I have a personality quirk. Some might call it a flaw, depending on whether it makes their life easier or harder. My brain is never satisfied. It’s never still. If it can’t find a problem to solve, it will make one up. I recognize this makes me feel bad for people around me sometimes, but hey, it can also come in useful in marketing and helping to run an agency. I think of myself as a problem masochist. Meaning, I take on responsibility for solving things even when I don’t have to (or sometimes shouldn’t). Martin Bihl has a great blog in which he defines some things that a creative director should be good at, including:
“Oh, and there’s one more thing a real Creative Director needs to be really good at. Just like every leader, they need to be good at the next. They need to be good at the next media, the next creative, the next way of thinking.
And the challenge with that… to be good at it means you’re constantly upsetting the apple cart. It means you’re constantly explaining to everyone how the success of the present is neither satisfactory nor sustainable. It means you’re always bringing uncertainty and confusion to your agency…”
And that is what I do. Though I do my best to solve things before anyone else has to get too upset about it. Sometimes this approach causes some friction. Or some tension. But often, if I do it right, and if others help me, we hit a breakthrough that results in a really meaningful change in not only a specific task, but in the way that we think and in our ability to be confident in an industry that will do everything it can to take that confidence away.
Here are some recent examples of how I got obsessed with a problem most others couldn’t see, hadn’t noticed yet, or had brought to my attention but couldn’t solve. Each of which includes a tool you might find helpful if you’re trying to solve similar problems.
Four times ago: Workamajig
Agency and project management software. A few years ago, I got really tired of trying to manage projects through email. d.trio has historically been in-house heavy on the account manager side. This created a bottleneck potential in the creative process and meant I needed to keep my eyes on the work of multiple internal and external creative resources and pretty much every project that went through. Using email and spreadsheets to do this was untenable and making me unhappy. I also overheard a fair amount of, um, concern about our time tracking and billing processes and thought perhaps we could solve with a unified tool. Workamajig was built for agencies and provided all the options we needed. It’s customizable enough to fit our workflow and has allowed us to keep better track of projects. It’s also taught us to look for similarities in projects and be a lot more buttoned up about tasks that need completing and timelines. Best of all, it’s freed up time spent trying to track down that one email from three weeks ago for more important things. Like writing blogs.
Three times ago: SharpSpring
Marketing automation and CRM platform. The advent of marketing automation and multi-tactic campaigns came as no surprise to us. We’d been working on all of the facets that make up those strategies for years. But being able to manage and track an entire campaign, and thinking far enough ahead to anticipate and respond to responders behavior was proving a challenge. After a key conversation with Megan about how maybe we understood the concept of marketing automation but not how to actually do it, especially for ourselves, I found SharpSpring. And it changed everything. Working with the system has not only unleashed the potential of automation for ourselves, but it’s helped us learn how to strategize highly complex and effective campaigns for our clients, even if they’re not using SharpSpring. A lot of the work we’re doing now for clients, we would not have gotten without exposure to the concepts needed to run automated campaigns.
Two times ago: DSPs
Demand side platforms for digital advertising. For years we’ve been involved on the creative and development side of banner ad campaigns. But the media buying/placing side of it was a bit of a mystery. In case you don’t know, the highest, hardest wall in marketing exists between a creative agency and a media agency. I was really tired of that, and as our client base shifted from large corporations with their own media agency contracts to more medium size companies in need of digital advertising as a campaign component, we saw the need and opportunity to partner with a DSP to allow us to play more effectively in that arena. We prioritized targeting capabilities and inventory reach, allowing us to hyper target the niche audiences our clients need to reach, wherever they might be.
Last time: Databox
Data visualization. Anyone who believe the fairy tale that all data sources can automatically be connected and shown as part of a whole is drinking the Kool-Aid mixed by the provider of a gigantic, enterprise-level, expensive suite of products. The rest of us have to tack analytics together from multiple sources. Some of which can be automated and some of which provide you with nothing more than a line graph. For campaigns that encompass email, digital advertising, landing pages, retargeting, conversion tracking, phone calls, etc., etc., , the sheer complexity of getting all those data points to be available in a single place has quite often driven us to send a spreadsheet of results to our clients. As a designer, I was desperate to find something that could not only access automated reports but allow the entry of updateable custom data points. And I didn’t really want to spend the $6000 a month that some tools cost. As a matter of fact, I wanted to spend nothing if I could. Enter Databox. Easy to use, thousands of integrations, a usage-based pricing tier that might be free forever, and a slick way to push custom data if you don’t mind looking at some brackets and commas. In the couple of weeks we’ve been using it, it’s expanded the way we think about analytics, made us look even more pro to our clients, and helped make insights easier to find.
I’ve got that feeling again, by the way. Now to find a problem to solve.
Brief side note: The other problem that’s always on my mind is search. How to be found for the right thing at the right time by the right people. And how to do it as a small agency with limited time to fall down the rabbit hold of SEO. Thankfully the days when all directories were scammy and almost unusable are gone. Places like DesignRush, Clutch, and UpCity pretty much own most of the agency keywords you might want to rank for, and they’re actually doing a nice job of it. UpCity even allows agencies to create custom content for their site which can expand your reach like crazy.