Artificial Intelligence or Bust: 5 Harsh Truths Every Marketing Agency Owner Must Face to Harness AI Effectively

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In an era dominated by digital transformation, the use of artificial intelligence (AI) within marketing agencies is no longer just an option but a necessity. As agencies strive for efficiency, the integration of AI can provide a significant competitive advantage, transforming traditional operations and enabling agencies to serve their clients more effectively. Among the pioneers exploring this potential is Rob Da Costa, with his innovative AI coaching tool, "Ask Rob Anything," designed specifically for marketing agencies. This blog post delves into the creation of this AI platform, its impact, and the broader implications for the digital marketing world.

The Genesis of "AskRobAnything"

The journey began with Rob's recognition of the inherent limitations that come with human capabilities in coaching (after all, there is only one of me!). As someone who has built, managed, and sold a marketing agency, Rob understood the challenges of providing continual, high-quality advice. This understanding led to the creation of an AI system to serve as an on-demand coach, providing advice drawn from Rob's extensive experience.

However, Rob quickly learned that the creation of a reliable AI coach involves more than just inputting data into a system. The initial phase, filled with enthusiasm, soon met the harsh reality of AI's limitations—the learning curve was steep and the outputs initially unreliable. This led to a crucial realisation: for AI to be effective, the input data needs meticulous curation and structuring.

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Navigating Challenges: Garbage In Equals Garbage Out

The principle of "garbage in, garbage out" looms large in the world of AI. Rob's early attempts at feeding unstructured data into the AI resulted in outputs that were confusing and not in line with his expertise. The setback helped him understand the importance of preparing and structuring data meticulously to train the AI effectively.

Rob's revised approach involved deconstructing and reformulating his content into a format more suitable for machine learning. This tedious process required a deep dive into his existing resources—videos, podcasts, and articles—to extract valuable insights that could be fed into the AI in a coherent manner.

The Transformational Role of Structured Data

The restructuring process proved crucial. By feeding the AI structured, quality data, Rob was able to create an AI coach that began to align more closely with the kind of advice he would offer personally. This transformation was not instantaneous but involved continuous iterations and refinements.

The AskRobAnything platform began to exhibit its potential, offering reliable advice that mirrored Rob's coaching style—a blend of practical strategies shaped by years of real-world business experience.

The Broader Impact: From Team Support to Industry Innovation

The AI tool’s utility extended beyond just personal coaching. It became a valuable asset for Rob's entire team, aiding in content creation and decision-making processes. This broader applicability underlined the potential of AI to revolutionise not just coaching but various aspects of agency operations.

Moreover, Rob predicts that AI coaches will soon become indispensable tools across the industry, essential for maintaining competitive edge and operational efficiency. He envisions these tools enhancing personalised client interactions, optimising marketing strategies, and even handling mundane tasks, thereby boosting overall productivity.

Future Prospects: The Expansion of AI in Marketing Agencies

Looking ahead, Rob believes that AI will permeate various aspects of agency management, from strategic planning to client engagement and beyond. The scalability of AI coaching tools like "AskRobAnything" means that they can support an increasing number of clients, providing tailored, expert advice 24/7 without additional human resources.

This evolution towards AI integration points to a future where digital marketing agencies can operate with heightened efficiency and agility, responding to client needs and market changes swiftly and effectively.

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Conclusion

As digital marketing agencies navigate the complexities of modern business landscapes, embracing AI is becoming increasingly crucial. The insights shared by Rob highlight not only the challenges of implementing AI but also its transformative potential for agency operations. By understanding the nuances of AI deployment and focusing on quality data input, agencies can leverage AI to enhance their service offerings, improve client satisfaction, and drive growth.

The journey of integrating AI into agency practices is complex but, as demonstrated by "Ask Rob Anything," wholly worthwhile. It underscores a pivotal shift towards more tech-driven, efficient, and adaptive marketing agency models.

Questions and Answers

Q: What is an AI coach?
A: An AI coach in the context of digital marketing agencies is a digital platform that uses artificial intelligence to provide real-time, tailored advice and coaching based on expansive databases of industry knowledge and expertise.

Q: How can AI coaches transform agency operations?
A: AI coaches can automate routine tasks, provide consistent training and support to team members, offer instant problem-solving solutions, and allow agencies to scale their operations without a proportional increase in staffing.

Q: Are AI coaches expensive to develop?
A: The initial development of AI coaches can be resource-intensive, as it requires significant input in terms of data preparation and system training. However, once developed, they can significantly reduce long-term operational costs and increase efficiency.

Q: Can AI replace human coaches in agencies?
A: While AI can supplement and enhance the guidance provided by human coaches, it is not likely to replace them entirely. Human insight, creativity, and strategic thinking remain crucial in interpreting AI outputs and making complex decisions.

Q: How do I start implementing AI in my agency?
A: Start by assessing your agency's specific needs and challenges. Consider small-scale experiments with AI solutions that can address specific tasks. Gradually scale these solutions as you gain confidence in their benefits and understand their integration into your operations.

If you want to listen to this episode as a podcast, click below:

 Full Episode Transcription

Rob Da Costa:

Hey, everybody. What if you could have a virtual coach available 24/7 to guide your agency? A digital assistant that operates like your own personal agency expert dishing out advice and guidance tailored specifically for your business? Well, that's the premise behind the concept of an AI coaching platform, which is a newish concept that's about to become very commonplace. And today, I'm going to pull back the curtain on my journey into creating one called AskRobAnything. As a marketing agency owner and coach, I know the struggles of trying to be available for your team and clients around the clock whilst also looking at your own professional development. There's only so much mentoring and support one person can provide. So I set out to create an AI coach that could fill that gap, providing on-demand guidance, suggestions, and insights drawn directly from my own decades of agency life and experience. But as you'll hear, the road to making this a reality was anything but smooth. So I want to share with you today a really honest and some of the painful lessons learned about how simply uploading content doesn't create a reliable AI coach.

Rob Da Costa:

You need to carefully curate and refine the training data. Otherwise, it's just garbage in and garbage out. You'll hear about the surprising additional benefits that emerged when I created AskRobAnything, like using it to assist my own team with content creation and ideation. And I'll be making a bold prediction about AI coaches becoming must-have tools for agencies over the next couple of years. So whether you're intrigued by AI, sceptical of the hype, or just trying to wrap your head around the concept, this episode will be an eye-opening look at the future of agency coaching as well as super honest feedback from me about my journey. So let's jump in. I'm Rob 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 I know just how it feels in the ups and downs of agency life.

Rob Da Costa:

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. I'm sure you all agree, that AI is absolutely everywhere. And to be frank, being a bit of a techie nerd, when it first emerged in late 2022, I was straight on the bandwagon. It got me thinking about how I could harness my 30-plus years of agency knowledge into some kind of AI knowledge base or coach. Now, when I first had this idea to create an AI coaching tool for marketing agencies, I was really excited about the potential. As a former agency owner and now a coach, I was intimately familiar with the challenges of trying to be available around the clock to advise my team and clients. I also know how lonely at the top it can be running your own agency when you've got no one to talk to, no one to bounce ideas off of, no mentor giving you advice and guidance, and the confidence that you're making the right decision. Now when it comes to you, there's only so much mentoring and support one person can reasonably provide.

Rob Da Costa:

And there are only so many Internet searches, YouTube videos, or networking events that you can attend to try and learn. And getting one-to-one coaching is out of reach for many smaller agency owners. But what if I could create an AI coach that operated as an extension of my own brain and experience? It could provide on-demand guidance suggestions and feedback to achieve in practice. In those early naive days, I thought I could just take my huge repository of video lessons, podcasts, tools, templates, and other content, and upload it into my AI system of choice. And, hey, presto, an AI Rob is born. Boy, was I painfully wrong about that? Simply uploading those raw information dumps led to incoherent, contradictory, and often downright confusing outputs from the AI, and definitely advice that I wouldn't give you on a one-to-one basis. Quite frankly, it couldn't make sense of this disparate data in a cohesive way.

Rob Da Costa:

It was the polar opposite of the seamless AI assistant I dreamed of, and, of course, contradictory to much of what we read about. That initial failed attempt was a harsh wake-up call for me. I realized that cutting-edge AI is still not advanced enough to comprehensively understand broad datasets and the way humans can intuitively connect different information. These systems require meticulously prepared training data carefully organized to enable effective machine learning. So I deleted thousands of pieces of content from my AI, and I went back to the drawing board with a newfound respect for the complexity of the challenge and a realization that the hype isn't quite what it's made out to be. The first order of business was rebuilding my entire content repository from scratch in a structured, streamlined format optimized for machine learning. Unfortunately, no more random info dumps. This meant taking every video, every podcast episode, all my PDFs, my tools and templates, and systematically extracting, reformatting, and reorganizing all the core insights and advice into modular data files.

Rob Da Costa:

It was an incredibly tedious process, like trying to reverse engineer my own brain, but it was a necessary step to create high-quality AI training data, which in turn could give you high-quality advice. With the new data set architecture in place, I could start over with building and iteratively refining the AI model itself through a cycle of training, testing, evaluating, feedback, adjusting, and retraining. It ended up taking many months of incremental improvements before AskRobAnything started to provide responses I considered reliable enough and similar to the responses that I would give you if we were having a 1 1 coaching session. And it's definitely a journey that I am still on. So let me spend a few minutes sharing with you the lessons learned from this development process. The first is just how real and relevant the old garbage in equals garbage out principle is when it comes to AI Costa. When it comes to AI, we're seeing lots of words like revolutionary and game-changing. And everything we read online makes it sound really simple.

Rob Da Costa:

But creating a truly intelligent AI coach that can provide valuable advice is deceptively hard as I found out. These systems are not yet able to simply ingest raw information and regurgitate it in a coherent nuanced way that matches human comprehension. The training data has to be carefully curated, structured, and refined. Otherwise, no matter how advanced the model is, you're just feeding it garbage that will lead to garbage outputs. This brings me to my second major lesson. You absolutely must take a systematic thoughtful approach to preparing the data used to train your AI. It can't just be a dump of information. The data has to be intelligently organised, cleaned up, reformatted when needed, and biased towards the specific skills you want your AI to learn.

Rob Da Costa:

For me that meant I had to go through hundreds of videos and podcasts and documents, tools and templates, and basically reconstruct all that information from the ground up in a way that's optimised for machine learning. It was a huge meticulous undertaking but with diligence in data prep at this stage, it's made all the difference. I basically had to consider all the questions that you as an agency owner might ask me and then provide the appropriate answers. I also trained the AI to respond in the same conversational way that I would if you and I were having a one-to-one coaching session. I wanted to AskRobAnything to answer exactly how I would in real life. And now, many months later, it can do that and it can often do it better than I can. Which leads me to the 3rd big lesson. This process requires tremendous persistence and commitment.

Rob Da Costa:

There were so many times when I just wanted to give up because the outputs just weren't good enough, but I kept chipping away at it iteratively getting a little bit better each cycle until it finally started clicking into place. I can't overstate how important it is to have realistic expectations and be willing to put in the hard work over a long period. Creating AI assistants or coaches who can truly provide expert-level advice is still an enormously complex challenge. Unfortunately, there's no magic shortcut button. I'm telling you all of this because I wanna be open and honest and share my journey, but also because you might be thinking about how you can create a knowledge base for your customers. And if you do that, which could definitely be something that differentiates you from the competition, you have to do it with your eyes open, which is why I am sharing this story. So as AI tools for marketing, content creation, and other business use cases proliferate, I really want to caution everyone to be sceptical of any service that claims to eliminate all human effort. Sure.

Rob Da Costa:

AI can augment and accelerate things, but for it to be truly valuable, some level of human curation and quality control is still absolutely essential. My journey is a prime example of that reality. Developing an AI coach turned out to be way harder than I imagined it was going to be. But by staying committed and taking a systematic quality-over-quantity approach, I was ultimately able to create something genuinely powerful and impactful. And now I'm so excited about the potential. Like many coaches, I got into the coaching game because I wanted to make a difference in the world. When I was doing 1 to 1 coaching that impact was limited. Now I have my group coaching programme.

Rob Da Costa:

I can reach a wider audience. But with AskRobAnything, I can reach an infinite number of people. And that is super exciting for me and also a way of creating a knowledge base that will ultimately be my legacy. Are you a marketing agency owner wondering how AI will impact your business over the next year? Join me, Rob Da Costa, agency owner, coach, and author for a free webinar entitled 5 ways AI will impact your agency in the next 12 months. Our deep dive into the biggest AI trends disrupting how we run our agencies from automating tasks to managing clients and team members to providing personalised coaching at scale. I'll share the 5 key areas you should be looking at where AI can have the biggest impact. And we're not talking about content creation here. Whether you're excited or sceptical about AI, this webinar will separate the hype from reality.

Rob Da Costa:

Register now at dacostacoaching.co.uk/ai-webinar. That's dacostacoaching.co.uk/ai-webinar to claim your spot and get ahead of the AI agency transformation. So after many months of dedicated effort, the final alpha version of AskRobAnything was ready for prime time. And let me tell you, the impact it's had has exceeded even my best expectations going into this project. For the members of my core self-running agency community, AskRobAnything has been an invaluable resource that's always available. No more waiting for office hours, my next group call, or my response by email. They can get expert coaching and advice literally 247 whenever they need it. And they found it great for quickly getting authoritative answers to those niggling questions that might seem too small to raise in a group setting.

Rob Da Costa:

With AskRobAnything there's no such thing as a stupid question. They're even using it to review their work since AskRobAnything is trained on my frameworks and templates, but the benefits extend far beyond just my inner circle. I've also been able to leverage it to support a much wider audience of marketing agencies at a lower price point. So for just 14 99 a month, any agency owner can get access to AI coaching tailored to our industry-specific needs. It's almost like having a dedicated AI-powered mentor on call. This has allowed me to open up my expertise to a new tier of clients who may not be ready for full membership but still need reliable guidance because we all know that it's lonely at the top. Quite frankly, a lot of entrepreneurs know what they know because they learn it on the Rob. And that can sometimes be really painful, but now it doesn't have to be.

Rob Da Costa:

Even more exciting has been the potential for using AskRobAnything to support entire agencies beyond just the owners. Imagine if every employee had this AI coach available to reference my best processes and get Costa a device. It could revolutionise training, productivity, and consistency across a whole team. A few forward-thinking agencies have already signed up for an agency-wide site license, and the feedback has been absolutely outstanding. But perhaps the most unexpected beneficiary has been my own internal team, especially my virtual assistants. They've been using AskRobAnything to support their content creation and also to get feedback on the work that they are creating. So if they need a high-level overview or a video script pulled together on a tight deadline, just prompt the AI with the target topic and it will shotgun out an extremely reliable first draft pulling from my philosophical approaches. My EVA says it shaved weeks off their content production schedules.

Rob Da Costa:

On a personal level, AskRobAnything has become an external backup of my brain when I inevitably start going a little senile in my old age and forget things. Rather than struggling to recall specific details or pieces of advice I've given over the decades, I can just query the AI for a refresher. It's almost like having an interactive knowledge-based version of myself that will allow me to pass on processes and philosophies to future generations in a much richer way. Now I'm old and grey, so being able to offload those recollections into a digital form is incredibly reassuring. Ultimately, while AskRobAnything was born out of the goal to provide scalable AI coaching, it's evolved into something much bigger. It's an intelligent expansion of my own capabilities to benefit my company, my community, my industry, and even my own future self. When I look at the incredible impact AskRobAnything has already had after just a short time since its launch, I can't help but feel tremendously excited for what the future holds for AI coaching. From my perspective, we're still in the very early stages of this technological revolution.

Rob Da Costa:

AskRobAnything is just the first pitch if you will. The potential use cases and applications extend far beyond just the marketing world. I firmly believe that in the next few years, we'll see AI coaches being adopted across all kinds of domains from life coaching and personal development, to health and fitness, to financial planning, and beyond. Any field where specialised expertise is valued will inevitably explore ways to scale and democratize that knowledge through AI assistance. Imagine having an AI running buddy that can provide personalised workout plans and nutrition advice, or an AI money coach that understands your full financial picture and can strategise paths to grow your wealth, And, of course, an AI coach supporting every step of your agency journey. The possibilities are virtually endless and really exciting. As the core AI technologies continue rapidly advancing, the capabilities of these systems will become even more powerful and flexible. Archrop anything version 1 is just the tip of the iceberg.

Rob Da Costa:

I'll certainly be working to push the boundaries further. I expect in the not-too-distant future that you'll be able to talk with an AI avatar of me and get verbal and written responses. I also want to explore adding more interactivity by integrating it with other tools such as emails so it can have conversations online and offline. For example, imagine sharing your weekly goals with AskRobAnything and he digs into them in more detail. And then after the planning call with AskRobAnything, you get sent to them via email on a Monday morning. And then on Friday, you get an email prompting you to go and check how you got on with your goals. AskRobAnything will pick up the conversation where it left off and coach you through why you achieved those goals or why you didn't achieve them. It's an immensely exciting frontier and I feel tremendously fortunate to already be out on the front lines helping you guys with my AI coach.

Rob Da Costa:

If you're already an agency owner or a coach and you haven't started exploring this type of scalable AI assistance yet, I really do encourage you to start looking into it. The competitive advantage over the coming years will go to those who can successfully leverage AI to augment and multiply their expertise rather than trying to go it alone. AskRobAnything has been a game changer for me, and I believe AI coaching will absolutely be crucial for any entrepreneurial business going forward. Talking of the future, if you're interested in learning more about how AI will specifically impact the way marketing agencies operate over the next year, I'm running a series of free webinars called 5 ways AI will impact your agency in the next 12 months on May 21st, 22nd, 23rd. And if you're listening to this podcast after those dates, then you will be able to watch an on-demand version of the webinar. In this webinar, I'll dive deep into the concrete ways artificial intelligence is going to disrupt how we run our businesses. From automating repetitive tasks to generating content to providing personalised coaching at scale, I'll cover the biggest AI trends and opportunities agency owners need to get ahead of. I'll also share actionable tips on how to start exploring and implementing AI solutions like AskRobAnything so you can gain a competitive advantage.

Rob Da Costa:

And I'll share with you a valuable free guide as a thank you for attending that will share 10 game-changing AI tools and more info on how AI is going to shape the agency landscape over the coming year. So whether you're really excited about AI or maybe even a bit sceptical, this webinar will be a great way to separate the hype from reality when it comes to near-term impacts on our industry. You can register for the free webinar over at dacostacoaching.co.uk forward slash AI dash webinar. And, of course, I'll put a link in the show notes as well. I'd love you to join me as we peek around the corner of what agencies powered by AI really can achieve because this technological revolution is coming for our industry whether we're ready or not. So we might as well get prepared. So as I wrap up today, I want to recap some of the key takeaways from my journey creating AskRobAnything, the good, the bad, and the mind-blowingly awful. 1st and foremost, if you take nothing away, understand that developing a truly intelligent AI coaching assistant that you might be considering to implement to support your clients is still an immense challenge.

Rob Da Costa:

There's no magic upload button to press. It requires carefully curating and structuring your training data combined with an iterative process of feedback, training, and refinement. Garbage in really does equal garbage out. But by taking a systematic quality over quantity approach, it is possible to create AI coaches that can provide reliable, nuanced expertise tailored to your specific situation, and AskRobAnything is a prime example of that. The impact it's had on my business, my community, and my own productivity has been totally game-changing. From giving my core audience 247 access to coaching to supporting entire agency teams with consistent guidance, it's becoming a force multiplier. So if you're a marketing agency owner who has been intrigued by the potential of AI coaching, but turned off by the hype and overpromising out there, or maybe the fear around it replacing your Rob, I do encourage you to go and explore AI and, of course, AskRobAnything for yourself. For just 14.99 a month, you can get access to an AI coach and mentor totally trained solely on my own methodologies and best practices.

Rob Da Costa:

It's like having an on-demand coach and consultant available whenever you need it. So head over to dacostacoaching.co.uk/AskRobAnything to learn more and sign up and experience the power of AI coaching done right. Ultimately, whether you try out my solution or look at other options, I truly believe AI coaching will become a necessity for agencies over the next few years. So thanks for joining me on this journey today. I'll be fascinated to see where AI coaches like AskRobAnything go from here. But for now, thanks for joining me. If you enjoyed the episode, then please do consider leaving a review and, of course, hitting the subscribe button so you're alerted every Thursday when a new episode goes live. And, of course, I hope to see you inside AskRobAnything or at one of my free AI webinars.

Rob Da Costa:

So until next Thursday, have a fantastic rest of your week, and then we'll see you on the next episode of The Agency Accelerator podcast.

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