Reimagining The Client/Agency Relationship Model

By Kayla Kurtz | @one800kayla | Senior Digital Advisor at Hanapin Marketing

I was recently in a one-on-one with our very own Jeff Allen. In that conversation, we began digging into some of the things we’re running into with new or existing prospects. I alluded to the beginnings of this shift (at least, the beginning of seeing it directly illustrated in our own sales funnel) back in January in my post about the increase we were experiencing in project-based engagements.


We had started to see a significant uptick of in-house brands looking for retainer-based assistance from our team, as opposed to direct or outright day-to-day management of their campaigns. At the time it seemed curious, but not life altering. Since then, we’re seeing even more of this kind of conversation come our way (less management – more help us strategize and find problems we can fix ourselves, just can’t see).


Part of what the team here at Hanapin/PPC Hero, myself included, truly love about the digital marketing world is how dynamic and innovative it requires us to be. Agility, transformation, and adjustment are constant and it keeps us sharp by necessity. So not only has my original thought from back in January been confirmed, but we’ve seen that theory expand into fruition a bit. Here’s how.


The industry is more educated today than it was a handful of years ago.


I hear you – “well duh, Kayla…” but really think about that for a second. We even see it in our own team structure. We’re able to go out and recruit far more experienced Account Managers than we used to and don’t have to solely rely on our own farm system of training new PPC Heroes from the ground up (we still do, but you catch my drift). Due to the fact that there are more well-rounded and experienced PPC’ers out there…


In-house management options are easier and more effective than they were previously.


Nowadays, brands can go out and find highly knowledgeable and skilled managers to take the reins of their campaigns and accounts and continually optimize them with 100% of their focus on that brand. It’s no secret that agency-based account teams likely manage more than one account or brand, and you can’t discredit the logic behind having eyes concentrated on improving performance for just the one company (though, I’ve argued tunnel-vision can be a problem in the past, as well. I digress.)


So, there are a larger number of potential in-house team members to grab up because more folks have fixated on PPC management over the years, and those who have been in the space for a long time have gained significant knowledge and expertise making them incredibly valuable to businesses who desire that kind of control over their digital efforts. Further…


There are simply more agencies available to those brands who do want to partner with one.


Whether it’s new digital-specific agencies cropping up or existing agencies expanding their capabilities and scope of work – it seems as though the number of prospective vendors to choose from for an individual brand has grown exponentially. If I had to guess, that can be exhilarating or overwhelming, depending on the reason a company is looking at an agency period.


Maybe this reasoning is forcing them to put the agency search on the back burner (one reason overall opportunities for any agency in the market could be down) or they have different ones to choose from than in year’s past. Those agencies that used to get all the action aren’t always guaranteed that spot at the starting line to compete.


Speaking of a smaller volume of inquiries & opportunities…


One of the hardest things to do in our industry is admit that things aren’t all rainbows, unicorns, and puppy dogs. We’ve talked to our agency friends and overall, we see a correlation across the board in prospective clients not necessarily coming in to the funnel with what we’ve traditionally seen – which is looking for ongoing, full takeover PPC management, as often as they may have before.


If you’re reading this from the agency side, we need to accept that there’s a facet of this that we’ve brought on ourselves by preaching patience and allowing a good agency to get their footing and test things rather than switching vendors every 3-6 months. Those two things factored together (more agencies & less urgency to switch at the sign of performance issues) inevitably lead to fewer conversations per agency.


So what’s the silver lining here?


Those in-house teams that have grown their internal PPC management are also trying to execute more robust and wide-reaching digital strategies (be it more engines, different kinds of campaigns, more segmentation in current channels, etc) – and for that, agencies still hold a tremendous value to these teams. Our friends at eMarketer seem to agree, as clients see agencies more often now as resources with which they can collaborate & strategize on ways to expand and tackle issues they’re running into. And not necessarily outsourcing the implementation of the plan on how to eradicate said issues or expansions. So agency expertise is still of very high value, just in a different way.


Think of it like this. Remember the episodes of Mad Men where you viewed hours upon hours of Don Draper and his team brainstorming and actually investing in filming commercials to present to prospective new clients, only to have the client say “we like you guys, and the idea overall, but not the execution – the song is wrong and we’d like another actress to play the part.” Super defeating, right? Except it isn’t. This means their overall approach was right on, but as the brand owner, the client had some tweaks and changes they wanted to see and implement before things went live. They bought the plan, just not the carry out.


This is our new product and another engagement we’re offering to prospective clients.


What we’ve done at Hanapin is roll out what we’re calling an In-House Partnership program. This program allows in-house team to have the flexibility and cross-industry intelligence of an agency without the typically higher monthly fees associated with long-term management engagements. It provides some production and implementation work, but the key benefit lies in unlimited analysis, insight and strategy assistance to help in-house brands stay ahead of the curve (and their competitors) in a complex digital marketing landscape.


We’ll still assign a project manager to lead the communication and keep updates rolling steadily, but the brand will then get access to our entire agency of experts in lead generation, ecommerce, social, data feeds, programmatic, CRO, etc. – all for less than it would cost to hire one full-time expert to supplement the current in-house team.


We think this model allows us to do what we do best – shift with the market – but continue driving the level of expertise and white-glove PPC management service we’ve made our name on in the industry.


My colleague, Danny Friscia, & I will be presenting a webinar related to this topic late next month – so shoot me ( or our Marketing department ( an email so we can make sure we get you an invitation to register when we’re launching the content!


If you’re reading from the in-house perspective – what can you share about how you’ve changed how you utilize agencies? Is it in the way I’ve explained above or different? Those of you who are fellow agency friends – are you seeing this trend, too? How are you adapting? Let us know your thoughts and experiences by tweeting us.