The Future for Aira
As founders, Matt and I chat a lot about what we want Aira to be, but we’ve never really sat down and explained what’s inside our heads to our team. This may sound weird but there is some method to the madness here.
Neither of us are leaders who dictate how things are done or push our team down certain paths. Our leadership style is more subtle than that and since we started Aira, we’ve guided and nudged people in the right direction and generally, it’s worked pretty well. So we’ve never had the need to specify what’s in our heads because we just kinda made it happen.
Now, we’ve been through a lot in the last 18 months and made a bunch of changes that allow us to hit a new stage of growth in a sustainable way. This is really important to us because we don’t believe in growth for the sake of growth.
Two of the biggest changes we made was to make Matthew Kay and Shannon McGuirk Directors of Aira, officially forming the Leadership team (effectively the board) and then below them, forming a Senior Management Team which consists of the heads of each department:
- Digital (includes SEO, Paid Media and Inbound)
- Creative and PR
Putting these structures together and having the right people in these seats allows us to continue to build a great agency.
But all of these leaders need a north star and explicit guidance from Matt and I. We can no longer nudge and guide people day to day and expect things to work out. So we’ve decided to be more explicit about what we want Aira to be and where we’re going. Much in the same way that we made our culture more concrete and visible for everyone to see.
This post is a very transparent view of that. We’re sharing this because we want clients, future clients, our team and future team to see what we believe in and want to be on the same journey.
The agency landscape and importance of multi-channel
Broadly, there are two types of digital agency:
- Full service, offering a range of digital channel services.
- Specialists, focusing primarily on one digital channel.
Some agencies will start off as number 2 and then become number 1. Either way though, there are a number of challenges that are presented to full service agencies:
- Quality and expertise can be diluted across multiple services.
- Speed and agility can be compromised due to lots of moving parts and different teams working on a project.
- Agency brand positioning and their unique value proposition can be messy due to different services targeting different kinds of clients and operating at different fee levels.
Neither is right or wrong, both can present challenges for an agency and their clients.
So, where does Aira sit here?
What we do and where we’re heading
It’s ultimately about what Aira does for clients and how we do it. It’s actually pretty simple:
Aira grows businesses with multi-channel digital marketing that's measured in sales and revenue.
It’s a simple goal, however it’s anything but simple to execute consistently over and over again. Anyone who has tried to measure the exact impact of SEO work or dealt with attribution problems in paid media will know the challenges here.
Recently, Matt and I asked our Directors, Senior Management Team and Team Leaders to help us deliver two things for our clients:
- Strong strategic direction and commercial awareness of their business.
- Effective multi-channel expertise.
This isn’t new or revolutionary, we don’t claim that it is. Combining both of these and being excellent at both has always been an advantage. But not many agencies do it successfully and it is only going to become more important to get both of these right.
Because effective digital marketing is becoming less and less about day-to-day tactics and execution.
Automation, machine learning and artificial intelligence are only beginning to scratch the surface when it comes to digital marketing and are going to play a bigger and bigger role in driving customers to our client’s businesses.
We’re seeing their effect already (and have been for some time) in paid media where more and more is being handled by Google systems. The vast majority of agencies are either in denial, fighting it or not embracing this future.
We’re not, and our clients are benefiting from that stance.
Whilst we know that not every Google recommended feature or optimisation will be beneficial for every client, we’ve set up our client accounts in a way that gets the most from machine learning and our clients have seen real business value from that. As a result, we’re very much embracing this direction whilst keeping a very close eye on client performance.
What we’re seeing happen across the paid media landscape is going to be reflected in the organic landscape too. It already is to some extent because for a few years now, Googlers themselves don’t always know why a set of organic rankings appear in the way they do. The machines just handle it all.
Of course, you need to be able to deliver great SEO work, build profitable paid media campaigns and write quality content.
But right now and even more so in the coming years, this only gets you a seat at the table. It doesn’t mean that you will win the game.
Having the best technical SEO setup or the best links or the best ad copy, won’t be enough to win. Sure, you’ll do fine, but you won’t reach your potential and win the game.
Best practice is just table stakes.
The reason for this is that the best channel level execution will never be as effective as it could be without a strong addition of strategic direction and commercial awareness. It is these elements that join the dots with other parts of the business and make the day-to-day execution more effective.
- Revenue-generating paid media advertising becomes profit generating.
- A technical SEO audit becomes a prioritised roadmap tied to traffic and revenue potential.
- A digital PR campaign moves from link generation to link, traffic and lead generation.
It is also this combination that allows for the kind of thinking that embraces machine learning, AI and automation because we’re not scared or threatened by it. We adapt to it, learn and use it to drive even better results for clients.
We need to stop worrying about optimising for search or display or email.
We need to start optimising for business outcomes. This is how we win the game.
So, bringing this back to Aira, we want to win the game for our clients. Winning awards is nice and all that, we’ve done it. But winning customers for our clients is better.
Optimising for business outcomes puts a different lens on everything that you do because you start to see the bigger picture of your role.
You stop thinking about clicks and start thinking about what those clicks turn into.
You stop thinking about links and start thinking about the traffic that those links drive.
What this means if you’re a client or want to be one
We’ve already started putting the pieces in place so that our clients benefit from our renewed focus and in all honesty, this is a journey that we want our clients and future clients to come on with us. There won’t be sweeping changes overnight in the way we work - that wouldn’t be smart and could break the good work already being done by our team.
We know that we make a positive difference to our client’s businesses and for many, have added £millions to their bottom line during the course of working together. The true number is likely to be a multiple of this and we’re going to be doubling down on truly understanding the difference that we make to your business.
Clients and future clients are most likely to see this change through a few things:
- We’ll be asking more about your business model, how you make money and what the key growth drivers are.
- You’ll see us connecting our day-to-day work to business objectives and outcomes, this will take time and hard work from both of us to get right.
- We will be asking more about other channels and ensuring that you’re taking advantage of every opportunity to grow your business online. Even if we’re not the right people to help you, we’ll certainly tell you and help you find or recruit someone.
If you’re an in-house marketer reading this and like the sound of it, drop me an email and I’d love to chat with you and introduce the team.
What this means if you’re one of our team or want to join us
In terms of our team, again we’ve started putting the pieces in place to allow us to deliver on our goals. Some of this has been happening via recruitment and training and will now be a lot more explicit now that we’ve shared this vision with you all.
One thing to clarify first in terms of what this shift doesn’t mean.
It doesn’t mean that we’re expecting all of you to become management consultants or to get an MBA in order to advance your career. If you want to be the best technical SEO in the industry, we want that too. If you want to have a strong knowledge of all digital channels and be really good at strategy, that’s good too.
What we do want for everyone is to have a base-level understanding of how client businesses operate and importantly, know why we’re doing what we’re doing.
Essentially, we want a higher level of commercial awareness from everyone. Meaning that we don’t just think about our specialism or the task that we’re doing right now, we think beyond that.
If you’re doing a piece of keyword research, we want you to know what value that is adding to the client’s business. If you’re coming up with content ideas for a client, we want you to know how the final campaigns will add value to their business.
The tangible changes that you’ll start to see are:
- More guidance from senior leaders on how to understand client businesses more and how to ensure that your work is adding value.
- Training and workshops designed to help you level up your strategic thinking.
- Progression paths that allow you to pursue strategy more if you want to or have a knack for it.
- Changes to how we report the value of our work to clients to focus more on business outcomes.
If you like the sound of working at an agency who are heading in this direction, we have roles open and you can always email me a speculative application if we don’t have quite the right role open for you at the moment.