10 Things I Learned After 10 Weeks in a Digital Agency


It’s a strange thing for a PR, stepping over to the other side. But I did just that in June when I decided to take up the offer of working in a digital agency to build a Digital PR department.

This exact crossover of skill sets and service delivery to clients is something I’ve been moaning needs to happen for pretty much as long as I’ve had this blog.

I’ve actually been with the Glaze Digital boys (and my home-girl, holla Lisa!) for ten weeks now. They’ve been so successfully flying under the radar that I hadn’t heard of them when they first approached me.

But they’re rocking worlds online from Ireland to the UK and across the world (when am I getting my work trip to Dubai lads?!) It’s been some ride, and it was finally time to share it with you all.


Digital PR in a Digital Marketing Agency

I’m seeing a lot of agency partnerships nowadays. It’s a press release-worthy announcement it seems. And a partnership is a step in the right direction, but actually it means little in real terms.

Agencies have always had ‘special partners’ to outsource services to. In fact most of us have white licensed our work under the guise of other agencies all over the place for years.

This is the first time, however, that I’ve ever been fully immersed in the world of a digital agency.

Building a Digital PR department while working alongside a programmer, a designer, an SEO/PPC expert, a social media marketer and community manager. Hello Happy Place!


The funny thing is, I’m learning as much from them as they’re learning from me. Despite my understanding of digital as a communications medium for business, I have never proclaimed to understand the very technical skills behind PPC, technical SEO or website and app building. (In fact, my lack of technical programming skills on WordPress are a regular source of office amusement).

And I certainly had no experience of building brands and entire businesses the way these guys do.

So, having crossed over to the dark side, what have I learned so far?

1. The good, the bad and the invisible


Christ on a bike this industry has it’s share of Charlatans. And we thought PR was bad. But you’ll get that everywhere I suppose. “Anyone with a laptop” and all that.

It’s heart-warming to be among people who are the very antithesis of this trend. They spend so much less time tooting their own horns and much more time hammering away behind the scenes delivering results for their clients.

Which leads me nicely on to my next point…


2. It’s ok to be quiet, when you’re really, really good


I get a lot of stick for self-promotion. But it’s my belief that PR is, ultimately, an add-on service. So I had to sell it. And it’s a pretty hard sell these days as a standalone. Even I don’t “just do PR.” I do content marketing and strategy and proposal writing. I wrote a book

However I have to point out that self-promotion did work for me.

On top of reading my material and deciding I knew my shiz, the Glaze team had also Googled me, followed my online conversations, asked numerous people for recommendations only to find that my name kept coming up. So my marketing worked. (I feel a bit vindicated).

The only people Glaze are doing a disservice to by not pimping themselves out is the rest of us – by not imparting their knowledge in the no-BS way I get to watch each week. Instead they choose to operate in stealth mode.

Like ninjas.


3. Digital agencies are FUN


I don’t want to proclaim that PR agencies aren’t fun to work in. Not only is that not true, but I also couldn’t stand over it because I haven’t been inside them all.

But in my experience PR agencies are creative, yet stressful, environments. There’s a long-day work culture of first-in-last-out. Work life balance is hard to come by.

Digital agencies may be mocked for the ball pits and pool tables we read about in startup land but the nugget of truth is that they genuinely do have a lot of fun while they pump out tonnes of work.

From showing the Olympics on big screens to playing guess-the-soundtrack in the background and testing out GoPros and drones. I’ve never been busier… and I’ve never been happier.

(Which is a bit cr*p considering I’m emigrating in three months! But hey, the internet has been invented already #LongDistance).


4. Social Media is an actual skilled service


I feel silly writing that because it sounds like I’m stating the obvious.

Unfortunately, it’s still the case that businesses are outsourcing social management merely because they don’t have the time to do it; not because they think they can’t do it.

And mostly they can’t do it. In fact, neither can I. At least, not as well as I’ve now seen it done here.

We’re not just talking about your basic scheduling posts that most of us can manage. Lisa can do everything from research content that will get shares, to creating communities of engaged commenters on pages. She’s even got all these design tricks for editing images and creating videos. She can pump out blog posts like no-one I’ve ever seen.

Name a “boring” industry and she’s made it work from printing to insurance, recycling to solicitors.

You may not have heard of her.

She’s another ninja.


5. Digital Marketing affects the bottom line


And not in that wishy-washy way other industries claim. Like, actually, MASSIVELY brings in sales. I now hear myself shouting at business people in my head: “throw all your budget at it!”

Of course, in order to see these results one would need to invest in some very swanky software. Which Glaze does. The like of which I’ve never seen here. It’s all very technical and I imagine costs a fair few bob, but if you want that infamous “ROI” then…


6. But bad Digital Marketing can cost you a bomb


Call me naive, but I never knew just how much it can cost to advertise on Google.

Imagine wasting a few grand a month on ads because someone managing your account hasn’t excluded incorrect keywords.  Well it has happened to people. And not at the hands of shady one-man-wannabe-SEOs, but by well-established companies who should know better.

A good agency will happily show you stats, they’ll take the time to guide you through the science behind what they’re doing. They’ll prove it’s working and they will happily encourage audits if you’re considering changing agency, confident in their own capabilities.

In a “we dare you to try and be better than us” kind of way.


7. Being good at digital is not the same as being technical


I think I’ve been lured into a false sense of security in my job.

I’m the go-to person among my friends for digital questions. Often I can answer their queries because they’re basic things like “how do Facebook Pages work?” and “how do you get those wee emoji things?”

But spend a day among really technical folk who can debate the merits of different servers, who can build all-singing-all-dancing websites in their sleep, who can put codes in places and track things all over the web.

Then tell me how digitally-savvy you are. Because I’m clearly not.


8. Integrated Digital PR is the future


I’m gonna call it right here, right now (wouldn’t be like me to be controversial).

But having seen it in action, I can’t stress enough the benefits of having an integrated service delivery model. Benefits for both agencies and their clients.

When you see what can be created more cost-effectively with in-house developers, what can be achieved with PR and content creators working together on link-building, what can be offered in a full service consultancy capacity for the equivalent of a typical “12 hours a month 4-figure PR retainer.”

Just trust me on this one.


9. Good agencies will say no


In the last few months I’ve heard “no” a lot more than I’ve heard “yes.”

I’ve worked in numerous service departments and agencies in my first industry decade. We moan a lot about stupid requests and needless tasks being asked of us. But we rarely say no. If we’re employees, we’ll say we can’t say no. Do we say no enough in the agency world?

With outsourcing, it can be hard for clients to decipher if they’re surrounded by Yes-men who just want to inflate their invoices.

Watching a digital agency operate more like a business consultancy has been an eye opener for me. They have to understand wider concepts like branding and messaging through to finer details like keyword planning and software integration, as well as more general business stages like investor pitching, funding rounds and patents.

Bang for your buck springs to mind.


10. I wish I’d studied ICT at school

It’s a common complaint by lots of people these days, especially in Northern Ireland where our jobs investment seems to move evermore into the tech sphere, with graduate programmers paid more than our teachers.

My brother loved numbers. He became a programming whiz kid. Three years younger than me he earns significantly more than me.

I on the other hand loved words, so I studied Communications and over the years, a natural enjoyment for all things digital led me to self-teach as much as I could.

But the really technical folk. They can do so much more! Hopefully I’ll pick up some more tips and tricks in my next few months at Glaze.

The geeks shall inherit the earth. You heard it here last.


You can follow Mark, Richard, Lisa and Herman on Twitter but like I said they don’t say much.