Smart Agency Podcast: The #1 Digital Agency Podcast for Social Media, SEO, PPC & Creative Agencies

Building Your Agency Brand Is Easier Than You Think

Juju Hook was a corporate brand strategist for over 30 years, both on the client-side, as well as agency-side. She built a successful boutique agency from scratch in 2000. Her agency developed a reputation for smart, creative work with solid results working with big brands in the banking and auto industries. Today Juju shares lessons on the dangers of letting clients negotiate prices and how you can stop it. She also shares how to be more strategic and get paid for strategy rather than allowing clients to treat your agency like a commodity, and why branding your agency based on your values will help land the best clients.


Apple | Spotify | iHeart Radio | Stitcher | Radio FM

3 Golden Nuggets

  1. Be invaluable to clients and stop being an order-taker. When you understand the client's financials and goals you move from offering project management to being paid for strategy.
  2. Sharing your personal brand helps you align with the right clients. The best branding is built based on values. What do you stand for? What do you believe in? What do you lend your voice for? You already have a brand. It's not a matter of creating it; it's a matter of sharing what already exists.
  3. Stop letting clients negotiate prices. You're worth what you're worth based on experience and the value you provide. The only prospects trying to negotiate agency prices are the ones who are not the right fit anyway.

Sponsors and Resources

Verblio: Today's episode of the Smart Agency Masterclass is sponsored by Verblio. Check out and get 50% off your first month of content creation. Our team loves using Verblio because of the ease in their process and their large pool of crowd-sourced writers.



Jason: [00:00:00] On this episode, we talk about how you get more strategic rather than being an order taker? And how can you build your brand around what you stand for? A lot of us struggle with, how do we start, even though we actually do this for clients, but it's a really interesting conversation. And  I think you'll really love it.

Hey Juju, welcome to the show.

Juju: [00:00:28] Thank you. I'm happy to be here.

Jason: [00:00:29] I'm excited to have you on. So tell us who you are and what do you do?

Juju: [00:00:33] So I am Juju Hook. I've been a brand strategist for 30 some years. I started out on the corporate side and financial industry and then opened my own agency in 2000. And in 2015, I closed my agency and made a move toward helping women in midlife build theirs.

Jason: [00:00:52] Awesome. And so how did you get started in 2000? Like I, I started our agency in '99, so it was kind of like the wild wild west.

Juju: [00:01:01] So I worked in the financial industry for some years. And then I became a marketing director for Jacuzzi and ran their brands worldwide, 63 countries.

And that was a wild ride. I started in banking and automotive. So yeah. And was raised with car dealers, but hot tub dealers was a whole other deal. That was just a completely different perspective on branding. And then I got pregnant and I had an international job. I was flying all over. It was really, it was just the kind of thing where I knew I was going to either need to take time off work or make a switch on what I was doing.

And so I decided to become a free agent and ended up working for Jacuzzi as a consultant and launched an agency. When my son was an infant.

Jason: [00:01:50] Oh, that's cool. So Jacuzzi was your first client?

Juju: [00:01:53] Jacuzzi was my last job and my first client. Yeah.

Jason: [00:01:56] Oh yeah, I've done that a lot. Like they don't want to lose you. They're like, well, just you're a consultant for us.

Juju: [00:02:03] And strategy is a funny thing, right? Because if you're the one that's been writing the plan, oftentimes that's what they'll ask you to come back for. Right. It's a plan and somebody else can implement it. And I've always been keen on that. Anyway, I've always been more interested in the 30,000-foot view than, than the minutia.

So, which I think helps an agency owner.

Jason: [00:02:21] Yeah. And that really separates a lot of people. You know, my background was kind of the complete opposite. Like we started the agency basically from doing websites and it was very hard and I find it very hard for people once they're the doers and they're getting paid to do something it's hard to go to the strategy.

They're just like all project-based, even if they do recurring, they're still basically just trading time for money, but they're not really getting that intellectual property. So, for those people listening. How do you think they can be more strategic rather than kind of the order takers?

Juju: [00:02:57] First of all. I think that kind of thinking, to be honest is something that you're, you have a proclivity for. So I think interestingly enough, the first time I took the strengths finders, strategy was my number one strength. And it said, this is something you're born with. Right. So I think, I think we all have a proclivity towards certain ways of thinking.

So if you can take the time to understand your client's financial statements and the financial goals and struggles that your clients have, it'll put you in a more strategic role. It's not about managing the project. It's about how does the project contribute to whatever their overall goals are. And I don't know that that is a comfortable position for everybody who works, especially on the creative side of the agency world.

But it is the difference between, you know, rising up through the ranks and staying where you're at in project management.

Jason: [00:03:47] Yeah. I was thinking about it. It's about asking the right questions in order to figure out the end outcome. That's kind of how I got out of that, that mindset of going damn. How do I get Lotus cars to come to us and be like, this is the problem I have other than go design me this micro-site or this website or this.

Juju: [00:04:09] Yeah, I think, you know, tactics are, we pulled together tactics to employ a strategy. And if you don't understand what the strategy is, right, and the strategy is not really driven by goals that you understand, then you're always going to be separated from where the action really is. And I think our value in terms of being able to implement the strategies that our clients want is directly related to how long we get to serve them.

Jason: [00:04:33] Awesome. Take us through kind of the 15 year journey in the agency. And then, you know, tell us about, you know, at the end kind of, why did you close up?

Juju: [00:04:44] So I started with a virtual sort of organization before things were really virtual. And I had a ton of agency exposure, had hired a lot of agencies.

And so I knew a lot of super-sharp creative people. And initially, I teamed up with folks I had worked with before and started to produce for. The two industries that I knew best, which were banking and automotive, which is a pretty dry, it's a pretty dry slate, but it worked for me.

Jason: [00:05:11] We tried to break into banking. So I don't know how you did it.

Juju: [00:05:14] It's rough. And I'll tell you, it's so interesting because the disclosure side of that in terms of having to, you know, disclose and validate and be transparent about everything you do is as difficult as. The strategy side, right? Like the artists, the designers used to go crazy that you'd have, you know, these amazing pieces.

Right. And half of it would be disclosure at the time. I was very heavy in direct mail and in merchandising. So we spent a lot of time on things that folks don't do much anymore, but, and I guess 15 years, you know, it doesn't seem like that long ago, but it was, and, and I worked my way up to the point where I employed a staff.

Pulled people in. I had a professional photographer on board. I had a full-time designer. We still subbed out a number of different things. I had a media buyer who was working full time and then 2008, 2009, the recession hit. We had a lot of clients in-home development at that point as well in banking, automotive, and home development.

And so it was a real quick slide over a period of time from about 2008, until about 2010. I treated all of the folks who were working for the agency and went to a full virtual model and like I said, stayed with it until about 2015. At that point, my biggest client was Auto Nation.. We were running their, they had a concierge program that went hand-in-hand with the financial industry. And so they were working with insurance companies and credit unions and all different kinds of, of companies to provide this sort of white label concierge product that we just syndicated again and again and again and again the branding for. And they took that model into their showrooms.

And so we could see about six months before it was going to happen. Okay, we're going to, we're going to lose this book of business because they're going to take this model under their showrooms. And, um, at that point I just knew I had been in the game long enough and I was, I didn't want to do it anymore.

I didn't want to go into any more boardrooms and, and fight for any more business that I think the agency businesses, it takes a toll on you. And so I decided to shift my, my work toward women in mid-life, which I was. I was struggling with a lot of the questions that midlife women have around getting older and, and your value and your worth and your level of contribution.

And so I decided to sort of shut it down as projects closed and, and help the team move on. And that's what I did. And now I have, um, an immersion program where I help 15 women a year build their own personal brands and, and get out in front of what often our agency type businesses.

Jason: [00:07:59] Very cool. And so, let's talk a little bit about kind of building a brand.

One of the things I tell agency owners is one of the key roles out of the five roles that when you transition to being the CEO, rather than the owner of doing everything is being the face of the organization. And you really have to build a brand around you rather than being a faceless company. And it's kind of funny too, right?

Like if you think about it, like these agencies do this for other people, but they have a hard time doing it for themselves. So what can they actually do in order to build their brand or what are some things?

Juju: [00:08:35] So, first of all, I think we have all have a hard time doing it for ourselves because it's, it requires a fair amount of chutzpah and it feels in your face.

It's unnatural for a lot of people to do this. I think there are a couple of ways that we can emerge. Number one is we have to really get in touch with our essence. And a lot of times I meet people who will say, Oh, I don't really have anything to brand. I don't have a differentiator. There's nothing different about me.

But everybody is literally imbued with an essence, right? With whatever's your sort of concentrated flavor, concentrated scent. And if you can get down to that, it's all about attraction, right? Attraction as a singular thing, I'm attracted to a person, a person's attracted back to me, same thing with an organization, but an organization can't really make a decision about you and about your agency unless they can see you completely.

Otherwise, they're making a decision on some kind of watered-down version of you, right. Or some piece of you they can't see. And so I really, really encourage people to go out and get in touch with what is it that you're about, right? What's that combination of strength and skill and personality and, you know, tendencies and all those things that make you who you are.

And I think when you then attach that to your values, which is becoming more and more common in terms of branding and, and really being a values-based brand, people really have a chance to connect. And that that connection happens in a very real way.

That builds long-term relationships.

Jason: [00:10:01] Yeah. You know, I totally agree with that. When I first started doing this business or really even going back to the agency business, I really didn't put my personal brand out there. Not at all. It wasn't a thing, right? Like until Gary Vaynerchuk came along and I was like hustle, hustle, hustle, which I'm like work hard and show up, you don't have to work all the time.

And then after I sold the agency, I really was like, okay, let me start doing videos like Gary. And it just wasn't clicking. And it was only up to maybe a couple of years ago, I started just putting out a little bits and pieces about my journey or what I love doing like mountain biking, or we started, you know, we built our dream home in Colorado and I started documenting that a little bit.

Not like the checkout, our Ferrari's or yeah. And so, but we started attracting people that loved the outdoors. They love the adventure and all of that. And it's just like, when we've been growing the mastermind, it's like, it's all these amazing people. And then I think back at what we started putting out, I was like, that's why, yeah.

Juju: [00:11:07] That's what you attracted. Yes. And you know, it's interesting because early on when I was building brand strategies for organizations, everybody talked about mission and vision, right. It was very common to do these mission and vision and values. Sort of, you know, seminars or weekend sessions for these big corporations, but there was never any question about whether the agency that was leading them or, I shared those values.

Right. That just wasn't the kind of thing that anybody talked about. And then as the internet made things more and more transparent, and everybody came to want to know who is it that I'm doing business with things really shifted. And you can see that now from big agency to small agency, I'm watching it happen in the arena of social justice right now.

You can see agencies really clamoring to get a handle on how do we deal with this? How do we guide our clients through this? Right? And on all different sides of the spectrum in terms of what you believe. But that connection is more important than ever. And, you know, we marry people who believe what we believe.

We hang out with them, we date them. We, we vacation with them. Right. We follow them, we've read them and it's just become, you know, to, to some extent, I suppose it creates an echo chamber. Right. But on the other side, it creates really strong relationships that allow your clients to talk out loud about the things they want to talk out loud about knowing that you're invested in the outcome.

I would never be invested in the outcome of my client's businesses early on. Right. That wasn't part of it. Now I show up and I'm in it with the client. And so it's a very different world. I think agency-wise than it used to be.

Jason: [00:12:43] Well, it's, it's hard, like looking back at some of the clients that we worked with if I was doing a campaign for women's purses, I couldn't get behind it. Cause, cause I don't have it. But if we were doing a campaign for Lotus cars, you know, I'm like, yeah, I totally, I totally get it. So it makes a huge difference. You've got to, you know, I was watching a video and probably everybody has. I think it's from Simon Sinek on like, start with why. He talks about like, you, never hire, or you work with people that are your identical twin, but you, you surround yourself with people that believe in similar things.

And it allows you to really build that brand. Because when I got into this business, you know, helping agencies. I saw everybody just doing blog posts and it had no personality. And I was like, I'm gonna do video. I'm gonna do a podcast just so people can hear the tone or the joking around or whatever, the, whatever it is.

And then, you know, when they meet you, they're like, I know you. Which is kind of freaky.

Juju: [00:13:44] Yeah. And what you stand for. I think standing for something, you know, the world has shifted in, in so many ways in America, right. And, and business and life are so intertwined now and all of the money and the influence, it's things have just taken on a different shape.

And I think people are much more inclined now to speak out loud about what they stand for. And I also think at a certain point in life contribution takes on a different meaning. And I see this happen to a lot of people as they get older. And it definitely happened to me as I started to push 50. The kind of contribution that I wanted to have in the world was different.

And it wasn't enough for me to just help corporations stuff, dollar bills into their pocket. Right. And support my lifestyle. I wanted to feel at the end of the day that I had made a difference in someone's life. And that caused me to step forward and say, okay, these are the things I believe in. These are the topics I'm willing to give voice to.

Right. This is what I stand for now. How do I find clients who stand for the same thing so I can help move them forward? And I think not to say that that doesn't happen for young people, I think it does, but I think there's a point in our lives where it, it happens for everybody. You start to really rethink things.

And that definitely happened for me in midlife.

Jason: [00:15:01] Oh yeah. I mean, you know, when you're in your twenties, all you're thinking about is what you don't have.

Juju: [00:15:07] Yeah. And how are you going to survive? How are you going to make it? And what's your trajectory going to look like? And, you know, we all start out with this idea of, this is what my life's going to look like.

I'm going to go to school here. I'm going to do this. I'm going to create this. I'm going to marry this person. I'm going to build a family. We don't have a lot of discussion around what happens after I do all that. Right. What happens when I'm 50, I've checked off all those boxes. Now, do I start again? Do I, how do I pivot?

And I think those of us that are in branding and advertising and messaging and marketing, there's a way to sort of pivot that mastery to something new and midlife. That allows you to stay in the game and contribute on a different level. And a lot of that is very values-based stuff

Jason: [00:15:51] Yeah, I realized after I sold the agency, I was like, I was craving that significance again. And I was like, well, how can I contribute rather than, you know, it felt like before then I was just a taker.

Juju: [00:16:06] Yeah. And well, and I think that's part of the game, right? I mean, that's the way it's all set up is you, you gotta sort of, you gotta make your way, you gotta figure it out.

And I think when we're young, we're not as, yeah geared toward, how can I be useful? As we are toward -- and, you know, maybe it's not fair to say it's old and young. Maybe that's not really the way it breaks out, but I know when I was younger, I was much more interested in what it would take for me to get where I needed to go than I was in, how do I be of service? Right?

And I think that's one of the things that happens the longer you've been in the game. You realize that it's really, it's really the service side and the purpose side that keeps you in it. Right. That's what gets you to wake up every day and go, okay, I'm going to show up and I'm going to do this, the money side and the significant side.

It lasts so long, but it feels a little hollow after a while. And I think that's, I noticed that search trajectory for a lot of folks.

Jason: [00:17:02] What are some things. You know, let's say there's, a lot of people listening right now that are in the middle of their career, they're just kind of getting by. What are some of the things that they can do and building the brand and getting to a place where, you know, it means a lot more to them?

Because, you know, I talk to so many people all day long. They're just like I did this agency. I'm ready to get out because there's no real meaning behind it.

Juju: [00:17:27] Yeah. So I would start with manifesto work. I do manifest it work with tons of people and I'm not talking about just around, you know, making something pretty that you say out loud, but really understanding what are the things that you want to feel on a daily basis.

Right? How do you want to feel, how do you imagine the perfect life being, you know, for you and for other people? What do you believe in? What are you willing to stand for? I very often ask my women clients, what are the issues that you're willing to give your voice to? And what are the issues that you would never give your voice to?

Or what are the things that you stand against? And then go find clients that are making inroads in those areas. Go find clients with the money and the clout and the push to ride. What matters to you because that's going to change the nature of the work. It's not about completing a project and getting paid, while that happens, it's about completing a project and changing the world or moving things forward. And I think when we're surrounded by like-minded people who are in a fight that we're in everything shifts and in my mind that really starts with manifesto work.

Jason: [00:18:35] Yeah. I love kind of the, you know, just that simple concept that you mentioned of kind of like build your brand for what you stand for.

Because, like you were saying in the beginning, a lot of people are like, well, how do I build a brand? Like, well, you've already have a brand.

Juju: [00:18:47] Of course. You live it every day.

Jason: [00:18:49] I'm like, it's just about communicating it and figuring it out. And I always like to tell people, it's not just with the written word, like, please do a podcast or a video.

Juju: [00:19:00] Yeah. It's who you are. And we get this idea that we're creating it. We're building a brand, we're creating a brand. We're not creating it. We're showing it. Right. This is what it is. How do I show it? How do I show people who I am, what I'm about, what I'm worth, what I stand for, what I want and all of that can be really polarizing.

It doesn't have to be. Right? But it can be. And we're also afraid of that, right? If I show myself completely, there'll be people who don't like me, but there will also be people who love you. People who get you, people who want to be next to you. People who want you to fight for them. And it's much easier to maintain longer, big money, intricate relationships if people love you. Right? Then if there are lukewarm around about.

Jason: [00:19:44] It eliminates the bad clients later on and like you going, man, I, you know, I took this client on because,  you know, I was a little strapped for cash, but now it's a complete nightmare and blowing up in my face, which is making it even more miserable. Versus, you know, maybe I didn't win as much business, but at the end of the day, you're going to win way more business and have a lot more fun working with the people that are in the similar boat.

Juju: [00:20:11] And you're going to be able to stand up for yourself, you know, that, but the biggest emotion for me that was a killer in my agency curve is resentment. Because it would have these clients who would come at me and the very first thing they want to do is negotiate. And they wanted to negotiate on my value as a human.

Right? So it's, well, I don't want to pay you this. I'll pay you this. And in early on in my career, I would negotiate that, I would talk about that. It was only when I got to a point where I did the head work around, this is what I'm worth. This is what I stand for. I don't want to take that. Right? I don't offer bad marketing.

Oftentimes, I would have clients who say, well, you know, we don't want to do this and we don't want to do the strategy work. We just want to do this. And when I finally got to the point where I would say I did it, and I don't offer that as a service, like, I don't know, offer quick and dirty marketing. I'm sure there are people who do I don't sell that. That everything started to shift for me and that resentment, as soon as we sign on to a client or a relationship where we haven't properly set boundaries we are in this resentful position until the relationship ends.

And I watch agency owners do that over and over and over again. And they feel out of alignment with themselves all day long in order to take the money. And it's, it's just a practice learning not to do it.

Jason: [00:21:25] Yeah, I have people all the time they're like, we'll give you this amount for your online program. I'm like, no, it's this or the other day I just was skimming through emails and this one person was like, I read it. Like, I just want to give you $500 cause you helped me out. Like we get that all the time. And then a couple of days later, he was like, I haven't got access to the Agency Playbook.

I'm like, so I go back to the email and read it. Yeah. Skimming it. Right? Like my ADD is kicking in and it was like, I'll give you $500 right now, and you do the Playbook. And I was like, sorry, I read it wrong. I'm refunding your $500. You know? And then he was like, well, really, like, you don't have to do anything.

I was like, but you're not going to value it. Like you're already devaluing it.

Juju: [00:22:08] Exactly. And I didn't offer you that, right. That's not for sale at that price. And I think, you know, back to that original question we talked about around, how can I be more strategic? How can I be a person with creative skills or project management skills who's more strategic?

When you invest your time in that, like, I had to force myself to go to MBA school and I wasn't great at MBA school. It was not a natural state for me, but I did it right. I really had to go. I am fully driven by intuition. Right. So data-driven exercises are work for me, but I did the work.

And when you make that shift, when you really can lay that strategic piece over top, it eliminates some of the discounting that people do about the creative side of things that they don't understand. This is very easy for people to discount. That creative side of the work. Right. And that messaging side and all of that understanding of human psychology people don't value it.

And so when you can lay that strategic piece over top, I think you eliminate some of that, or you put yourself in a position where you can push back harder.

Jason: [00:23:13] Yeah. I mean, once you start negotiating, um, and lowering your prices, you're never going to get out of that because they're always going to think you're coming out high.

I mean, even when I was buying a car, I remember I went in, I did not want to buy a Jeep a couple of years ago. And I went in and I just low-balled the crap out of them for this new Jeep. And they said, yes, I'm like, crap. I should have said lower. Like, I didn't feel like I got the right deal.

Juju: [00:23:37] Yeah. And you know, here's the thing never, ever, ever negotiate on your own hourly rate.

I'll work less hours for you. Right. And if we work less hours, this is the work product you're going to get, but I'm not going to work the same number of hours for less money because it's, this is my business. Right? This is my business. This is what I do.

Jason: [00:23:57] Yeah. And what people don't understand and especially what they'll do is they'll come back and be like, well, so-and-so over there on Upwork can do it for $20 an hour where, and I'm like, well, you don't value your time as much as I thought you did. And they're like, what do you mean?

I'm like, well, sure you can go to them, but you're gonna probably spend four times amount of time managing this person in order to get what you want. And there it's still a 50/ 50 shot on this versus going our way. And you probably get there 90% of the time and you'll have to require this amount of time.

Juju: [00:24:35] And I don't know for that service. So I don't offer a service for clients cycled through the internet and randomly choose me with no ramp-up and no relationship and no understanding of their product or their goals or their financial statements, so that I can do a four-hour job.

I don't, I don't have that service. I can see if you want to buy that, but that's not what we sell here. Right. And I think that that tie back to this is the relationship. This is why we're working together. This is what we're in together. This is what we're trying to accomplish. That's what an agency does.

An agency doesn't present itself on the web and, you know, blind of any relationship deliver creative product, Willy nilly. That's a different business model.

Jason: [00:25:17] Well, I even think like, even if you go back to the, kind of the origin of an agency, like they're the, they were the middlemen. I remember I was doing a video a long time ago about you're in the car industry. Right? So remember, well we know no one remembers when cars first came out,

I was like, put my, you know, my foot and be like, you remember this? So when they actually came out with cars, they couldn't go direct. They had to create car dealers. So they were the middlemen. But even now the car dealers are probably going to start suffering because of the manufacturers can go direct.

Same thing with, you know, Facebook, when they came out with advertising, they went to agencies. You know, Facebook is more going directly in there. And so the whole point of being the agency, it's about not just being that middleman, but being strategic and building that relationship with those people, like you were saying, and that's really how you can be strategic and then they can never really leave you until you say buzz off.

Juju: [00:26:17] And understanding how the industry works. You know, for a very long time, I made the lion's share of my personal money, negotiating advertising for people, right. This is how this works. This is the space you're going to get. This is how many people are going to see it. This is how we're going to use it. This is, you know, who's gonna see it. Right. And those were all negotiations that our agency made on behalf of the clients. And for that, we got paid, we didn't get paid by the client. We got paid by the media company because we were professionals who understood the industry and understood those demographics and understood that region.

So I think since all of the freelancing has started. And all of this sort of talent inside an agency have been broken off. Clients have lost sight of the value of having someone stand in between what I'm trying to accomplish as a corporation, or, you know, as a business, as a person and what this creative person is supposed to deliver.

There's a translation there that happens in a real agency model. And without that, that relationship suffers. You got a different relationship.

Jason: [00:27:25] Awesome. This has all been amazing. Is there anything I didn't ask you that you think would benefit the audience?

Juju: [00:27:31] I think there's some benefit around understanding the way creative people work for agency owners for people who are listening, right?

Like you said, you came up, you know, from, from that project management side or down in the project. I think one of the things that makes a really amazing and profitable agency is understanding that creatives are constantly and always giving a piece of themselves.

Right. Every, every job that a creative professional does, whether I'm a writer or a photographer or a designer or whatever is an extension itself, that at least the folks who are good, right. Every time they're putting on a piece of themselves. And that's really difficult, it's a tender process to manage.

And when CEOs or business owners go direct to the creatives oftentimes that process ends in resentment as well. And so that's a piece of leadership, I think in the agency world that gets, sometimes get kicked to the curb. And, and I think there's a real sweet spot in there. There's a real understanding, of human potential there that separates one agency from the next.

Jason: [00:28:45] Awesome. Since you only work with women in their midlife, if you're a woman in your midlife, where can they go?

Juju: [00:28:52] So you can find me at I have a download always at that helps with personal branding, always with personal branding out in front. And I have a, I have a group of 15 women every year who I take through a nine-month immersion branding program called The Cut.

Jason: [00:29:12] Awesome. Well, everybody go check that out and thanks so much for coming on the show. And if you guys enjoyed this episode and you want to be surrounded by amazing agency owners on a consistent basis where we can really build that relationship with you and see the things that you may not be able to say and help catapult and grow your agency to where you want it to go, rather than where it's going to dictate you to go.

I want to invite all of you to go to the that's And until next time have a Swenk day.

Direct download: Building_Your_Agency_Brand_Is_Easier_Than_You_Think.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:00am MDT