marketing agency matchmaker robby berthume

In our Content Marketing Masters interview series, we’re profiling the smart marketers we get to work with every day. We’re asking Rep Cap’s favorite marketers how they got into the field, what they love about their jobs and how they stay smart.

Meet Robby Berthume. He’s the CEO of Bull & Beard, a Winston-Salem, North Carolina-based adviser to advertising agencies and a matchmaker for talent, teams and tools. I met him through the Young Entrepreneur Council, which we are both members of.

What are you looking for when you’re trying to match people up to work together?

We’re connecting dots when it comes to both logical and emotional aspects of the equation. We’re thinking about budgets, location, workflow, capability. But we’re also thinking about personalities, cultures, values and even sense of humor. And we seek real relationships with all of our clients so we can better match them. We’ll have a gut feel for what kind of personalities are going to mesh together nicely.

So much of projecting success is about aligning expectations in the beginning. Because we know who we’re matching, we can better anticipate how people are actually going to be able work together and build a team that fires on all cylinders. From “The Lego Movie,” I like to think of us as the “Master Builders” — the ones who can see connections and bring them together in a way that almost feels magical.

My business partner and I have over 30 years of combined experience working in a capacity where we’re outsourcing, offshoring, connecting, hiring — you name it. So another part of it is developing an ability to sniff out red flags. You become jaded, but also realistic. And that helps you see things for what they are. That’s the value we provide our clients — we don’t just focus on finding the best match; we also work as an insurance policy of sorts by having a strong radar for positive and negative qualities that could impact a project and therefore the relationship.

For in-house marketers, how do you know if a particular agency is the right fit?

I always tell my brand clients that you need an agency that has both capability and character — that’s a given. And you want an X factor as well — something that makes the agency stand out and gets you talking. When you’ve found a fit, you should feel it as much as think it. Your agency should get you excited about your business. Your agency, of all partners, should be your biggest source of inspiration and even instigation when it comes to pushing your brand and company forward.

Your agency should be your biggest source of inspiration and even instigation. Click To Tweet

And really, it all comes down to who you work with best. Which agency best matches your personality and values? Who do you trust and why? Do your teams gel? Who would you want to roll up your sleeves with? Ask these questions and involve other members of your team so they take more ownership of the relationship from the get-go.

For agency principals, how do you know if a particular client is the right fit?

In a healthy brand/agency relationship, the agency is often the one that challenges and pushes the brand forward, because they are given the freedom and incentive to do so. I haven’t met a single agency principal at any agency worth its weight that does not want to be challenged.

But they want to be trusted even more. They want the freedom to elevate the brand. Agency principals need to seek out trust. Will the client let you fly? Will it challenge you or let it be challenged? This is going to lead to the best work, the most mutual gain and, as a bonus, it’s just a lot more fun working with clients you like. Find clients who will trust you. And then show them why.

Is the full-service agency model really dead? When does it make sense to go for a one-stop shop vs. finding speciality players for your needs?

I don’t think that the full-service agency model is dead. I think the definition and construction of a “full-service agency” is what has been changing, quite dramatically, over the years. I continue to see agencies large and small position themselves as one-stop shops or “full service” by being the ones that find the speciality players for their client’s needs. They own the account and then, akin to general contractors, coordinate everything, even when it means bringing on partners, freelancers and even complementary agencies. And in full view of the client!

I think this is a good business model. Agencies are realizing that they can’t (and shouldn’t) do it all. Brands are realizing this and utilizing a higher quantity of agencies than ever, wanting different perspectives and disciplines at the table. And some of the best talent is off the market.

Agencies are realizing they can’t (and shouldn’t) do it all. Click To Tweet

The agency model of the future is centered on strong stewardship of the client’s account, where the agency leads the charge, but can swiftly and smartly bring on the right resources at the right times. Clients nowadays actually appreciate agencies who know themselves and are willing to sacrifice financial gain by sharing the workload and allocating the dollars in a more payroll-agnostic fashion than ever before.

For principals at agencies, how do you identify top talent in emerging disciplines that you might feel you barely understand yourself?

What a great question! This is definitely a common problem: How do you hire and recruit for capabilities you don’t understand? Do you throw your limited time at improving on your weaknesses? How can you possibly adequately evaluate talent in emerging disciplines? I think this is where your network really comes into play. It’s also why we have a creative and technology-oriented matchmaking agency — people who can act as others’ network and do the work for them. As the old saying goes, “know what you know and know what you don’t know.”

Don’t waste time becoming fluent in every emerging discipline — it’s just not possible. This is an area where the best agency principals have been able to build a team around them that’s capable of identifying top talent across many areas. The key here is you need the network and team you can lean into. And you need trust.

In other words, if I was the principal at a creative agency concerned about my e-commerce capabilities, I wouldn’t try to learn about e-commerce on my own. When I started my first company, I felt like I did learn everything from Googling it, but I now believe it’s a much stronger and more efficient play to lean into other people. If I know and trust someone, and they know e-commerce, I am well-positioned. In 20 minutes of conversation they can save 20 months of my time, seriously. They’re going to know where and how to identify the talent in their industry. They will probably also advise me on what storefronts are optimal to build resources around and even what that top talent is worth and their experience managing it.

What’s a big risk you’ve taken as a marketer? What did you learn?

I’ve built my life and career by providing safe bets. Bets, still, but finding the safety zone for most clients — including myself. I gamble on my hunches and I’ve always trusted my gut, but I do it in a strategic way. I’m not going to go all-in on anything the first go-around. It’s the timing, sequence and magnitude of these decisions that really matter.

Every decision you make as a marketer has the chance to go wrong. It’s also why people like me are in business: not simply to “create great work” but to “reduce risk.”

Some of the biggest risks I’ve taken have included projects that I simply had no clue how I would actually handle, but I trusted my gut and ability to connect the dots. To reduce risk, ironically, you have to embrace it. You have to be honest with what it is, and then you have to seek not to eliminate but to reduce it. Until we live in utopia, very few marketing decisions are risk-free. And what fun would that be anyway?