1024 682 James Congdon

70% Of In-house Marketers Aren’t Listened To By Outreach Agencies

The shift towards a natural, PR led approach to backlink acquisition, comes with so many positives.

We have seen an increase in job opportunities for a brand-new discipline, an overall higher standard of work, and it has led to the birth of a flourishing community under the SEO umbrella.

But this doesn’t come without its drawbacks. A lack of understanding or synergy between the client and the agency can result in frayed early relationships and burned bridges before any contract is even won.

But why?

We got in touch with 15 senior in-house marketers to find out what it’s really like to be pitched to by Digital PR & Outreach agencies. And they didn’t hold back.

We asked them about the internal challenges they face when electing a supplier, and we sought to find out whether agencies are sympathetic to these challenges during initial conversations.

Of the people we spoke to, more than two thirds said that agencies had failed to listen to their requirements in some way, and had neglected to understand their internal situations and nuances.

Andrew CoCo, Senior SEO Manager at the Walt Disney Company explains how he feels like his requests fall on deaf ears when working with outreach focused agencies:

“Most of the time I feel like I am being talked to rather than truly listened to”

Richard Shove, SEO Consultant for Samsung, told us:

“There’s a big difference between being listened to and being heard by outreach and PR agencies.”

Let’s unpack these comments so we can understand why the client agency relationship is so disjointed, and identity ways to make everything more aligned.

– So where are agencies going wrong?

Drop the dictatorship because clients aren’t laymans

The notion that agencies know best and that clients need ‘educating’, isn’t new in any industry, and it would seem that SEO and digital PR agencies are no exception.

In a quest to ‘pioneer’, agencies often neglect to consider that clients are knowledgeable specialists that understand the business and industry that they work in much better than us.  Outreach agencies know what will get links, but we can’t just assume that a one-size-fits-all approach will work for every client.

Chris Hutchings, CMO at Quidco, captures this sentiment:

“The very best outreach suppliers always engage the client in the process, particularly as they know that we (should) know our own business and sector inside out.”

Support and collaboration is what will help us to forge solid working relationships with potential clients. It’s also worth remembering that many in-house marketers have worked agency side.

One of those is Richard Shove, SEO Marketing Manager at Samsung. He told us that agencies need to be humble and really listen to what their clients are saying:

“My experience is that agencies believe they know best and this is to their detriment. The mistake that they have made in the past was to assume they naturally had all the answers”says Shove, who has also headed up organic search for brands including, Farfetch, and global agencies such as OMD.

It’s easy to see how relationships between outreach supplier and client can go this way. Agency cultures centred around being ‘leading-edge experts’, have helped to cultivate this toxic way of working.

We wrongly assume that we need to enlighten the client, and even replace what they and their teams are doing, rather than operating as extensions of them (something we’ll discuss later on in the post).

This can mean that we dictate rather than listen, and we ultimately end up sabotaging working relations before they begin.


Understand potential clients before you attempt to work with them

Turgay Akar, who heads up Global SEO at Playstation, explained that he often feels as though he is looked down upon as ‘just a technical SEO’ by agencies who pitch outreach strategies. Commenting further, he went on to say:

“Agencies can make the mistake of wrongly assuming that I have no understanding of what gets shared or generates links. They fail to understand what technical SEO actually means in that respect.”

We doubt this particular agency would have made this mistake if they’d had Hannah Bryce, Head of SEO at Holland & Barrett, on their team.

“Just checking your prospective clients out on LinkedIn should tell you whether they’re likely to have built links themselves before, or worked with others that have… In my opinion, the worst thing you can do as a potential partner is to assume your client knows nothing and pitch at that level. Do your research and your clients will listen instead of inwardly rolling their eyes and switching off while you explain what Domain Authority is.” 

We need to get our fact-finding down to an art. Before we get to the first conversation stage with a prospective client, we should have a solid idea of who we are going to be speaking to if we are to pitch at the right level.

Are they at a level in the business that would be pretty far removed from any granular understanding? Or like Tugay, is being ‘schooled’ the very last thing they need. It’s a minefield, but we need to consider these things. We can’t even begin to prepare for the next stage without this knowledge.

Also referring to a need for outreach agencies to do better at pre-pitch due diligence, Hannah Bryce of Holland & Barrett says :

“It’s hard to pitch to every level in the room. So make sure you research your key contact and spend time talking at their level before pitching to a group of people who probably know far less about the ins and outs of outreach and digital PR.

Hannah warns against going into too much detail and losing the room:

“Similarly, if you go too granular, people who don’t know what you’re talking about can switch off and if they’re the ones holding the key to the budget, it’s easy to lose your chance. Very rarely (if ever) do I get asked ‘how much do you already know about this?’ or ‘How much does your director know about this already’ before a pitch goes ahead.”


No question is a silly question

Outreach agencies need to be certain that they are on the same page as the prospective client. So many of the scenarios cited above could have been avoided if the right questions had been explored by the agencies.

Typically, they should make it their mission to be clear on the following:

  • What success really looks like for the client. Is it really just the links or are other KPIs going to be a factor?
  • Are you dealing with the decision maker, or are you going to have to tailor the pitch to other stakeholders?


Be aware of any red tape in order to get a head start

It’s not just the people we need to be familiar with. Internal restrictions, processes and ways of working are also something we need to be fully up to speed with as much as we can before we pitch.

Offering a solid example. Owain Lloyd Williams, SEO Manager for PeoplePerHour told us:

“Any good in-house SEO will be familiar with issues like internal politics, CMS restrictions and project feasibility, and there is where there can be a disconnect with the “blue-sky thinking” that agencies sometimes bring to the table, which can be time-wasting”.


Don’t compete with internal teams – win their trust

For example, as outreach specialists we know that we operate in the same arena as the traditional PR team. This isn’t news.

Whether agencies like it or not or whether they agree with what they are doing, they are also the client. We need to work with them and to gain their trust.

Richard Shove talks about a need for agencies to understand and acknowledge the fact that  although outreach and digital PR suppliers are working towards SEO goals, the nature of our strategies mean that budgets may need to come from other departments too.

“Agency credentials won’t be known outside of the SEO team… Sign off processes are the real killer – There is often a question around budgets for outreach and whether they sit under PR and brand as well as SEO”.

This means that the PR teams are our client too!

Kieron Hughes, Director of Organic Performance for PortSwigger says:

“You then add digital PR to the mix, which is trying to be more agile and gain online coverage/links on a regular basis, and it can lead to a difficult relationship – The challenge is in working to establish respect on both sides. It will help to remove friction, but also help to achieve more collaboration which will ultimately deliver better results.”

One surefire way to break the ice between agencies and internal teams is to go in and pitch the very things they are already working on.

Manisha Mehta, PR & Outreach Manager at Mojo Mortgages describes a situation where the pitching agency was essentially pitching for her job!

“I’m from an agency background, and one thing I noticed when I moved in-house was that a good few agencies who pitched to me didn’t realise that I was actually doing the work they were pitching to me, or the fact that I actually had a strong digital team around me, so I had a fair amount of knowledge about anything that was technical SEO/outreach related.” 

You’ll start to spot a trend here, because Kelly Edwards, SEO Manager at insurance specialist Howserv, believes that, in her experience, outreach agencies need to make it their business to be familiar with the people within their organisation, and to be more aware of the work that is going on behind the scenes.

“I have been pitched to by a few outreach agencies  who have announced that they’ve stumbled onto some amazing opportunity that we’ve clearly missed…Not only ca this be incredibly patronising to assume that we don’t know what we’re doing, but in a pitch is dangerous as is making assumptions on the business or direction without having embedded into the business or understood our priorities”.

Owain Lloyd Williams of PeoplePerHour, cites another example:

“I’ve had examples where an outreach/Digital led agency has emphasised avenues that the in-house team has explored previously because they haven’t properly probed on past efforts or brand history”.


Agencies are extensions of internal teams – not replacements

As Digital PR specialists, we have all had our media lists reviewed by the internal PR team, or have to field requests from branding teams wanting to to display large company logos on our campaigns.

But have you ever stopped to consider the intent behind the requests? To do this effectively, we have to understand how an organisation works and what makes it tick. This includes understanding the people that work there. What are they contributing and what is most important to them?

The answer to these questions will enable us, as service providers to nurture strong relationships with internal teams and be able to relate to their own challenges. Only then can we truly begin to deliver something of value.

A great example of effective client-agency workings came from Stephen Morris, Head of SEO at high-end furniture retailer OKA.

I spoke with him at length about this topic, and he explained the following:

“We’ve tweaked how we work with our agency slightly, so instead of them creating a list of “agency tasks” and us doing “in-house stuff” we compile everything that needs working on into (our workflow platform of choice) & consider all the work in its entirety across the entire available resource. So now we have one overall picture of what needs doing and we allocate it to whoever in the team is best-placed to do the work when it needs doing – whether that be someone in-house or someone at the agency. We’re one team working on one project.”

He goes on to say;

“We still discuss new tasks monthly – some originate from us, some from the agency, but everything goes into one project plan and is prioritised, regardless of source. As the client I “own” the plan and it’s totally flexible – we can change priorities more easily if something new comes up, we could scale up resources to get things done quicker or if someone leaves or – God forbid – we change agency, the plan goes on.  It’s totally open – everyone can see everything and everyone’s input is welcome, because we’re a team, whether we’re directly or indirectly on the OKA payroll


It’s time to build bridges

Once you have familiarised yourself with the who’s who of the organisation, it’s time to build bridges with them

A lack of synergy between internal and agency teams can exist due to a reluctance from the supplier to spend time forging healthy working relations with them. Either way, the strains are real.

Manisha Mehta, of Mojo Mortgages reveals that synergy is important when you have a lot of moving parts to manage.

“Agencies need to work with others and collaborate if they are to work with us long-term. If you have different agencies for different marketing channels, then there’s no doubt that your digital PR/outreach agency will have to work with them at some point, and synergy is really important – An agency that’s able to build consensus with others is a huge asset and you’ll be able to see that collaboration shine through in the work they produce” 

When discussing an absence of any effort from agencies to build relationships with internal stakeholders for the brands she has worked at in the past, Hannah Bryce of Holland & Barrett said:

“They (outreach agencies) need to be able to work with internal stakeholders and potentially existing external PR teams.”

Supporting this, Wayne Thompson, Head of SEO at Colewood Internet informed us that the final decision is often above his head and nurturing those key stakeholders will pay dividends in the end.

“When outreach/PR agencies pitch to companies, from my experience, they really don’t take internal stakeholders into consideration”.

And Chris Hutchings of Quidco adds:

“Agencies need to take into account that the client will have their own stakeholders/internal challenges to consider.” 

PortSwiggers Kieron Hughes, talks about his struggles when it comes to building effective working relations between outreach agencies and his internal PR team.

“For larger businesses, they likely already have traditional PR expertise either in-house or agency. The biggest challenge I’ve experienced is in achieving the right levels of collaboration between traditional PR and digital PR.” 


Understand the business, the brand AND the industry

Owain Lloyd Williams explains that, more often than not, he does not feel listened to by outreach and digital PR suppliers who fail to understand him and the business.

“Agencies will of course want the best for their clients from a purist SEO standpoint and will convey this during the pitch process. What they fail to do is tie things back to actual tangible business objectives and internal goals.”

Richard Shove once again sums this up perfectly, saying:

“The best agencies are the ones which really listen and understand the nuance of the business, and adapt their strategies/proposals to reflect that.”


A lack of industry knowledge can cost you the pitch

Andrew Dipper, Global Head of Digital Marketing for Frank Recruitment Group, explains that a lack of niche industry knowledge from the agencies he has encountered in the past is one of the reasons why building a mini agency in-house proved to be a better option for him.

“Over time our team has developed a strong understanding of our business so know what our story is, who our key people are, what tactics work and what won’t, how our competitors in the market operate. It’s that business and industry knowledge that’s essential for me, and an area I think marketing agencies sometimes struggle to develop and maintain when they’re juggling plates across multiple industry verticals and clients.”


Are we valuing creativity too much over client goals?

The cracks in client-agency relations may come from our fixation on creativity and a desire to be ‘specialist experts’ above any consideration for business objectives.

Often agencies get a client brief, it states that they want x amount of high-quality, topical links per month or quarter. Tunnel vision will inevitably creep in and we put forward self-centred strategies rather than those that take other channels and stakeholders into account.

An all singing, all dancing campaign about Love Island that will appeal to ‘mass media’ will get the links. Right? Maybe so, but unless that ties in with their overall business objectives and goals, then internal stakeholders are never going to see the value of what we do.

Sam Pennington, Head of SEO for Missguided, agrees;

“I have been pitched to many times, and most agencies do not understand the company at all. The requirement is far more complex than just gaining links”.

Dylan Mazeika, SEO Manager at told us that he’s looking for agencies who are the missing piece of the puzzle

“The best pitches I’ve had really started with a meeting where we all got on the same page about what my organizations KPIs were, where this agency etc fit into that puzzle, and how their work would directly impact the bottom line for those KPIs.”

“There ultimately has to be a balance, but at a very basic level, I would expect an agency to have an understanding of why we need links, and what type of activity would it take to achieve the performance goals” – says Kieron Hughes, of PortSwigger.

And what if you win the business?

Although we’ll cover effective onboarding within the next post of this series, the bare minimum of what we should be doing is familiarising ourselves with every nuance from the get go.

Every way of working that may affect the delivery of what we do should be clear to us, and we need to continue to ask the right questions so that we are aware of any internal politics, the organisational structure, and the active projects and work that the internal teams are already doing.

Bryce who is also cofounder of the SEO SAS podcast, explains more about her view on the research process:

“Once a client is onboarded, kick off meetings are key to ironing out ways of working while learning what their internal teams are already doing or have been doing. Until you have done this, you don’t even know if you are delivering any value with the strategies you put forward.”


We should indeed be delivering innovative work, but it shouldn’t be at the expense, or in ignorance of the overall business goals or unique situations of clients. 

We also shouldn’t be assuming the client has completely neglected to think of these strategies themselves, and unless we take the time to find this out in the beginning then we risk alienating them from the offset.

  • As agencies, we need to start seeing ourselves as extensions of existing teams and not replacements
  • By being better at understanding a business before we push strategies, we stand a better chance of hitting the mark for them
  • We also need to be greater at understanding and empathising with roles and responsibilities of each stakeholder and the challenges they might be facing internally
  • Following on from the above, we actually need to listen too. Because as Richard Shove of Samsung explains: “There’s a difference between being listened to and being heard”

Once we do this, we stand a better chance of building long-lasting working relations that can be nurtured over time – equally beneficial for both client and agency.

1024 682 Jane Hunt

JBH the Digital PR Agency Doubles Turnover During Lockdown

Manchester agency secures Digital PR accounts with British furniture retail company Heal’s and Online Estate Agent Emoov.

Manchester agency JBH has reported an increase in turnover of 134% in the last 3 months of 2020, doubling the digital PR arm of the business.

The company works with leading brands such as Gousto,, Uswitch, and Victorian Plumbing.

The agency was founded in 2013 by Jane Hunt, Andy Blason and Aran Jackson and moved to Manchester in 2018 to build the digital PR team and grow the client roster.

Manchester Digital PR Agency Wins Competitive Pitches for Emoov and Heal’s

Manchester digital PR agency JBH has been appointed by online estate agents Emoov and furniture retail company Heal’s to deliver digital PR campaigns to build their visibility in search.

Following a highly competitive pitch process, JBH were selected based on their proven success with other brands in the property vertical and the strength of the concepts presented throughout the pitching process.

CEO Stepan Dobrovolskiy said this about the appointment of JBH for their Emoov brand: “The team and I are very excited to announce that we’ll be working with JBH on our ongoing digital PR campaigns. We felt that the team understood that the future of the property market is digital and this was reflected in the concepts that were presented at pitch stage.”

Jane Hunt, co-founder and Marketing Director at JBH added: “Emoov has an impressive history and we are thrilled to be appointed as their digital PR agency at such a pivotal time for both their brand and for JBH”

981 529 Jane Hunt

We’re on a Roll! JBH Scoops Best Social @ CIM Awards

Well, what can we say? Last Thursday, the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) held its annual Marketing Excellence Awards ceremony at London’s Grosvenor House.

We’re delighted to announce that we brought home Best Use of Social Media. Who did we beat? Only Facebook – no biggie.

The CIM awards ceremony, hosted by Katherine Ryan, saw marketers from all over the world come together to celebrate their achievements and the moments that helped shape conversation in the industry over the past year.

The winning campaign

CIM Marketing Excellence Award… Never a doubt. #teamjbh

A post shared by JBH – The Content Agency (@jbhinfluence) on

Our campaign with The Wall of Comedy boys beat off strong competition including De Montfort University, the National Gallery, Boost Energy Drinks, Filippo Berio and even Zuckerberg himself. To say we’re feeling excited is an understatement.

Not all campaigns have big, glossy budgets. We’re proud to work with some huge global brands but we are equally proud to work closely with niche organisations to make their brands and campaigns stand out creatively.

Umbrella brand Reed in Partnership gave us total creative freedom to develop the campaign and select the most effective channels. Opportunities like this don’t come along often in our industry and we were excited to be offered a blank canvas and work with an inspiring nonprofit brand we were confident people would be interested in.

Why we believe it’s a winner

Our target audience of young BAME Londoners are difficult to reach and harder to engage. We had to attract their attention in a way that was relevant, authentic and inspirational.

Research told us that social video (specifically Facebook) would be the most effective way of reaching the target demographic:

  • Social is the most popular source of video content among people aged 13-24
  • 91% are watching social video for an average of 5.9 hours per week

We believe that influencer marketing only works in the hands of the right influencer; not just someone that the target demographic recognises, but someone they identify with and trust. We knew that getting the right influencer on board would bring a level of reach and credibility to the campaign that we couldn’t achieve on our own.

We had seen content from The Wall of Comedy on social media. They had everything we didn’t: a network of social platforms that reach 35,802,000 people, a Facebook audience where 46% of their audience is 18-24 (the target audience) and a proven track record in creating funny content. Most importantly, they had credibility and trust with our target audience. In their own words:

“We don’t just know our target audience – we are them and they are us.” – Joivan Wade, CEO The Wall of Comedy

We thought it was going to be difficult to persuade a government-backed initiative to work with such an edgy influencer but the client could see the value of working them immediately. The team trusted us with our edgy idea and it paid off big time.

Oh what a night!

Why not. #teamjbh

A post shared by JBH – The Content Agency (@jbhinfluence) on

So well done to us! Another awards ceremony, another well-deserved hangover. We had a fabulous night with Reed in Partnership, eating, dancing and partaking in the occasional orange juice. Victories like this really spur us on. We’re committed to the cause and can’t wait to see how our campaigns will shape up over the next year.

Well done to all of the night’s winners – there were some truly incredible work on display and we feel honoured to be counted among the established agencies and brands represented in the Grosvenor last Thursday.

Lastly well done to our team for all their hard work. Though we be but small – we are mighty. #TeamJBH 🙂

Looking for some award-winning content for your brand? Get in touch with our content marketing team and let’s get cracking – next year’s awards season is only 12 months away!

1024 682 Jane Hunt

Officially an Award-Winning Agency!

Last night we spent an unforgettable night celebrating with our awesome clients Reed in Partnership at the CMA International Content Marketing Awards where we were up for two awards for our YESldn campaign.

We’re absolutely thrilled to have received Gold in the Best Social category and Silver in the Best Video – Series category. We were so excited to be shortlisted and have our big night out we didn’t dare to hope that we could place – let alone win!

Hearing our lovely host Katherine Ryan announce us as the winner of the Gold prize in the Best Social category really was a magic moment. When Katherine said that the winning team had produced big results on a small budget realisation and excitement flooded across the table and when we finally heard the name of our campaign we just went crazy!

This was a campaign we are exceptionally proud of. We are a small team competing in an arena populated with some hugely successful agencies and global brands. Being recognised for what can be achieved with a little creativity feels like a big win for the little guy.

The CMA had this to say about our achievement:

“JBH were tasked with delivering a campaign that would inspire the target audience to sign up to the YESldn programme via the campaign website, driving a surge in sign-ups and creating awareness of the service. With a limited budget and hard-to-engage audience, the content agency chose online comedy trio The Wall of Comedy to film a series of videos showing extreme, funny scenarios that could be related back to common job-related anxieties.

The results thrilled both client and agency. Facebook video views topped 650,000, with over 4,600 engagements, while overall reach came in at almost 2.5m. More importantly, sign-ups to the YESldn service increased by 1,425% as a direct result of the campaign.

The judges were unanimous in giving this entry Gold, thanks to its “outstanding results on a low budget and fantastic resonance with the audience.” Iris’s work for adidas pops up again to claim Silver for its Neo Snapchat campaign, which the judges called a “fascinating creative solution that overachieved on its KPIs,” while MEC Wavemaker grab Bronze for their #Wimblewatch campaign for Evian, deemed a “fresh approach to Wimbledon content that has great brand synergy.””

All that was left to do was celebrate and we partied the night away in style. The Content Marketing Awards are something else, the room was buzzing with positivity and it was great to spend the evening in the company of so many accomplished creatives.

With a set of matching sore heads we’re back in the office, excited about our success and what it might mean for the future of our agency.

The boys share a victory hug

Andy is obviously not bothered

Aran celebrating with Oli from Reed in Partnership

Home safe and sound