comforting to know, that the recognition and respect that West Virginia University held would overcome any doubts someone might have about the validity of the program/degree.

When people ask me about doing an online program, I explain that they are not for everyone.  Those who need to show up at a building for three hours on Tuesday and Thursdays, those who need a face-to-face lecture, or those who thrive at in-person interactions may not find a fully online degree as fulfilling.  For myself, I enjoyed and excelled at managing my schedule and workload (after the initial back-to-school adjustment of course).  I also found that the quality of professors and even classmates was exceptional.  Because of the lack of a physical classroom, my professors and classmates could be from anywhere.  I had one classmate who worked on branding at Microsoft; another who literally spent half of a course in Asia for work; people from the east coast to the west coast.  I had professors who spent their days as executives at ad agencies having worked on campaigns for Ford and Buick.  The kind of experiences and knowledge we brought to the courses was something I don’t know a “traditional” degree could provide and that is what us marketers call a key differentiator.

So to those that have begun their IMC journey with WVU, I wish you good luck! Savor it! And for those pondering whether this is the program for you, I will say that yes, it will be work, sometimes a lot of work, but in my experience the lessons, discussions, and readings that this program provides will not only expand your knowledge of marketing, but elevate your status and relevance as a true marketer.

Let’s go Mountaineers!