Evergreen: An agency maturing before your very eyes

By Aaron Rudman-Hawkins
March 9, 2022
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Evergreen was first launched in 2013, however the first five years it was just me as a one-man-band freelancer working at home with fewer than 10 clients simply doing my thing without a care in the world.

It was early 2018 when I really started contemplating the idea of scaling my agency to see if I could build it beyond just me into a ‘proper agency’ with a team, a larger portfolio of clients as well as systems, processes, and ways of working.

I put a vacancy out for an SEO Manager to join me in the summer of 2018 and the rest, as they say, is history. Over the past four years, we have been on one heck of a journey, experiencing all the highs, lows and realities that come with building a business and I have loved every second of it.

I underestimated the learning curve I would have to go on for sure, you don’t know what you don’t know after all, and it’s been a wild ride at times. Not least because I was barely two years into this journey when Covid-19 hit and that brought with it all sorts of challenges I had never anticipated.

Four years in and going strong

Originally in 2018, I’d mapped out an initial 5-year plan as you do. It detailed my agency plan to go from just me to 10-12 people, a turnover of £1 million and a proper office in which our team could work happily in comfort and be surrounded by like-minded professionals who shared a passion for our craft.

Naturally over the years that plan has evolved and changed, most notably, I realised a couple of years in that to be able to offer the range of services we do (SEO strategy, technical SEO, content marketing and paid media) we would need a team closer to 15-20 people.

As we neared that illusive £1 million turnover per annum figure, I decided to update the target to £1.5 – 2 million turnover as we were attracting bigger clients with bigger budgets and with the team we were building, that increased turnover target felt more than achievable in the years ahead.

The plan for 2022-2023

Coming out of Covid felt long overdue, I was desperate to get the team back into the office at least part-time in early 2022 and focus on our next phase of growth as an agency. We’re four years into our initial 5-year plan and my focus in recent months has very much been turning to what the next five years will look like.

I have learned an incredible amount over the past four years, many mistakes made, many lessons learned and countless highs and euphoric moments on this journey. But where do we go next…?

I’m a big believer in playing to your strengths as an individual and as the owner of a business, so working with my leadership team, we’ve made two big decisions at Evergreen that will define the next chapter in our growth.

No more Digital PR for Evergreen

We decided to call time on our digital PR offering for one very simple reason: It wasn’t adding enough value to our clients, and we can work smarter and in other ways to bring them a better ROI.

I’ll explain what we have seen and experienced over the past couple of years within this department very openly and honestly, as I know others will be able to relate to this.

Most digital marketing agencies have evolved in recent years to offer a ‘digital PR’ service, which is essentially a way to build links via PR in media titles over the more traditional website and blog link building.

We all know links play a key role in a business’s ability to increase visibility and authority online, and as more traditional link building methods have waned in their results, the industry has adopted PR as a mechanism for generating quality, relevant links.

The problem is, almost every agency has added ‘digital PR into their offering over the past 4-5 years and it’s made the industry incredibly competitive, meaning that for many smaller agencies (-25 people, which includes us), it is almost impossible to complete.

Now we’re never ones to shy away from a challenge here at Evergreen and so we spent much of 2020-2021 focused on building our digital PR team, refining our processes, investing in tools, tech and systems that would allow us to do fantastic digital PR.

However, what we’ve found over the past 18-24 months is that despite having great ideas, well-researched campaigns, all the tools, tech, and systems, digital PR is simply a numbers game. You need to produce lots of ideas in the hope that some get picked up and Evergreen is not set up to be able to work in such a way. It doesn’t work for us or our clients.

I’ve been speaking to many other agency owners and they are all echoing similar sentiments. Discussing the realities of how digital PR has exploded and journalists are openly expressing how they are receiving upwards of 500+ pitches for stories, angles, and ideas per day. That is unbelievable and explains why so few of an agency’s ideas are being picked up.

Digital PR Executive - Amber Buonsenso

Now, if you consider there are over 3,500 digital PR jobs available in the UK on Indeed right now, you can see things are only going to get worse as more and more people and their agencies flood the market with more stories and pitches. Remember, the number of these top tier publications isn’t increasing after all, and so what we’re seeing is agencies aggressively recruiting and creating dozens of entry-level digital PR roles whose brief is to pitch endless ideas in the hope that some stick, get picked up by these publications and ultimately secure the links needed.

Like most agencies we’ve seen a reduction in the pickup of our campaigns and stories and it’s through no fault of our own, it’s just the reality of what is happening within the sector.

As a business owner, I must look at the services we’re providing for our clients and determine if we’re adding sufficient value. With digital PR I can see vast amounts of time, energy, resource, and investment going into creating fantastic campaign ideas (some of the ideas the team have come up with have been truly remarkable) and yet despite this, the pickup just hasn’t mirrored previous years.

So, what is the answer?

We spent much of 2021 trying to figure that out and we came to a simple conclusion. We have very little control when it comes to digital PR and the results generated, so we either stick as we are and accept the ROI on time spent, and therefore the value, we’re adding won’t be anywhere near what we would like, or we can find an alternative solution to secure links and try to work smarter.

We’re pivoting to work smarter

After discussions internally and with clients we have decided to move away from digital PR and focus efforts on SEO, content marketing and paid media – which are all core strengths of The Evergreen Agency.

We know we can secure links, features and brand mentions without digital PR by focusing efforts on content amplification and that is what we’re going to do.

One of the staples of Evergreen’s way of working is in creating best-on-the-web or ‘evergreen’ content for our clients. We’ve been doing it very successfully for years and moving forward, we are going to double down on the amplification (promotion) of this content by identifying more of the relevant people who have a vested interest in the subject matter of this content.

It’s a subtle, yet highly effective strategic move for our agency that sees us move away from our department that isn’t working as well as we would have liked, and instead bolster another department that is working very well with another couple of team members and a focus on the amplification of our content.

This is a key business move we’re now implementing that will see us into our next phase of agency growth.

We know which industries we’re best in

So, the second big decision I have made is to focus on key industries and sectors that we have a long and proven track record in, and we are now positioning ourselves as a B2C digital marketing agency (over 80% of our clients are B2C) that works specifically in the following five sectors:

This is not so much Evergreen ‘niching down’ but more playing to our strengths, as for 8+ years we have worked in every one of the above industries consistently. We have numerous case studies, testimonial videos, and amazing results from those sectors.

We have worked with many B2B businesses over the years and continue to do so, but there is no mistaking Evergreen is a B2C agency, it’s where our experience and expertise is and as you know, I’m a big believer in doing what you’re best at.

Over the past few weeks, we have overhauled our website, our marketing and various online and offline touchpoints to reflect these changes as we focus our efforts on those key sectors.

Now on our website, you will notice there are no SEO or Paid Media pages. Instead, we have outlined our digital marketing solutions specifically for the above five sectors. We know what those businesses need, we understand their customers and the realities of life within those verticals.

We provide digital marketing solutions, not services

Evergreen has never been an agency that has simply provided SEO/PPC services – whenever we’ve spoken to a prospect over the years, we have always aimed to get to the bottom of what they need by asking questions like “what does your business growth plan look like?” and “where are your customers coming from now?”. We have always endeavoured to find out if SEO or PPC is indeed the right fit for a business and what the perfect mix of digital marketing is for their specific business and target customer.

Our job is to build a digital solution for a business, not to sell a service and that is what we have been doing for the past few years. We are now going to take that one step further by focusing this purely on B2C businesses specifically in the retail & ecommerce sector as well as for hospitality & leisure, home improvement, health & social care, and professional services.

Two decisions for the future of Evergreen

So, there you have it, two big decisions made with the aim of always playing to our strengths which is very much central to our thinking. We feel like an agency that is maturing right now, we’re going through growth plans and are having to make the strategic moves we feel are in the best interests of our agency, team, and clients.

Will removing digital PR as an offering from our website prove to be the right decision? I firmly believe so, yes, as I don’t want to work on anything that isn’t adding significant value for our clients.

Will focusing on specific sectors mean we get fewer leads coming in overall? Potentially yes, but I’m happy to identify the sectors we know we’re best at focusing our marketing and business development efforts on with regards to our company growth in the years ahead.

We’re four years into my original 5-year plan and the above two important changes have formed a core part of our next 5-year plan, so watch this space while we roll out these changes and take The Evergreen Agency to the next stage in its journey, together as a united team of happy and passionate digital marketers.

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