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The Future of Independent Agencies

May 16, 2014

Last week, we had the opportunity to attend the Worldwide Partner’s World Meeting Conference in Las Vegas. We had an incredible time learning from some of the greats about independent agencies, new business, and how to fit our models to the consumer and client, and how to become the best at what we do. The model for independent agencies is changing dramatically and rapidly. After listening to these experts speak, we decided to breakdown a list of the major ways in which independent agencies should develop in order to maximize their business and be successful in today’s markets and for the future.

1. Find Your Niche

This concept seems fairly obvious and straightforward, however, the importance in finding and targeting a specific audience is crucial in success. Casting a net too wide won’t allow agencies to fully service and connect with clients. By finding a specific niche and targeting a specific audience, you become specialized in doing things for specific kinds of clients. You can be the best in something, but you can’t be the best at everything. Specialization will make you the best at what you do, and will make you an expert, which will draw more clients.

2. Findability

Let your clients find you! Michael Gass, a consultant on ad agency new business, emphasizes the death of cold calling in today’s marketing world. Gass has become an expert in this concept of findability; if you Google “ad agency new business”, Gass and his company are the first links to pop up. This is no accident. Gass explains that social media is about being found by your client. No one likes interruptions so let your clients come to you by initiating that first call. But, to be found you must use social media to identify your audience and link your content to something they need. You get found by focusing your social media on the content that attracts the right audience for your business. Focus your media on exactly the type of people you are trying to attract and target. The more narrow, the better.

3. Using Social Media Correctly

The importance is of findability is paramount. But you will never be found if you don’t comprehend social media. It can be an incredible resource if you can use it well. Using social media, you can now network and build relationships with clients and potential clients from just about anywhere in the world. The beauty of social media is that it can work for you 24/7. Social media helps clients build an emotional relationship with you personally, before they even get to meet you. Platforms like Facebook can be a link to the professional world, but also highlight the personal world; this emotional connection is a key because you can “skip the dating process”. Using social media to start and facilitate relationships with prospective clients is more efficient and is a huge component in the future of business networking.

4. Content and Context

Building on the idea that social media is crucial to business today, it is important to remember that the content of your social media and the context in which it is perceived both have an effect on the client. To build a successful page or blog, you must first develop a strong base content and consistently develop that content. Then you must write about it. Experts write and to be an expert in your field, you must write about it and develop content worth sharing. The more specific your content is, the more you will be able to write and specialize in the ideas behind them. As Al Moffatt, President and CEO of Worldwide Partners, explained, “the key is to use the correct channels to get in front of clients in their world.” Focus on bringing content to your target audience in a way that is meaningful to them.

5. Be the “Best of Breed”

In the past, agencies used a single source model where clients could get all they wanted in one agency that did it all. While this can work for some small agencies, Tim Williams, founder of Ignition Consulting Group, explains that a better fit for today’s market is the ‘best of breed model’, where the client is at the center and makes the selections of a few agencies that focus and specialize on one aspect, therefore they are the best at it. Hiring a few really good agencies has overcome the system because now you can have the best of everything, rather than one mediocre agency. Clients hire the best agency for the job, so hyper-specialization becomes key. The ‘full-service model’ is no longer efficient or effective. Clients look for hiring expertise.

6. Speed Outruns Size

The agile philosophy takes the idea of the ‘waterfall business model’ of sequential work and changes it to an emphasis of speed. It’s about working quickly and efficiently, providing the client with services they can’t get from bigger agencies and companies. In this philosophy, projects are seen from start to finish by a small team who represents that discipline. The team works together in constant collaboration day-to-day and face-to-face. There must be an understanding of the minimum to get started, and then it must take off in a timely manner. This model emphasizes small teams of smart people who can change, adapt, and innovate in order to be responsive to the client’s needs. The idea of this agile concept is to become more specialized and to be quick and flexible enough to do things for clients.  It's to offer the client something different than what larger agencies offer. Because smaller agencies are independently owned and managed, they have the freedom to act quickly and make rapid decisions, which is appealing to clients. Beating out the larger companies is done by defining and developing your strengths and using these to your advantage.

7. Don’t Become Too Enamored With “Big Data”

With the love affair of Big Data at its peak, independent agencies must to not get bogged down in numbers. Large agencies might stress the importance of data and crunching numbers, and to an extent they are important. However, to truly outrun the larger agencies, Al Moffatt encourages independent agencies to “not play their game, win your own way”. Small, independent agencies will never be able to ‘out-data’ these large firms, however the advantage that smaller agencies have is in the ability to out-create. “Data” is a buzzword; jargon for a trend that has seemed to reach its climax. What comes after this climax of data is likely to be a creative renaissance and a rise in innovation. Small agencies have the ability to have very personal connections with their clients. Social media is a key aspect to this, however it is important to design social media to the client’s interests, rather than the agency’s interests. Know them and develop content for them. Ultimately, the future of agency lies in creativity; as data dies, the creative will move ahead.

8. Know Your Worth

Tim Williams makes an interesting comparison of high value versus low value work to a client. He calls the low value business the “logic” business of production, distribution, coordination, etc. This is relatively cheap, and can probably be done by someone within their company. The high value side is the “magic” business; the innovation, strategy and creativity. Clients can’t do the magic by themselves, which is why they need an agency. The problem with agencies today is that we tend to build our business models like a service industry, however we need to redevelop and change our perspective. We are not in the service business. We are in the knowledge business. We deal in intellectual property. To be successful, we must first invest in ourselves and our ability to create, innovate and problem solve; we must own our intellectual products. Do not under price the magic and over price the logic. Give the client motivation to pay for your magic.

9. Consolidate Carefully

In theory, consolidation is good. A smaller team means less people, which means more face-to-face interactions, collaboration and communication. Agencies today thrive from having a smaller team of core individuals and then hiring experts from outside for larger projects. However, with the recent announcement that the Omnicom and Publicis merger would not go through, it’s easy to see how egos can get in the way of agency business. While consolidation may not be the answer for all agencies, it does seem to be a trend that downsizing and simplifying networks within the agency will lead to more success. The more complex things get on the outside, the more there is a need for simplicity within.

10. Build Relationships

Building relationships is nothing new. And it’s not something that is likely to change. Building relationships will always be part of the agency business, however the way we network today is changing. Don’t let this change your relationships. Social media is the new form of business networking, therefore it is important to make it both personal and professional, and to lead with the benefits. The relationship is about them, not you. The future of building relationships is in successfully mastering social media by targeting a specific audience, connecting with them through your content, and then following through on that promise.


Raquel Baldelomar is Managing Director of Quaintise, an independent ad agency based in Los Angeles. You can reach her at