Is Your Agency Constantly Evolving to Stay Relevant to Clients?

By Jason Swenk on December 15, 2021

Is your agency constantly innovating and evolving in order to stay relevant? Clients needs are constantly changing as technology evolves. Are you keeping up with what clients need? Julia Smith has worked in digital advertising for over 25 years and has made a name being her client’s mouthpiece. They even call her “the voice.” She took that concept and formed her agency The Digital Voice, a B2B boutique PR agency that brings brands to life through engaging PR campaigns, awareness-driving communications, and immersive virtual experiences. Julia sat down to talk to Jason about how her agency has changed over the years, especially after the pandemic, and how this has ultimately had a positive impact on the agency. She also discusses the transition from being just a PR agency to being an experience agency, and what she wishes she had known when she first started.

3 Golden Nuggets

  1. Being a virtual voice. Before she started her own business, Julia worked at a company that didn’t quite know how to label what she did. They settled on “the voice” to describe that she was basically the company’s mouthpiece with everything she did. She represented them on stage and before the press and was their voice in sales and throughout all their business. She later took that concept with her when she decided to create her own PR agency and continued to represent her clients, organize events, networking events, speaking slots, etc for years after that. Every year brought different changes, but 2020 brought a real shift in the way her agency was doing things.
  2. The transition to agency experience. For Julia, the last 18 months especially have brought a lot of change and evolution that has had a huge positive impact on them and their clients. “It made us stop. It made us think a little bit more about how we can use every platform possible,” she explains. The agency went from relying on networking events, standing on stage, and getting their clients speaking slots to investing in a platform to now offer speaking events with live voting polls and 3D networking floors. How to use that on social media? You can use that same content of the speaking event and can take snippets of that to social media and do polls, write a news story based on that, do a thought leadership piece, do Q&A’s and a podcast. This is what they now bring to their clients.
  3. The impostor syndrome. One thing that Julia wishes she had known when she first started her agency is that, more than vanity metrics like whether or not you have a huge reach, it’s all about who are you? Are they you for the message? What are you trying to say and who do you say it to? Now it is all about taking that and make it count and make it measure and show that the value is there. She used to let those vanity metrics get to her and have impostor syndrome but now she feels confident having a wide range of clients and loves working with startups. She has also accompanied some of her clients on their journey from being a small tech company to taking the step of going public.

Sponsors and Resources

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Be Your Client’s Voice and Make a Transition from Just PR Agency to Experience Agency

{These transcripts have been auto-generated. While largely accurate, they may contain some errors.}

Jason: [00:00:00] What’s up, agency owners? Jason Swenk here. I’m excited to have another amazing episode for you. We’re going to talk about how a PR agency is really morphing to an experience agency. And even if you’re not a PR agency, you’re going to benefit from this episode. So let’s go ahead and get into it.

Hey, Julia. Welcome to the show.

Julia: [00:00:27] Hi, Jason, how you doing?

Jason: [00:00:29] Yeah, I’m excited to have you on, so tell us who you are and what do you do?

Julia: [00:00:32] So I’m Julia Smith. I’m the founder and MD of a B2B PR agency called The Digital Voice.

Jason: [00:00:40] Awesome. And how long have you been doing your agency?

Julia: [00:00:44] Well, you know what I suddenly realized that I’ve just gone over a quarter of a century last year in working in digital advertising. But I set up, which is shocking in itself, but I set up the digital voice it’s going to be 10 years next June since I set out.

Jason: [00:00:59] Wow. Congrats. And, and how did you get started by starting your own agency? I always like to know that origin story.

Julia: [00:01:06] Yeah, but you know, it’s strange because actually the name of the company is based upon… about 11, 12 years ago I was working for a company and they couldn’t think of what to call what I did.

And we settled on the voice, because almost that’s what I was for them. I was the voice, the mouthpiece of that business. And I did everything for them from represent them on stage and the press. And I was their mouthpiece and sales and throughout all their business. And that’s when I then a year later decided it was time to set up on my own. And so The Digital Voice was born.

It’s kind of out of how a lot of people know me as the voice in this industry. Probably stems from the fact that I have a very big mouth as well.

Jason: [00:01:50] Awesome. And, um, how has your agency changed over the years?

Julia: [00:01:56] Do you know what? It’s been a complete change at every year. But more so in the last 18 months that we’ve had to, as everybody has had to is evolve their businesses. And I think it’s, it’s had strangely hugely positive impact for us and for our clients.

It made us stop. It made us think a little bit more about how we can use every platform possible. And we had to stop being so reliant on networking events, standing on stage, getting our clients speaking slots, being able to set up wine and dine, networking, physical events.

And you actually took a step back and went, hand on a second? We can make this complete, an experience in everything that we do and on every platform. And it ended up as a company we went from being… So I think 10 years ago it would just have been about content. It would have just been about press and content and every year is added on more and more.

And this year, I was thinking about before coming on here, Jason, and thinking, what do we do? And it’s actually press concept, thought leadership, SEO, social media, newsjacking, virtual experience, speaking, awards…  It’s everything. And it becomes very much of taking, uh, the voice, being the voice for clients in the new way of communicating. So big changes.

Jason: [00:03:24] Oh, yeah, definitely. And tell me, you know, because our industry is really, there’s a ton of… Kind of male owners. And there’s far fewer, you know, woman-owned agencies. Why do you think that? And tell us a little bit more about that because I always love having women on the show because I’m like, oh, another woman, this is awesome.

Julia: [00:03:50] Well, you know, it’s strange you say that. Cause I, I know quite a lot of female owners of agencies, actually, over here of PR agencies. And lucky, I’m lucky enough to be co-founder of Digital Leading Ladies. And I’m a member of Bloom. All of these different organizations. So I kind of don’t see it. I see a lot of women actually running their own companies.

I’ll tell you why this also it’s a massive benefit. I did it 11 years ago because I had young children. It enabled me to work the hours I wanted to work. And I still work strange hours that I do 6:30 AM to four, because at four o’clock my children, who are now teenagers, they walk in the door then. And my rule was that I’m then… They don’t really need me, but should they need me, I can open that door. I can be there for them after that.

So running your own company actually gives you complete flexibility to choose how you work and what you work. Interesting enough, we were a team of nine, 10 women. We’ve now changed and we’ve got three and seven now. And so my, the, the, my head of content, Adam was delighted, he was like, thank goodness he was getting so outnumbered.

But to my mind, I’m still one of those believers that it’s about who does the job right and nothing more. And I don’t think it should even be, I don’t see it, or I’ve never felt in any way that I’ve missed out or been treated unfairly for being a female.

Um, I actually feel quite positive and I’ve had, I believe, quite a positive experience. And it’s what you make is how. If you don’t make it in too much of an issue and you’re strong in what you do and what you say, and, and you’re, um, reviewed based on what you deliver.

Jason: [00:05:34] Yep. Exactly. And that’s, that’s how it should be. Tell us about kind of the transition from the agency to delivering more of an experience.

Julia: [00:05:44] Yeah, this is an interesting one. So I describe it like this. So I was saying to my clients, you know we get them… we ended up last year investing in a virtual experience platform called Rainbow. And I love it. It’s fantastic because what it did was we create virtual experiences. And it is just that, it’s an experience.

You can do live, you can bring people up on stage. You can do live voting polls. But it goes to, we have 3d networking floors, where you actually mix and mingle in bar rooftop lounges. We’ve got, we’ve done campfire settings. We did loads of Christmas parties and what we always discover… that kind of that’s one part. So you create an experience, but then we also said to our clients that everything you do needs to be off of one thing.

So say you speak at an event. That’s an experience. But let’s look, go further. How do we take that experience and keep the engagement going on social media? You take snippets of that video of you speaking and you pop it on to your social, but you then do a poll saying I’ve got three other topics that are going to be talked about. Which one do you want to vote on what comes up next?

You take comments and news jack. You then write a news story based on what I said at that event, what the clients said. You then take it into a thought leadership piece and then you do Q&A’s and then you do a podcast with Jason Swenk. And all of it is kind of building up though… It becomes not, it’s not so two-dimensional then, is it? It’s everything is about the experience. How do you feel, how does the audience feel? How much engagement…? That’s the experience. How are we engaging? And can we make it into more of an experience?

Jason: [00:07:26] I love that. I love creating things and an experience. And I want to take a brief 20 seconds to have a mastermind member come on and tell you about the digital agency experience, which you kind of set it up pretty well.

So let’s go ahead and hear what Justin has to say real quick.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Justin: [00:07:43] I was just talking to one of the other members a little bit ago. And I was like this event is absolutely incredible. And I’ve been to a lot of events and I think I have like 19 pages, something of notes. And we’re only part of the way through day two.

And I came at it with no agenda, but I came at it because I’m, we get holed up in our little bubbles. You know, we go through the grind. We’re in the office every day, or, you know, we’re working with our employees, we’re working with our clients and I really just wanted to be a group of people that have been there and done that, that can speak the same language, have some of the similar problems that I have.

And I have found that to be the case, meeting a lot of great new friends now and making a lot of great connections and learning a whole heck of a lot that I’m going to take back.

In fact, I’ve been messaging my business partner non-stop like, Hey, it’s go time when we get back, because I’ve got a lot of good things to him.

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Awesome. Well, thanks, Justin. If you guys are interested in more of the digital agency experience, go to digital and check it out. All right, let’s get back to you, Julia, and talking more about what are some of the things that you wish you knew about five years ago? That would benefit you in your agency. Now today

Julia: [00:09:52] Vanity metrics meant everything five years ago, and that’s how we were perceived. And I didn’t have the confidence then to go it doesn’t have to be that you’ve got to be seen in the big types lists and obviously in the US the Bloombergs and the CNNs and the Forbes. And they’re great. But what I wish I knew is I had the confidence to go, you know, in the same way that I work with advertising and companies.

And they’re trying to always say, we’re all about targeting. We can take your brands and we can talk at the exact user at the right time, right place. That should follow through in PR. That we now work with titles that are so wide-ranging and we don’t care necessarily on their huge reach it’s about who they are? Are they right for the message? What are you trying to say and who do you say it to?

And then match that up and, and then make it count and make it measure. And make it show that the value is there. It’s not all about the scale and the reach. And I wish I’d had the confidence to do that. Cause I think, I think you start to, you get that imposter syndrome when you’re not appearing in those big titles.

And for a lot of our clients, we work with Adtech and MarTech companies predominantly. We love working with startups. Two of our clients have been one of them has been with me seven and a half years. They went from a smaller company and they’re about to IPO next year.

Another company doing the three years there was, starts out, they’re about to IPO next year. I love those companies. Now for them, they’re startups. They were never going to get into those big mainstream titles. But what we have the confidence now to do, and they love it and they get. Is that it’s about what you’re saying and the audience that’s buying that.

And the same goes for social. It doesn’t matter if, it’s not about how many, it’s not about how many followers you necessarily gained through. It’s who followers are and how engaging they are and what your percentage of engagement. Wish I’d known that. It would have saved me a lot of heartache.

Jason: [00:11:50] I know, I, I think there’s a lot of us that have that imposter syndrome, right? It’s kind of like, or, and we look at the wrong metrics and we look at those vanity metrics. I mean, I always tell agencies, you need to be creating content and really building your brand. And a lot of times for the first couple of years, they get discouraged. They’re like all the a hundred people checked it out.

What if they were the perfect hundred clients for you?

Julia: [00:12:16] A hundred percent. We always say this and it’s, uh, you know, you just go, it only takes one. It needs just one person to actually responded and go pick up the phone and make that sale, you know, for a lot of these companies. And that’s what we’re enabling going actually let’s look and see what, uh, how it worked and how it responded.

I also try to explain to people it’s about the mix with anything it’s trying different things. See what works, see what fits and the same way you do within your day to day, life of trying on clothes. You then find what fits and what works. The main message I always say is Be loud. Be brave, be you. Do not try and change, do not to try and be like somebody else. It will ultimately fail.

And especially for agencies who are looking at, with their own with trying to advise the brands. Those that can be consistent in their tone and their message and ultimately make it resonate. It makes it far easier for the whole company to get behind you when you going, oh, I get it. I’m just, that’s who we are. That’s what we do. Be loud, be brave, be you.

It’s kind of my big mantra that I try to…

Jason: [00:13:20] I love it. If people want to know more and check out the agency where can they go?

Julia: [00:13:24] So they can go to or check us out on LinkedIn. So what we do, we almost use our LinkedIn, the digital voices, our runbook, and see all the different pieces of content from our brilliant clients. Or link in with me, Julia Smith.

I’d be delighted set to meet with them as well.

Jason: [00:13:42] Well, awesome. Julia, thanks so much for coming on the show. You rocked it. Thanks so much. Make sure you guys go check out the website.

Ad if you guys want to come to the next Digital Agency Experience, I want you guys to go to and apply, and maybe you’ll be with us at the next experience.

Until next time, have a Swenk day.

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