3 Marketing Strategies Every Agency Needs With Tim Fitzpatrick

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I am joined by Tim Fitzpatrick from Rialto Marketing to discuss the key marketing strategies that every marketing agency needs to be implementing.

We talk about why agencies are not great at doing their own marketing, why your marketing plan should not be a 12-month plan, and why you must find a clear niche.

Time Stamp

[01:40] Why are so many marketing agencies so bad at their own marketing? It’s the ‘cobbler’s shoes’ and they are so busy in the day-to-day that their own marketing strategies go by the wayside

[03:16] The consequences of not focusing on marketing consistently

[04:20] 3 Fundamentals: understanding your target market, your message and your plan to get that message in front of your audience

[05:40] The dangers of shiny new objects

[06:05] What is your advice to someone who is targeting a very broad audience and trying to be a generalist?

[08:30] How would you advise someone to establish their own niche? The 3 questions to ask

[11:39] Getting your messaging right so it resonates with your target customer

[14:07] Features, advantages and benefits

[14:45] Focus on the OUTCOMES, not the TACTICS

[15:20] Building a plan to get in front of your ideal target audience - use a 90-day sprint rather than a year-long plan

[17:25] Ensure you know how to measure the success marketing strategies

[19:40] The system of word-of-mouth and referrals

[20:50] Avoid the mistakes so many agency websites make

[23:20] Types of tactics that work today

[25:06] What is the one piece of advice you would give your younger self?


“In the absence of a plan, everything looks like an opportunity.” - Tim Fitzpatrick
"The more niched you are the easier it is for your to find your ideal target customer but perhaps more importantly, for them to find you." - Rob Da Costa
“The fundamentals lay the foundation but they are so easy to overlook.” - Tim Fitzpatrick

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 Full Episode Transcription

In the absence of a plan, everything looks like an opportunity. And you're just - it's these fits and starts, and you go this direction, and then you go that direction. You're never gonna get consistent repeatable results when you have that and when you're doing that. So, you've got to have a plan because a plan outlines what your priorities are, which gives you clarity, and it gives you the discipline to be able to eliminate those distractions. 

I'm Rob Da Costa, and this is The Agency Accelerator podcast as someone who has stood in your shoes, having started, grown and sold my own agency and just how it feels in the ups and downs of agency life. So, this podcast aims to ease your journey just a little by sharing mine and my guests' experiences and advice as you navigate your way to growing a profitable, sustainable and enjoyable business. 

Welcome everybody to this week's Agency Accelerator podcast! Now back in Episode 111, I talked about why so many marketing agencies are really not very good at doing their own marketing, and it was one of the more popular episodes this year. So, I thought I would revisit that topic and get another perspective. So, I'm really excited to have Tim Fitzpatrick with me today from Rialto Marketing.

Tim, like me, is an entrepreneur and business owner with 20-plus years of expertise in marketing and business growth. He started Rialto marketing back in 2013, and he's been helping service-based businesses simplify marketing, so they can grow with less stress, which is really music to my ears because it's kind of what I do as well. So, Tim, first of all, welcome to the podcast and thanks for joining me today. 

Thanks for having me, Rob. I'm excited to dig into this with you today. 

Excellent! So, let's just start off with a sort of broad question, and let me just ask you, perhaps the controversial question, “Why is it that so many marketing agencies are not very good at doing their own marketing?”

This is a great question. I don't think marketing agency owners are any different than other business owners. We tend to be the cobbler that has no shoes, right? In the first business I was in, we were selling consumer electronics and home theatre equipment. And all of our customers put in/installed these amazing home theatres. Did any of them have home theatres in their own home? No, because they didn't have any darn time to do it right? And agency owners are no different.

There are plenty of agency owners that do great work for their clients. They just get so busy in the day-to-day that their own marketing goes by the wayside. And, when I got in this business, I got some really great advice from John Jantsch over at Duct Tape Marketing that always stuck with me. And he said, “When you're in marketing, you need to treat yourself as a client.” And so, one of the things that I did early on was, Man, I got our own business as a project in our project management software, just like any other client. And because of that, I've never really struggled with the marketing of my own business because I just treated myself like a client. 

Yeah, it's interesting because I think a lot of agencies do that with good intentions. But then they get busy and, of course, their own marketing and treating themselves like a client is at the bottom of their priority list. And so, it's the first thing that goes out the window, and they get stuck on the client service hamster Wheel of Doom, as I call it. And but let's just talk about the consequences. So, if I am that agency owner and I am really busy today with lots of client work and I can see this voice going, “you need to do some marketing.” What are the consequences of just not focusing on marketing? I mean, this is obviously true for any business, but specifically marketing agencies. 

Yeah. I mean, it's the roller coaster, right? It's up and down. I'm busy. I'm not so busy anymore. Why? Oh, I need to start marketing again. You market again. You start to go back up and then you stop.

You know, it's like you said, Rob. It's no different than what we tell clients, right? You can't stop marketing. It's not a switch you can turn on or off. 

And, yeah, of course, it's got a lag to it as well, isn't it? So if you start it today, you're not going to see the results for 3 to 6 months, so.

The way I've always looked at it is it's like your 401k right. You're saving for retirement. This is not something you do on and off. You need to get in the habit of doing it consistently over and over and over again. Marketing is no different. 

So, let's just talk about some of the strategies that you think agencies should be considering when they're putting their marketing strategy together. 

So, when I look at marketing and the fundamentals, I look at three different things. I look at (1) the target market and who your ideal clients are within that market, (2) your message (how you communicate your value and what you do to grab the attention and interest of those ideal clients), and then (3) what's your plan to get that message in front of those people?

To me, those are the foundation of marketing. And then, when you start to get tactical and get into the different channels, that's where you're building the rest of your house from. But it's so easy for us to just skip the fundamentals because especially now, there's so many different marketing channels and there's so many different tactics within those. It's so easy to just want to take action immediately. But the problem is when we take action immediately without having that foundation, we've got all these vehicles to use, but we have no fuel. 

So, sometimes it's like, “Hey, we can push the car down the road for a while or maybe we'll coast downhill for a little bit, but at some point, we're going to reach the end. We're gonna get tired. It's not gonna work.” 

Consistent and marketing agency owners are no different than any other business in this regard. The fundamentals lay the foundation. Got to have it, but they're so easy to overlook.

Yeah, you're definitely music to my ears. I think in this day and age where we're seduced by so many new shiny objects that it's very easy to get distracted by the latest clubhouse. Whatever trend, there is a jump on that bandwagon because we don't have a strategy to assess it by. Whereas if we have this strategy with those three prongs that you just mentioned, then we can kind of assess new ideas against this. And what's your - so that the target market and the ideal target customer is really interesting to me. What's your advice to someone who appears to be very generalised in their audience? They say “Yeah, I can target. Anyone can buy my service. Anyone can do it.” What would you say to those people?

I think when you niche, it's much easier to get in front of the right people, right? When you're (1) we can't target broadly, it's just it's too expensive. Small to medium sized businesses cannot target broadly. And even large companies that may look like they target broadly, they don't. They have campaigns that are very specific to very specific markets, an ideal client type. So, targeting broadly just does not work. It's almost like, you're casting a line out in the middle of the ocean, just hoping that you're going to catch some type of fish, and I've made this mistake. I'm sure you've made this mistake, Rob. Any agency owner listening to this has made the same mistake where it's like, “Hey, client you get a lead, you talk to him.” You're kind of like, “I'm not quite sure, but, hey, they've got a heartbeat. They're willing to pay me, cool. I'm gonna do the work and you do the work,” And it's just it's a disaster. It doesn't work well for you. It doesn't work well for them. Man, that's no way to run a business, like you're not going to be happy doing that. You're not going to keep clients long-term. We need to identify the people that we really want to work with. And once we do that, then we can start to look at, Where are they? Where do they congregate and create a list of where they are?. And when you've got that list, now you've got a target where you can go out and go. “Hey, if I go here, I know I'm going to be getting in front of the right people.” 

Your podcast, the perfect example, right? You work with marketing agency owners. Is it a general podcast? No, it's a podcast specific for marketing agency owners. You know exactly the people that are going to listen to this. 

Yeah, exactly. It's - I mean. Again, you're singing off the same hymn sheet as me, the more niche you are, the easier it is for you to find your ideal target customer. But perhaps more importantly, the easier it is for them to find you as well. So, I think that's super important. How would you advise someone to go about finding that niche? Like for me, it was very easy because when I started coaching, I'd run my own agency previously. So, I failed as a generalist for the vessel of two years of being a coach. And then, I niched to the marketing agency and so, that was a fairly easy choice for me. Sometimes, people have multiple niches or they're not quite sure about how to identify this perfect audience. So, what advice would you give to them? 

Well, I think it's important to keep in mind. I mean, there are multiple ways to niche, right? One is a very specific audience. But you can specialise in very specific service right or solving a very specific problem. You can combine those things, right? But I think I don't think we need to reinvent the wheel here. If you've been an agency owner for a while, the easiest place to start is to look at your current and past customers. And I'd like to focus on three questions. I call them three power questions, right? 

Who do we enjoy working with? Why do you want to work with people that make you want to bang your head against the wall? There's no point in that right. So, start there. 

Second, who are the most profitable clients? It's okay to make money. Frankly, it's a requirement to make money if you want to stay in business and serve people. 

And the third thing is, who do we get great results for? if you can work with clients day in and day out that you love, that are profitable, that you get great results for, man, your business is going to be in really good shape. So, start there. And when you start with those questions, you now have a subgroup of current and past clients that you answer positively to all three of those questions. It is that subgroup that you start to dig a little bit deeper to see if you can identify some commonalities. And how you identify those commonalities is looking at the demographics. For an agency, I mean, it's probably going to be the types of businesses. Are they at a certain spot in their business where they're looking for specific help that you can meet? Are they certain types of people you know certain? Do they have certain titles? You know, all of those, “ Where are they?”. It could be. 

The demographics start to paint the picture of what these people are like. But then you also need to look at the psycho graphics. What are the common problems that they have? What are the results that they're looking for? What are the roadblocks, right, that is keeping them from getting to where they want to be? The demographics and the cycle graphics really start to give you an idea of exactly who these people are. And what typically ends up happening, when you dig deeper into that group of clients, you end up with subgroups that have these commonalities. 

And it's those smaller subgroups that tend to be your ideal clients, and that's where you're going to make your choices. I don't think you should have more than 1 to 3 ideal client types. Frankly, I think if you can, I think you should start with one and focus your efforts there first. 

I mean, it sounds like I sort of prompted you to say all of that because in my self-running agency membership, we actually take people through an exercise to categorise their clients against, actually, those same three. Like, where are you most profitable? Where do you enjoy working? Where do you get the best results? 

We have a process to get people to go back over their clients, score them, categorise them, identify commonalities to do exactly that. So, it is taking what feels like an emotional choice and making it as scientific as possible. So, that's the first piece of the puzzle. Those three prongs that you mentioned. Let's move on to the second one, which you mentioned, which is about messaging. So, talk to me a little bit about how do people get their messaging right and get it in a way that it's going to really resonate with that ideal target customer. 

This is a loaded question. There's a lot of info, I think, to unpack here. The first thing is go back and interview your ideal clients, right? Too many times as agency owners, as any business owner, we’re too close to the fire, right? We can't think about our business objectively, but oftentimes when we talk to clients and ask them the right questions, they can articulate our value and what we've done for them.

One in their own words, which is super important because our message needs to be, in their words, not ours. It's their words. They're going to resonate with them. So, talk to current and past ideal clients, not any clients, the clients that you intend to attract. And the information you get from that will be invaluable, absolutely invaluable!

The other easy place to go is reviews. If you don't have a tonne of reviews, look at what some of your competitor's clients are saying, right? Again, reviews are like a treasure trove of valuable information, but once you have that information, there are a couple of things we need to consider with messaging because there are some common mistakes here, right?

One is too many of us focus on talking about ourselves, and our customers don't care. The only thing they care about is how we can help them solve the problem they have and get from where they are to where they want to be. So, our messaging needs to focus on those problems that they have and don't want and the results that they want and don't have. That's the info that's going to really hook them and bring them in. 

The second major issue that we make with our messaging is it’s not clear. We try to get cute and we try to get clever and inevitably, it just falls flat. Like, keep it simple and clear because when we confuse people, we lose them. You know, confused people don't buy, so keep it clear and focus on them and not you. 

For sure. And I completely concur with all of that. People spend too much time telling people how great their business is. And I always liken it to a date. If you went on a date and the first thing you did was tell your partner on the date all about you, they would, “I'm really sorry. I've got to go. I've got an emergency.” So, you have to make it all about them. And in this context, you make it about them by understanding them and the pains that they have that your product also can solve.

Yeah, I think. I mean, if you go back to the sort of rate eases and you talk about features, advantage benefits like we used to back then, this is benefit. This is focusing on benefits. Too many people focus on selling the feature of what they do and not on the benefit of what they can do for their clients. So, I think in your messaging. And as you said, hearing from the horse's mouth, hearing the words that your clients are telling you and hearing them repeatedly from different clients is a really good clue that's the language you should use in your marketing. 

Yeah, do they? Does anybody like really want SEO or social media marketing? No. They want the outcome that they can get from it, and it's that we need to focus on. Like, they don't care whether it's a SEO or content or any other marketing channel or tactic.

They just want the outcome that they can get from it. 

I mean, I say, “Look, you know, someone's in pain and they want a transformation from being in pain to not being in pain. And we're selling that transformation and the outcome, and those are the things that we need to focus on.”

So, the third piece of your three areas that you're three strategies was about, I think you said a plan to get in front of these people to talk. Talk a bit about that. 

So, when I look at planning, Rob, I look at it in 90-day sprints, okay? And one of the things you touched on, as we started this conversation, was there's just it's so easy to get distracted with marketing because there's so much there's information overload, right? There's all these channels, all these tactics, no shortage of gurus telling you've got to be here. No, you got to be here. In the absence of a plan, everything looks like an opportunity. And you're just it's these fits and starts and, you know, you go this direction and then you go that direction, you're never gonna get consistent repeatable results when you have that and when you're doing that.

So, you've got to have a plan because the plan outlines what your priorities are, which gives you clarity, and it gives you the discipline to be able to eliminate those distractions. And it reduces your stress because you know exactly what you need to focus on. But the problem with a lot of plans is people plan too far out. Like, the market’s evolving, our businesses are evolving quickly. Nobody puts together a year-long plan, whether it's for marketing or anything else. And at the end of the year, it's the same as it was when it started.

Not a chance in heck! So, it's why spend the time to put together a long, complex plan? One of my mentors said, “complexity is the enemy's results.” It makes it so difficult. So look at it in 90-day sprints. 90 days is long enough to start seeing traction. It may not be blowing the doors off at this point, but it's long enough to start seeing whether it's headed in the right direction. And if the things that you're doing aren't headed in the right direction, then you can make course corrections, you know?

Do I need to stop doing this or do I need to make some tweaks? Continue to test it, to see if I can gain more traction, but the plan is just simple. And we wash, rinse and repeat every 90 days. 

Yeah, great advice. And I think one of the key things to make what you just said work is to know what success looks like. And I think too many people don't know that when they start, they might put they might do exactly what you said. Put their 90-day plan together. Say we're going to do this, that and the other. But no one has sat down when they're putting that plan together and saying, “How are we going to assess this strategy A or this tactic A? What would success look like? How do we know after 90 days, whether we should do more of this or do less of this?” And so, that's perhaps the harder bit where people, especially, they don't have any data to start with. Then, they've got a figure that out.

So, that comes back to the metrics, right? One of the things that's in our 90-day plan is the metrics. What metrics are we going to track that are going to help us understand whether the actions were taking are working or not? You know, in marketing, there's look, we all know this is as marketing people, there's so many metrics. And in marketing, that don't mean a darn thing. Like, we talk about them. How many visits do you have to your website? How many people are on your email list? Man, I don't care if it's not generating leads that are converting to customers.

So, let's really identify those key metrics that are gonna help us better understand whether what we're doing is working or not. And we don't have to reinvent the wheel here. A lot of people ask me, “Rob, where should I start with my plan?” To me, there's three simple places to start. One is what we're talking about. If you don't have your target market and your messaging down, that's where you need to start. Like, because otherwise, you're going to waste time and money if you don't have those things in place.

The second thing is your website. Everything you're doing from a marketing standpoint is bringing people back to your website. Even if you're 100% referral, people don't just pick up the phone or send an email anymore when they get a referral. They're going online to check you out. If your website looks like it was from 1995. Like, they are not reaching out to you. 

The third thing is what's already working. As an agency owner, something is already working for you. Why jump into another channel and tactic until you've optimised what's already working? So, for example, one of the most common things that comes up when we work with clients is, “Hey, we're generating tunnel leads from referral.” Okay, great! Tell me about what's your referral process like, how do you consistently get and ask for referrals? “Oh, we don't. They just happen.”

Yeah, it's interesting. We just jump in there because that is a question I hear all the time. And I often say to people, just relying on referrals and word of mouth isn't a strategy. It's a hope.

And yes, it is!

Unless you have a strategy behind it. So, I guess your response would be, “Okay. Let's actually have a proper referral strategy in place.”

Let's have a strategy. Let's look at the system. What is our system or our process for getting referrals? Where do we have gaps? What are we doing that's working well in that process that we can do more of? Let's optimise that first. Once we optimise that, then we can start to look at expanding. But if you want to generate leads faster, look at what's already working and optimise it.


But you know, it's like you said. Look, referrals is, it's a great way to generate leads. It is not a way to scale a business. It's not predictable. Optimise it, then look at where else you're going to start generating leads. 

Yeah, and my advice to people is, do a few things and do them really well and deeply consistently. Don't get trapped by many things. I also just wanted to touch upon the whole website thing because it amazes me how poor a lot of websites are. That a lot of agency websites and even, sometimes, web development agency websites, where that is really their showpiece. And I say to people, “one of the first things you got to do with your website is get really clear what its purpose is. Is it a brochure? Is it a lead generator for you? Is it a sales platform for you? What is it you want it to be? And then, is it actually delivering that? And of course, once you've done that first task that you mentioned, which is clarity on your niche and your ideal target customer. Is your website reflecting that? Because I almost reckon 8 out of 10 times, someone will tell me what they do and they'll give me some clarity on their niche. Yeah, I'll look at their website and they hedge their bets on their website so they don't show up as that specialist. I don't if you see that too. 

I see it all the time, you know? I mean, it's we, my company focuses on strategy. First and foremost because so many people just skip it, right? There are a lot of great tacticians out there that are amazing at SEO and PPC, or whatever it may be. If you don't have the fundamentals, the fuel behind that,

It doesn't matter.

It's not gonna work well, right? And look, I'll say right now, every agency owner out there has worked with clients where they're like, “Gosh! Wwe're doing what we do day in and day out, but this is not working.” And in most cases, it's not working because the client hasn't given them what they need. How many times do you say to a client? “Hey, who's your target? what are we going to say to them?”. They don't know. And if you don't know that, then as an agency owner, you're just sitting there trying to figure it out.

When a lot of times, unless you focus on strategy, a lot of agencies are they're great at the tactical work. They're great at implementing, but sometimes they don't have the strategy that they need to be successful with some clients. 

Yeah, and it's interesting that it can be even worse than some agencies will have a really good approach to setting the strategy for their clients., but they just don't apply any of it to themselves and then you sort of say, “Well, hey, guys, look, when you onboard a new client, this is what you do with them, and why you're not applying that thinking to yourself?” Which kind of brings us back to what you said right at the beginning about treating your own business as a client. 

Just put you on the spot really quickly, I know we're talking mainly about strategy, but what are the types of tactics that you see working today that agencies should be thinking about doing. I mean, obviously one of them is getting a good website that actually delivers what it's supposed to be. But what else? 

For me, speaking in all of its forms. So, when I talk about speaking, I use that term pretty loosely. I mean, the conversation we're having today, I see as speaking. Doing workshops, training, things like that - speaking. It all works that all work really well for me and content. I mean, as agency owners, we need to have credibility and authority and trust with our clients. And content is a phenomenal way to do that. 

And I think speaking is particularly good in all its forms, as you say, because it enables you to build empathy in a relationship more quickly with your potential audience than perhaps, more one-dimensional, just written content does. I mean, they both have their faith. But when we're talking about speaking today, it doesn't just mean standing on stage, does it? It means podcast guestings. Think it means running your own workshops, being a guest on other people's workshops, having a YouTube channel. You know, doing Facebook lives, LinkedIn lives these days. So, there are many forms of getting yourself out there, and people just have to be kind of confident enough to do that. 

So listen, let's just wrap things up today. Really interesting conversation. I hope people are listening and taking note to what we're saying. And perhaps, reflecting on their own website or their own strategy and maybe thinking. “Okay, let's just slow down to speed up and let's get clear on our niche and our target customer before we go right into the tactics.”

But the question I ask all my guess is if you could go back in time and give your younger self one piece of advice, what would it be? 

Don't be afraid to ask for help, I would say early in my professional career, I thought asking for help showed more weakness than it did strength. And it's really the exact opposite. When you ask for help, you're showing that you're confident enough to say, “Hey, I don't know and I need help.” And we don't need to figure everything out on our own. There's so much information out there. There's so many people that have already been where we are. We just need to know how to find them and be courageous enough to ask for help. 

Let me ask you a second question for that. If you were able to go in a time machine and give your 21-year-old self that piece of advice, would he have listened? 

That's a good question. Maybe. Yeah, I might have had to make some of my own mistakes early on before I believed it. But I don't know. It just depends on how convincing I was to my past self. 

I only ask that question because I feel like with years and wisdom, you're able to see the fact that asking for help is a strength. Not always, but I wonder whether I don't know that I would have taken that advice, although it was very good advice. Tim, if people wanted to find out more about you and Rialto, where would they go? 

They can certainly go to our website, which is rialtomarketing.com. Another great place to connect with me is on LinkedIn. I'm happy to connect with other folks in marketing. And my LinkedIn handle is linkedin.com/in/timpfitzpatrick. We'll put these links in the notes anyway, so people don't need to remember them. But yeah, put both those links in the notes. I just want to say a huge thank you for joining me today. And hopefully, providing some really good sound bites and useful thought-provoking ideas and information to our audience. So, thanks again for joining us.

Thank you. Appreciate it, Rob.

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