5 Unspoken Rules You Need to Know When Starting a Media Agency

In spite of the challenges involved in building a media agency, the right strategic moves can bring immediate success.

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By Matthew Nunn • Oct 7, 2022

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

It's no secret that the ad market is booming. Global ad spending is forecasted to increase by $58 billion in 2022, rising to $781 billion from $723 billion in 2021, and businesses of all kinds are vying for attention in the online marketplace.

But what about aspects of the industry that are secret? For instance, what are the unspoken rules that your fledgling agency needs to be aware of when you are starting out?

Related: How This Agency Is Using Creativity to Inspire Greatness in Others

1. Think small

How many times have you been told to "think big," "dream big," or "look at the bigger picture?" In the case of a media agency, it may be better to go against this advice and, instead, to think small.

By "thinking small" we mean identifying a corner of the market you can really make the most of. Consider your own background. Which industries do you have direct experience in? Which marketing techniques have you mastered — is it traditional media, pay-per-click or SEO? What do your previous clients, colleagues or employers believe to be your greatest strengths?

Put yourself in your customers' shoes. Which do you think they prefer: a jack-of-all-trades agency that claims to do it all, or an honest and upfront operation geared towards specific fields and goals? In today's highly competitive, highly granular landscape, it's likely to be the latter time and time again.

From my own experience, my first agency was singularly focused on traditional media at the outset, and then grew to add digital and social capabilities. After developing a solid client base, our agency found that the best way to expand was to develop a strong relationship with our clients first, and then provide more services related to their needs.

Related: 10 Secrets to Building a Successful Digital Marketing Agency

2. Demonstrate your capability

The best advertisement for your business is your business itself, especially in the digital space. Basically, you need to lead by example, demonstrating exactly what you can do and why you are the best option for your clients.

Don't just tell your prospects what you can do for them — show them. Agencies who can talk the talk but can't walk the walk will struggle to gain traction in the market.

I have found client testimonials and case studies on our agency's best work to be great selling tools when converting prospects into fully-fledged clients. Of course, these testimonials need to come from somewhere — in my early days, I offered free trials with the agreement to publish testimonials and studies, giving me a solid basis that I could use to hook new clients. This method of "showing" rather than "telling" is our highest source of conversion, and it also showcases our expertise beautifully.

3. Be selective, at least at the beginning

By thinking small, you are developing a real area of expertise — a market niche you can corner and make your own. Unfortunately, this means your fledgling media agency is not going to be for everyone. You're not going to please all of your prospective clients, and you're going to stretch yourself too thinly if you try to do so.

So, be selective. At the beginning of your agency's development journey, find the clients who represent the best fit for your organization and for your skill set. I've personally found that targeting small- to medium-sized bricks and mortar retail businesses were highly effective. This is due to their always-on marketing approach, and their consistent promotional efforts and budgets.

Don't be afraid to say no to clients who you feel you might not be able to assist properly or to avoid clients with goals you're not sure you can achieve. By overstretching, you are only going to garner negative reviews that will harm your business. It's also crucial to check the credit history of the prospective client — I learned early on that a good client is one who spends regularly and pays their bills on time.

Of course, this is easier said than done. It's exciting when you discover a new prospect, especially a warm lead, and you may feel reluctant to pass up on this business. Just remember that growth needs to be steady and sustainable. You don't want to be hiring staff for a specific project, only to find you don't need these staff later on.

Related: The 7 Steps to Managing Your Ad Agency

4. Identify specific hiring needs with a focus on business identity

In order to grow your business, you need to hire. However, as we've already touched on, you need to hire sustainably. Start by handling as much as you can with your current in-house team, or just by yourself. Once you begin to understand your capabilities, you can identify where you need specific help and assistance.

Your company culture always needs to come first. Foster a strong business identity within the nucleus of your team, and then make sure all hires are ready and willing to engage with this. Your culture needs to resonate with your prospects, which means it needs to resonate with your personnel too.

The Covid-19 pandemic hit recruitment hard, and it has been extremely difficult to find and retain skilled staff. With this in mind, don't be afraid to hire remote-based staff, but remember to actively manage these hires rather than leaving them to their own devices.

5. Be good at new business

It doesn't matter whether you're starting a digital agency or a more traditional agency — finding new business opportunities and converting these is going to be crucial. Some agency owners may bemoan their "bad luck" when it comes to finding the leads and prospects they need to grow. While luck may play a part, I've always found that the harder you work, the more fortunate you become.

Target improvements in your acquisitions process. One way to do this is to create excellent relationships with your existing clients so that these clients act as a beacon for future prospects. However, you will still have to reach out and find these prospects in the market, so hone your direct, outbound marketing skills as you grow your agency.

Related: How to Start a Successful Marketing Agency from Scratch

Become the go-to in your field

Getting your agency off the ground can be tricky. However, by narrowing your parameters to focus on your strengths, being selective as you build your client roster, maintaining a strong business culture and by supporting both existing and prospective clients, you can begin to build a strong presence in the market. Becoming the go-to agency in your niche is the key to success as you build your presence in the market. This is your aim.

Matthew Nunn

Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor

MD Nunn Media Group

Matthew Nunn is the managing director and owner of Nunn Media, Australia's largest media agency, and owner of Alley Group, Australia's digital agency of the year. He has a history of starting and growing businesses and is skilled in digital strategy, media buying, digital marketing & digital media.

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