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So I used to run content for a marketing agency.

While I was running content I created a framework for thinking about how agencies should think about making content.

This is that framework.

Good morning, this is a thread.
1/ Every agency needs attention

Agencies don’t really want attention. Agencies want revenue. An agency acquires revenue by selling its service. But in order to sell its service for revenue, the agency must first get people to pay attention.
2/ The more attention the agency gets, the more services it can sell, and at a higher price.

Attention, in this way, is the great differentiator.

So every agency needs to be in the business of getting that attention whether they want to be or not.
3/ There is only one way to get attention. That way is to tell stories.

A story is an idea you put out into the world. A story can be a case study or a sizzle reel or a quote in Ad Age…
4/ ...or a story can be something your co-founder drunkenly scribbled on a cocktail napkin and asked the intern to publish on the agency blog.

Regardless, you have to put stories out into the world if you want people to pay attention to you.
5/ There are only two business cases for attention.

Those business cases are Public Relations and Business Development.

Public Relations is things you do to get noticed.

Business Development is things you do to get business.
6/ Ideally, the things you do to get noticed are the same thing as the things you do to get business. e.g. Winning at Cannes Lions might win you views and clients.

& publishing a cool case study might get you a client, which will get you noticed by trade press and creatives.
7/ But at the end of the day, there are only two audiences an agency cares about.

Customers and Creatives.

Customers are people who hire you.

Creatives are people you want to hire.
8/ PR and BD for creatives and customers. That’s it.

No matter how you express your story. No matter what that story is about. It’s all just PR and BD for creatives and customers.

This reveals a simple 2x2:
9/ Every type of story an agency might tell fits within this 2x2
10/ The telling of these stories is *a strategic activity*. That is, an activity done to assist the agency’s competitive position.

And, because an agency only has so much money and time for its strategic activities, the agency needs to make decisions about which stories to tell.
11/ The opportunity is for the agency to align their strategic activities (the Attention Getting Function) to other strategic activities (the Service Offerings).
12/ This is why most agencies have historically focused on The Wins and The Work.

Wins get you more of work. Work can be submitted for wins. And both wins and work get the attention of creatives, who make the work that gets the wins.
13/ Here’s the problem, tho. The market has gotten crowded.

Once there were fewer agencies that offered fewer services. Those agencies serviced fewer customers for longer periods of time. The agencies had pricing power.
14/ Now there are many agencies that specialize in many different services. Those agencies service more customers for shorter periods of time. The customer now has pricing power.

Classic acceleration scenario: everything has gotten much faster and more complex.
15/ So agencies must work harder to compete. & as anybody named Michael Porter will tell you, competing means deliberately choosing a different set of activities to deliver a unique mix of value…
16/ That’s where the 4th quadrant, The Ideas, comes in.

If an agency can establish itself as a leading voice by consistently publishing its POV, then it consistently differentiates itself from its competition and increases the number of at bats with potential customers.
17/ This is why Huge publishes Magenta. And RGA publishes Future Vision. And Ideo publishes the Journal. And on and on and on.
18/ Content, in this way, can be a mechanism for generating interest and leads, and generally keeping your name out there when it’s not awards season, or when that MSA you signed prevents you from crowing about your work.
19/ But agencies tend to suck at creating content. There’s no client. No brief. No defined topic or voice. Accustomed to marketing themselves directly—The Wins, The Work—agencies default to thinking they should create more content that markets themselves directly.
20/ And you should crow about your wins! And you should brag about your work! And yes, maybe you should hire a MarCom minion to get you into Ad Age!
21/ But if you want to differentiate & build an owned audience that you can influence, the opportunity is content. The opportunity is picking an audience & then understanding how the agency can help that audience be a better version of themselves.…
22/ This is why Huge provides cultural perspective, and RGA provides trend perspective, and provides strategy perspective. It’s all very generous—but it’s generosity with PR and BD ends in mind.
23/ If you're picking up what I’m laying down, if you agree that your agency should be producing content, the question becomes “but what do we say?”

I regret to inform you: There’s no right answer. But…
24/ There are right questions.

They work for agencies. They work for brands. They’ll work for you. They are, and simply:
25/ Why do we want to speak to people?

Who are the people we want to speak to?

What do they need?

How is what they need connected to what we sell?

How can we help them see our value by helping them realize theirs?

26/ If you found this thread useful, there’s more on my substack. Come hang out.
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