I don’t very often rise to blog posts but today’s bait was too rage-inducing, too nonsensical that it didn’t seem right to let it pass by unchecked, lest it taint people’s minds with unreasoned biased ramblings.
The blog post that caught my attention was “The Death of the Digital Marketing Agency” by Logan Hall.
The first rule of any “X is dead” blog post is that the person writing it always has an agenda. In Logan’s case his entire argument is formed around the concept that growth hacking is a superior model and lo and behold he works for a growth hacking agency.
That should be enough for me stop this blog post now but let’s lay further salt on the ground of this ridiculous blog post so that nothing else can grow in its place, shall we?
Before we start I should add I have no horse in this particular race, as I no longer work for a digital agency, other than wanting to stir the pot and offer a counter argument based on my own experience studying hundreds of agencies.
If you can make it through Logan’s straw man argument you’ll come across a few key points that I’d like to counter as follows:
“Their narrow focus results in over optimised acquisition and unnoticed bottlenecks and opportunities, resulting in a lower performing business and sales funnel.”
In the past few years SEO agencies, for example, have adopted PPC, social media, analytics, content marketing, PR, data analysis and more. The industry has more tentacles than an octopus and the very idea that digital agencies are too stuck in one place just isn’t true in reality.
“From my experience they are neither concerned with the overall blended cost of sale, nor the more obvious opportunities that exist for growth. So long as they can maintain, and perhaps increase their retainer, they are ‘quids in’ and happy.”
If that were true then most agencies would have very few clients left and yet the majority of digital agencies are growing. Let’s also consider that most agencies produce detailed reports for their clients that literally give them nowhere to hide. If agencies were doing the above, they’d be found out pretty quickly.
“Across multiple industries the agency model is under pressure, with marketing being no different. Whether it’s how the travel agency was effectively replaced through technology by a combination of websites such as Airbnb, TripAdvisor and Kayak; to London’s commercial property agents being disrupted by startups such as Hubble. “
This is a false equivalence. There is a huge difference between agencies as intermediaries and agencies as service providers. Most marketing agencies are not intermediaries (like travel agencies) but offer the services themselves so this is a non point.
“Without the freedom and encouragement to learn by trial and error they can never hope to let the consumer guide their marketing activities.”
This implies agencies do no marketing research and gather no data, which isn’t true. If anything the collected pool of data from multiple campaigns gives agencies greater visibility of what is out there than a client can ever hope to achieve on their own.
I could go on…
Fundamentally Logan’s argument is based on the view that agencies are “unable to deliver the required rigour of experimentation and are certainly biased toward their own bottom lines.” Whilst it’s an interesting point that agencies could experiment more that doesn’t mean they should. For the vast majority of clients what works already is what should be invested in.
There are so many shiny new marketing toys the last thing we need is someone suggesting everyone go experiment with everything. We should let the pioneers blow their budgets determining what works and then learn from their mistakes. Smart agencies are focused on their bottom lines yes (Shock: Business exists to make money, more news at 11), but what that means is they have to offer results for their clients time and time again to do this.
Fundamentally it comes down to whether you want to bet your marketing budget in the sure thing or the rank outsider. If an agency gets results time and time again they are more than worthy of your budget. Experimental growth hacking may be fine for start-ups and disruptors but that’s not the way the majority of businesses operate.
Of course I can understand why one person’s negative experience may taint their view of other agencies and sure there are a few bad apples out there. Yet find me a digital marketing agency that is dying and I’ll find you 100 more than are booming. Heck, even Logan himself calls Rebel Hack Studios a “digital marketing agency” on his LinkedIn page, so it seems even he feels there’s life in digital agencies yet.