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Agency Good Process

The Process of a Good Process

BY White Label IQ

At a recent industry conference hosted by the Agency Management Institute, marketing agency owners and leaders contributed to a roundtable discussion about process development and process improvement.

One agency quipped that it kept failing at automating its employee time-tracking process only to find that tracking time (the billable hour) was inherently broken for them in the first place. So they switched to a retainer system for billing clients and stopped fretting over the automation of time entry.

That is, whether time tracking works for an agency or not, if something isn’t working, there’s no need to make a habit of it through automation.

Another conference anecdote spoke to a “Franken-process”, where an agency starts creating a time-saving methodology and then bolts on another process and another until it becomes an unwieldy patchwork. Ironically, wasting time.

Again, process for process-sake is shooting itself in the foot.

How to create a good process?
There’s a process for that.

Beyond the anecdotal references, here are some field-tested, common-sense ways that agency owners develop and improve processes, as they reported at the conference.

These are 30,000-foot viewpoints (paraphrased) and not applicable to every agency nor every methodology but real-world screenshots of successes that owners have experienced along the way.

Create A Good
1. Approach

Agency owners agreed that processes (and the proposals for them) come from the top down. That’s standard… there’s a lot to running a profitable agency. A lot that most employees don’t know about but that owners need to accomplish through methodologies they’ll need to promote. However, the employees are the ones executing and following those processes.

So, bring process users into the conversation early. The initiative is top down but the application is bottom up.

An agency owner shared this…

New-hires tend to have new perspectives. Include them. We all know how that can go, “Well at my old company we always did this, this and this…” Which begs the question, Then why aren’t you still there if it was so great? But simply make peace with biting your lip a bit… and be sure to include those who are not so accustomed to how things have been done in the past at the agency. It may reveal fresh perspectives.

Owners further caution that management does need to keep the approach reined in so it doesn’t turn into a mash-up with too many odd moving parts, like the Franken-example above. But the actual users of the methodologies do indeed provide valuable insights; include them.

2. Automation

Now, consider the case of an agency that is inherently involved in data and works with partners that store that data and the data reveals a lot about customers that can be used to target them with marketing messages.

For example, maybe certain customers only engage with a single brand… or they like to communicate via email versus other methods… or they tend to abandon things in their shopping carts. Someone can look for those behaviors then sort out and classify those customers.

Sounds pretty automated, right?


An agency owner shared this…

We had all that data delivered up automatically. But it took humans to sort it, and they felt their time was wasted. So we simply developed a system for scoring certain customer behaviors automatically, so that when those behaviors occurred, the score got applied.

Now the team that was focused on sorting the data manually can instead focus on the marketing efforts triggered to that scoring, which is a much better use of human capital.

3. Documentation and Access

Some agencies are tribal and quite simply, everyone knows how things work. Well, tribal or not, over time, people leave, agencies change and that knowledge can be lost. So how does the new person know what to do? Or if it’s a new situation, how does anyone know what to do? Instead of getting into the weeds that only a veteran employee might understand, include over-arching examples and explanations in agency policies so that any neophyte can figure it out.

An agency owner shared this…

To help our web developers make decisions on their own as they worked, we started adding user stories to our development-process guidelines. That is, documenting real-world user examples so the developer could understand the “Why?” of what they were creating. For example, a user story that includes this type of guideline: The user visits this page to complete a task (such as A-B-C) and needs to see metrics (in this X-Y-Z type of platform) to accomplish that goal.

Whereas if the process gets too granular and instead just dictates specifics, such as “always add a button on this type of page”, then that’s what you’ll get instead. A button. That goes nowhere. Instead of a solution.

Owners also suggested that shared servers (whether commercial tools or customized digital intellectual property they developed for themselves) provided a central repository for process documentation. It should be highly searchable. With everything consolidated so no one has to dig back through Slack accounts or emails looking for notes and addendums. Communiques and schedules and visual aids and so on are all pinned directly to the process docs, in one place. Much like a job board or similar tool.

4. Humanity

So, agencies identify processes and identify deliverables that result, and then figure out how to use technology to automate all of it and drive its adoption. Afterall, process adoption is the ultimate pathway to the success of the process.

That is, make it easy to use. An efficient digital tool can enable the process. However, no matter how much we digitize or embed or archive or post or pin or video, it’s people who need to follow the policies. People who need to be engaged.

Agencies Identify

An agency owner shared this…

We educate employees in person, heart to heart, on why we’re doing this (particular thing) so they can take ownership of their own success and that of the agency. We offer incentives for process adoption and create metrics to track it… mandatory checklists and other measurements like that. And it’s part of periodic performance reviews. Employees are personally involved in using the process and fostering its success.

In addition, if during the course of a project or business function, a modification to a process is suggested by an employee and there’s a positive result, we immediately update our policies and methods based on newly discovered improvements. It’s rewarding for employees to see that they matter. Helps the agency, of course, too.

Owners agree that overall it’s about creating the knowledgebase, yes, but actually using it, too. Whether it’s onboarding a new employee… onboarding a new client… executing an audit of a media campaign. Whatever the policy or process, add humanity to the development and adoption of it. Real people are the ones who make it happen.

But in addition to that, on the automated side of the equation, consider creating customized digital tools that go beyond off-the-shelf project management software and commercial servers. The very same outsource partners that help agencies develop websites for end-clients, can also develop intellectual property that:

a) Helps the agency with processes and functionalities that in turn help itself and its clients…

b) Shores up the agency as an expert practitioner in its niche (one that is even able to create its very own specialized, patented solutions) and…

c) Opens the door to additional revenue streams for the agency, through the licensing of those proprietary digital tools (or versions of them) to others.

A Regular Einstein on Process

If you like to engage in pure genius at work, there’s a wonderful book titled The Ultimate Quotable Einstein from Princeton University Press. The quotations have applications to our professional lives… providing insights, inspiration, and even some poetry and social commentary from the master physicist.

In a section titled Misattributed to Einstein, find this little gem he’s often credited with: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

To confirm, he did not say that. But some cursory online surfing tracks it to a Knoxville, Tenn., newspaper quoting an AA meeting attendee back in 1981.1

However, no matter the source, it’s still pure genius… if it’s broken, fix it first and THEN automate it. Not the other way around.

1“Insanity Is Doing the Same Thing Over and Over Again and Expecting Different Results”, Quote,, data pulled Sep 22, 2022.

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