profile

Research & Strategy for Digital Agencies

Keeping Your Agency Updated on AI (and beyond)

Published 9 months ago • 5 min read

TL;DR

  • Only 1-in-5 digital agencies have a formal structure for keeping their teams updated on AI.
  • That's concerning because a lot of the value digital agencies provide to their clients comes from knowing more about new tech developments than they do.
  • It's pretty easy to implement some combination of lightning talks, expert talks, show-and-tell meetings, dedicated slack channels, resource lists, topic docs, and/or quizzes to keep your team updated.

Findings from the Digital Agencies & AI Report

Today’s content is based on the findings from our research with 268 digital agency leaders for the Digital Agencies & AI report. I’m doing a highlight and Q&A call on Thursday (8/31) to review the findings that you can register for here.

A month ago, I wrote a newsletter titled Building an Innovation-Driven Agency: The Power of Experimentation. In it, I described the importance of getting the fundamentals right and then laid out some ways to build an innovative environment.

That newsletter was influenced by some of the early data I saw from our latest AI implementation surveys. Those that were further along in implementing AI tended to operate at more mature levels. They already nailed the fundamentals (or most of them), and that was allowing them to experiment with AI.

Once the survey closed and I could get more into the analysis, it became clear how vital systems for learning about and digesting new tech are.

It also became clear how few shops had these systems in place.

Only a fifth of agency owners surveyed had a formalized structure for regularly updating teammates on AI developments.

This is concerning, especially for AI, a trend that 70% of agency leaders expect to have a large or massive impact on their agency.

My concern goes deeper than just the AI trend.

The reason most of this industry even exists is because tech changes too quickly for in-house teams to keep up.

Your clients rely on you to be experts in doing what you do. As technology and best practices change, they rely on you to 1) know that it has changed, 2) understand how that change will impact them, and 3) know how to react to that change.

Having a structured way to do this makes you infinitely more valuable to your clients. It’s what elevates a digital agency from vendor to strategic advisor.

To understand why, let’s look at where you live.

The Digital Agencies & AI report is ready!

Insights from 268 digital agency leaders on everything from expectations to implementation and more.

If you had a chance to participate, check your inbox for your copy. If you didn't get to participate, tickets are still available for the Highlights and Q&A call on 8/31 which includes a copy of the report.

Where Digital Agencies Live

Most of you live closer to the edge than your clients but a few steps behind the AI and ML engineers who are designing LLMs.

Within that space, there’s a decent amount of variation.

Some agencies are running and training their own models. They’re closer to the edge than those who are using something like Jasper.ai to churn out marketing copy. Those Jasper users are another step ahead of the shops that are mainly ignoring AI tools. So you have everything from agencies training custom LLMs to those going:

“No AI for me! We only offer artisanal, hand-crafted site designs. Check out our latest visitor counter badges!”

The closer you are to the edge, the more your clients will rely on you to keep them updated on new trends. When you do this well, it lets you make better decisions for your clients. It also stops you and your team from recommending outdated nonsense.

Adding a structured way to do this lets you be more consistent about uncovering new developments early. Adding structured ways to disseminate that information to your team allows your agency to react to new trends more quickly. This is why it was concerning to see only one in five agencies with a structured way to keep their teams updated on AI. Let’s fix that.

Keeping Your Team Updated

Building a system to uncover and share new info at your agency can sound a bit daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. Here are some great ways to get started:

Regularly scheduled lightning talks – Short presentations that last 3-5 minutes on a topic of interest. These are a great way to surface and begin discussions around new developments in your field. Don’t worry about sharing them outside your company, and make sure you’re not overloading everyone with too many topics. 3-5 talks, 3-5 minutes each, 3-5 times a year is all most agencies need.

Expert talks – Invite domain experts to discuss specific topics with your team. These can be the people who are actually building the tech (a few steps closer to the edge than you) or industry experts who can provide a broader context. Presentations are nice, but a solid Q&A session can be just as helpful.

Show-and-tell meetings – These are a bit longer than lightning talks and more on the tactical side, but they follow a similar structure. Someone who’s experimenting with a new process walks through the experiment with the group and gets feedback. Use these to build out and improve best practices. These work great in groups of people doing similar things (all UX designers, all devs, all PMs, etc.).

Dedicated Slack channels – Have a dedicated space to post about new developments in your industry. It’s pretty self-explanatory, but there are some things to watch out for. You don’t want these to simply become a hacky RSS feed of Hacker News, reddit, and McKinsey articles. While those can be great sources, it’s too easy to get into a habit of posting whatever looks interesting and flooding the channel. The best way I’ve seen to combat this is to require a brief write-up about why the link is interesting. That both discourages link spamming and encourages discussion around the topic.

Resource lists – This absolutely can be a hacky RSS feed! Having a list of news sources makes it much easier to surface the latest developments. At the risk of seeming out of touch, I still use Feedly for this. For an agency, make sure there’s a mechanism for team members to add their own resources to the list.

Topic docs – Build a singular summary document around specific topics once they’re large enough to warrant one. These should make it easy for someone to get up to speed on the topic, but not so large that it seems daunting to read.

Quizzes – These won’t be adored by all, but I’ve seen a few agencies implement them for topics that are viewed as mission-critical. Only implement them after some of these other tactics are live. Quizzes can take the form of a simple Typeform form that runs through the main points of the topic, why it’s important to the agency, and the agency’s stance on it.

All the standard stuff – Conferences, meetups, presentations, etc. You probably already do this. Just be sure to document and share.

No Need to Do Everything

Hopefully, that doesn’t seem like too big of a lift. Keep in mind that you absolutely don’t need to implement all of those. A combination of Lightning talks, Topic docs, and Slack channels will be plenty for most agencies.

If I learned anything from writing that Digital Agencies & AI report, it’s just how powerful these systems can be. Even something as simple as being aware of what’s possible with AI can make you more valuable to your clients. Those who’ve managed to experiment early with AI and integrate it into their agencies are already seeing profound effects. More on that in the Reshaping Agency Financials section of the report.

I really do like to hear from readers. What do you do at your agency to stay current on new developments?


Research & Strategy for Digital Agencies

Nicholas Petroski

The latest research, insights, tools, and resources that make managing a digital shop easier,

Read more from Research & Strategy for Digital Agencies

TL;DR The shape of your agency’s revenue can have a massive impact on your valuation and your ability to grow sustainably. The balance between projects and retainers is the main component of your revenue profile. Fast-growing agencies completed about 25% more projects than the slow-growing ones while having about 20% fewer retainer clients. Recent market dynamics are forcing a shift away from retainers and toward projects. Client concentration is another major revenue profile component. For...

4 days ago • 3 min read

TL;DR Most revgen strategies exist scattered across a bunch of Google docs with no single source of strategic truth to refer back to. This creates friction, which slows growth and reduces profitability. Creating a doc to house high-level summaries of the components of your revgen strategy allows you to check new ideas (shiny objects) against it effectively. The time your leadership devotes to strategy work will change as your agency grows, with larger shops generally spending more time than...

20 days ago • 4 min read

TL;DR The value of a digital agency is directly related to the quality of its leadership and management. There are three core areas that you need experienced managers to lead: Revgen, Value delivery, and Ops. You can build your management team through acquihires, hiring from bigger agencies (but not too big), and hiring from industry. Don’t be afraid to remove those who don’t fit. As you fill out your management team, level up your agency’s sophistication by setting a solid strategic...

about 1 month ago • 4 min read
Share this post