Gini Dietrich

10 Rules for Transforming Your Agency

By: Gini Dietrich | April 18, 2012 | 

It’s time for the monthly Spin Sucks Pro webinar (tomorrow!) and, this month, we’re excited to have Paul Roetzer, who just wrote The Marketing Agency Blueprint.

I like Paul. Like me, he founded and grew an agency (PR 20/20) and he has a lot of the same business philosophies as me. You know what that means? You’ll like him, too.

During the webinar, he discusses the 10 rules for transforming your agency, which I’m going to share with you in a minute.

But, first, he describes the three things that happened in the past four years that created a need for change.

  1. Change velocity. You know, this whole technology thing. It’s sort of put the industries on their heads.
  2. Selective consumption. While inbound marketing isn’t new, it’s become increasingly more popular as it’s effectiveness begins to shine.
  3. Success factors. We began to see clients demand real measurement a couple of years ago. My personal opinion is this is the year agencies will be fired if they don’t figure it out.

In other words, you really have no choice but to change, evolve, and adapt. During the webinar, Paul discusses the 10 rules you will have to adapt as you begin to build and grow your modern marketing agency.

10 Rules of Transformation

  1. Eliminate billable hours. Nearly two years ago to the day, I blogged about PR firms needing to be rid of the billable hour structure. You still have to track your time because that’s your inventory. But the idea that clients receive invoices with big blocks of time and nothing to show for it (other than time) is as old as dirt. Figure out how much it costs to do things and set a standard. Stop billing by the hour.
  2. Transform into a hybrid. Becoming a technology firm doesn’t mean you have to do software or build apps or know how to develop. It means you’re immersed in technology and know how it’s affecting your business and your client’s businesses.
  3. Think talent and team. In the modern marketing agency ecosystem, the one thing that can’t be replicated by your competition is the talent you have on your team. Structure the business to hire the best and retain them. It’s impossible to sustain a profitable business if your talent leaves every two years. Invest in them.
  4. Build a scalable infrastructure. There are some good little tidbits when Paul talks about this because he gives you free (or nearly free) apps to use in order to build your infrastructure. Like me, he’s a big believer in the cloud, which allows you to scale without the costs of the olden days.
  5. Devise an inbound marketing game plan. An inbound marketing plan for an agency? Are you insane? No, he’s not and this is the same philosophy we use. He suggests looking at yourself as a client and doing work for the company in that way. And he shows you an actual game plan that you can beg, borrow, and steal.
  6. Control the sales funnel. When I worked at Fleishman-Hillard, once a year they’d bring in some sales guru to talk to us about how to drive new business. It never worked because a) we were too young to have any connections that could make purchase decisions (though I did land a $2MM account when I was 26), b) we had to bill 40 hours a week, and c) we had to work on new business proposals 20 hours a week. There is a better process for formalizing your new business, but in a way that involves everyone where they’re strong.
  7. Commit to clients. This is kind of a no brainer, but you have to accept the fact that not all clients are created equal. You have some that mean more to your agency than others. This is the hardest thing you’ll have to do, but once a year, look at the bottom 10 percent of your clients and “fire” them. I know it’s hard to give up revenue. But you’ll just have to trust me when I say it’ll be the best decision you’ll make.
  8. Deliver results. Most agencies fall short here for two reasons: 1) The industry standard for results is still media impressions and advertising equivalencies (total BS) and 2) “We went into a creative discipline because we don’t like number.” Yeah…that’s not going to cut it. With all of the data you know have at your fingertips, you’d better quickly learn how to measure results.
  9. Embrace failure. Paul says this is the willingness to take chances. A lot of agencies know the model is broken, but most don’t know how to fix what’s wrong. Are you willing to take some risk and be OK if you fail?
  10. Pursue purpose. This is what I call the vision. Entrepreneurs are rarely satisfied with making money. If that were the case, I would have given up in late 2010, when I had to stop paying myself to keep Arment Dietrich afloat. But there was a bigger purpose at stake and that is what drove me to get out of bed every morning. What is it for you?

Like our previous two webinars, this one is pre-recorded (which we’ll play live at 11 a.m. CT tomorrow) so Paul can answer questions as you have them throughout the discussion. He’s also left about 15 minutes at the end to have a group discussion.

It’s $50 (momma needs new shoes!), but I didn’t give away all of his secrets here. There are several game plans and worksheets available through the webinar that will be extremely helpful for you.

Or you can buy The Marketing Agency Blueprint and help him buy new shoes instead.

Register now and we’ll see you tomorrow (or it’s always available on-demand if that time doesn’t work for you)!

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro.


I think maybe both the shoes and the webinar, although there's no way I can listen to it tomorrow...


Paul's issue with billable hours (via his book) reflects the "rounding up" abuses by some agencies. The padding of hours. The absurd agency demand  for account execs to turn in time sheets with a minimum 40 billed hours per week.  I've billed both ways, and you can corral the billable hours tornado by establishing a monthly *budget ceiling* with each client.  That effectively is a sliding retainer that cannot exceed an agreed upon total amount per month.  The upside for clients is they don't pay for slow months or when assignments throttle down. The best of both worlds.  You can obliterate billable hours from the PR and marketing lexicon. But you still have to account for your time. At the end of the day, you have to know whether you are making $10 per hour or $200 per hour, else you have no way to assess margins and profitability.  It matters.  And if the client doesn't buy into a one-size-fits-all flat monthly fee and only will pay for actual work hours completed, you're on the clock or you do business elsewhere. It's good to be flexible in this biz.


Alright, any deadlines that I miss today are the direct fault of @ginidietrich for exposing me to this book, today. :)  Great read.  

Thanks for another great recommendation and I can't wait for the webinar tomorrow.  (and to see you speak in New Orleans).  

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

I watched the first two transformer movies. So I am pretty much set on how to make this all happen.


I love your Billable Hours because I am against them and do not use them. When I worked for the custom valve company we had to estimate hours to design build test then produce a new product for clients such as NASA. And it was a flat rate if we won the job giving us incentive to get the job done under our quoted costs. If you do a good job asking questions and identifying goals clients would much refer to be quoted a price for what activity you are bidding on. It also helps them compare you to your competitors as well as what they are paying for the results you produce.


Great recap, Gini! Thanks for the opportunity to present as part of the Spin Sucks Pro series.

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

 @Shonali depends on the brand. I bet you wear the same sized stilts but you will be taller in them


 @ginidietrich I am going to be at CA.  I was on the fence and Lisa Gerber's blog tipped me over the edge.  


The Blue Jays are having a great year in sports.  They kindly let us Huskers root for them this basketball season.  :)  Hopefully they can be back-to-back baseball champs in 2012!


 @ginidietrich I thin Commander's Palace may be full that night, but you'll have to let me buy you a drink while we're down there!  


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