280blue Virtual Summit: CMOs share how integrated agencies provide value for early-stage, high-growth companies

02/04/2021 - Will Seaton

New year, new you. With the beginning of 2021, we wanted to take the opportunity to refresh and refocus on how marketing agencies can add strategic value for early-stage, high-growth companies. Despite the many challenges of the past year, the tech industry has rallied, and many companies are now back in offense mode — looking to take strategic, aggressive approaches to growth.

For insight, we hosted the 2021 280blue Virtual Summit, where we invited tech industry leaders and veterans for their perspective on how integrated agencies can help tech companies hit their targets — creating a successful GTM, nailing their next funding round or positioning for an acquisition. Our experts included:

Here are some of their key takeaways on the role agencies can play and the value they bring for early-stage companies with high-growth trajectories.

Eric Wolford, Venture Partner, Accel Partners

“A true partner for the CEO”

The value agencies bring, particularly for technically minded founders, is this enormous amount of experience and knowledge around, “What is marketing, and what can it do for you?” Agencies have this breadth of experience, they’ve seen many different scenarios, they’ve experienced trial and error. For me, as a board member and venture capitalist, I love having that outside expertise brought in, because it stops groupthink, and it opens the company to more possibilities. Even when a company hires a CMO or VP of marketing, the agency experience is typically often broader. That’s why I’m a big fan of the approach of starting early and having an agency partner with the CEO.

Dimitri Vlachos, CMO, Devo

“Marshal alignment on messaging, positioning, and brand”

When you’re marketing a disruptive hyper-growth company, if you’re not building pipeline, nothing else matters. But larger companies will always be able to outspend you, which means you need innovative ways of delivering your story — you need a story that really resonates with your audience, while correctly identifying the channels and strategies needed to tell it. Agencies can help marshal internal alignment, making sure messaging and positioning isn’t viewed as just a “marketing thing”, so you can tell that story consistently, confidently and boldly, externally. After all, if you don’t have internal alignment on who you are, what change you are driving, and why you are different, good luck getting the market to understand why they should choose you over the competition.

Apurva Davé, VP Marketing, Productiv

“Gets your story to market faster”

In any stage company, the role of marketing is to connect the product with the customer, and you do that through understanding your value proposition, building great content around that, and then delivering your story through all different channels — whether that’s your salesperson, the press, marketing programs, etc. But the biggest issue startups face is time; every second counts, and competitors typically have established channels they can lean on, giving them time to iterate on a message and get new programs running. Startups have to take very little resources and get them to work quickly in high-leverage ways to get to the market faster.

The advantage of go-to marketing agencies is that they can come in, interface directly with my team, help align on message and set expectations and create structure around reporting and communications to keep everyone on the same page — essential in early-stage models. Furthermore, good agencies can very quickly get to a level of content depth around your particular product, your particular buyer — their pains, what they want to learn about and how they like to learn — and create meaningful content for your customers. That’s really hard, it’s really complex, but an agency’s value is radically reduced if it can’t quickly build that knowledge and create something from scratch that appeals to your buyer.

Lisa Magnuson, VP Marketing, Bloom Energy

“Acts as the glue that brings your organization together and clarifies your value proposition”

For early-stage companies, marketing has a critical role in acting as the glue that brings together a sometimes very engineering-centric organization. Especially in smaller companies, I look to marketing agencies as trusted advisors and part of my team, who clarify the value proposition of your product for your customers. So, it’s super important to have the (I hate the word, but) synergy and trust with your agency — being able to go through strategy sessions, establish robust processes, and get internal alignment and align expectations across teams. And now that PR is a component of an integrated content plan and strategy, agencies are also there to integrate your messaging and content, from your website, to your social channels, to your sales collateral, to lead gen campaigns. In the end, agencies are strategic partners that help you, to use a phrase, secure champagne results with beer budgets.

Sam Whitmore, Owner, Sam Whitmore’s Media Survey

“Expert guides for the rapidly shifting media market”

From a PR and media perspective, the value agencies can bring for early companies is to help them navigate the rapidly changing media market. There are a number of areas where these changes are happening. One change is that publications are increasingly trying to appeal to younger readers and Gen Z, and their research is telling that those people would much rather watch or listen to experience content, rather than drag their eyeballs across text. In the same vein, there’s less and less text on the page — we saw how Axios, with short, bulleted stories, was able to change the journalism industry almost single handedly. All of this, with things like digestible and chewable content, are not the ways you traditionally tell stories in B2B. Similarly, we are also seeing the rise of individual influencers, as many of the most talented people in B2B or B2C journalism have gone on to open their own shops, start a Substack or become analysts. There’s an opportunity for agencies to build first name relationships with these people, who now exist outside of traditional “tier one” publications. Then, in general, there’s the opportunity to shape stories for the best engagement — what gets people to stop scrolling and read. The New York Times model, for example, uses a narrative architecture that leverages three dimensions, or entry points for readers, for every great narrative story: business, society and technology. If agencies can help companies come up with stories with compelling entry points for each of these things, they will see better engagement and get farther with higher-tier publications.