Marketing in a Time of Uncertainty with Jason Swenk

jason swenk agency ahead podcast episode 1
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Traject’s kickoff podcast featured agency consultant Jason Swenk, an expert in running and scaling marketing agencies.

Since the podcast debut comes right in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic, Head of Content and host Garrett Sussman asked him to give his best advice on this difficult economic time.

(1:30) How are agency owners reacting to the COVID-19 pandemic?

(4:30) How should agency owners talk to their employees about this crisis as a leader?

(5:15) Invest back in your own content.

(7:10) How can you be working on your own business right now?

(8:30) What can your agency’s client conversations look like right now?

(11:30) What should your clients prioritize in their digital marketing?

(12:50) Who is your buyer right now

(14:40) Are you looking at any other brands for how to market in this environment?

(17:00) Can you prospect for new clients in this climate?

(19:45) What aspects of digital marketing will change once we get out of this social distancing/lockdown situation?

(22:22) How do you start from scratch if you’re just getting into marketing or starting a marketing agency?

(25:00) Finding your agency’s purpose, your North Star.

(26:20) Jason’s cause

It is definitely an age of uncertainty.

“Stopping your marketing to save money is like stopping your watch to save time.” -Henry Ford

Jason begins by reminding agencies to remind their clients of this key quote.

“Stopping your marketing makes as much sense as brown toilet paper, and that doesn’t work.”

While we’ve never had a time like this where as a society businesses have been literally ordered to shut down, we’ve similarly never had the Internet during such a tough time.

“We can adjust. And you have to. You have to pivot, because if you keep doing the same thing you’ve always done you’re going to go out of business.”

Is this an exciting time for digital marketers?

Swenk had a lot of hope for agency owners and consultants.

“Even if our business takes a little bit of a dip in the short-term, we’ll come out way ahead.”

Of course, you can’t bury your head in the sand and cling to worry right now if you’re going to be one of the businesses that comes out on top. Fortunately, Jason had plenty of suggestions for things agencies can do to make sure they are one of the companies that does come out on top. 

Plus, this could be a huge time for the industry.

“Digital marketing is more necessary than ever before. The nurses are on the front lines of the health crisis. When it’s over, we’re going to be on the front lines of the economic crisis.”

Digital marketing could be important to thousands of lives, helping to get people employed again, running businesses again, bringing in money again. Marketers who can find a lot of meaning and purpose in that will do a better job of playing the long game. 

This importance will stretch on into the foreseeable future.

“Even if certain people say it’s okay to go out, smart people aren’t exactly going to race to the restaurants and bars right away.”

Businesses are really going to need the digital marketing industry to be ready to help them recover. 

Suggestion #1: Manage Your Workforce

“Remember, as a leader your job is not to motivate your employees.”

Swenk points out that if you have to motivate your team then you hired the wrong people in the first place.

Instead, the agency owner’s job is to avoid demotivating employees. To guide them to be better people and to guide them on where the company is going. 

Swenk says he’d say, “Look, it’s a tough time, but we’ll make it through.”

Decide what you’re doing, make a game plan, and communicate the game plan to your employees. 

Next, give your employees resources to educate themselves, better themselves, improve their skills and grow their careers. There’s more time for that kind of work at the moment, and it can make your agency better and stronger later. 

He also notes this isn’t the time to stop hiring. It’s a time to take advantage of a big boon that’s coming. He says there are brick-and-mortar agencies who find it’s difficult to get talent into their area of the country. It’s become really clear that brick-and-mortar offices really aren’t all that necessary.

He suggests agencies go remote, take advantage of the entire country’s talent pool. Agencies could eliminate expensive office building overhead in favor of teleconferencing software and online project management tools, and can find anyone they want. There’s also going to be a whole lot of unemployed people looking for new opportunities, which means agencies who are willing to make the shift can forge some very strong teams.

Suggestion #2: Ramp Up Content Creation

Swenk says his company’s game plan is to create a bunch of content, and he suggests other agencies do the same. 

“Do a bunch of Facebook Live presentations. Do a bunch of webinars.”

This is all content that didn’t necessarily work as well prior to the outbreak because people were busy. That was in fact the enemy of anyone who wanted to reach certain customers.

“But now people are at home. They’re bored. They don’t want to watch the news. They want to be entertained or educated. They’re at home scrolling through Facebook and Instagram.” 

Look for ways to help others with the content. If you’re trying to help then you’ll come out ahead simply because you’re a nice person.

The one thing you don’t want to do right now? Pull back on marketing maneuvers that are working.

“Do you really want to pull back on something that’s actually generating business?”

Suggestion #3: Work On Your Business

If you’ve heard the phrase “work on your business, not in your business,” then you understand the advice Jason’s giving here.

Now is the perfect time to evaluate what is and isn’t working. To cook up new processes, new strategies, and new ideas. To document and write out all those ideas.

To make your agency stronger so you’ll be in an even better position to succeed later.

Suggestion #4: Guide Your Clients

“This is a time when agencies and businesses can really stand out.” 

Jason gives an example of an agency that serves the restaurant industry, which is extremely constricted right now in what it can do. What if you helped your clients make some how-to videos that let people make a few favorite menu items at home? What if you guided them on distributing that helpful content to keep the restaurant at top-of-mind?

Chances are people aren’t going to make the meal at home. They’re going to be vastly entertained and then they’re going to order it on delivery. Those that do make it at home might still buy a gift card. Or they’ll see how much work it is to make their favorite meal and they’ll be more than happy to let you do the work when the crisis clears up.

This is just an example…it would fall to agencies to create their own innovations on behalf of their own clients. 

Suggestion #5: Don't Stop Your Outbound Selling Efforts

Jason stresses that this is, again, an ideal time to do this, as long as you lead with empathy. He says there’s no need to feel awkward about reaching out to people over the phone or on LinkedIn.

“If you can provide a service to help a business make more money to survive and pay people, you’re helping and doing your part.”

He mentions he sent out a 50% offer to his list of 40,000 people. Of them, only 1 person complained that they couldn’t believe he was trying to sell at a time like that. As hard as that negativity was, it demonstrates that most people really won’t be all that offended or outraged by it if you handle the process with care and concern. It’s all in the approach.

Patience is Important

As a more general principle, Jason stressed the importance of patience.

“You know, most of the time when people hear from me for the first time or consume some of my content they don’t actually buy for 2 to 3 years. That’s patience.”

He says there are always going to be dips and recoveries, so the true focus for any agency owner or consultant should be on how they can help their industry do better. Be resourceful but don’t get into panic mode. 

Know Your Purpose

Figure out your agency’s why.

“That’s the North Star. Mine was I wanted to create something that I’d wished was around when I started my agency. It enables us to make the right decisions. It lets our team make the right decisions without coming to me.”

Clarity is the first of 8 systems Jason teaches in his mastermind classes and resources. “It’s boring, it sucks, it’s common sense, but don’t ignore it because it will build that foundation for everything else.”

Gaining clarity, Jason says, can make your agency 1000 times faster than everybody else. 

What's Your Right Now Cause?

Right Now Cause:Provide N95 masks to health care workers and write in to your government officials.

All Time Cause: The American Heart Association

Connect with Jason Swenk

Want more of Jason’s advice?

Garrett Sussman

Garrett Sussman

Garrett is the head of content at Traject , a suite of digital marketing tools, and host of the Agency Ahead podcast. When he's not crafting content, he's scouting the perfect ice coffee, devouring the newest graphic novels, and concocting a new recipe in the kitchen.

jason swenk agency ahead podcast episode 1

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