Boutique marketing agencies are everywhere, servicing an important sector of advertisers. Advertisers who are focused on hyperlocal challenges, or advertisers simply looking to not be lost in the shuffle, might feel like small fish in a very big pond. But as it turns out, there are far more boutique agencies than there are behemoth holding companies. Those agencies are ready to get to work on behalf of those local advertisers - but they face a few significant hurdles.
Small- to medium-sized businesses face many of the same challenges that their corporate sector-mates face - recruiting/training/retaining talent, rising costs, speed to market, media complexity, and attracting/retaining customers efficiently. The difference between the two, however, is that the larger sector-mates can leverage things like in-house teams, buying power, media planning tools with large up-front costs, and brand recognition to help mitigate these challenges.
So how do boutique agencies scale and grow without possessing the ability to add heads, costs, and buy in-market name recognition? If you’ve spent any time in the advertising space, you know that there’s rarely a magic tool that solves a slew of problems.
But “rarely” doesn’t mean “never”.
In this case, our magic tool is “automation”. I’m not talking about ChatGPT. I’m talking about tools that help agencies be smarter, and more efficient - saving time and money - while also creating data driven media plans to increase revenue, and share of wallet. Let’s take a look at advertising automation, and how it can make a huge impact on boutique agencies.
How Advertising Automation Benefits Digital Campaigns
Perhaps the best way to show how automation can benefit a boutique agency is by looking at it through a particular lens - the lifecycle of a typical omnichannel digital campaign.
Stage One - Ideation/Media Planning
Any good agency will tell you that their value comes from experience, expertise, care, and creativity – and it does! Agencies build media plans through their experience, expertise, care, and creativity. But creating those plans is an intensely manual and usually disjointed process involving research tools, designing PowerPoint decks, building Excel docs and more. The right automation tool can combine these processes, and can take inputs from the user to create the presentation deck, add data, calculate reach and frequency, and more. Agencies are often asked to field tough questions - “What are other advertisers in my vertical spending in other similar markets? What is the right mix across these different channels”? Again, there is value in expertise - but manual research consumes time, personnel and even money - three elements that boutique agencies have to allocate wisely. A powerful advertising automation platform offers a deep well of data that can quickly and easily be drawn from to create smart, and effective media plans.
Stage Two - Campaign Management
For most boutique agencies, the revenue comes from volume, and success hinges upon expertise across multiple platforms. If you operate a boutique agency, you’ve got to be a one-stop shop. With that comes complex campaign management across multiple channels - and unless there's an advertising automation tool in the picture, managing those campaigns will require multiple tools. Finding a single platform that can help monitor pacing, performance, platforms in use, stage of the campaign (is it live, is it awaiting creative, are pixels placed) can help teams - or even a single person - manage far more campaigns and manage them better!
Stage Three - Launch & Optimization
A good campaign ops/execution person will tell you that optimization STARTS at the set-up: launch with the best possible campaign, so optimization becomes course corrections, not U-turns. Using AI-backed automation to set up the campaigns is a massive step that creates consistency, reduces errors, reduces time spent, and provides the springboard for performance. There’s no better way to hit KPIs than to start in an optimal fashion. Once the campaign is live, the first step in optimization is having clear, thorough, and transparent data to decide where to make the optimizations. Ideally, many of the optimizations are made in an automated fashion, and then enhanced by the human touch. This will provide scale, efficiency, and reduce errors while allowing the experts to make the machine sing.
“Nobody dreams of cobbling together Excel sheets as their job when they grow up."
Stage Four - Reporting
Ok, the campaigns are launched and being monitored - but now the client needs to know how they are performing. One option is to have a team of people taking the basic analytics from the disparate platforms, and create slides, charts, pictures and more. Not only is this time consuming but it creates opportunities for mistakes. And let’s be honest - manually cobbling together reports is tedious work. (To paraphrase a CEO I worked for, “nobody dreams of cobbling together Excel sheets as their job when they grow up”.) Clearly, automating reporting is optimal, but there are many different point solutions that cost money, and may not bring in all your data, and may only offer reports that are uncustomizable - or are just downright ugly. In the movie Catch Me If You Can, Christopher Walken is asked by Leonardo DiCaprio why the Yankees always win. His answer: “‘Cause the other teams can’t stop staring at those damn pinstripes”. The reports have to look good! Again, this is where top-tier automation can be invaluable, producing customized reports that both highlight the important KPIs and dazzle the client.
Adopting an Ad Automation Platform: Keys To Success
Once you’ve decided to embrace advertising automation, your journey is really just beginning. Innovation is inherently met with the challenge of adoption. When something is new, it is unknown, and unfamiliar. The innovations that grow the quickest are the ones that are easiest to use. Finding an advertising automation platform that is intuitive, and easy to use is critical. And ease-of-use needs to extend past your agency team and to your clients. You’ll of course want a platform that was designed by and for the experts in digital advertising, but one designed to be understood by the end customer should be the focus. (Think about eTrade: it wasn’t designed for Wall Street experts, it was designed to make it easy for a casual trader to do it themselves.) Make sure the software you choose comes with onboarding, and training, but also conceptually could be used after a 30 minute demo.
The other fear often heard regarding automation-focused innovations is the lack of the human touch, from the losing the ability to truly customize reporting to relying on AI to generate ad copy and design. I like to think of an automation platform as an experience similar to what Blue Apron offers. The popular online meal service lets you get rid of tasks that needn’t have the human touch. (When it comes to tedious tasks, for me chopping onions is right up there with manually creating reports.) But Blue Apron still offers meal customization features that give users a chef’s touch, allowing for the same task – cooking dinner – to be completed in a fraction of the time.
When thinking about whether to bring an automation partner into the fold for your agency, think about some of the main benefits. First, consistency and efficiency - helping execute campaigns in a uniform fashion, for better and more predictable results, all while scaling without adding expense. Be more efficient AND save money. Second, expanding capabilities without having to invest in the full expertise needed to offer new channels and capture a larger share of wallet. Add more capabilities to grow revenue without adding complexity Finally, finding a platform that is an extension of your team. You want a platform that forwards your brand, fills the gaps that YOU need filled, and has people on the other side specifically incented to see your agency grow. And once you find that platform, you’ll be thrilled with the results - and so will your clients.
Mike Smith is the VP of Sales at Frequence. In addition to being a 13+ year media & sales industry veteran, he’s a proud husband, father, Green Bay Packers loyalist, Wisconsin Badger, and avid fan of live music.