How to Leverage Relationships to Grow Your Agency Faster

By Jason Swenk on September 21, 2022

How do you leverage relationships to get results for your clients? How can you leverage an acquisition to grow your agency faster? Today’s guest has a lot of experience in targeted product sampling and built her agency around taking products directly to consumers. It’s an industry where getting the product into the hands of the right influencers will make all the difference and your success will hinge on building the right relationships. She also used acquisition to grow her agency faster and tells us it’s not as daunting as it seems.

Laurel Rundle is the founder of Aha! Marketing, an agency focused on targeted product sampling. They deliver millions of samples to consumers each year to thousands of locations by putting clients’ brands at the center of human interactions already happening. They’ve worked with companies like Gerber, Gillette, and Dove to drive trial and awareness of their brands.

In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • Working with big brands to get their products in consumers’ hands.
  • Leveraging partnerships and influencers.
  • Using acquisition to grow your agency faster.

Podcast Takeover!!

Get to know your Smart Agency Guest Host:  Dr. Jeremy Weisz is the co-founder of Rise25, an agency that helps companies launch and run podcasts profitably. He followed Jason’s podcast and eventually joined the mastermind and has been a guest on the podcast before. Today, he’s helping Jason bring something new to the Smart Agency podcast audience by interviewing a special guest and bringing a new perspective to the show.

Sponsors and Resources

E2M Solutions: Today’s episode of the Smart Agency Masterclass is sponsored by E2M Solutions, a web design and development agency that has provided white label services for the past 10 years to agencies all over the world. Check out and get 10% off for the first three months of service.


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Starting a Digital Agency Based on Consumer Behavior

Laurel had worked in retail but was not very aware of product sampling when she went to an interview at Samples Incorporation of America. She got the job and worked there for many years. By the time she left she developed an interest in consumer behavior. She went right to starting Aha! Marketing, which is her digital agency focused on consumer behaviors with the goal of getting as many samples out as efficiently as possible.  Her agency works across brands, categories, and audiences which makes the work very interesting.

It is a fun business for her and she loves figuring out each campaign depending on the product and where they find the preferred consumers. Every brand campaign is delivered through one of their proprietor networks. Potential consumers aren’t approached randomly but rather a part of a carefully selected group.

Finding the Right Influencers for a Product Launch

If you’re searching for restaurants online and a friend recommends one, you’ll probably go to the one your friend recommends. That is the same response Laurel and her team tries to recreate by working with influencers. There’s nothing quite like trying a product yourself. However, opportunities for this had been limited during the pandemic. Now, two years later, there are many renewed opportunities to get in front of consumers.

One of the markets where they’ve been making a lot of progress is new moms. They typically reach expecting and new moms through OBGYN practices and a network of midwives and doulas. Influencers normally have many questions about the product quality, brand, and logistics of receiving the products. If you are prepared to answer these questions and they like the product, you’ll make a very valuable relationship. These influencers are people who normally have a close relationship with new moms so their recommendations are at the top of their considerations.

Her agency works with other agencies as well as with brands directly. It involves a lot of detailed logistics to get the brands out there. If they agree to recommend the products, influencers are expected to provide feedback and probably photos. Finally, the number of samples depends on the brand. Some are sent to hundreds of locations and others to thousands of locations.

Online Training for Digital Agencies

Working With Brands To Do Targeted Product Sampling

When it comes to working with the brand, it starts with the type of campaign they’re trying to build to determine the best approach for a particular product. Some other basic information includes how many samples they’re sending and how many consumers they want to reach. For some campaigns, they rely on intermediaries. For instance, for one campaign they targeted people at gyms and had intermediaries approach the trainers to recommend the product to their clients. They got feedback from both the intermediaries and the consumers.

They usually recommend brands add a QR code on the packaging of the sample because it helps drive responses. Furthermore, they often organize photo contests with cash prizes. They did it recently with Dove samples and they got back really creative photos of people in bubble baths with the soap. They can also add an offer or coupon, which works based on the brand’s target audience, product, and which offers have previously seen some success with their audience. This is done with a survey gathering useful information.

If possible, Aha Marketing likes to have the opportunity to work with the brand around how a sample is designed. They have an interest in the packaging and how it relates to the sample distribution. For example, is it in a tube or a packet? How efficiently can they pack it? Can they reuse material?

But not all campaigns involve a physical product. They recently worked with the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association in a campaign to educate new moms on the importance of beef as a first food. The campaign had educational purposes and included white papers for the physicians and displays for their waiting rooms.

Acquiring Another Agency to Grow Faster

Last year, while in the Goldman-Sachs program, Laurel had the opportunity to acquire another company in her space. The program helped her realize how this opportunity could really help grow the agency faster. It solved a lot of things for them, like getting access to some larger accounts and acquiring clients that complemented the ones they already worked with.

Most agency owners find the prospect of buying an agency too daunting a task. Of course, it does involve a lot of preparation but Laurel maintains it was the best decision for their growth. She was careful to involve trusted experts to give her the best advice possible. Other than that, she let the numbers tell the story. By the time she had the right offer, she knew she couldn’t let it pass. The deal was structured in a way that she couldn’t lose. She even recalls it as a fun process from which she learned a lot.

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