Working with Agencies

Ian Martins, Devin Bramhall

Growth Summit 2022

How to get the most out of working with external teams, like agencies and freelancers.



[00:00:00] Aadil Razvi: Basically look, if you're engaging with an agency or planning to at any point, stick around this session could save you tens of thousands of dollars. But we're gonna go ahead and kick things off.

Devin, I would love to know, there's a lot of conversation around when is the right time to engage with an agency.

Lots of folks are thinking, Okay, I should just do everything in house. Why do I want to bring on a third party? When is the right and wrong time to actually engage with an agency? And how do you think folks should think about it?

[00:00:30] Devin Bramhall: Yeah. Right now is a good time, and I can now say this without bias just because, a lot of times this happened, we experienced this during the pandemic, but when there's any kind of uncertainty or your experiencing challenges with your budget, they can be a good sort of patch.

But I think generally speaking, a lot of folks think about agencies in terms of stage of the company and doing that first initial like your early stage don't really have time to the budget to afford a full team. But you need to get started with your sort of like demand gen efforts or even if you're trying to establish product market fit and you need someone to get you started that's a good time.

And then, around like your, A round, I guess you're really wanna scale. And I think those are the two sort of stages where folks were most considering agencies. I think that one thing that we saw a lot of was just because your stage fits the cookie cutter for when an agency might be useful doesn't mean you are ready for it.

And I think that's where we ended up doing a lot of coaching with our clients. There's this idea that when you hire an agency that like magic, whatever you want is gonna come to fruition. And that's not necessarily like a wrong assumption to make. I think it's just natural. You're like I

wanted a glass of water. So I poured some water and a glass and I have a glass of water, right? But this, that's not the way agencies work. Agencies work very similar to hiring someone. You have to invest in them. You have to establish a relationship, trust, be clear about your expectations, give feedback, etc.

So I think that's a whole other thing that we can dive into, but I think, as much as stage of your company or objective your personal readiness is also a factor.

[00:02:32] Ian Martins: Totally. Yeah, That's a good sense.

[00:02:34] Aadil Razvi: Ian, what would you like to add to that?

[00:02:36] Ian Martins: Yeah, I always think about it that like an agency can add different kinds of value at different stages.

The reason you might go to an agency like pre-launch is gonna be, and the type of value that they're gonna be able to offer for you is gonna be very different than if you're like a series B company or an enterprise or something. So I think the type of value and the type of relationship and what you're trying to get out of it will change as you go through these different stages.

So there is no necessarily right stage aside from what Devin alluded to, which is are you ready to work with an agency? Do you have the right expectations going into the relationship? And I'm sure we'll talk a lot about that, but I agree with what Devin was saying.

[00:03:18] Devin Bramhall: I think also like knowing where you're, like knowing your trajectory a little bit, right?

If you know that you need some design help, but it's not something that you're gonna need long term, right? It can be just like very practical in a certain way. And that's something that I never like until I worked in an agency, never fully understood as useful. It's like some of our customers wanted us for a very specific period of time to achieve a specific thing.

And that was enough. So like the churn wasn't, it was like they left, but it wasn't necessarily bad. It was like we'd achieved what they needed and then they were like, Great. We're ready to hire someone. Can you actually help us with that? And then, bye. Thank you so much for your help.

[00:04:01] Aadil Razvi: You talked about the kind of the right time being when you're maybe trying to establish product market fit or when you're trying to scale up. I think that the scaling up makes a lot of sense. Help me understand the piece around engaging an agency in order to find PMF.

I feel like maybe common advice is to establish PMF first. Once you have a direction going and then pour fuel to the fire using an agency.

[00:04:28] Devin Bramhall: Yeah, so this, I would say this was the minority case but in some cases there like content can be a way to help you with that process. And and usually when you're at that stage you don't really have a huge budget and therefore bringing an agency on as a partner, that's also a time and I think that

could also be a time when just bringing on temporary help, like maybe an agency's possibly too much for you. But it also depends on like how full service the agency is, cause some agencies are designed to help you with that, in which case they will have people who can be your partners on the strategy side, not just producing for you.

So it really just depends on what you're getting started with. And again, what the agency can do.

[00:05:18] Ian Martins: I'd add to that too, that it really depends on your team composition as well, right? Does your founding team have any marketers on board? Like how much do you actually understand marketing?

If you're all a bunch of engineers and product folks, like you might need to bring in some outside help and an agency into the mix a lot earlier because you just don't know what you're doing and you can't invest the time and energy to learn marketing, right? And so that's something that might happen earlier in the relationship.

Now, if your co-founder is like ex-CMO of fill in the blank, then you might be able to go a little bit further before you need the resources from an agency. And you might actually just need them for execution and bandwidth, not necessarily strategic thinking at that point. So again the composition of your team is going to like, dictate that quite a bit.

[00:06:05] Devin Bramhall: And possibly your board too.

[00:06:07] Ian Martins: Yeah, absolutely.

[00:06:09] Aadil Razvi: Yeah. What skills sets and functions are you lacking? And how can you plug in the right third parties to be a partner in filling those gaps? One of the, I guess challenges you could say in like the default agency and startup relationship.

It seems like the incentives can almost be misaligned between an agency who's trying to continue to get work from the startup and the startup who's like you said, Devin, there's a specific goal that they're trying to achieve. A very practical use to have the agency. So how can startups actually make sure that incentives with agencies are aligned, Ian?

[00:06:50] Ian Martins: Yeah, that's a really complex topic. And again, I think it just depends on the stage and the type of work you're doing with an agency, right? Are we talking about creative execution? Aligning incentives is gonna look one way if you're talking about paid media, incentives are gonna look very different in aligning those.

So I think. It's hard to just paint all agencies and incentive line with one brush. I would say on the performance and media side of things, it might be a little bit easier. Obviously, if an agency's being paid on commission, on spend, there would be an inherent bias to try to get you to spend more money right? Now the flip side of that is, there's also some type of measurements ideally, that you can look to, to say is this working for us? Is it not working for us? Should we spend more? Should we not spend more? And that in and of itself, that measurements can be quite complicated and can be differences of opinion on how to look at attribution and all of that.

But I think, you go into a relationship with an agency ideally because you trust them, right? And you, and there's a lot of things that happen during the course of that relationship that either build trust or railroad trust. And so aligning incentives can be contractual, right? They can be things that you can set out contractually to align incentives.

But a lot of it is also just the relationship and it, and its trust and it's, are we doing good work together? Do we enjoy working with each other? So there's a lot of different areas in which you can try to align incentives. When I think about creative like execution so that's some, an area that I've worked in for a long time.

Are they fulfilling the briefs? Are they helping you do the work that's getting the results that you actually want to get versus just filling like scope and like doing more and more creatively. Do you need that much creative? Do you not need that much creative? Are they helping you with the business outcomes, and finding alignment there versus

just trying to ship work to you all the time and so I think finding alignment in that is really important. And, are they flexible with let's say you bought onto a certain amount of scope, of work on a month to month basis, but you don't need it for one month or two months because of whatever's happening at your

business, is there flexibility in that relationship? Can do certain things to push that scope around and what have you? I'm not sure if I answered the question directly, but there is a lot of nuance there. And depending on the type of agency and the type of work you're doing together, there's different ways to bring that together.

[00:09:21] Aadil Razvi: Certainly

[00:09:22] Devin Bramhall: Plus a hundred. I think the two things that stood out to me, one is the value of establishing expectations in the contract. It sounds somewhat boring, but that was a place where we were really able to get that early alignment with the company that we were working with, being really specific about the expectations there.

It gives you something to point back to as a shared bible between the two of you, that actually ends up serving both of you really well, because even if you're not. Expectations aren't being met or their expectations change, you have something both to go back to and say, Hey, this isn't lining up.

And then it becomes a more constructive conversation and lends to that flexibility that Ian talked about, which I think all agencies should have. I can't say all. I think it benefits an agency to be flexible so that they can maintain their customers. And then the other thing I would say is I don't actually think it's super.

I don't think it's necessarily just on the customer or even majority on the customer to maintain that alignment. I think, the agency should be taking whatever contract, whether it has a beginning, middle, and end, or is ongoing and continue work on winning back that customer and upselling them and trying to show additional value.

And so I think if the agency's coming at it from that perspective, the incentives should always be aligned and there should be even more and more incentives as a relationship evolves because the agency is always looking for ways to network within the company, develop relationships with more people, demonstrate more value, etc.

[00:11:06] Ian Martins: Yeah, and I think that's a great point. And maybe like the question itself can be shifted in terms of like, how do you align expectations from both parties.

[00:11:16] Aadil Razvi: I think that was the next question, Ian.

[00:11:18] Ian Martins: Oh, there you go.

[00:11:21] Aadil Razvi: Go ahead. Go ahead. Take us away.

[00:11:23] Ian Martins: Yeah, I often...l've spoken with a lot of startups that feel that they've been burned by agencies.

And I think that there's like a bit of that, like that's pretty, pretty common to be like, Oh, I got screwed by this agency or that agency, or I'm moving to this next agency cause the last agency couldn't do what I needed them to do and what have you. And I think that there's a lot of truth in it.

There are a lot of bad agencies out there, frankly and it's very easy to stand up an agency and start doing work. And so obviously it if the bar to entry is fairly low, then, obviously a lot of people can potentially get burned in that. So I'm not trying to say all agencies are great.

There's definitely a bunch of bad apples out there, but I would say that I think by and large a lot of folks go into agency relationships with unrealistic expectations, and sometimes because agencies are desperate for work or they just need to maintain payroll or whatever, they will accept some of that and perhaps not be as clear upfront

with setting those expectations that then lead to problems down the road, I think, if you're an early stage company, let's say, and you don't have a bunch of budget to spend with an agency and you come into the relationship expecting that they're just gonna, from day one, let's talk like the media agency for example, that the first $10,000 you spend on media is gonna be net positive and get you your exact CAC and your ROI.

All that kind of stuff. Like you're just setting yourself up to be burned by every agency because unless you're lucky frankly, that's, chances of that happening is pretty slim, right? And so you're coming into that with a certain expectation based on perhaps a spreadsheet that you made and maybe sold to investors or whatever around your expectations for CAC.

And then you get hit in the face when you actually get into market and it doesn't play out that way. And I think, what makes a great agency different from from a bad agency IS maybe you didn't hit what you wanted right after the gates, but they'll have a plan and a path for you to, get to where you want to get to and be very transparent in the work that's gonna be required to do that and take you along on that journey.

I thin the best agencies out there are, I like to refer to them as like they're the best navigators. They're not necessarily experts because you're going on this journey together, right? They might not, they probably don't have the exact answer for everything, but they know how to get you to where you want to go and if you go into it expecting it to be a relationship, that's a journey that you're both invested in, that you're both going on together and things are gonna come up

that are unexpected or are not according to plan, but how do you deal with those things that come up? Are you able to work through them productively and get to the other side of them? I think that's what you need to go into an agency relationship expecting, whereas a lot of folks, I think expect them an agency to know everything, have all the answers,

not ever make a mistake. And when they do, it's like the end of the world, right? And you would never treat an internal hire that way, but there's like an unrealistic expectation put on agency teams. And so I would often will point to that and be like if you hired somebody, you would expect there to be an onboarding period.

And for them to need to understand your business and for, they will still make mistakes, right? So yeah, I think expectations alignments is incredibly important, and if you haven't worked with an agency before, you know really trying to put yourself in their shoes to understand what they're trying to do for you so that you can work through that relationship and have the right kinds of expectations of each other.

[00:14:57] Devin Bramhall: I used to call it the Bibidi Babidi Boo expectation. It's Okay, just come in fairy godmother and everything's fine. I feel like this is ending up being like an agency therapy session. This particular question, but I remember when I was the director of content at Help Scout and my boss and he bought was the CMO and we were bringing on a PR agency, and this was an agency that he had advocated for.

I was really excited about it. And we started working with them and I was very unhappy with them, very unhappy. And I would go to my boss and express my discontent. I'm like they did this and they did that, and he said, Cool. Did you tell them? And I thought, oh gosh. No, cause I was that person that I now wish would be, do things differently.

And so I said no. He said, All right, so wrote this really long, sort of constructive email, right? It wasn't like you did this or you did that. It was like, Hey, here are my needs. Here's what I need from you. We get alignment, we talk with the CEO, and everything went really well from there because we opened up the line of communication and agencies

really, the good agencies that is really thrive on that. And the way I liken it now is to like that relationship criteria. It's like before you start working with the agency, make a list of what you want in your partner. And even down to like little seemingly little stuff, like how do you want them to communicate?

How often do you want them to communicate? If you can hand them that piece of paper, Or just express that on a call in an onboarding phase like that does a lot to your relationship and building trust in the beginning and trust, I would say, is one of the biggest barriers to having success with an agency.

Forget all the logistics, forget all of it. If you don't trust them, nothing's gonna work. They could do an amazing job and you're like, I think it's garbage. Like your mind will cloud the actual work. I think that is really important is I think it's on agencies to help build that trust, to be consistently communicating the value that they're bringing and communicating it from your perspective, not theirs.

PR agencies are notorious saying, here's all the outreach we did this week, and I'm like, What did you achieve? And we at Animalz, we used to do monthly reporting and it was like, we didn't actually expect to show results every month. We just wanna just show them, Hey, we're here, we're working for you.

We see what's working. We see what hasn't showed results yet. We see just showing up. And that worked. That definitely helped a lot.

[00:17:49] Aadil Razvi: Devin, who should really be responsible for leading the engagement in that case? Like it should it really be the client. Should the expectation be actually the agency partner should own this engagement, or is it context dependent?

[00:18:04] Devin Bramhall: In general, I believe that it's upon, it's on the agency to really take ownership of leading the relationship. , but that relationship does need to be reciprocal. And the people who are contracting with the agency, if you're gonna spend money on an agency, just like you would, Ian said this earlier, just like you would a full time hire, you have to invest back in them.

Otherwise you're gonna think they're garbage. And and you said earlier there are some bad agencies. I'm like, I would also say there's some good agencies that are like, they're like good apples who are trying hard, but like they get I've heard of good agencies where people are like, Oh, I had a bad experience.

I'm like, Okay, but what is it? Was this person there? Or whatever. I think, yeah, agencies. My personal opinion is that if you're contracting with my agency, like I'm owning this, I'm taking responsibility for making you happy, but I can't do it unless you meet me part of the way.

[00:19:08] Ian Martins: . Yeah, I think that it bears just emphasizing that it is a partnership. It's not just Okay, here it's your problem now. And now I'm just gonna sit back and wait for you to deliver on all the results and just figure it out. I think sometimes, especially in startup life you're busy, right?

And there's this thought that hiring an agency is like outsourcing it. Not my problem, it's on your plate now. I hired you, so make it happen. And that's not the best way to pinch an agency relationship.

[00:19:40] Devin Bramhall: No, it's actually like you have to actually budget time. Like when you hire an agency, like we used to try to quantify it for them in terms of like how much time you're gonna invest at the jump

and then over time, and what I used to say to startups that hire us to say, look, You're gonna invest some time in us in the beginning, like it's gonna feel like a lot, but the more you invest in month one and two, the quicker it's gonna taper off over time, but it's never gonna taper off completely cause we need you to exist for you.

Again, just like when I was director of content, like I would need my CEO's time, my CMOs time, my team that reported to me, my engineers, my designers. There were people. I needed support in order to execute my job, and that's a unique thing about marketing is like it requires so much investment from so many different teams and same with agencies.

[00:20:36] Ian Martins: In terms of just getting back to the question itself, like who should be responsible for leading the engagement? I think it always helps when the person on the client side at lead so an agency needs to lead the work that they're doing. I think that is definitely something that has to happen.

But on the client side, I think it's really good if someone's leading the engagement to A. Ideally has some experience working with agencies before, so they're, that's gonna help a lot. B. Has vantage point for like, where the company is going so that they can brief the agency and keep them in the loop like ahead of changes and ahead of things happening.

Because if that person leading the engagement is like the last internally to find out about things, then the agency's probably gonna look bad all the time because they're not getting that information in real time. They might seem a little bit behind the ball. And then finally, it's always good to have somebody leading an agency relationship who can actually make decisions.

There's a lot of hurry up and wait. That happens in being an agency where it's like there's a deadline. You're hurrying up, you're trying to deliver, you don't have to pull all nighters sometimes to get things on time, and then it's like radio silence for two weeks or something like that, because the right people weren't in the room.

They didn't have bandwidth internally maybe to make a decision on this yet. And so having someone around or who understands how to get to the decision makers and. Works that into the working relationship with the agency, I think is really important.

[00:22:08] Devin Bramhall: It's interesting cause we see this, we've seen this a lot where, you know the head of whatever, like in my case, like a CMO, right?

They're like, Hey, let's bring on this agency. But the management of the agency is usually given to the not highest level point of contact. And oftentimes if that person needs the support from people who are the decision makers, what the agency does is sit around. Not being able to complete their work.

And then a few months later they're like you're garbage. What have you done for us lately? And you're like, Wait. So I really support that viewpoint of whoever it is, like having the ability to make decisions and having the time to respond to the work so that the agency can continue leading and producing and showing results.

[00:22:54] Aadil Razvi: Step back. You both have alluded to the fact that startups have often been burned by agencies or that's a common story that you hear. So when a startup is actually in the process of evaluating potential agency partners, what are the most important things that they should be looking for and perhaps some major red flags that they should avoid?


[00:23:18] Ian Martins: Yeah, that's a good one. Ideally, you're going out into your agency search and you're looking for the right kind of fit it's a relationship, right? Like an agency that's right for one company might not be right for you because you might have a different working style and different needs and what have you.

It's good to if you can get feedback or direct referrals from people that are happy with their agencies that's always a really good place to start. If you have to go out blind. Then you have to ask yourself like, How can I validate this agency, right? You're gonna have a bunch of introduction, conversations.

They're probably gonna give you case studies . I'm a little weird with case studies. Case studies are like a snapshot of a moment in time, like the best moment in time with one client. And that might not be the team who's on your account. And there's so many variables that like, it'll show a little bit about how they work and you need case studies in our business to show how we do our work and explain it.

But don't rely just on those. If you can ask the agency to give you some referrals once you're ready to make a decision, do your due diligence. Say, Hey, can I talk to some of your, either, current or recent clients that have done similar scopes of work with you. Obviously agencies don't want to bother their clients all the time, but if it is a last step before signing a contract, I think that's totally acceptable.

What are other things that you can look at? Yeah it's like very relationship based and then see feel it out. Do you genuinely have a good, vibe with this team that you're gonna be working with? Do you like the person who's gonna be the lead on your account? Try to speak with the team or meet them in person that you're actually gonna be working with.

A lot of agencies will sell you on the senior talent and then, you're working with the kids fresh out of school on a day to day basis. And that's fine depending on what it is that they're doing. But you might want to meet those, newer hires that you might be working with on a day to day basis as well.

So there's a lot you can do to vet agencies. I wouldn't go so far as saying that you should run unless you're like have a big budget, like I'm talking like in excess of maybe a million dollars plus a year. Like I wouldn't run an RFP, like no good agency's gonna do a real like response to an RFP.

For less than a million dollars worth of business. And if they are, it's because they're small and they're desperate and you're just like wasting everybody's time and you're not gonna get good responses. So I wouldn't do that kind of a search. I would try to base it mostly on, on relationships and vibe and reference checks.

[00:25:57] Aadil Razvi: Got that.

[00:25:58] Devin Bramhall: Yeah, I think the word of mouth was like the first place to go, I'd say because what we saw was that we had a really strong word of mouth, engine. And people who came to us who were referred by someone they trust were more open to establishing a relationship with us to begin with.

So that really helped. I think to the aspect about team like I would be asking them like, what does the team look like? Who's gonna be on my account? Who's talking to me? Because like Ian said, I was actually even interviewing accounting agencies earlier this year, and that was the question I had.

I'm like, Who's my person? How often am I gonna actually hear from them? Like how you know? And just because that was important to me, right? I had written my like relationship criteria and I was like, I told them, I said, Communication is really important. Here's how I like to communicate. Here's how I don't like to communicate

just understanding and meeting who you're potentially gonna be collabing with. And then I think it's agencies are trained not to give you too much for free upfront, but I would be, I would come with some very specific problem statement questions that you can get their feedback on.

And maybe talk to someone other than sales to get those answers like meet with someone else. We used to bring on our strategist so that they could meet, even if it wasn't a strategist they were gonna work with, they could see. These are the people who are creating the strategy at our company. And I think that generally helped folks.

A lot.

[00:27:34] Aadil Razvi: Go ahead, Ian, do you wanna add something?

Okay. Yeah. No, I like that a lot. Just really getting into the weeds on who actually is the team who is on my account specific problem statements. Ian made a great point around really case studies are a highlight reel.

Like you're really just getting like a glimpse of their best moments, positioned in the best possible light. And so that, that is something to bring some degree of skepticism to as well. Do you have any other kind of examples of maybe a specific client that you've worked with where the engagement just went really well, it was an 11 out of 10 kind of an engagement, and maybe what were some elements of that stood out to you as to like

why those engagements went so well?

Devin, has anything come to mind?

[00:28:29] Devin Bramhall: Wow. I am usually the one who is never has a good example at the ready, but this time I do. So I'm really excited about it.

[00:28:39] Aadil Razvi: Take it away.

[00:28:40] Devin Bramhall: And it involved like me messing up. So it's a example of an 11 where like we weren't perfect, which I think is helpful for folks who are considering agencies.

So we, when I was prior to being the CEO, I still managed some clients and one of them was Google. This was several years ago. And we were working on this account and I had never worked on an account that big before. I was new to eight, like Animals was the first agency I worked for. And most of the accounts that we had were not as big as Google at that time.

That's when we were first starting to get like our really big clients and I did not know what I did not know. And so the woman who was the head of growth, she had a marketing manager. There was like several people on the team. And at first I just gave her a regular team that we would have.

So it was like a writer, strategist, me. And long story short, she ended up rightfully messaging Jimmy Daly, who was still doing sales and marketing for us the time he'd sold her and she was like, Listen, Devin's real nice and the team's trying hard. She's but they're like, here are some ways that she's like falling short we're gonna need her to ramp up.

But what was really cool about it is she had worked with agencies before. She gave us the opportunity to mess up and was really specific on how to make it better. And so I took that and was able to like, expand the team, get the resources together, turn things around for her and the relationship

after that went really well. Because she was really clear on what we needed you to improve. I think that what and the founding success metric there was communication. Communication and Trust. And giving us the chance to turn things around. Cause sometimes, I hate to say this, but and I say this again without bias anymore, like sometimes it takes messing up to get it right

I don't know why that is like in life too, but I've experienced this personally where it's like sometimes I need into someone to be like, Hey, what the hell are you doing here? What's fix this is, and then you're like, it's kinda a little bit of a shake. You're like, Oh, for some reason when you said it nicely I couldn't hear.

Or like when you said it calmly, I couldn't hear it. And so it's so I think that was an instance where the communication was really strong. We got a chance to turn it around and we turned it around fast because she was really specific and open to us you know improving.

[00:31:18] Aadil Razvi: What stands out to me about that is not just the way that they gave you specific feedback, but the way that you then interpreted that feedback and then put that back into the relationship clearly making such a big difference that it would turn into an 11 out of 10 experience.

And Yeah. It might be a red flag with an agency if you're giving feedback and they don't reply in that way, they get defensive instead about how they're handling the engagement. Yeah.

[00:31:49] Devin Bramhall: Own it. Accept it, and just, run right out. Say thank you. Wow. Thank you for that awareness.

Like I really appreciate that. I think a lot of people try to make excuses or they think they're explaining what they're really excusing. It's just I see you. Thank you. We're on it. We're gonna fix this. They don't want a story. They wanna hear. Thank you. We're on it. We're gonna fix this fast. Can't wait.

[00:32:15] Aadil Razvi: I love that. Yeah. Ian.

[00:32:19] Ian Martins: Yeah, I've been blessed to have a lot of really great relationships with clients. One that comes to mind in particular was large bank that I used to service, and they were just really great at knowing what they wanted to accomplish and briefing us effectively.

Like they knew what they were trying to do. They knew what like the messaging creative was behind it and like why it was supposed to work. They knew who they were trying to talk to. They were just like excellent partners and like going on this mission with and I think that's really can be very valuable because oftentimes an agency land you're like pulling things out of clients and like trying to solve this jigsaw puzzle so you can do your work for them, right?

And you have to spend a lot of time pulling out the information and trying to find it. In addition to actually doing the work, then once you have that information, but when you work with a.. I have a really great relationship with a client and something that makes a client great is like when they're an equal partner and they know their shit and they know what they want to accomplish and then you can get past just executing and you can be intellectual partners and you can challenge each other and you can, be creative together and you can get really into the doing of the work and get excited around.

And we had that kind of a..That's one of a few relationships that I've had like that. And I think those are sometimes the most rewarding ones, both for the clients and the agency because you're not just trying to accomplish table stakes and just get things done. You're truly intellectual partners really taking an idea and pushing it further.

[00:34:00] Aadil Razvi: And on the flip side, Ian. What about the worst engagements? What about the ones that just didn't pan out that were just nightmares. What are the common characteristics of the worst engagements that we can avoid?

[00:34:16] Ian Martins: Yeah, I would say that it's usually a fact, like a combination of factors, but I could probably sum it up to misalignment on expectations.

Like someone just coming to the table with unrealistic expectations. And then I'd say personality is a big thing too, right? Like ego and personality. I think some clients are their own worst enemy, right? Like they're their biggest barrier to growth. It's not the market, it's not anything, it's just

them, themselves. They're the problem, right? This can manifest in a number of ways, but generally it's like, thinking you have all the answers, wanting things to be done your way no matter what. Not treating people as equals or as partners, like these are the types of experiences I've had belittling people yelling at agencies, like verbal abuse.

And you'd be surprised how much of that happens in agency land. It's something that burns out folks that, that work in agencies where they literally are like sick before getting on a status call cause the client is just so rude to them or so mean or whatever, right? And I've seen a lot of that.

I think it's, this is a relationship business, so if you have a bad relationship, it's gonna make everything pretty terrible. And usually you get a bad relationship because of misaligned expections.

[00:35:32] Devin Bramhall: Or personality? I think there was one client we had to get on a call with them cause they said something offensive and like we were really keened on protecting our people and so we had to actually get on a call and address it.

. And they were really nice and apologize, but yeah, that's,

[00:35:47] Ian Martins: And I've had some clients that would just have to fire for just being assholes. Yeah. It sucks. It's not fun, but you got to protect your team.

[00:35:57] Devin Bramhall: Yeah. And also probably they're not ready, like if someone's getting on engaging an agency and yelling at them or being mean probably there's something they don't or they're not ready for anything really.

Or they're so stressed out, they can't control it. But yeah. I think one thing that we grappled with a lot as a more as a kind of specific example of not necessarily where things go wrong. But we constantly struggled with stage of company that we wanted to serve because we generally found that the larger the company, the easier they were to work with because they had bigger vision and they were easier.

They could see the force of the trees, so they weren't like trying to analyze like every sentence, word, blog, post, whatever. They were like, Okay, we're here to do this like big thing, so let's like set proper expectations, measurement, etc., and like capability. Whereas we really loved working with, early stage founders for example, but a lot of times they were very challenging to work with, even though they were like brilliant, charismatic, interesting.

They had, because to really make them useful, we need to unlock a lot of information from them. They were really busy, They didn't really know how to evaluate. Or they didn't really know how to manage an agency or anything about marketing really. I think marketing, especially marketing agencies in particular, I think it marketing's one of those roles where everyone thinks they know how to do it

in the company, but nobody does. And so it's like you get that a lot too, I think especially. And but they're also like a really exciting type of company to work for. And I think that was something we always went back and forth on is like they were the least profitable people to work with.

But also really interesting, a lot of times really challenging. And we were always trying to crack that nut where it's we want to help you and do this, but it's actually really hard. I think that would be like another, I don't know. Yeah. And communication.

I keep going back to communication, but really like I will die on that hill. That is really honestly the most important thing. You can get through a lot of your own lack of experience working with an agency if you just communicate really clearly and move through that to a really beneficial relationship for you.

[00:38:24] Aadil Razvi: The last nine minutes, we're gonna go ahead and rapid fire through some audience questions here. We've got a really interesting one.

[00:38:31] Devin Bramhall: There's a lot .

[00:38:32] Aadil Razvi: We'll just pull out a few to cover today. But Devin, we'd love to hear your thoughts on we're seeing like this rise of productized offerings of agency services. Examples given are like market or hire or design pickle. What do you think about the sort of like productization of what might have originally be considered like an agency service?

[00:39:02] Devin Bramhall: In my experience, I regretted the amount that I productized it and was actually trying to get away from that I was really starting to rethink, our refocus, the agency, Animalz on outcomes

over deliverables. I understand the benefit of treating a service like an object on a shelf, cause it feels like it's gonna be easier to sell in actuality. And I think this probably depends on the type of agency or the service you're providing, right? If you're building a website or creating

paid campaigns, there's like a little bit more of a tangible outcome that you can point to. Same with design, product development, but when it comes to the fuzzier services, I actually think focusing them more on outcomes and vision would've been more beneficial than trying to make our service as much of an object as it was.

Because if you lock yourself too much into a specific deliverable over time, right? An agency typically is a longer term partnerships, then you're locked into something that after three months you may reevaluate and say, Oh, actually, like we need to, switch this out or change this a little bit. And I understand why people do it.

I did it and I changed my mind on it. And think that again, going back to the relationship, sell them on the relationship, sell them on the vision and the outcome the customer is working towards, because then you can always bring them back to that. Your outcome is this. So ev we're working towards this.

All the time.

[00:40:46] Ian Martins: Yeah, I think I've experienced both, like highly, fairly productized agency services and then with Bell Curve, everything's on the table with what we do. We start with a bit blank slate, there's pros and cons to both.

I think as a client, if I'm evaluating do I want to buy a productized service or do I want more of that agency experience? I think that has a lot to do with what we talked about before, like what's your team composition and what's your goals and what do you need like. If you're have a great marketing team and you've got all your strategy unlock and you literally just need someone to like iterate ads for you, for your paid media campaigns, then maybe, a productized service would be great because they're just churning out things and you're directing them and you don't need a thought partner.

You just need execution. So I think a productized service might be good if all you need is execution. I think if you do need a thought partner and you want someone to bring something to the table, I think it can just be very hard to lock into those productized services. Part of what Devin, partly because of what Devin said, which is especially if you're a startup, your needs are gonna change and they're gonna change actually pretty rapidly in a startup.

You're not some stodgy like enterprise that takes 12 months to put a plan together. You know what I mean? If you bought a package on a six month or 12 month contract, let's say like you may outgrow that package within three months and and now what? But what if you don't actually need to be doing that thing anymore?

If they're like a specialist agency that only does one thing, they're incentivized to keep dangling the carrot and say, Oh, it might not be working for you now, but we're doing this and we're doing this, and they need to keep you on that retainer. Yeah so I think it can be quite challenging and it probably goes back to an incentives, right?

If you are a very specific specialized service versus a full service agency or something of that nature. It also can be a bit weird whether you're buying products or whether you haven't kind of agency relationship.

[00:42:55] Aadil Razvi: Think of what you were talking about around really being the navigator in the relationship and having that be the expectation that being the framework difficult to do whenever it's a checklist of deliverables that you're..

[00:43:08] Ian Martins: It's hard to, it's hard to navigate if let's say you're specialty is cooking dinner and you're like stuck in the hall, cooking dinner, it's hard to do anything other than say, let me just feed you and things will get better.

[00:43:24] Aadil Razvi: Yeah. The chef versus cook dichotomy how would you Ian reduce, or how do you reduce the amount of kind of back and forth communication, waiting on responses and feedback on projects? Have you found effective ways of managing that?

[00:43:44] Ian Martins: I've experimented quite a lot. I wish I had to do the solid answer for this. But I don't, I think some of the more traditional ways of doing this through status meetings and such, they're tried and tested and true for a reason. So I would say don't throw things out just because status meetings on a regular cadence is probably a good place to start.

But we've had been quite successful with onboarding clients into tools that we're using, like project management tools in particular. If you do have a client that's willing to work it in your platform or if you have a relationship where you're working on their platform or whatever, you can keep the conversation around like specific tasks.

like archived against a particular task in one of these tools as opposed to getting it lost in your inbox or in a Slack or something like that. So I think that in the realm of tools, I think the most productive addition to our arsenal would be if you are having a conversation around a specific task

like through text. Let's try to keep that in the project management tool in that task so we can reference it and find it easier than if it's one point on an email that you sent to me three weeks ago that kind of thing can get lost. So I think there's opportunity for tools to be introduced now.

I think everyone's got a bit of like SaaS and tool fatigue and like learning a new tool for every agency you work with and hopping into a different project management suite for every agency you work with might, not be possible. So you got tofind that happy medium. But yeah, status meetings to start with and then tools as possible.

[00:45:22] Devin Bramhall: We also just put it in our statement of work , right? Like we put them a number of iterations and such and so if we measured, if we monitor it over three months and we found that they were back and forth, or the rounds of revisions were consistently significantly over we didn't believe in nickel and diamond, but if it was significant and consistent, then we'd go back and say, Hey, I think we need to reevaluate the statement of work.

Here's a proposal. And there's nothing like, tying something to money to make people really think about how much they want from you. And honestly to be like, in this case, this is a dream state for me because one of our biggest challenges were customers not responding, us not moving work for being stuck and then coming to us and saying, Wait a minute.

You suck. And we're like, Wait. So in a way I'm like, wow, this is kind a dream state. Do you have more? Please give me more. I would love to be able to say to people, you're giving too much feedback. Cause if they're talking to you, you're actually in really good shape. It means they're invested. One of our big challenges was people, they were waiting for the magic wand.

[00:46:28] Aadil Razvi: Certainly there has been SaaS fatigue, Ian, but I would still love to hear what tools specifically would you use to run Bell Curve or any recommendations that you have? For just managing agency relationships and the tools to use.

[00:46:45] Ian Martins: Yeah, so we use ClickUp. I've been a big fan of ClickUp for a long time.

So that's one that we use internally and we do share boards with like our clients and bring them into there. Beyond that, depending on the client we'll have Slack with them sometimes yes, sometimes no. Depends on the relationship there. And then the e and the use case and all that kind of stuff.

Those are probably the two main tools that we would use for communications. Beyond that, there's always, we'll collaborate in mirror and things like that as needed, but those types of tools changes, the consistent one would be ClickUp and Slack sometimes. Yeah.

[00:47:21] Devin Bramhall: We saw the most engagement when we were working within our clients' tools.

I don't think there's any on the planet that can bring them to action unless we were working within their frameworks already, in which case, like that was where we saw the most prolific engagement on their part.

[00:47:39] Aadil Razvi: They're on Asana, you onboard onto Asana. If they're like in Slack, you do Slack, connect and do okay.

Okay. So meet them where they're at is the advice.

[00:47:50] Devin Bramhall: Yes. .

[00:47:52] Aadil Razvi: Got it. Any any parting words anything that you feel like is often overlooked when it comes to engaging with an agency? Anything that you feel like is often left unsaid when it comes to working with an agency?

Devin would love to end that with you.

Oh, no. What is overlooked in working with an agency? I actually wanna reiterate something we've already said, cause I think it's actually if you were to ask me like, what's the most important thing I could say? I would say it's the piece about building a relationship and treating them like they're part of your team.

[00:48:37] Devin Bramhall: There is no like you will find out faster if they suck. You will get more out of them if they don't, and you'll look really great to your bosses. Like you have an incentive to make this work or to say, FU you're out. You're terrible, right? And so I think, invest that time up front and it makes you look good and don't, and make actually, and I would ask that, make them make you look good.

Go to your agency and say, hey, this is what I'm working against. I've got to show me something that will make me look good to my boss. Make them write it. I think that's a thing like you can do that and that's normal and we wanna do that because we wanna keep working with you. And so put that requirement on and I think you'll be more, you'll be happier

[00:49:33] Aadil Razvi: and it'll aligning incentives. Yes. I love that, Ian.

[00:49:39] Ian Martins: Yeah, I would just say, just remember that these are like humans at the other side of this relationship and treat them in the way that you want to be treated, right? Like I think it comes back to it is a relationship. You're not buying a product off of a shelf, right?

Humans are brilliant, but they're also fallible, like mistakes will happen and don't think that if you in house this function, you won't also make mistakes, right? I think there's often this debate around should I inhouse this or should I hire an agency or whatever. And it can be tempting to think that everything's rosy when you in house, but that's not always the answer.

And like you will have your own types of problems, so these are people, treat them as if they're people, treat them as if you're gonna hire them and you've signed that contract, you're invested in that relationship and so now you should do the work. I think the other thing that I would say too, just cause I know a lot of the audiences, early stage startup.

And this goes back to expectation setting. If you're hiring an agency for three grand a month or something like that, be very realistic what you actually think you're gonna get out of that relationship. I can't tell you how many people hire an agency for oh, 300 grand a month, 2,500 bucks a month, five grand a month, and then they're pissed because this agency is not like on it every single day, five days a week.

And it's dude would you be that way with a client if they paid you like 2,500 bucks. It's funny how the renumeration is can be completely looked at in the wrong way, right? So going back to expectation setting, it's like you get what you pay for, right? Like just do the hourly math on that.

Like how many hours could they possibly spend on you? You got two people in a room in our calls, like that costs them money. So just do the math when you're figuring out how much you're paying your agency and what should be getting back.

[00:51:26] Devin Bramhall: And while you're doing that math, you'd be better off paying a freelancer three grand.

Because the overhead you're gonna get, the overhead of an agency is gonna reduce the amount of output anyway. And so you might as well just go with a freelancer, which you probably won't do because you'll have to manage them, and that would be difficult. But there are some really, I would say right now is a really good time for freelancers, just because there's a lot of really good people who laid off for on the market and choosing not to go back to work in addition to some really awesome agencies that are still out there that are doing really good work as well.

[00:52:01] Aadil Razvi: There you have it. Thank you both for spending your time with us today. Let the people, what you've got going on in your life and how they can get in touch, Devin.

[00:52:11] Devin Bramhall: LinkedIn probably is the best way to get in touch with me. I'm in this like websites are dead camp, so I'm like, , LinkedIn's my website now.

And I'm doing some consulting right now, just living life, doing some travel, just having a nice time being a person in the world, seeing, I've big dreams about the evolution of content marketing, which means I got to take a beat. See what's going on before I gear up for the next thing.

[00:52:38] Aadil Razvi: For the next chapter. I love that. What about you, Ian?

[00:52:42] Ian Martins: I have the pleasure of getting to work with you on the other side at Bell Curve and so yeah, so I run Bell Curve. We're the kind of sister growth agency with Demand Curve. You can hit me up on LinkedIn as well, is probably where I am most active and most available.

And yeah, just working with companies and trying to help them grow. Awesome.

[00:53:04] Aadil Razvi: Thank you both very much.

More recordings from Growth Summit