Agency life can be incredibly rewarding and fulfilling, but that’s not to say that it doesn’t come with its fair share of challenges (there’s certainly no shortage of those!). 

From differentiating your agency from the competition to focusing on delivering for your client—rather than reaching for awards—there are a number of challenges many creative agencies face that are true across the board. We sat down with Teamwork’s own Creative Director, Vicente Casellas, to get the inside scoop on what agencies struggle with today. Prior to joining Teamwork, Vicente worked at various global and small agencies, working with clients such as Jeep, Dunkin, Chrysler, and Comcast. We picked Vicente’s brain and came up with some actionable advice you can follow to combat some of these creative challenges at your agency. Let’s dive in! 

1. Standing out from the crowd 

Within the agency world, it can be hard to stand out and differentiate yourself from the competition. Dealing with high levels of competition is a challenge many agencies face, especially when it comes to attracting new clients and top talent. To be successful, agencies need to get creative and figure out new ways to stand out in a sea of sameness.

“Many agencies say the same thing,” said Vicente. “We’re a different type of agency…” or, “We take a different approach.” Why all the secrecy? Be transparent with your audience and tell them exactly what sets your agency apart.”

How to tackle this challenge:

  • Know what makes your agency unique: According to Vicente, the main thing you need to communicate is what makes your agency unique. And if you work at an agency, chances are you do it for your clients all the time! Use that approach when marketing your own agency and put the same level of effort into finding your agency’s unique selling points. Then, communicate your key differentiators to your audience on your website, on social media, and anywhere else you have a footprint online.  

  • Dare to make a splash in a new industry: DDB, a worldwide marketing agency, recently decided to go all-in on ESports and gaming. Now, this might come as a surprise as an agency that’s been around for over 70 years and has primarily worked with a roster of household names like McDonalds and Pepsi. Taking this risk allowed them to bring in fresh new clients, giving them huge growth potential. But not only that, it gives DDB the opportunity to market themselves a bit differently. This pivot is a win-win—they’re taking full advantage of the opportunity within the growing gaming space, and capitalizing on it to set them apart. 

2. Finding and retaining the right people

Like most businesses, an agency is only as good as the people that work for it. If you want your agency to be successful, it's vital that you make hiring the best people for your team a priority. Research carried out by Marketing Land showed that 44% of agencies agree competition around hiring is one of their biggest challenges.

Hiring the best in the business doesn't always mean being the most qualified. Looking out for those who are truly passionate about what they do and can bring that passion to your agency can make all the difference. 

According to a report conducted by Udemy, 53% of millennials/Gen-Z report burnout in the workplace—and within the agency realm, this is particularly prevalent. With the challenges agencies face around hiring and retaining the right people, it’s crucial that agency owners put their employees first and offer a competitive advantage in the workplace. 

“Agencies are notorious for attrition. It is very odd to find people that stay in one place for a long time,” says Vicente. “This can be for a variety of reasons, but for the most part, there are steps agencies can take to hire and keep talent onboard for years to come.”

How to tackle this challenge:

  • Be honest about the work from the start. Don’t try to sugar coat anything and tell the talent they’ll be making Super Bowl commercials in a couple of months if what your agency does is create social media content. Being transparent up front will help you bring the right people to the table.

  • Resource projects correctly. Remember that whole burnout thing we just talked about? One of the main reasons folks at agencies burnout is because they are overloaded with work and unable to see who’s working on what at a high-level. When your team has visibility into exactly what resources are needed for a project, who has bandwidth, and who doesn’t, your team won’t feel overworked and ultimately will be happier (and stick around longer!). 

  • Give people a sense of ownership. No one likes to be micromanaged. Be there for your team to support them and guide them where needed, but make sure to give them the space they need to do what you hired them to do and flex their creative muscles.

Knowing where your resources are spent, where to add more, and where you can optimize them is essential. Teamwork's resource management solution allows you to easily see who has the capacity to work on a project, estimate team members' availability, and allocate tasks the right way. learn more.

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 3. Establishing clear processes

Let’s face it. Agency “workflows'' can get a bit chaotic without the proper processes and systems in place. Establishing a clear process for everything from onboarding new clients to getting approvals on work is essential for any successful creative agency. With constant deadlines creeping up, things can get way out of hand if an agency and the folks within them don’t have a clear process to follow. It may not be the most fun or glamorous part of agency life, but it’s super important!

A strong process begins with clarity and understanding across the team. If you want to have an effective process that keeps your team running smoothly, then you’ve got to make sure that everyone understands the purpose and benefits associated with it. Show your team how much easier and better their lives will be with the introduction of new workflows. If you have an employee who decides that they don’t want to follow a process and prefer the creative freedom to do whatever they like, you might have a problem. Nip it in the bud and create clear documentation around the appropriate steps to follow so there’s no questioning who’s doing what. At the end of the day, creating strong processes is a team effort.

How to tackle this challenge:

  • Start using a project management tool. The best way to create clear processes and get organized is to find a project management tool that works for your agency. Get everyone on your team using the same tool and you’ll quickly start to reap the benefits of increased efficiency. By the way, Teamwork is actually built specifically for teams that deliver client work, so be sure to check out all of our features agencies like yours can benefit from.

  • Clear communication. Communication and process go hand-in-hand. It’s one thing to create new processes, but without clearly communicating what you expect everyone to do, those processes can easily fall to the wayside. Be transparent and clear, and make all of your workflows visible and accessible to everyone. That way, there’s no room for misunderstandings.

4. Focusing on client goals, not the awards

Creative agencies can often feel a lot of pressure to produce award-winning work, and as a result, can lose track of getting the job done for their client. While winning accolades can help your agency boost its profile, you should never lose sight of delivering work that meets (and sometimes, exceeds) your client’s expectations.

“A lot of times at creative agencies, people tend to focus too much on whether or not a project or idea is award-worthy. This is where the client goals and the agency goals can clash. Of course, we want to create the best possible work that breaks barriers and does something different. But when we purely focus on whether or not a project will get an award, we lose our perspective on why the client hired us in the first place.” 

How to tackle this challenge:

  • Set clear expectations. Make sure that you understand your client’s vision and goals from the start to avoid any issues with expectations. Develop a transparent plan for success so that you and your client are on the same page in relation to the end goal. Spending enough time at the beginning with your client to understand their goals is a step that should never be rushed, so don’t skimp on it!

  • Provide transparency, and bring your client into the project. A great way to ensure that you're focusing on the client's goals is by keeping them in the loop. By bringing your client into your projects and giving them the opportunity to see the progress being made, it makes it much harder to go off track. With Teamwork, you can bring your clients into the working project to assure visibility. That means fewer emails, fewer back-and-forths, and more time delivering exactly what was requested.

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The marketing and advertising industry is constantly changing and evolving, so it’s no surprise that It can be difficult to keep up with current trends. However, this is especially important for agencies that deliver creative solutions for their clients. 

While it’s important to keep up with trends, always remember to keep your target audience in mind above all else. Not all trends will be applicable or appropriate for your client’s target demographic, and not every trend is worth sacrificing your agency’s (or your client’s!) reputation for.

How to tackle this challenge:

  • Get your team inspired. When building out your all-star team, make sure to hire folk who show a genuine passion and interest in digital trends and the space your agency typically serves. People who are super passionate tend to keep up with the current landscape on their own time, so encourage them to bring new and exciting trends they’ve seen in the wild to the table for discussion. Whether your agency specializes in social media, advertising, or website development, you name it—create opportunities to look at what other agencies are producing and have your team respond to what you’re showcasing. You never know what might spark your next great idea!

  • Offer training, and encourage upskilling. The reality of agency work is that it’s constantly moving and changing, which is why it's so important that your team also grows and learns new skills alongside it. Offering training days and encouraging your employees to learn new skills will help you build a team that’s truly up-to-date and inspired to take risks. 

Every agency is unique and faces its own set of problems. However, recognizing the common challenges that creative agencies face is the first step in understanding and tackling them. What are the biggest challenges your agency is facing in 2022?