Self-marketing priorities: Where should your agency’s new marketing leader focus their efforts?

Written by: Karl Sakas

You know you need sales leads. But you probably don’t want to run the lead-gen process yourself, and you know prospecting is rarely a good ROI on your sales team’s time.

If you’re like many of my clients, you hire a Marketing Manager or a Director of Marketing to run self-marketing at your agency. I’ve helped agencies find and onboard this role, and it’s a challenge.

Agency self-marketing is a tough job to fill. Candidates bring lots of promises, but not always lots of competence. Your first (or second or third) hire might not work out. Yet eventually, you find that great self-marketing person. Finally!

But… now what? Lots of agencies drop the ball here—but even an amazing hire needs your guidance and direction. Let’s look at where your new self-marketing leader should focus their time and efforts, including where that intersects with your involvement as the agency owner.

14 self-marketing priorities for your agency’s new Director of Marketing

I’m going to assume you’ve hired a Director of Marketing (or Marketing Manager) with 5+ years of marketing experience (and perhaps 10+ years). They can do both strategy and tactics—including managing others on implementation—and their role is intended to be 0% billable.

Your new self-marketing leader needs to balance “Now vs. Next.” Give your new Director of Marketing this list to follow; I elaborate more on each point below:

  1. Stabilize: Get a handle on our in-progress marketing efforts, so that things don’t slip.
  2. Clarify: Discuss how to split your efforts between major categories or “buckets” of time.
  3. Prioritize: Collaborate in finalizing KPIs for your new-hire ramp-up plan.
  4. Reserve: Pre-schedule ongoing meetings with the owner, to keep things moving.
  5. Target: Refine (or create) our agency’s target client personas.
  6. Understand: Dig into our Unique Value Proposition (UVP) messaging.
  7. Audit: Create an inventory of our current marketing, to assess where things stand.
  8. Shadow: “Ride along” on sales calls and client calls, to understand our client base.
  9. Connect: Build connections with colleagues, to understand our agency’s culture.
  10. Identify: Find and start implementing some initial Quick Wins.
  11. Chunk: Divide your annual goals into smaller “chunks.”
  12. Choose: Create a 30/60/90 plan for your marketing efforts.
  13. Execute: Implement the plan, keeping an eye on the KPIs from your ramp-up plan.
  14. Iterate: Adapt from lessons-learned, to eventually build a longer-term strategy.

What if your new Director of Marketing doesn’t have 5+ years of experience? The list still applies… but they’re likely to be less self-sufficient. That’s also the case if they have limited (or no) prior agency-specific experience.

Let’s take a closer look at each of those 14 priorities, to help you customize the plan for your agency and your specific employee. Remember, you’ve ideally hired someone senior enough to take the lead on making this happen—but it’s not magically “hands off” for you; they still need your guidance and support.

NOTE ON POINT OF VIEW: For the remainder of the article, I’ll direct my advice directly to your new marketing hire (that is, “you” and “your” refers to the new Director of Marketing or the agency itself, not to you as the owner).

Prioritizing where to focus as the agency’s new Director of Marketing

Congrats on your new job! Your agency is lucky to have you on board as their self-marketing leader; most agencies struggle with the “shoemaker’s kids” problem when it comes to their own marketing.

Your biggest challenge is balancing short-term versus long-term priorities and, depending on your boss’ sense of urgency, triaging their latest idea. As a reminder for the rest of this article: “your” = “the person in charge of agency self-marketing” and “our” = “the agency.”

1) Stabilize: Get a handle on our in-progress marketing efforts, so that things don’t slip.

If a marketing initiative is currently running, make sure you don’t mess it up. This includes ongoing initiatives, as well as one-off deals.

For instance, if you have a special email promo going out… be sure the landing page is ready. If you’ve committed to write a guest post… make sure you submit it by the deadline. Same thing if you have an upcoming talk, and you need to submit a blurb or a draft of the slides.

“Stabilize” includes getting access to your agency’s relevant marketing accounts—marketing automation, Google Analytics, advertising platforms, social media accounts, etc.

2) Clarify: Discuss how to split my efforts between major categories or “buckets” of time.

The specific categories vary by role, but every agency job has work that fits into 3-4 categories. For instance, a salesperson will split their time between prospecting, responding to inbound sales inquiries, and upselling current clients.

As a Director of Marketing for your agency, those categories tend to be:

  • Lead-Gen: Generating inbound leads for your sales team to contact, and nurturing the not-ready-for-sales leads ’til they’re ready for a sales call.
  • Brand-Building: Marketing to build your agency’s reputation, focusing more on awareness and reputation rather than specific lead-gen.
  • Employer Brand: Coordinating agency-wide efforts to attract high-quality job candidates, by showing why you’re a great place to work.

This is something you and the agency owner would negotiate. For example, the owner might say: “For the first six months, your job is 70% Lead-Gen, 10% Branding-Building, and 20% Employer Brand.”

The exact percentages are less important than the need to agree on the percentages. This will give your boss leverage if you aren’t hitting their goals… and give you leverage if your boss keeps pushing you to focus on something that’s off-strategy.

  • Lead-Gen is the “noisiest” category, because it maps to monthly and quarterly lead-gen quotas. Related, it’s the category the owner will press you about the most.
  • Brand-Building is slower, since it doesn’t have the same immediacy of monthly lead-gen quotas. But ignore brand-building at your peril, since you won’t notice the problem ’til you’ve dug yourself into a hole.
  • Employer Brand is less common than the other two categories. But smart agencies embrace finding ways to reduce your recruiting costs and turnaround, which is important to your growth.

At some agencies, the Director of Marketing also oversees Partnerships, including building (or at least supporting) relationships with technology platforms and other referral partners.

The percentages will change over time. For instance, you might initially focus on Brand-Building (if no one was doing it before), and then ease back as your efforts take hold.

3) Prioritize: Collaborate in finalizing KPIs for your new-hire ramp-up plan.

Hopefully your boss drafted a new-hire ramp-up plan before they posted the job, to discuss during the interview process. They didn’t? Well, no time like the present! It’s important that you buy-into the plan as the employee, since the ramp-up plan impacts whether your boss sees you as succeeding… or not.

As I share here, the new-hire ramp-up plan focuses on the key performance indicators (KPIs) the company expects from you in each of your first 12 months. This includes how soon they expect concrete results, including your lead-gen quota and when you’re expected to take ownership of certain initiatives.

4) Reserve: Pre-schedule ongoing meetings with your boss, to keep things moving.

The owner is likely to become a bottleneck, if they don’t pre-schedule meetings with you. Why? Your boss isn’t focused full-time on self-marketing, since they’re juggling a range of other topics.

Although you’re non-billable, you don’t want to be twiddling your thumbs because (for instance) your boss hasn’t had time to make $1,000 an hour decisions about topics that go beyond your own Swim Lanes.

Pre-schedule meetings for the first few months—perhaps twice-a-week, before shifting to weekly, and then to biweekly. You’ll also want milestone meetings for major initiatives. This will combine to help your boss minimize disruptive interruptions during the week.

As a member of the management team, I’d encourage you to build a “parking lot” document of topics to ask the owner about, so you can defer non-urgent questions to your scheduled meetings.

Encourage your boss to pre-schedule time (solo) for them to review deliverables—if a document needs their input, it won’t magically review itself.

5) Target: Refine (or create) our agency’s target client personas.

I firmly believe that your target client personas (aka “buyer personas”) should inform all of your marketing efforts, including both strategy and tactics.

Once you understand the people you want to reach—including the challenges they’re facing—you can craft your marketing to solve their problems. You’re wasting time and money if you do marketing initiatives without a strong understanding of your target client persona.

Your buyer personas may change, and that’s OK. Indeed, that might be part of why the agency just hired a new Director of Marketing—especially if the agency is struggling to raise rates for current clients and/or struggling to attract bigger-budget prospects. But even if you make changes, you should understand where the agency has focused before, to inform your creating a better future solution.

6) Understand: Dig into your Unique Value Proposition (UVP) messaging.

How does the agency describe its Unique Value Proposition (UVP)—aka your Unique Selling Proposition (USP)? As you know, this messaging is a key part of your marketing. That is, once you understand your target client persona, you need a consistent message for reaching that target.

If you don’t have a UVP… or the agency created a mediocre version five years ago and hasn’t really touched it since… fixing that will be a key priority for you as the new Director of Marketing.

7) Audit: Create an inventory of our current marketing, to assess where things stand.

The audit is about using the agency’s past and present to inform the agency’s future. Specifically:

  1. What marketing activities are we doing now?
  2. How are those marketing activities performing?
  3. What marketing activities have we tried before?

This will help you identify future priorities. For instance, don’t pull the plug on what’s working well (unless there’s another issue). But likewise, don’t continue a program that’s not performing. The hard part is sorting through whether “doesn’t work” is a structural problem or due to poor execution by your predecessor(s).

There’s a “reverse” aspect to the audit, too—make a list of potential activities, and confirm what your agency isn’t doing or hasn’t tried yet. There are likely some nuggets in the negative, too.

Consider organizing the audit by channel, goal, and/or phase. For instance, which activities are top-of-funnel, mid-funnel, or bottom-of-funnel? This will help you see whether to focus efforts on attracting new leads (top), nurturing current leads (mid), or prodding nearly-ready-to-buy leads to raise their hand (bottom).

8) Shadow: “Ride along” on sales calls and client calls, to understand our client base.

It’s hard to market something you don’t understand to people you don’t understand… so arrange some “ride-alongs” in the first few months.

That is: shadow the salespeople and account managers, to hear what “real” prospects and clients say (and what they don’t say). Since you’re new to your agency, you’ll likely notice things your longer-tenured employees might miss… and those observations can make your marketing better.

I recommend shadowing internal meetings, too—including working with your project managers and strategists. This will help you understand what happens after leads become prospects become clients. It also helps you go beyond the owner’s perception alone.

9) Connect: Build connections with colleagues, to understand our agency’s culture.

Part of Warmth & Competence includes getting to know colleagues as people instead of just as coworkers. Get to know the owner (and vice versa), but also get to know your fellow directors and the front-line employees.

The right approach will depend on your agency’s culture—but for most agencies, this involves some combination of coffee, lunch, and Happy Hour. Travel helps, too—when you travel with someone, you get to know them very quickly.

10) Identify: Find and start implementing some initial Quick Wins.

By now, you’re likely exhausted, and maybe a little concerned about how much needs work. That’s OK; the agency wouldn’t have hired you otherwise.

You also likely have an initial idea of what makes your agency unique, what services it provides (and to whom), what the agency tried before (including what does and doesn’t seem to work), and what the culture is like. Time to roll-out some Quick Wins!

Your specific marketing Quick Wins will be unique to your agency. But the idea is to find 3-5 ideas that you can implement quickly, potentially with your team’s help. “Quick” is relative, of course. The ideal Quick Win is an activity that takes five minutes while generating millions of dollars in business. But those are sadly few and far between.

Instead, here are some marketing-specific Quick Wins ideas to help you get started:

  1. Apply your new messaging to your agency’s homepage and social media profiles.
  2. If you’re getting junky inbound leads, add qualifiers to your website’s contact form to boost lead quality.
  3. If you aren’t getting enough inbound inquiries, reduce “friction” by removing fields and qualifiers.
  4. Make a list of podcasts the owner (and other colleagues) might appear on as an industry expert, and pitch them as a guest to five podcasts.
  5. Create a campaign to reactivate the dormant contacts in your email database… and then scrub the dormant contacts who stay dormant.
  6. Tweak your website to overcome your prospects’ most common sales objections.
  7. Ask your account managers for recommendations on clients to feature in an updated round of Case Studies.
  8. Update your Careers landing page to highlight your agency’s recruiting strengths.
  9. Review your active email nurtures to make sure everything’s current.
  10. Tweak the call-to-action in your primary lead magnet to reflect your current positioning.
  11. Talk to your sales team to get feedback on what to add and drop from your standard sales slide deck.
  12. Cancel some legacy recurring payments, such as: subscriptions you don’t use, sponsorships you can’t leverage, and advertising that’s not optimized.

You’ll need to create a more strategic long-term plan. But in the meantime, consistent small steps contribute to bigger progress.

11) Chunk: Divide my annual goals into smaller “chunks.”

Speaking of small steps, you’ll want to convert your annual targets into smaller chunks—including quarterly and monthly goals.

Working with the owner and your head of sales, this includes creating a chunked-out “revenue plan” based on the agency’s annual goals. Be sure to adjust for your firm’s unique seasonality—for instance, some agencies are slow in December while others are slammed with year-end work.

Consider padding the timeline—for instance, seek to get more than 25% of the annual goal in the first quarter, to give you a buffer if things are slow later in the year.

Once you have your quarterly and monthly goals, you and the owner(s) can schedule an ongoing check-in process to review progress. For instance, I do reflection and planning at year-end, plus a mid-year check-in. I also do monthly meetings on a range of topics (P&L, sales, marketing, and product roadmap) to ensure we’re staying on track.

12) Choose: Create a 30/60/90 plan for my marketing efforts.

Chunk it out one more time, into a plan for your first 30, 60, and 90 days in the job. This is more about your individual goals, versus the agency-level marketing goals.

Be sure you and your boss tie your goals to the annual goals and your new-hire ramp-up plan; you’ll likely need to make some tweaks as you fit it all together. And if the agency uses quarterly “rocks” via EOS or another system, tie your 30/60/90 to that, too.

13) Execute: Implement the plan, keeping an eye on the KPIs from my ramp-up plan.

Now the less-exciting part: Execute the plan consistently. Fortunately, everything you and your boss did earlier should help you stay on track.

Be ready to push back if you boss wants you to do off-strategy activities. If they have a forceful personality—as most agency owners do—there’s a risk that they pull you on short-term tangents that hurt your medium- and long-term goals. Consider leaving your plan 10% underscheduled, to leave room for your boss’ latest idea.

14) Iterate: Adapt from lessons-learned, to eventually build a longer-term strategy.

“Done” is never truly done, because you’ll want to learn and adapt along the way. This includes building a more in-depth strategy as you better understand the agency.

Can you do statistically-significant testing? It depends on your sample size. But you can do “lightweight” testing; for instance, I noticed a nearly 10X difference in email open rate during a weekly test. The key is that I test subject lines in nearly every send, not that my team and I created that specific set of subject line options.

Be careful about drifting into “too continuous” improvement. That is, make sure there’s a point to what you’re doing, and don’t change so often that your team can’t keep up. Of course, it helps to know where to focus in the first place.

Question: What are your agency’s self-marketing priorities in the coming year?

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