Sunday, April 22, 2012

(BOOK REVIEW) The Marketing Agency Blueprint: The Handbook for Building Hybrid PR, SEO, Content, Advertising, and Web Firms

What works (+)

·         Years of experience compiled in a value-packed volume
·         Twitter handles are cited throughout
·         Valuable advice for aspiring social media professionals
·         Future of PR is explained clearly

What doesn’t work (-)

·         Too many bullet points to go through when numbers would be easier to read
·         Order of topics may confuse junior social media professionals
·         The last few motivational chapters seem out of place, and are probably unnecessary for hardened PR pros

“Have you read this book?” raved Mike Nikolich (@mikenikolich), president of Tech Image (@techimagepr), a boutique PR agency in the Chicago suburbs serving technology firms. “This is the book that I always wanted to write, it perfectly describes what I want to do with Tech Image.”

I first got turned on to TheMarketing Agency Blueprint: The Handbook for Building Hybrid PR, SEO, Content, Advertising,and Web Firms when I met Mike earlier this month at his digital PR agency. Title noted, I went home and ordered a copy through Amazon. I then tweeted Mike, mentioning that I had ordered the book and would be reviewing it for my blog. 

I wanted to review the book for three reasons: I’ve always found book reviews to be a great way for me to absorb information; I love to read as much as I love to write and a book review is a good excuse; and anytime a player I look up to like Mike mentions a book, I take that seriously – I’m always looking for opportunities to grow and learn new things.

I received my first inkling that this was not going to be your average book review a few minutes after I tweeted Mike about what I was going to do.

Ping! My Android phone alerted me to a new tweet. It was a message from Paul Roetzer (@paulroetzer), author of The Marketing Agency Blueprint and the founder and CEO of PR 20/20, a Cleveland-based marketing agency.

“@aatifbokhari Hope you enjoy #AgencyBlueprint. Look forward to your blog post! @techImagepr @mikenikolich”

Ok, Paul had my attention.

Clearly Paul wasn’t just looking to make a name with his book – Paul was walking the walk, and that always gets my respect. I dove in, intrigued by what he had to say.

Having finished the book, I can say that Paul totally gets it. The book is not perfect – what book is? – but I think that it is very unique and useful. 

Here’s why: If you are interested in knowing the future of digital PR, you could read several different books and try to connect the dots yourself, which is possible but time consuming. Or you could save yourself a lot of time and read The Marketing Agency Blueprint for a strong overview. Regardless of your choice, this is a great, slim summary of how PR is changing as an industry. It belongs on every digital PR professional’s bookshelf.

Clients come first

Paul begins his book by explaining that PR agencies need to focus on “a la carte services” for clients, billed by results produced rather than hours worked. To paraphrase, Paul says that hourly billing can disguise inefficiencies and distractions that prolong projects. Offering a flat rate is fairer than billing by the hour.

“There are countless factors that can affect a professional’s efficiency, but distractions, time tracking and motivation are three of the biggest culprits,” he writes. With hourly billing, “the client is actually penalized, and forced to pay for the agency’s inefficiency and professional development.”

I agree with Paul, but I also think that it cuts down on confusion and potential conflict over billing with clients who don’t understand the process of producing PR projects and/or campaigns. Having moonlighted as a freelance copy writer while working as a journalist, I can think of few headaches that are as easily avoidable as explaining hourly rates, not to mention the indignity of arguing with clients assuming that I am prolonging the project’s time so that I can be paid more.

Although I learned years ago that clients were happier to be working with writers who offered flat rates, Paul’s idea that agencies should offer flat rates was new to me. I think the book could have been stronger if it had explained how to deal with clients who drag their feet, taking advantage of the onus being on the agency to produce.

Hybrid vs. Traditional approaches

Paul then explains that traditional approaches, such as placing advertisements in newspapers, are dead in the water. The new trend is to focus more on a “hybrid” approach, focused not only on PR but also on content marketing, SEO and social media. The hybrid methodology is better because results can be easily tracked, unlike with traditional approaches. Hybrid agencies tend to be lean and can easily change directions for clients, unlike huge, traditional organizations. Hybrid agencies are thus in a better position to provide value in real time.

The hybrid approach also makes more sense for reasons not mentioned by Paul. Technology is removing barriers to competition and making it easier for organizations around the world to compete on a level playing field. Although this level field can be scary for traditional agencies that have relied on protectionism and size to rule markets, it is a great opportunity for smaller organizations. As long as smaller hybrid organizations can provide the same or greater value for clients as traditional PR firms, there is no reason that they cannot be successful and disrupt the old models of doing business. Simply put, hybrid organizations punch above their weight.

Leaders of the new school

Of particular interest to me in The Marketing Agency Blueprint was Chapter 3, “Think Talent and Teams”, especially because I am not an agency owner and I wanted to know what digital PR agencies would find attractive in social media employees. I have seen so many threads started on LinkedIn by people interested in starting careers in social media, but not sure what skills they should be developing. Luckily, Paul covered this as well.

“A Player Competencies and Traits” is about the qualities that make A players more valuable to PR agencies than their peers. These include being analytical, confident, detail-oriented, intrinsically-motivated, listeners, relationship-builders, risk-takers, social web savvy, tech-savvy, and writers. They also have a strong work-life balance and possess the “it” factor.

Most of these qualities are not explained in detail at this juncture, but reading through the whole book fleshes many of them out. For example, Paul mentions on page 167 that all employees at PR 20/20 must complete the Google Adwords Certification Program, which “fosters analytical thinking, refines budgeting skills, and expands knowledge of how search engines work.” Obviously completing this program would be a great way for social media specialists to raise themselves to a higher standard of professional excellence, as well as stand out from their peers.

Although I probably don’t have time to take the course now – I’m a student in Northwestern University’s MS in corporate communications program – I plan on investing time in it when I graduate soon.

If you build it they will come

Paul explains how to “Build a Scalable Infrastructure” in Chapter 4, “Devise an Inbound Marketing Game Plan” in Chapter 5, and “Control the Sales Funnel” in Chapter 6. Before starting these chapter, I thought that they would be of limited use. After all, I’m not looking to build a PR agency anytime soon! But I was pleasantly surprised to find that there was some relevant content for digital PR professionals not running an organization.

In Chapter 4, there are five lessons that Paul says make for a scalable infrastructure: 1. prepare for perpetual change; 2. build through trusted solution providers; 3. understand your limits; 4. find reliable advisers and mentors; and 5. create a funding runway.

Basically, the message I got here was that agencies need to be able to change technologies quickly, but at the same time make sure to stay grounded with services that are not likely to disappear soon. Also, it is important that agencies take “a macro-level view of how increases in revenue and staffing will impact” the organization.

Chapter 5, “Devise an Inbound Marketing Game Plan”, begins with an important lesson. “The marketing world is full of thinkers, talkers, and self-proclaimed gurus,” writes Paul, “but after awhile they all start to sound the same. What we need are more doers – agencies and professionals that drive change by practicing what they preach.”

This chapter covered different approaches digital PR agencies should use, and focuses on tried and true marketing concepts: differentiation, segmentation, branding, and so on. I didn’t find the marketing concepts to be very detailed – you would be better served by reading a dedicated marketing book if you want to know more on the subject – but it was still a good reminder, especially because people looking to get into social media often are unaware of how important marketing and business practices are.

Chapter 6, “Controlling the Sales Funnel”, is about “leads, prospects, and customers. Agencies need to fill the funnel at the top, nurture in the middle, and convert at the end.” Paul really focuses on sales in the section.

I was shocked to find that in a Kurlan & Associates study cited by Paul, “one hundred percent [of respondents] did not follow a sales process. Salespeople that do not follow a process encounter and wind up accepting lots of put-offs, stalls, and excuses.” “Although they might have taken some training or read sales books, there is something in them that is keeping them from executing as they were taught,” says Paul.

Although the results of the study were extreme, they were seemingly in line with what we learned in a Marketing class taught by Richard Kolsky at Northwestern last quarter – that sales personnel tend to use short-term, tactical, practical approaches closely integrated with people skills, while marketing personnel take a longer, predictive, more strategic view of business grounded in analytic reasoning. 

Often these two groups are at loggerheads, because they don’t understand each other. We discussed ways to get both groups to work together and appreciate each other, for example, making marketing staff work in sales for a period and vice-versa, but it is definitely a major problem, not just in digital PR but in other industries as well.

Almost perfect

The Marketing Agency Blueprint: The Handbook for Building Hybrid PR, SEO, Content, Advertising, and Web Firms, is tantalizingly close to perfection, in my opinion. It suffers from a few problems that take away from an otherwise excellent overview of digital PR.

There are far too many bullet points, with the result that topics become more difficult to follow. After struggling to read several lists with 20 items, my mind started turning off. Also, the book makes more sense for individuals who have a comprehensive exposure to different aspects of digital PR, such as SEO, social media, marketing and business. If I was new to some of these subjects, I’m sure that it would be much harder to pick up on where the author was going. Finally, the last few chapters are about “commitment to clients”, “learning from failure”, and “delivering results”, which for senior PR professionals are unnecessary. I would suggest anyone in need of inspiration look for books dedicated to those topics.

However, the above are not very serious problems. Paul Roetzer has written a wonderful book that explains what is the future of digital PR in a way that will likely not be outdated for some time to come. He does this while ensuring his work will be useful to a wide range of interested readers, and provides additional valuable material, such as case studies, online at

Highly recommended!

You can visit the Marketing Agency Insider community on Twitter (@AgencyIn), as well as follow conversations about the book using #AgencyBlueprint.


  1. This is great! Thanks for the thorough review and critical analysis. I thought you made some great points, and even expanded on ideas in the book, which was fun to see.

  2. Thanks, Paul! Would love to hear more on your journey and ideas. Please stay in touch! :)

  3. Thanks for the thorough review. I was looking at this book and now I'm intrigued enough to purchase.