We can learn from our marketing peers. From what email marketing tools they’re using to what services they’re providing, the more that we understand what top marketing agencies are up to, the better we can tailor our own efforts for success. With that in mind, we’ve gone deep into industry research to discover as much as we can about the state of agencies today — and we’ve packaged all of that information up for you right here.

What They Do: Services and Offerings

If you want your marketing agency to be on par with the pros, then you have to make sure you’re providing the same variety of services. And as the digital marketing landscape expands, so too does the range of services and specialties that an agency has to provide.

  • 72% are offering content marketing services
  • 70% are offering email marketing services
  • 69% are offering creative services
  • 68% are offering display marketing services
  • 3% are offering additional services not listed above 

Source: Wordstream

How to compete: Make sure that you diversify your service offerings as much as possible. Brands have a lot of bases to cover online, and they need marketing agencies that can excel in more than one arena. The more variety you’re able to offer, the more attractive you’ll look to potential clients.

What They Solve: Client Needs

Just as important as understanding what agencies are doing is understanding why they’re doing it. Brands are up against some unique challenges, with high- performance metrics and expectations across multiple channels — and they’re relying on marketing agencies to help them get there.

  • 26% need help identifying the right technologies for their needs
  • 26% need help managing their websites
  • 21% need help targeting content for an international audience
  • 19% need help training their team
  • 16% need help hiring top talent
  • 7% need help finding an executive sponsor

Source: Hubspot

How to compete: The goal is to optimize your services to fill in marketing gaps wherever and whenever they’re needed. Stay on top of challenges within your industry, specifically ones applicable to your target audience so that you can anticipate and address your clients’ needs before they even mention them.

What Keeps Them Up At Night: Marketing Struggles

Nobody ever said that running a marketing agency is easy. All agencies face unique challenges, but some are more common than others. Here’s what marketers said their biggest hurdles were in 2019.

  • 7% struggled with retaining current clients
  • 7% struggled with hiring and training new employees
  • 3% struggled with a lack of knowledge and training in paid search
  • 2% struggled with other issues

Source: Wordstream

How to compete: Be aware of your challenges. Identifying your barriers to success is just as important as the solutions that you put into place for them, so take a proactive approach to internal agency issues instead of sweeping them under the rug.

What Tools They Use: Software and Platforms 

The internet has made marketing broader and more competitive, but it’s also taken on some of the legwork, too. To wit: a growing industry of marketing-driven digital assets designed to automate your marketing processes and make your job easier. And here’s what agencies are using.

  • 52% of agencies use social media platforms
  • 45% of agencies use social media scheduling tools
  • 39% of agencies use CRM
  • 35% of agencies use SEO software/platforms
  • 31% of agencies use task management software
  • 29% of agencies use product management software
  • 22% of agencies use marketing automation software
  • 21% of agencies use landing page software
  • 15% of agencies use marketing management platforms
  • 8% of agencies use digital asset management platforms

Source: CoSchedule

How to compete: Add as many digital tools into your toolbox as you can, taking into account both your budget and your objectives. While many of these software options take some work to set up, once they’re up and running, you’ll save time and money, plus you’ll have a lot more data to drive your strategies.

What’s On Their Back End: Business Operations

Sometimes the most critical parts of running a successful marketing business that assists with growth and retention are also the least glamorous. Case in point: referrals and charging clients, both of which tell us a lot about how marketing agencies are operating.

How are agencies snagging their clients? From most common to least common:

  • Referrals
  • Website
  • Social Media
  • Search
  • Job Boards
  • Other
  • Creative Staffing Agencies

Source: Flywheel

And once a client is on-boarded, agencies have a few different methods of charging for services. From most common to least common:

  • Per Project (Variable)
  • Hourly
  • Per Project (Fixed)
  • Retainer
  • Performance-Based
  • Other

Source: Flywheel

How to compete: Cast as wide of a net as possible with your marketing so that as many potential clients as possible can find you. And when it comes to charging clients, don’t assume there is anyone correct way — use what works for you and them, and vary your payment structure by the client if you need to.

What Their Retention Is: Average Client Lifespan

Getting clients is one thing — holding on to them is another. Marketing is an interesting field in this respect since many clients hire agencies to oversee only selective campaigns for set periods. The average amount of time marketers hold on to their clients is 28 months.

  • 30% of agencies retain clients for 0-12 months
  • 27% of agencies retain clients for 13-25 months
  • 24% of agencies retain clients for >39 months
  • 19% of agencies retain clients for 26-28 months

Source: Wordstream

How to compete: To meet and exceed the average marketing client retention rate, you need to evolve along with your clients. Constantly consider ways to offer additional value above and beyond your initial campaigns and act as a marketing advisor — not just an executor.

How They Use Paid Ads: PPC Spending

While much of marketing focuses on organic growth, there’s no underestimating the continued importance of PPC ads. 64% of agencies are managing more PPC spending in 2019 than they did in 2018, which suggests that — like it or not — paid search is still as critical as organic.

As for what that growth looks like across the board:

  • 37% of agencies say their PPC spend increased by more than 25%
  • 27% of agencies say their PPC spend increased by less than 25%
  • 25% of agencies say their PPC spend stayed the same
  • 11% of agencies say their PPC spend declined

Source: Wordstream

How to compete: Don’t put all of your eggs in one search basket. Prioritize PPC along with organic search, then let the results show you which direction to rely on more heavily.

Where They Advertise: Online Platforms and Social

When it comes to the platforms that agencies are targeting with their ads, it’s probably no surprise that Google takes the top spot. 99% of marketing agencies optimize their ads for Google, and the search engine giant shows no signs of losing that top spot. Still, it’s not the only platform agencies are paying attention to.

  • 49% of agencies are managing ads on YouTube
  • 44% of agencies are managing ads on Bing
  • 28% of agencies are managing ads on Twitter
  • 9% of agencies are managing ads on Amazon
  • 8% of agencies are managing ads on Snapchat
  • 4% of agencies are managing ads on Quora
  • 2% of agencies are managing ads on Yahoo! Gemini 

Source: Wordstream

How to compete: Here’s an instance where it’s to your advantage to be a follower. Marketing is all about competition, and you need to target your ads in the same place that your competitors are. Judging from the stats above, we say set your sights on platforms like Google, Facebook, and Instagram, and only manage ads on platforms like Yahoo! Gemini, Quora, and Snapchat if it makes sense for your client.

Where They See The Most Return: Content That Converts

Content marketing is a mainstay pillar of the industry. And to get the most out of it, it pays to focus on the types of content that offer the most significant payback for your efforts. While your content strategy is probably informed mainly by the types of clients you’re working with (and, by default, where their audience engages online), it’s still helpful to know where other agencies are seeing results.

Here’s what marketers say is their top-performing content type:

  • 11% say it’s organic social media posts
  • 10% say it’s website content
  • 5% say it’s videos
  • 3% say it’s PPC ads
  • 3% say it’s landing pages
  • 3% say it’s case studies
  • 2% say it’s white papers
  • 2% say it’s original research
  • 1% say it’s one of the following: print ads, ebooks, podcasts, microsites, television ads, or billboards

Source: CoSchedule

How to compete: It’s interesting to note that there’s not one content type that’s overwhelmingly effective for all agencies, but it’s also not surprising. The kind of content that converts with an audience is mostly dependent on the audience themselves. Personify your demographic so that you know who you’re marketing to — and by default, where and how you’ll find them.

The industry is evolving, and it’s up to individual agencies to grow with it. Whether you’re working with a small team or a huge staff, consider what other agencies are doing but forge your own path, too. And if you get frustrated, take solace in the fact that at least we’re all in it together.