Industry Insights

Marketing agencies are guff at marketing

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This article and all others on the Studio Cotton blog are written by humans. Please enjoy our opinions, expertise, advice, experiences, and typos.

When I tell you this subject keeps me up at night, I’m not lying. It has passed midnight on a Friday (well, I guess it’s Saturday now); my end of Southville is almost silent, the cat is having his fifteenth lick-bath of the night, and I can’t stop ranting in my own head about one thing. Marketing agencies are guff at marketing.

Now I must clarify, most marketing agencies are good at what they do for their clients. In Bristol, we have a plethora of talented planners, designers, developers and innovators. They successfully transform businesses of all sizes on a weekly basis.

One thing we can’t seem to do – is market ourselves.

Small business owners, you should read this too

I don’t want this post to sound like a marketing agency bashing marketing agencies. I can’t reiterate enough the massive contributions made to clients’ brands.

These are my observations. Coming from someone that is not only creating their own little marketing agency, but has worked at a variety of other agencies around Bristol and the West Country.

Now, to help centre this article a little, I’m going to focus on Instagram as a marketing platform. Partly because it’s hip and cool and totes millenial-y, partly because pretty much every agency uses it, but mainly because it’s my favourite and a heck of a lot quicker to review than 20 agency websites.

If you don’t work for or with a marketing agency, I think you can still learn a lot from the anecdotes and advice I’m about to share. So please, come along for the ride.

A comprehensive list of every picture you will see on a marketing agency’s Instagram account

  • Petrified new team member accosted by the receptionist within 5 minutes of starting their new job for an out-of-focus headshot (usually in black and white)
  • ‘Candid’ shots of table football. Yes, we get it, you’re cool and so very original.
  • Dogs. So. Many. Dogs.
  • “Hey look at this award we won”
  • Birthday cakes and bunches of flowers
Damn straight Miranda
  • Blurry shots from edgy team building days
  • A couple of contextless shots from the MD’s recent trip to Turin
  • Desks covered in Pop! figurines – only our back-end devs could be that nerdy
  • The keynote speaker from that important conference, taken at obligatory jaunty angle
  • That one tourist attraction that you have reduced your entire hometown to. Go on – count the Clifton Suspension Bridge photos.
  • Christmas jumpers/Halloween costumes/pumpkins/St Valentine’s whatevers

What marketing agencies are doing wrong

Marketing and branding principles are pretty set in stone. The method and the media changes, but at its simplest form, our job is to

convince customers that our product is the solution they need

When it comes to marketing agencies, we consistently fail on each fragment of that short sentence. Here’s how.

convince customers that our product is the solution they need

Instagram is about showing off. Sure, we pretend it’s about networking, engagement, awareness, even a dash of synergy – but that’s at least 82% bullpish.

Marketing agencies are failing to show off. This is probably the most startling sentence I will every type – I mean just look at the number of award shows we’ve made for ourselves.

Agencies have incredible banks of in-house creative expertise, including some of the best designers of a generation. And yet we fail to display their immense talents. I’m not just talking about client work (although it wouldn’t hurt to see a little more of that too) – but great design.

Typography, pattern, illustration, art, moving pictures. We have those skills, and it’s a crime to not use them for our businesses. We should show off, and convince our existing clients and new ones that we are dang-well creative as heck.

convince customers that our product is the solution they need

Instagram is generally used by marketing agencies for one of three reasons:

  • Promoting products and services to increase sales
  • Celebrating company culture to drive recruitment and increase brand loyalty
  • I dunno, whatever Michelle the Account Exec can think of that day

This makes it pretty easy to break down the audiences we should be targeting: clients and/or industry peers. But if you scroll back and review our very comprehensive list of content – it’s only really aimed at one audience: people who already work for us.

We’re failing at the first hurdle, just because we didn’t ask the key question(s) before posting:

  • Could this content drive sales?
  • Could this content attract new talent?

convince customers that our product is the solution they need

Who are you? No seriously.

You’re not looking so hot right now

Every marketing agency Instagram feed is the same. The same mix of pictures. Often taken of the same places and even at the same time.

We preach to our clients the importance of differentiation, and yet I bet you a 6 O’Clock G&T that I could pick 1o Bristol marketing agency Instagram accounts at random, and you wouldn’t be able to tell who is who.

We’re missing a trick, a trick we campaign for relentlessly with our clients, by not standing out. We give our customers nothing to remember us by, and no reason to choose us over every other marketing agency.

convince customers that our product is the solution they need

The product you’re selling probably isn’t what you think it is, and it certainly isn’t what you’re selling. Marketing is a predominantly service-based industry where our clients are buying into the resources and knowledge we provide – not physical, tangible products.

We are in the business of selling people. Our personalities, our style and again, our talent. Not table football and dogs.

convince customers that our product is the solution they need

We’re not solving any problems through Instagram. Winning awards will not launch my new bakery. Our team building day will not increase car sales by 2% YOY. Tom P’s quirky desk toys will not make me pick you over 3 of your top competitors.

A beautifully typographed flyer can launch my new bakery. Consistent, beautiful imagery will help me to choose to work for you. Ok, the car sales one is a little more complicated but you get the idea.

convince customers that our product is the solution they need

Seduction. Urgency. Exclusivity. Not one of these qualities is exemplified in the comprehensive Instagram content list and yet they are crucial for developing desire.

We want clients to want to work with us, and so we need to get a hell of a lot more sexy.

So why aren’t marketing agencies delivering?

There are so many answers to this question, and in my opinion they’re all as guff as their current Instagram content output.

Arrogance leads to complacency with the reasoning that “well we’re doing alright as it is so why change?”, which is often hypocritical to advice given to clients.

There’s often just too many cooks. With a workforce containing multiple experts, it’s easy to be pulled in different directions.

It’s even more common for marketing to just fall into the wrong hands altogether. With a lack of brand ownership and guardianship, identity swiftly degrades in both quality and quantity.

In my experience, it all comes down to one thing


Great marketing content needs to be delightful, valuable and original. Achieving this takes consideration and resource – but hey, we know that – it’s what we tell our clients.

I’m going to forego a proper conclusion, and just leave my marketing agency friends with this message.

We’re better than this. Try harder.

PS. If you’re not in marketing, I hope you found you could still identify with the principles discussed.

And I was being ever-so-slightly dramatic, there certainly are some marketing agencies who buck the status quo and have lovely Instagram feeds, like Bristol-based PixillionSoello, and Studio B.

Ok, it’s nearly 2am. I should probably get some sleep now.

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