In 2013, Google released Penguin 2.0. Gone were the days of shady backlinks and spammy comments. Ever since then, Google has continued to reward quality work and legitimate promotion strategies.
As a full-stack digital marketing business, Australia-based WME was one of many agencies impacted by the algorithm changes. Responding rapidly to the changes was do-or-die for anyone in the SEO world; failing to update policies and rapidly revise clients’ websites tanked more than one business.
The team at WME worked overtime to reorganize and revamp their offerings, taking the opportunity to deliver greater value to clients under the new framework.
Their approach worked: WME is now Australia’s largest digital marketing agency. They currently work with over 2,000 clients and have worked with approximately 20,000 SMBs (small to medium businesses) over the last decade.
Dim Apostolovski was a key player in the evolution of the brand. Dim started as an SEO specialist at WME in 2013 and worked his way up the ranks to become General Manager in 2016. He is now Head of Fulfillment after ARQ Group’s acquisition of WME.
Dim Apostolovski is the Head of Fulfillment ARQ Group’s WME.
Dim realized that, with so many clients rushing to WME for help post-Penguin, they would have to reorganize if they wanted to keep up with growing demand. Over the past five years, he has worked tirelessly with WME’s team to improve dependability and structure the agency in a way that can handle their ever-growing client list.
What follows is Dim’s take on how to restructure an agency for successful growth.
Bonus action list: [sg_popup id=”220″ event=”click”]Get our 2-page PDF summary[/sg_popup] of action items you can use to restructure and grow your agency based on Dim’s advice.
1. Define and Organize Agency Roles
When Dim arrived at WME, many tasks necessary for good SEO were being completed by contractors outside the agency. Copywriting and link building, in particular, were entirely outsourced.
“Everything was moved in-house, which resulted in a fundamental shift in the quality of work, along with the visibility and the tracking of deliverables. We could have key leaders in the organization responsible. Previously, it was fragmented and disjointed,” Dim recalled.
At the time, WME had about 30 employees; they now have around 100 team members.
But hiring more people wasn’t enough to achieve sufficient “visibility and tracking of deliverables.” They soon learned that having the same people on account management and fulfilment just didn’t work. Most of the time, the people who were exceptionally talented at managing accounts were not the same people who were ideal for fulfillment (implementing things like ad campaigns and SEO).
One of the most important early changes WME made was to split roles under two main groups: fulfillment and customer success.
Doing so made it possible to seek people with the right skill set for each group: account managers could dedicate all their time to relationship building and communication, while people with fulfillment roles could focus entirely on getting results for clients. The result was a team that worked more efficiently, had higher job satisfaction, and saw better success rates.
2. Hire the Right People for Those Roles
Initially, hiring was all about plugging the holes and keeping up with demand. WME focused on hiring generalists, because they could handle any number of tasks thrown their way.
And in the early stages of the agency, that was enough. But it wasn’t what WME needed for sustained growth and performance. Defining roles was key to understanding who to hire because the skill sets for account management and fulfilment roles were very different.
Now, WME consistently turns to two talent pools to find the right people for the job.
Talent Pool #1: Self-Employed Experts
“We’ve had many people who were once self-employed, who dabbled with online marketing, and who gravitated to working within a team. Some wanted to change careers. Some really got hit by the algorithm. Some just didn’t want to be self-employed anymore,” he shared.
Dim himself was self-employed when he decided to join WME back in 2013. While self-employed marketing experts are still a notable talent source for WME, this talent pool has been eclipsed by their now-primary source of new talent: competitors.
Talent Pool #2: Competitor’s Employees
Talented marketers and account managers are in high demand in Australia, where there are relatively few agencies meeting a comparatively high need for marketing services.
WME actively courts employees at its main competitors. To attract them, they emphasize a few key benefits:
- Competitive compensation
- The ability to choose their area of focus (fulfillment or account management, with no bleed-through responsibilities between the two)
- Continuous training programs to help them improve their professional skill set.
It’s the last category that has been especially effective in attracting talented team members who contribute to the growth and continued success of WME.
3. Train Staff Continuously for Improved Performance
A group photo taken of some of Dim’s team members at WME.
Not every agency is willing to invest as extensively in its employees as WME is.
It doesn’t matter how skilled you are when you begin working with WME, if you’re part of the team, then you’re going to receive training. It starts with new recruits and continues throughout an employee’s time with the organization.
“We’ve gotten to grow and nurture some of the biggest digital marketing talent in the country,” Dim shared. “And many have gone on to other great things, starting organizations that are highly successful.”
While some might see turnover as a reason to reduce training options, Dim shared compelling reasons for emphasizing it anyway.
“In order to deliver phenomenal results and performance, we need to train and develop individuals to get to that point. Consequently, people can and do move on to bigger and better things. But it’s a business decision. That gap between where we are today and where we need to get to tomorrow is constantly changing. If we don’t adapt and ensure that team members and talent grow into those roles, we just won’t perform as a company.”
As it turns out, having training programs in place is critical if you’re looking to restructure or redefine roles.
Need to Restructure? You’ll Need to Offer Training
Until recently, account management and fulfillment roles were “solid.” One account manager would specialize in SEO accounts while another might take on only social media accounts (and the same is true on the fulfillment side).
But if a client had more than one marketing channel managed through WME, that meant assigning multiple account managers to that client. One for SEO, one for PPC, and so forth. It hindered the relationship building that could happen with just one point of contact per client, and prevented WME from scaling as efficiently as hoped.
Addressing the issue would require internal training. In general, there are two types of training you can offer:
Upskilling refers to improving areas where the employee is already proficient. In cross-skilling, you focus on going wide: getting skills in areas additional to your primary specialty.
Upskilling training happens as early as onboarding at WME because they want their employees to be the best in their field. But to address restructuring, Dim is focusing on cross-skill training for his team. That way, one person could be the account manager on multiple channels for the same client. And someone in fulfillment could feel comfortable handling SEO, PPC, and social media content.
That training enables their employees to communicate better across areas of WME as well as become more knowledgeable when assisting clients.
“We’ve got a training manager in place, and there’s a training curriculum that encompasses everyone from sales to fulfillment,” Dim shared. New hires pick their training track and area of focus during onboarding, and later choose areas for cross-skill training.
It’s a critical piece in the path they’ve taken since the beginning. When Dim joined in 2013, everyone was a generalist. But to scale, they broke out roles, and everyone became a specialist. Now, they still want specialists, but they want a wider range of skills within that specialty.
That’s what will help them keep scaling. And training is how they’re getting it done.
Final Thought: Don’t Fear Being Different
WME didn’t get to be Australia’s number one digital marketing agency by following what everyone else was doing.
They offer their employees more training than many companies would consider cost-effective, but doing so has proven to be a driving force behind their rapid growth and scalability.
WME forged their own path ahead and did what they believed would get the best results for clients while building a company that would attract talented individuals. And they continue to succeed because they’re not afraid to restructure and grow in new ways to meet the demands of a changing business landscape.