Agency Touchstones: Ad Shops Did Well in 2021, And Email Played A Part

Email marketing is one of the top metrics being measured by both agencies and freelance creatives, judging by a pair of new global studies released on Thursday by Mailchimp. 

Of the agencies polled, 37% measure email/contact engagement rates in reaching clients. However, email falls behind other metrics:

  • Source: Where a Contact First Heard About You — 61%
  • Detailed website analytics — 45%
  • Source — What prompted contact to get in touch — 39%

For freelancers, email makes it into the top three:

  • Source — where a contact first heard about you — 50% 
  • Detailed website analytics — 30% 
  • Email contact/engagement data — 29%

But email was down the list as a new business tactic at agencies. Referrals from existing clients were cited by 48%, 7% from other vendors, 5% from agencies/freelancers and 4% from a partner program. And 11% relied somewhat on networking. 



Email and direct mail was cited by 5%. 

Among freelancers, 62% utilize email for pitches and proposals, while only 19% use online presentations, 12% phone and 8% in person. But in a seemingly contradictory finding, only 3% say email is a top new business tactic.  

"Throughout the report, responding freelancers and agencies shared that they use email marketing not only for their clients’ businesses—but also when promoting their own businesses," says Claire Currie, Marketing Manager, Partner Program and Growth at Mailchimp. 

Currie adds that email is "an important element that ladders up to enabling freelancers and agency owners to run their businesses effectively and efficiently while retaining a personal connection to prospective and existing clients. And it continues to be an important metric that both freelancers and agencies track, with approximately a third of respondents finding email contact and engagement statistics impactful enough to monitor for 

Meanwhile, 66% of agencies increased their revenue, and 49% grew their teams. In contrast, only 50% increased their revenue 2020, and 22% added to their staff.  

Agencies were profitable in 2021, with only 15% saying they had zero profit.

In contrast, 29% recorded 1-10%, 26% had 11-20%, 15% achieved 21-30% and 9% from 31-40%. In addition, 2% had 41-50% and 4% achieved 51%. 

But agencies faced several business barriers, including client budgets too small (50%), too little time spent on ew business (40%), delays/slow client decisions (30%) and too few leads (24%).  

How did agency owners and executives fare? Of those polled, 78% used profits from the business to invest in other ventures and 34% paid into a pension from the profits of the business.

In addition, 17% paid themselves a bonus based on the agency’s performance, and 15% paid themselves a regular monthly amount from the business. 

For their part,  54% of freelancers increased their year-over-year revenue in 2021. Last year, 45% did so. Their chief barriers? Client budgets too small (50%), too little time spent on new business (40%), too few leads (25%) and delayed/slow client decisions. 

In another sign of shifting trends, 30% of agencies spent from 1-5% of their net profit on environmental and social impact. And while 24% spend less than 1%, 12% shelled out more than 6%.  

Freelancers also tried to do good, with 53% doing pro bono work and 46% making charitable donations. Another 20% work only with firms or charities with a similar bent, and 19% worked towards Net Zero, the study adds.  

Mailchimp, which was recently acquired by Intuit, surveyed over 2,000 agencies and freelancers from 63 countries. The survey was live from mid-January to mid-February of this year, and promoted across Mailchimp’s social channels, through email, and with the help of global sponsors. Mailchimp also took advantage of the network of partners at The Agency Collective.






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