Digital agencies: the surprising secrets of staying successful

Duncan Hendy, content strategy manager, Kentico, reveals the key to being a high-performing agency.

It all started so well. You had a vision. You made a commitment. You worked hard. You sweated blood and (once you were drained) you paid others to sweat for you. You put it all on the line in the name of a successful digital agency. So, why, then, oh why, is Success such a fickle mistress?

But then, some agencies seem to have her attention. What is the love potion that keeps Success in their grasp? What are they doing – or rather, what are you not doing – to be desirable to that which you desire? What can you learn from your successful digital agency counterparts (aka competitors)?

Kentico and Millward Brown did some interesting and revealing research on the matter, interviewing 300 top digital executives across three continents on their company’s success – or lack thereof. And it seems there are some crucial areas on which uber-successful agencies are focused that their less successful rivals are not.

Captivating careers

None of you would underestimate the importance of engaged employees who share in your passion for what you do and your desire to succeed. But it can be like extracting blood from a stone. So how does one engender such aspiration? Bigger pay checks? More vacation?

Probably. But not above offering respect, recognition, autonomy, advancement, strong company values, and transparency. It seems that empowering your staff through these things pays dividends in loyalty, hard work, and mutual respect. By igniting your team with what actually motivates them, you fuel better working relationships, more efficient workflows, and greater team output; all going towards making your agency the place everyone wants to work, including those industry-steering rock stars who bring with them hot new tools and technology you didn’t even know your company needed to take that next step up.

And this leads nicely to the other main area of investment for higher achieving agencies:

Top-drawer technology

Your clients are in no doubt their technology needs updating. This is the digital era and if they’re not multichannel-ready, then they’re selling to dinosaurs.

So now they want it all: omnichannel content management, Web and mobile analytics, social media integration, email marketing, personalisation, etc.

Whereas many are still offering a conglomeration of disparate technologies with multiple interfaces which require constant management (or, perish the thought, your own legacy CMS), smart agencies are embracing technology that offers it all inside one platform at much more affordable prices.

By choosing technology wisely and having an army of staff that know it inside out, such agencies reduce development time and costs and increase profitability of each project while creating the capacity to take on even more.

So they’ve got the people and the technology, what more could they want?

Mighty methodology

Two thirds of the most successful agencies interviewed, compared to only 41% of below-average agencies, have an agile strategy in place. Why is everything about ‘agile’ nowadays?

Well, smart agencies don’t just set out goals and SLAs, they measure themselves against them. They break their projects into smaller chunks and all involved teams are able to see the lay of the land though development, how their involvement (and that of others) affects the project, where sticking points and communication issues are, and which tasks should take priority and why. Clients aren’t excluded from this transparency and can easily measure progress through each chunk (sprint), see when work is dependent on their input, and stay abreast of the overall timeline of their baby, I mean project.

This streamlined approach enables synergised workflows and makes those never-in-a-million-years deadlines an attractive challenge. And what’s more, an agile methodology enables those critical nimble responses to new information, modifications to the spec, crucial visitor feedback, and sudden changes in the market.

So why is everything about agile nowadays…? Perhaps because it works.

Staying successful

So it seems Success isn’t as shallow a beast as we like to imagine. Like the rest of us, she’s attracted to what’s inside:

Agencies with good, clear values that their team of motivated, hard-working rock stars share and whose output is leveraged by intelligent technology that does what the client wants in the way the client needs, and whose approach to work is collective, accountable, and transparent.

Doesn’t sound that hard, does it?

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