The traditional marketing agency model is dead
This time last year I embodied the very definition of insanity.

I was stressed out and anxious.

I was working long hours.

Mike and I were creating beautiful proposals that did not result in signed contracts.

Rinse and repeat.

When I looked around at every other marketing agency, they were not only thriving, their social media outlets showed a staff smiling and having fun.

So, why wasn’t Bragg Media?

‘The Customer is Always Right’

It was at HubSpot’s Inbound marketing conference last year that changed everything for my business. The HubSpot founders Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah replaced the traditional marketing funnel with flywheel. Unlike the funnel, the customers go through a sales process and ultimately become an after-thought. With the flywheel, marketing, sales and service put customers at the center.

Mike and I always thought we put the customer first, but we were making the same mistakes a lot of small marketing agencies make: we were holding on to the traditional marketing agency model.

“The customer is always right” is an old school notion that sales and marketing abandoned many years ago. Perhaps it was around the Madmen era when actors posing as white-coated doctors promoted cigarette smoking? If it weren’t for Federal Trade Commission regulations that can result in hefty penalties, imagine how far major brands would go to mislead their customers.

Last year in a well-attended keynote speech, Halligan and Shah unveiled the Customer Code, a manifesto of HubSpot’s ethical and philosophical tenets and how to put them into action:

That’s when I decided to dramatically change the way I run Bragg Media Marketing Agency.

About this Blogger: Heather Bragg

About this Blogger: Heather Bragg

Before Heather entered the world of marketing, she was a newspaper journalist. Today, she is best known for developing well-rounded marketing plans that focus on the long-term.

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The changing marketing landscape

The existence of the traditional agency model depends on high-value retainers that span years. However, with increasing demand and access to affordable do-it-yourself marketing technology and automation, the days of Don Draper are long over.

Social media marketing has changed how big brands and small businesses communicate with their customers. The demand for communication is often instantaneous. The traditional marketing agency model can’t keep up. The model doesn’t make client collaboration an important part of the process. And often, marketing agencies become too laser-focused on the creative without thinking of the whole picture.

The insurmountable pressure agencies face for their bloated budgets skews the way they should be doing business. The traditional agency model covers excess overhead by hiking  creative fees, charging 20% commission for media buys and forcing clients into marketing retainers that aren’t meeting their goals.

Mike and I often sit across the table from business owners who have already exhausted their marketing budget on a website that they don’t like and that doesn’t generate leads. Some digital agencies hold the website hostage until the client pays a nebulous fee.

Clients aren’t stupid. DIY marketing tools and insider information has educated them on just how broken the traditional marketing agency model is. They’re hiring cheaper freelancers and smaller, independent agencies who offer a full range of marketing and creative services under one roof.

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Marketing’s next steps

So, where does this leave Bragg Media Marketing Agency?

We have made some big moves this year:

  • We invested in continuing education opportunities with HubSpot.
  • We implemented a new approach to our own marketing that is rooted in education and transparency.
  • We developed Bragg Brand Bootcamps, a service package that involves a strict protocol to the creative process.

The scariest move might seem counterproductive. We are turning away business that doesn’t align with our mission and vision. We often receive inquiries from business owners that want us to pick up their marketing midstream. However, that tendency isn’t good for the client or us.

We developed the Strategy Session that enables us to see a business as a whole. The Strategy Session is a marketing planning meeting that results in a written actionable plan for the client to keep. The Bragg Media team researches and discovers goals, challenges, audience and industry trends to create a plan that will actually work. The alternative is the spaghetti test — throwing ideas around and hoping they stick.

The Bragg Brand Bootcamps and the Strategy Session were built with the idea that all business relationships should be mutually beneficial. The process involves accountability that both parties are committed to the process and doing what they say they are going to do.

As their marketing experts, we use this time to guide them through the process, finding sustainable and affordable ways to execute creative deliverables and to find a path forward.

So far, the results have been great. Naturally, there are some who don’t want to pay for the Strategy Session and they don’t want to take the time for it, either. However, the feedback and the results have exceeded my expectations. One person told me, “Finally, a marketing agency that gets it. Why isn’t everyone doing this?”

Glen Payne and Ross Roach of Riverside Land Group, a full-service landscape and aquatics company in Bluffton, were our first bootcampers. As a startup, they needed everything — logo design, business card, rack card and website. They are so busy running their business, they don’t have the time to think about business development and marketing.

“You asked us questions I didn’t even think about,” Glenn told us.

The Strategy Session worked exactly as I hoped it would. It was a true collaboration. It’s so easy for business meetings to result in “spinning wheels” in which nothing is accomplished. Instead, at the end of the Strategy Session, we had an outline for their website and collateral content. We also had a Bragg Workup, a written document that included a recommended course of action for six months after the bootcamp.

Survival of the fittest

The reason why our agency was stuck in a stagnant cycle is because I wasn’t owning my own expert status. Even as a tenured marketing professional, I allowed the noise of naysayers fill my head. I momentarily ignored my instincts that are rooted in a commitment to high quality and good customer communication. I thought, “This is how it’s always been done.”

But then it hit me. The system is broken!

Marketing is an industry that changes quickly and is affected by emerging technology. It’s also filled with more purported experts than politics. Is it any wonder why marketing ranks alongside lobbyists and politicians on the scale of trustworthy professionals?

To break free from an unproductive cycle, Bragg Media puts our customers first. More specifically, we put our core values of integrity, advocacy and hard work to the test.

Instead of locking our clients into a yearslong marketing retainer, we permit them to break the retainer at any time.

When we make a mistake, we own it, we solve it and we learn from it.

Above all, we strive to do what is in the best interests of our clients, even if that means we’re not the best choice.

And that is what makes Bragg Media stand out.

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