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Agencies are up against it – but that’s always been the way.

Pandemic aside, competition is hot and the in-housing movement is placing downward pressure on them to bring more value. 

Oh, and a ‘small’ side note: 

They must maintain steady growth and a positive cashflow to keep their directors and investors smiling.

The truth is, independent agencies love a challenge, and they thrive in change. It’s what makes the industry so attractive to work in and pushes new, innovative ways of driving growth. 

Here, we show how independent agencies can win, retain, and upsell clients by using insight to prove they’re worth the investment.

What’s stunting agency growth (and how to fix it)

1. There’s work out there, but not the kind for growth.

Independent agencies haven’t been short of work. If anything they’re overflowing with it.

As we wait patiently for the ‘post-COVID’ world, agencies have been busy churning through shorter-term project work. It’s servicing that work with short staff and less visibility, after inevitable cuts had to be made, that’s the difficulty.

Turning to a more project-based strategy offered greater short-term security when retainer work was harder to come by. 

But although it’s often more profitable than retainer work, project work doesn’t lend itself to growth in the same way.

2. Research capability slows things down.

The catch-22 is you need resource to pour into new business pitches if you’re to really compete.

What’s more, smaller agencies often have more clients on their roster, which can drain resource in itself.

The aim is to work smarter, not harder.

Today, clients expect you to execute your plans based on reliable data. And, more often than not, poorly executed research not only wastes time in the short term, it also means bigger problems down the line.

It’s all about balancing the right research tools with the right expertise.

3. Displaying individuality, but also reliability.

This is all bound up with branding and messaging, and it’s a bigger restriction to growing a client base than you’d expect.

Ultimately, clients want ROI. They’re looking for insight-driven, intelligent solutions to their problems to save them money in the long run. But to grab their attention, you have to be unique – and unique doesn’t scream reliable. 

It’s all about showcasing your talent for ROI in an exciting way.

Meet the challenges head-on, armed with insight

The answer for independent agencies looking to deliver on growth targets relies on approaching new business with confidence, and retaining existing clients with ease. 

And for that you need quality insight mined from fresh data that goes far beyond traditional measurements, allowing users a full overview of consumers’ motivations along with their behaviors and demographics.

And it’s what clients, especially the big kind, are after:

Big businesses (with 500+ employees) are 23% more likely than the average business to say it’s important to use data to drive better decisions.

And with insights at hand, it’s possible to punch well above your weight.

Here’s how to do it.

1. Look for quality.

Agencies of every size know the value of good quality consumer data – the kind that’s been collected using a robust methodology and that goes deep enough to answer your most specific and tailored questions.

On the more exciting side, it needs to be quick, fresh and simple to use. GWI’s next-generation platform is designed to make it easy to become an expert on your audience.

Here’s how.

  • Find answers at will: Whether you’re working on quick, one-off projects or long-term retainers, you need to be able to answer the questions as they arise to sidestep obstacles and shine a light on the opportunities.
  • Be versatile: Lots of clients means lots of audiences and lots of markets. You need your research to be as adaptable as your workforce is. 
  • Get detail: If you want to drill down into what really matters to audiences, and what’s driving key trends, you’ll need all the detail you can get.
  • Make research accessible: Insights aren’t just for analysts. With a source that’s easy (for everyone) to use, you’re empowering your business to be truly data-driven.

2. Think twice about your resourcing.

As agencies begin to focus more on hiring again, there’s opportunities for saving cash. 

Looking closely at the needs of the business, rather than automatically hiring for the roles you once had, is the first step. 

Think about using the same money to invest in elevating your capabilities. Rather than being drawn into a bidding war for expensive strategists, for example, invest in upskilling your team to do their own research. 

It’s all about having the right tools, and staff that are willing to learn. It’ll help you deliver on demand, without having to grow headcount right now.

3. Let your research accentuate your qualities. 

There’s plenty of reasons why businesses choose to work with independent agencies over in-housing or networks. The key is knowing why that is, and using those qualities to your advantage.

Faster turnarounds: Showcase how your clients can get the answers they need quickfast. Offering that personal touch means you’re on hand to give them support when they need it.

A fresh approach:  Big clients love the way independent agencies seamlessly slot into their in-house teams. Show how your insights will bring a new dimension to their current working style, without any disruption.

Cost effectiveness: Value for money is always front of mind when partnering with an agency. With the right data source, you’ll be able to give them much more. Deeper research, faster idea-to-action turnarounds, and more in-depth reporting – it all saves cash in the long run.

4. Measure success, and measure it well.

Determining the return on your efforts is crucial for anyone, especially agencies under constant pressure to justify their decisions and recommendations.

GWI couples extensive panel data with real-time analytics, offering a more holistic view of audience behaviors across: 

  • Time
  • Location
  • Devices
  • Platforms

Incorporating this type of tracking into your strategy is the most accurate way to measure success and know what you’re doing works.

Being transparent and pernickety about how you measure success is what instills confidence in your clients, and reinforces the ability to make effective decisions that work. It gives your agency that stickiness needed to retain business.

To showcase how to put the above into practice, here’s how one independent agency put insights front and centre of their strategy to bring in new opportunities.

Case study: Bigeye finds competitive advantage with consumer data 

Florida-based independent advertising agency, Bigeye, works with everyone from emerging startups to established brands. 

They’re always looking for that special something that sets them apart, elevates their quality, and ultimately, helps them achieve their growth targets.

The challenge

Amid rising competition, Bigeye needed to gain better recognition – in a way that would preserve their longevity and ensure the agency’s continued success.  

One of the key difficulties was they felt they were being passed up by large clients, favoring bigger more longstanding competitors. 

“During initial meetings with prospects, we could see that they weren’t convinced we ‘knew’ their audience, and we risked losing them,” says Karen Hidalgo, New Business Specialist at Bigeye. 

The action

“Because of this, there was a huge push to upskill the team to become best-in-class experts in audience research; pulling it, analyzing it, and acting on it.” 

They started digging into local audiences, looking beyond demographics and behaviors, and revealing the thoughts and feelings of the people behind the stats. 

It’s this, Karen explains, that started to set them apart.

The team understands data is currency – and bargaining power – which is why audience profiling has become a winning part of their pitching strategy, helping Bigeye stand out in the process.

The result

By using deep audience insights to paint a picture of who their prospect’s audiences were (and the ones they needed to be targeting) they were able to capture and hold their attention. 

And things started to look brighter as a result: “We can optimize our campaigns with greater precision. We’re learning and making advances all the time.” Because of the success they were able to increase internal headcount, and provide more confident, research-driven solutions to clients.

Since the shift, they’ve experienced improved work quality, reputation and presence in the market.

Whilst you grow, so should your capabilities

A good growth strategy, whether the focus is on retaining business or winning new clients, hinges on proving how well you can deliver – and projecting that message outwards.

Baking insights into your work instills confidence and gives you the validation to say “this is how we should go forward, and this is how we’ll measure success”. 

And it’s that insight-driven approach that saves costs, hooks in business, and makes you indispensable to existing clients.

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