Agency owners face a number of challenges that can make or break their success in an ever-changing industry. Despite this, some agencies consistently stand out in a crowd over their competitors and find success despite facing the same challenges and setbacks.

Susan Baier’s agency, Audience Audit, conducts research each year to get to the bottom of what really makes an agency successful, and where there is room for improvement. Her agency recently conducted a study called the Agency Audit, where they surveyed agency leaders to understand the different mindsets and challenges agencies are facing right now.

From the research, five distinct agency mindsets emerged. By understanding which mindset your agency falls into, you can identify your key areas for improvement and focus. So let’s break them down:

Mindset #1: Thought Leaders

These are the agencies that are knocking it out of the park. They make it a top priority to consistently build their thought leadership reputation as experts in their field. They’ve doubled down on a specific, differentiated niche and directly market themselves as authorities within that niche. This laser-focused approach is paying off greatly.

Mindset #2: Loyalty Builders

While they may not be as singularly niched, the Loyalty Builders have their client relationships locked down. They’ve implemented intentional programs to foster exceptional client loyalty through consistent reporting, engagement, and showing the full scope of work behind the scenes. Clients respond well to this type of transparency and care and stick with them long-term as a result.

These two agency mindsets saw the most success and growth out of all 5 mindsets. We’ll get into why in a minute, but first, let’s go over the 3 mindsets that struggled the most:

Mindset #3: Staffing Strugglers

These agencies are completely overwhelmed by persistent hiring and retention issues within their teams. They simply can’t take on more work because they don’t have the staff to support additional client loads, even if they want to. Solving their personnel challenges is priority #1.

Mindset #4: Change Seekers

The Change Seekers feel like the ground is shifting beneath their feet. They’re seeing radical changes across their client industries and customer mindsets. They’re fearful that if they don’t radically reinvent themselves, they won’t survive. Adapting to evolving market needs is their core focus.

Mindset #5: Cobbler’s Kids

As the saying goes, “The cobbler’s children have no shoes.” These agencies are the Cobbler’s Kids — they deprioritize their own marketing and reputation-building efforts entirely. Client work will always take precedence, leaving their agency’s brand and positioning an afterthought; yet they know they need to fix this glaring issue.

The research findings were clear — the Thought Leaders and Loyalty Builders were thriving, while the other three mindsets were facing significant challenges and stagnation. If you found your agency represented in one of the three struggling mindsets, this should be a wake-up call. You need to course-correct if you want to keep up in this ever-changing world.

For those looking to catch up and join the ranks of always-successful agencies, Susan emphasizes a few key elements:

  1. Identify a specific niche audience and become the go-to expert for that niche through your content and messaging. Generalists get lost in the shuffle.
  2. Produce new, genuinely helpful content consistently. Share your unique perspectives, data, and advice generously without ego.
  3. Utilize techniques like proprietary research studies to reinforce your authority and back your client work output with data.
  4. Be patient and stick with it. Developing a reputation takes consistency over time.

The benefits of cultivating a thought leadership reputation are numerous — higher fees, improved client acquisition, better talent attraction, increased client loyalty, and more.

So consider — which of the five agency mindsets does your firm fall into today? If you’re ready to transition into one of the two high-performing mindsets, the path forward is clear. Commit to thought leadership and embrace the tactics that truly differentiate you as an expert in your niche.

Your agency’s future growth depends on standing out. Identify your niche and become an expert in it while sharing information generously. Don’t let fear or stagnation get you left behind.

To learn even more about the 5 mindsets of agencies and the research behind it, check out the full episode of the Progressive Agency Podcast here:


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