The ABCs of Building 'Authority' for Agencies

Hannah Cohen
Hannah Cohen Feb 5, 2021 6 min read

Win more clients and close deals faster by making your agency appear more authoritative. Learn more in our latest post.

Why do clients want to work with an agency?

Is it because they have a snappy website, cool copy, and wacky staff pictures (including the obligatory office dog) on your ‘about us’ page?

No.

Clients want to work with your agency when they perceive you to be an authority figure (emphasis on ‘perceive’).

Clients turn to agencies when they have complex problems they can’t solve in-house. And complex problems are best solved by people with experience and knowledge - authority - in their respective fields.

Of course, you know that you have the best people, but how do you convey it to clients? Remember: authority is as much about perception as it is about reality. A great agency might suffer if it isn’t visibly authoritative.

In this guide, we’ll do a deep dive into ‘authority’ and how to build it for your agency. You’ll learn:

  • The three types of authority
  • Ten steps you can take immediately to bolster your authority
  • Why creating original research and cultivating relationships with journalists can pay off
  • How to participate in the ‘expert’ industry to boost your authoritativeness

 

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The Three Forms of ‘Authority’

What do a lawyer with a Harvard Law School degree on his wall, a doctor recommended by your best friend, and a restaurant with five stars on Yelp have in common?

They are all perceived to have authority.

How they get their perception of authority varies. 

For the lawyer, it’s the Harvard JD. For the doctor, it’s the trust you have in your best friend. For the restaurant, it’s the evidence of good work - in the form of positive reviews.

These three examples make up the three forms of authority:

1. Authority through association

Most authority in the world exists because of its association with other authority figures. These can be real people or institutions. Or they can be broader figurative ideas embodied in some tangible, usually visible form.

For the former, examples are aplenty. A lawyer who went to Harvard, a doctor with impressive credentials, a software engineer who worked at NASA and Google. In all these cases, an institution’s authority is leveraged to create a perception (real or otherwise) of authority.

Authority can also emerge from an association with an idea. Think of ex-royalty. The monarchy might have ended long ago, but a Baron or a Lord would still have some social authority simply because of their association with the idea of nobility.

A more subtle example would be an athlete offering you fitness advice. The athlete may or may not actually play any sports, but by simply calling himself an “athlete”, his advice - on fitness matters at least - carries more weight.

This is an important point to remember: authority can be self-created.

 

2. Authority through evidence

If you’re a lawyer who couldn’t get into Harvard, how do you build your authority?

Simple: start winning cases.

While institutional backing matters, a great deal of authority rests on the actual work. You can be a great cook if Times writes a glowing review of your restaurant. Or you can simply cook and serve delicious food - evidence of your good work.

Building authority through evidence should be the top goal for every agency. You may or may not get glowing reviews and institutional backing. But you can control your work.

 

3. Authority through trust

The legitimacy (and by proxy, authority) of any information depends a great deal on its source. The more you trust the source, the more perceived authority it will likely have. 

Movie recommendations by your favorite critic, book recommendations by Oprah, product recommendations by your best friend - all of these work only because you trust the people behind them. A stock tip from your investment banker friend carries more authority than one from a stranger in the street.

For agencies, establishing authority through trust is all about creating relationships. Word of mouth, positive reviews on agency platforms, referral programs - all of these go a long way towards creating different points of trust you can leverage later.

 

In the next section, we’ll take a closer look at some tangible steps you can take to bolster your ‘authority’.

 

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10 Tactics for Establishing Authority as an Agency

As an agency, here’s how you can use the three forms of authority I outlined above to build up your credibility:

1. Create a referral program

As far as lead sources go, nothing carries the same amount of authority as a referral from a client. A strong recommendation carries authority through trust while also demonstrating evidence of your competence.

No wonder referrals are the top source of leads for agencies by a huge margin.

By creating a referral system that incentivizes clients and makes the entire referral process friction-free, you can even scale this lead source.

Read this guide to learn how to create a scalable referral system for agencies.

 

2. Establish a strong presence on agency discovery platforms

Like it or not, but agency discovery platforms have come to be important intermediaries in the agency-client relationship. But instead of competing with them, try working with them instead.

A strong presence on such platforms gives you authority through trust. Clients trust these platforms and perceive them to be authoritative sources. Positive reviews, strong testimonials, and “best of” rankings in your city demonstrates - very publicly - your competence.

Here are some agency discovery platforms that you should establish a presence on:

As an aside, these platforms often give away badges that can further enhance your ‘authoritativeness’.

 

3. Participate in the ‘expert’ industry

TEDx talks, keynote engagements, consulting gigs - all of these are parts of the ‘expert’ industry. 

It’s not a real industry, of course, and you’ll never see it listed on the Bureau of Labor Statistics website. But there is a clear tradition of experts - self-described or otherwise - who share their knowledge in exchange for an audience.

Partaking in this ‘industry’ can open up countless new opportunities. More importantly, it adds to your (and by proxy, your agency’s) perceived authority.

This is authority both by association (say, speaking at a reputable event like TED) and by evidence (you get to share expertise). For smaller agencies, this can be a fantastic way to find new leads and instantly build up your credibility.

Some ways to participate in the ‘expert’ industry include:

  • Speaking at industry events and conferences
  • Hosting or participating in podcasts
  • Contributing quotes in expert roundups and media stories
  • Hosting or participating in meetups
  • Creating a course
  • Guest lecturing at a college

 

4. Nurture relationships with journalists and influencers

Would the perception of your agency be affected if you were featured in an NYTimes story?

Of course.

A media feature is a classic example of authority through association and trust. People trust their media sources (or rather, their vetting process) and assume that anyone on TV or NYT has some authority.

Getting featured in important industry publications, roundups, and interviews isn’t accidental. It takes months, even years of relationship building with journalists and influencers. But when done right, a “featured in NYT” or “As seen on TV” tag can do wonders for your credibility.

You can read more about doing PR for agencies in this article.

 

5. Create original research

Authority springs from work, but every agency also has portfolios and client lists. How do you stand out while still demonstrating your expertise? 

The answer: original research.

Original research immediately establishes you as an ‘expert’. The more perceived effort it takes to create the research, the more it demonstrates your competence. 

As a side benefit, it also opens up doors to journalists - exclusive access to marketable research is a compelling incentive. Nothing to say about the backlinks a solid piece of research can earn over time.

To be specific, the following types of research tend to do particularly well:

  • Surveys and industry reports, especially anything that reveals a surprising finding
  • Studies that help attach hard numbers to industry-wide phenomena (such as the ‘average number of backlinks it takes to rank #1 on Google’)
  • Research that synthesizes existing datasets to reveal new information
  • Reports that visualize complex data to reveal new insight

Backlinko’s SEO report is a great example. This study uncovered some hard facts about the SEO industry and earned the creator mentions on countless blogs - and the authority that comes with it.

Make this a goal in 2021 - instead of creating only original content, try to create original research as well.

 

6. Appear on podcasts

Podcasts are powerful authority building tools for two reasons:

  • You get to leverage the established authority and trust of the host
  • You get a chance to talk about your work and show evidence of your competence

If you’re looking for a great podcast for agencies, check out our very own THRIVE Podcast with Kelly Campbell.

 

7. Guest post on established blogs

The same process as podcasts, except you might not get a chance to demonstrate evidence as well as you could in a 30 minute long podcast. 

Nonetheless, since you can write far more guest blogs than you can do podcasts, it’s a smart strategy to guest post aggressively. Each guest post “seeds” your authority all over the internet. As readers stumble upon these “seeds”, your credibility is established, at first gradually, and later, exponentially.

Your only concern should be to write only for established, authoritative publications.

 

8. Get certified

As a practitioner, you know that formal certifications aren’t always evidence of skill. But your clients might still be swayed by them, especially in fields they don’t fully understand such as digital marketing. 

This tactic is particularly effective if the certifying authority is a well-known brand.

Some certifications worth getting for marketing agencies include:

If your client profile is mostly small businesses that need specific skills, it’s a good idea to display the relevant certifications prominent on your website.

 

9. Show off your best clients 

This is agency marketing 101 yet I see so many websites skip this - show off your best clients! If you’ve worked with big brands the average ill-informed client would recognize, make sure to show their logos and/or the work you’ve done for them prominently - after clearing NDAs, of course.

 

10. Share your results

Sharing portfolios is standard practice for agencies. While that’s important, solid creative work is seldom the goal for any client; it’s better results.

Alongside your portfolios, try to share case studies of your results as well. This can be tricky since clients usually place projects under NDAs. But if you can convince them to share (perhaps with some incentives of future discounts), you’ll find that case studies are your hardest hitting weapons in the fight to win more clients.

 

Over to You

Authority is never built overnight. But when you understand its key ingredients, it can be surprisingly easy to accumulate.

Follow these tips to bolster your authority - real or perceived - over time. 

You know another way to come across as more authoritative to your clients? Use better software. When they see your agency using state-of-the-art, specially designed software that makes their job easier, they’ll take you a lot more seriously.

Take Workamajig for a test drive below and see how it can transform your agency.

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About The Author

Hannah Cohen

Hannah Cohen

Hannah C recently joined the Workamajig Marketing Team. She enjoys a healthy lifestyle, loves all things furry and is always looking to learn something new. Send her your best recipe, a picture of your dog or your secret tip for marketing success at hannahc@workamajig.com.

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