Think you understand the Millennials in your agency? You might be surprised. Think you know what motivates your employees? You might be surprised. Think you know what your best employees want and need from you? You know the answer – they just might surprise you.

Here’s the good news – we can give you a very healthy glimpse into the concerns, wants and needs of your team.

This past summer, AMI partnered with my podcast guest Susan Baier and her team at Audience Audit to talk to almost 1,000 agency employees about their work.

The result was the 2016 Agency Workforce Report.

We set out to find the answers to the questions above as well as many others. A lot of what we think we know about our agency employees flies in the face of their truth. So we kept digging to discover what they value, what motivates them and what they want more of down the road.

In this podcast, we walk you through the data and provide you with a snapshot of the results. If you want to get to know your employees and learn what you can do to motivate and keep them, this podcast should be illuminating. Come dig into the results with Susan and me:    

  • Our 2016 Agency Workforce Report
  • What made our 2016 research different from other research projects we’ve done in the past
  • How we crunched our data
  • The three types of agency employees that we found in our research: agency advocates, prosperity partners, and “Millennial Mindset” (and why the majority of Millennials don’t fall in the “Millennial Mindset” group)
  • What your agency can do to have less “Millennial Mindset” employees than average
  • Why the opportunity to learn and grow is the most important thing to all employees (especially Millennials)
  • How to give your employees ways to learn and grow that don’t break the bank
  • Why your employees have to be willing to come back from training and events ready to teach the rest of your agency
  • Why treating your employees fairly does not mean treating them equally
  • Why making agency advocates happy is easy (and how to cultivate them into the agency leaders of tomorrow)
  • Why you have to help prosperity partners develop their own brand
  • Why you should avoid using the word Millennials

Susan Baier began her career as a brand manager for companies like Dial and Conoco-Philips. She also worked agency side and within client companies in their research departments, honing her skills as a research professional.

Recognizing that primary research was often too expensive for small to mid-sized agencies, she launched Audience Audit, where she conducts quantitative attitudinal audience segmented research. She helps her agency clients develop marketing strategy for their clients based on customer insights.

They find it much easier to develop messaging, strategic plans, and business development plans with real data that helps them understand how customers who look (demographically) the same behave in very different ways and what motives those choices and behaviors.

Over the past few years, AMI and Audience Audit have partnered together for studies on how business owners find agencies, their attitudes towards working with agencies, and more.

To listen – you can visit the Build A Better Agency site ( and grab either the iTunes or Stitcher files or just listen to it from the web.

If you’d rather just read the conversation, the transcript is below:

Table of Contents (Jump Straight to It!)

  1. Overview of the Report
  2. How the Results Were Calculated
  3. How Groups of Employees Were Segmented
  4. Workforce Segment #1: Agency Advocates
  5. Workforce Segment #2: Prosperity Partners
  6. Workforce Segment #3: Millennial Mindset
  7. Interpreting the Workforce Segmentation Results
  8. The One Thing Each of These Groups Had in Common
  9. Creating Learning Opportunities for Your Employees
  10. More on the Agency Advocates Segment
  11. More on the Prosperity Partners Segment
  12. More on the Millennial Mindset Segment

If you’re going to take the risk of running an agency, shouldn’t you get the benefits too. Welcome to Build a Better Agency, where we show you how to build an agency that can scale and grow with better clients, invested employees and best of all more money to the bottom line. Bringing his 25 plus years of expertise as both an agency owner and agency consultant to you, please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.

Drew McLellan: Hey everybody, Drew McLellan here with another episode of Build a Better Agency. Really excited to be with you today and to have my guest, actually, a repeat guest, Susan Baier of Audience Audit is with us.

As many of you know, Susan and I embark on a research project every year on behalf of Audience Audit and AMI and we also have another partner in that, that we’ll talk about in a second.

But our goal for the first couple of years that we did the research is we spent time talking to CMO’s asking them to talk about their relationships with agencies and as we were approaching the 2016 research we decided that one of the pain points that we’re hearing agency owners talk about over and over and over again are the challenges around some of the employee issues and especially around their Millennial employees.

So, we embarked on a very aggressive study. We ended up getting almost a thousand respondents, employees of agencies and we’ll talk a little bit about who they are and what they look like in a minute, but first let me just welcome Susan to the podcast.

Susan, welcome back.

Susan Baier: Thank you, Drew. It’s always a pleasure to be talking with you.


Overview of the Report

Drew McLellan: Always a pleasure to talk to you as well. Alright, so, this was kind of a different study for us. It was a little more introspective than the first two were.

Susan Baier: Yeah, I mean, that’s one of my favorite things about it actually. I think we’ve done some good work looking at sort of how agency clients make the decisions that they make with regard to agencies, but as you said, as both you and I talked to agencies throughout the year, this other issue would come up and because of some of the partnerships that we had that enabled us to get access to folks, we were able to actually sort of turn the magnifying glass on ourselves, on agencies and what’s going on inside them and their employees which, I just found fascinating.

Drew McLellan: Yeah. So, let’s talk about our partners. Let’s make sure we give them proper credit. So, we certainly reached out to the AMI agencies and asked them to pass it onto their employees and lots of them generously did that, but we also had some other partners in the mix.

Susan Baier: Yeah, we did. One of them is Research Now which, is an international provider of panel respondents and research resources. We’ve worked with them before on last year’s study as well and they were able to get us access to full time agency employees across the country and then our other partner in this one, our media partner, was HubSpot who also sent invitations to the survey to their employee partners and attendees for their national inbound conference and got us a lot of other again, full time agency employees in a wide age range which, we’ll talk about, but that was great.

So, between your resources through AMI and your agency relationships and what we were able to access through those two terrific organizations, we ended up with a really robust study.

Drew McLellan: Yeah. So, almost a thousand respondents, right?

Susan Baier: Yeah, I think it was about 950 finally when we cleaned the data and everything. So, yeah, that was great and all full time agency folks. All different sizes of agencies, all different ages of respondents.

People who’d been working at agencies for different lengths of time some of whom this was their first agency job and others who had had many agency jobs. So, a really, just a good group. A very engaged group. We got a lot of really good information out of this one.


How the Results Were Calculated

Drew McLellan: And for folks who are listening, who may not be familiar with the kind of research you do, do you want to explain a little bit about the methodology of how we … when I say we, I mean, you. I want to be really clear about that. How we crunched the data and came up with the results that we did.

Susan Baier: Yeah, so, our research is a little different than that, that a lot of folks may have experience with. Not in how it’s developed really. We do online survey research. It’s anonymous and ask folks a bunch of questions, right. Pretty standard sort of survey approach, but …

Drew McLellan: It was about 15 minutes worth of questions, right?

Susan Baier: It was about 15 minutes, that’s right, but we believe that and have seen evidence that folks make decisions not based on sort of the typical things people look at, right, like how old are you or how big is your agency or those kind of measures, but really sort of their attitudes about things are what are driving the decisions that they make and how they feel about situations that they’re in. That’s called attitudinal segmentation. So, that’s a typical analytical approach based on how we build the survey and the kinds of questions we ask.

We then can crunch that data and look at how folks are grouped, not by how old they are or how tall they are or how much money they make or their gender, but by how they feel about things.  

As a result of that kind of analysis we often see really different patterns among groups of folks in terms of how they approach problems that they’re trying to solve, the kinds of things that they’re interested in and that they think would help them, etcetera.  

And that was sort of how we approached this study as well because it’s revealed some really interesting things in the past for our work together as well as the work we do with clients and agencies.  And sure enough, we saw some very interesting things this time around when we applied that same approach.

Drew McLellan: So, one of the things that the research afforded us because we had such a large number of respondents … It allowed us to slice and dice the data in a lot of ways and while we didn’t tell anybody what our sort of underlying goal was which, was we really wanted to see if Millennials were different from other agency employees and how they’re attitudes and beliefs were different because they’re showing up at work differently and that’s what we’re hearing from agency owners.  

But we were also able to slice and dice in lots of other ways and one of the ways I want to talk about later is how AMI agencies showed up a little differently than non-AMI agencies because that was fascinating.

Susan Baier: Yep, yep, absolutely.


How Groups of Employees Were Segmented

Drew McLellan: But when we really sliced and diced the data, what we found is that there are three very distinct groups of agency employees that are living and breathing inside all of your shops. And that they had very distinct and different and really quite, in some cases, polarizing attitudes about work and about the workplace and about their value at the workplace.  

So, let’s talk a little bit about how the segment shaped up and what we know about those three segments.

Susan Baier: Okay, perfect. Well, we, as you said, we don’t … One approach to this work that is kind of unique for us is we don’t decide ahead of time what we think these attitudinal buckets are going to be, right?

What’s going to define these groups and how many there are and then just stick people in them, right, based on what they say. We really don’t know until we do the analysis how many groups we’re going to have and what’s going to define them. It’s all organic based on how people respond to the questions we ask them.

So, when we crunched the data on this study, it revealed three very different, very distinctive groups within this population of full time agency employees of all ages. You know, about 55 percent of them were Millennials, meaning 35 or under and 45 percent were older than that.

So, we had a really nice distribution of ages, but we found …

Drew McLellan: And by the way, we also divided the Millennials by older Millennials and younger Millennials and we’ll talk about that down the road too, right?

Susan Baier: Yep, yep, absolutely. So, in terms of the attitudes, as you said, we found three different groups and we named them based on sort of the characteristics that we saw associated with them when we sort of took a deep dive in and looked at what was defining these populations.

The first group which, ended up being 37 percent of our total respondent group, we call Agency Advocates. Do you want to talk about each one of these sort of individually as we go along?


Workforce Segment #1: Agency Advocates

Drew McLellan: Yeah, let’s do that.

Susan Baier: Okay. So, Agency Advocates are sort of the employees that we all want, right, as an agency owner. These folks love their job, they love working in the agency they’re working in. They feel respected and valued at work. They feel like their compensation is good. They feel like their employers are focused on keeping them happy and very importantly, as we’ll talk about shortly, really feel that their job provides a lot of opportunities for them to learn important skills.

So, these folks really love what they’re doing and really value the agency they’re at for sort of providing those things like compensation and appreciation and respect and opportunities to learn and don’t appear to put a lot more demands on the agency than that. They’re very satisfied and certainly good advocates for the agency that they’re working in.


Workforce Segment #2: Prosperity Partners

Drew McLellan: Okay, what was the second group?

Susan Baier: So, the second group we call Prosperity Partners. These folks have a really interesting perspective. I found this group particularly fascinating, Drew, because they really see a shared responsibility between their agency employer and themselves in making each other successful.

So, we sort of understand, we’ve probably all worked with people who sit there and think that their employer owes them everything, you know? And these folks aren’t like that. They really believe that they have a responsibility to make their agency successful and their agency has a responsibility to help them build their own acumen, their own expertise, their own reputation and brand and that the two, the collaboration of the two together, is sort of really where it’s at.

So, these folks work hard and put in their side of the bargain and expect their employers to do the same and that’s from allowing them some visibility, being active in the local community that they work in, building their network, the employer offering opportunity for folks to socialize and have fun and learn. It’s a really interesting group. That’s the second group. We call them Prosperity Partners.

Then the third group …

Drew McLellan: Hang on a second. So, again, just a reminder for those of you who aren’t as familiar with the research, I want to make sure you understand that there’s no age distinction in these groups.

So, there are people from every age group in the first two groups that we talked about. So, there are Millennials who showed up as Agency Advocates. There are Millennials …

Susan Baier: Yep.

Drew McLellan: So, it’s not age dependent.

Susan Baier: No, and it’s not an artificial construct where we said let’s put equal numbers of all age groups in each of these buckets. It’s just how it shakes out and as you know, and we’ve seen before in the work we’ve done together, those kind of characteristics often don’t fall into these sharply delineated attitudinal groups.

We often see, you know, in our previous research, we saw large companies and small companies fall into the same sort of attitudinal groups and we see the same thing here with a really interesting distribution of age across all of these segments.


Workforce Segment #3: Millennial Mindset

Drew McLellan: Yeah, and now the third group by it’s name you might think is all about the Millennials, but we’re going to clarify that for you in second.

Susan Baier: Yeah, so, we call this group Millennial Mindset in quotes and that name is based on sort of I think what we all have come to carry around with us in terms of generalizations about this age group, right. We all, you know, these days if somebody says, oh they’re Millennial, I think we all unfortunately, that brings to mind a set of expectations of set of beliefs about this group.

Drew McLellan: And we don’t say it like, oh, they’re Millennial. Like that is awesome. We say it with sort of a, oh, yeah, they’re a Millennial, right.

Susan Baier: Yeah, unfortunately not. So, this group of people in this particular segment that we’re calling Millennial Mindset have some very interesting perspectives and characteristics. A couple of them are around the difference between younger workers and older workers. So, these folks believe that younger workers are better at managing their time than older workers are.  

That they understand today’s marketing environment much better than older people do and that they deserve more responsibility at work than they are typically given. They believe that younger workers are typically undervalued, right? So, that, that is a sort of baseline level of expectation that they have.

They also carry this interesting perspective on a couple of fronts that work is really something that they have to do until they can do something else. Whether that’s like owning their own business someday or just doing things that need money for them to enjoy doing, whether, it’s travel or, you know, whatever. Work is sort of just a necessary evil in those regards.

Drew McLellan: Yeah, it’s a means to an end. The end is not about their career as a general rule.

Susan Baier: Right.

Drew McLellan: Yeah.

Susan Baier: So, the fascinating thing about this, when you look at this group in particular, right, is that these are attitudes that I think most of us would look at and go, oh yeah, that’s the young people. That’s the Millennials in that group, but what we found is that a majority, 59 percent of the Millennial respondents in our study are not in this segment.

They are in one of the other two segments. They’re Agency Advocates or Prosperity Partners, not in the Millennial Mindset and 20 percent of the older employees in our study are in this group, okay. So, this sort of Millennial Mindset quote unquote segment like the others, includes folks of all ages and the majority of our Millennials aren’t in this group and 20 percent of our non-Millennials are. So, that was fascinating to me.


Interpreting the Workforce Segmentation Results

Drew McLellan: So, the good news to those of you who own agencies are there are good Millennials out there and there are Millennials who have the attitudes and the behaviors and the motivations that you want in all your employees.

The bad news is there is a Millennial Mindset in your shop and assuming that your shop, you know, again, we have big enough numbers that we can say, it would be unlikely that a shop of even three, four, five, six people wouldn’t have at least one or two Millennial Mindset employees in it. The challenging thing is you can’t recognize them by their age.

So, you’re going to have to start looking deeper into behaviors and attitudes and language and how they show up at work and recognize that the 53 year old that is causing you to pull your hair out because they just don’t really seem to really put in the extra mile or go above and beyond or learn new skills, that’s your Millennial Mindset right there.

Susan Baier: Yep.

Drew McLellan: And they don’t look like a Millennial, but they’re sure behaving like the stereotype that we have assigned that work.

Susan Baier: Yep, and I think you’re right in that statistically the likelihood is that you’ve got all of these going in your shop, but one of the interesting things we did see is that there are some groups of agencies that appear to be better at not having Millennial Mindset employees.

So, for example, when we looked at the participants who work in your AMI agencies, which, is a large group in the study, large enough to sort of break down as a separate, as an independent group … 22 percent of the respondents from AMI agencies are in this Millennial Mindset. They probably don’t realize it, but that’s where the analysis stuck them, right, compared to 36 percent of respondents in non-AMI agencies.

So, who knows, right, whether it’s a cause and effect thing, but certainly as we’re going to talk about a little bit later, I think there are things you could do in your agency to minimize the presence of that particular group, which is I think one you would want to, right, and maximize the presence of the other two which, have tremendous potential, I think, as great employees for your agency.

Drew McLellan: Yeah. I think one of the reasons why the AMI folks have fewer of the Millennial Mindset is hopefully, they’re following a lot of the best practices we teach around hiring and interviewing and also not tolerating mediocre employees or employees who really aren’t there heart and soul for very long and that’s one of the things that I harp on all the time is that small agencies and when I say small I’m talking 150 people or less … Small agencies cannot afford mediocre employees. They just can’t.

Susan Baier: Yep. No, I think you’re completely right. I think the wrinkle that our study can add, right, for agencies … Even those who are pretty good at spotting these attitudes and avoiding people who have them is this revelation that it’s not just the Millennial age group that has this problem.

So, I think that there are probably lots of cases where folks are very weary, very aware of these opinions, these perspectives and attitudes and very determined and practiced at avoiding them, but may only really be … May only be sort of targeting that effort against applicants in a particular age group because they’re assuming that it’s only those applicants that are really the risky ones from the standpoint of these perspectives.  

And what this research shows so clearly is in fact, the majority of folks in that age group aren’t going to be in this segment statistically and that there’s a sizeable chunk, 20 percent of folks older than that who are.

So, I think the research really reveals that yes, we need to watch out for these attitudes and learn how to uncover and avoid them in potential candidates. But that we need to not limit that effort to folks within a certain age group because all it’s going to do is first of all preclude us from discovering whether that exists in somebody older, right?

Because we don’t ask the right questions and also, as we’ve talked about extensively through this research Drew, paint all of our Millennial candidates and employees with a brush, a negative brush that simply doesn’t apply to them.

Drew McLellan: Right, it’s not fair, right.

Susan Baier: It’s not fair.


The One Thing Each of These Groups Had in Common

Drew McLellan: So, you’re losing out on potentially great employees by … In general, it’s the old, you know what you’re getting when you assume. So, if you assume an older candidate is not of the Millennial Mindset or if you assume a Millennial automatically has the Millennial Mindset, in both cases, if you walk into an interview with that bias, it may skew you from either hiring somebody that you shouldn’t hire or not hiring somebody who could be a great candidate.  

And on the flip side, I think it also is as you continue to evaluate and put together growth plans for your existing employees, being able to identify which one of these categories these employees are in.  I want to dig into this more in terms of how you invest in them differently based on how you would categorize them, but before we do that, I want to talk about one of the things that the study, again, 15 minutes worth of questions.

So, it wasn’t just about this Millennial Mindset or the lack thereof, but we talked a lot about sort of what they value about working in an agency, how long they want to stay at an agency and all those things.  And there was one thing that I think is critical for all of you to hear that is without a doubt the most universal finding we found and this, it did not matter which of the audience which of the segments an agency employee fell in.

There was one thing that for all of them was absolutely paramount to them having a good work experience and that was when we asked them what they valued most in terms of how you reward them and what made their work rewarding, across every segment, the number one answer by a pretty sizeable number and Susan, I know you have the numbers handy, but a pretty sizeable number was that they want to continue to be given learning and growing opportunities. That was number one for all of them by a pretty large margin.

Susan Baier: Yeah, I mean, we saw this manifest in a couple of places. One of the main questions we asked was how important are this whole list of things when you’re considering whether … When you considered whether to take a job at your current agency, the job you have, right.

How important were all of these things and as you point out, one of the striking findings in the responses to this particular question was that opportunities to learn and improve my skills was far and away the most important across all age groups and all segments and we had stuff on the list like my salary, a flexible work schedule, vacation and time off, you know, whether my agency is prestigious or a fun place to work, whether I get health insurance, all of these things and universally opportunities to learn and improve my skills were rated the highest. And we’re not talking like this was marginally better.

When we look at the percentage of respondents who said that this was extremely important, right, on a scale of not at all important to extremely important and the percentage of respondents who gave this, that extremely important rating, it was over 70 percent of the respondents that said that particular thing, opportunities to learn and improve my skills was extremely important.

And, you know, for example, flexible work schedule, 42 percent compared to 71 percent for the learning opportunities and health insurance 31 percent. So, we see big differentials on this particular thing and as you pointed out, to the extent that there are differences in this between Millennials and non-Millennials.

First of all, its importance relative to everything else is consistent, right, but both groups said this was way more important than anything else on the list and Millennials even more so. Like for Millennials, this is just strikingly even more so important. So, that was one place we saw this and then when we asked them later in the survey sort of what their employer could best do for them.

Like if their employer could do one thing for them, this is what came up consistently overall more than anything else is help me learn, help me develop, help me improve my skills, help me grow, give me opportunities to do that.

So, a very powerful finding.  And you know, it’s always interesting, I do segmentation research so, I look a lot at the differences between groups and it’s always striking in the context of those differences to see something that is so universally valued, right, across all different permutations. So, that was a really striking finding.


Creating Learning Opportunities for Your Employees

Drew McLellan: Yeah, and I want to make sure that as we’re talking about that, that all of you are thinking about this learning and growing in the broadest context. It doesn’t necessarily mean paying for their master’s program. It doesn’t necessarily mean sending them to a conference every month, although, those are lovely and I’m sure they would welcome them. I want you to think broader than that and I think it start with the relationship that they have with their direct supervisor.

You all know and I’ve done podcasts on it, I am a huge proponent of the one of one meetings and if you haven’t listened to that podcast or you haven’t downloaded that form that I think you should be using with your folks, please do that. Here’s a link to it:  

But on that form the very first thing, and remember the employee owns that meeting, but the very first thing on that form that they fill out every week or every time they have the meeting if you do them every other week is here’s my growth goal for the quarter.

So, I teach, as you all know, that professional development is a shared responsibility and the employee owns part of it and the employer own part of it, but you creating a context where they can talk about what they want to learn, how they are working on learning it and that you can support them either financially, through mentorship, through helping them connect to other people in the community or other professionals that you may know or they can do maybe a job shadow.

There are lots of ways for you to create learning opportunities. Lunch and learns, where you bring in other experts. Exposing them to some of the webinars that AMI and some of the other agency consultants do.

Susan Baier: Even leadership opportunities. Like regularly contributing to the agency blog under their own by-line. Or representing the agency at community events or conferences or things like that. I mean, I just think there’s a lot of really neat stuff you can do and once you understand sort of what’s really motivating these people and what they’re interested in, I think you can come up with a lot more ideas, just by understanding sort of what these folks are into and what they’re looking for and what matters.

Drew McLellan: I think the biggest thing is that you make it clear to them that you care. You care about them continuing to grow and learn and you’re willing to invest your attention and your time and to a certain extent some money into that and create those sort of learning opportunities inside the entire agency also. So, it doesn’t have to be by the individual.

Also, it can be for groups, you know, your account service group or your creative group or anything like that.  But you can’t ignore this data point because it is so universal and it is so significant in terms of the number of respondents who ranked it their number one response that, you know, right now a lot of you are growing and you’re struggling to find and keep great employees and the employee shortage is not going to get better any time soon.

So, you want to create an environment that makes all of them feel like they can’t afford to leave you because it’s such a great environment.

Susan Baier: Yeah, and the other thing I think the research revealed was that agencies shouldn’t be afraid to ask employees to contribute in return. I think that what we saw from our respondents is an acceptance of their role, right, in helping the agency be successful as well.

So, I think that owners shouldn’t be afraid to say, hey, this is … I’m willing to help you do this and you could really help us by doing this.

Drew McLellan: Yeah, by coming back and teaching what you learned or whatever and by the way, that’s a great witness to us. So, the first two groups, Agency Advocates and Prosperity Partners, they’re willing to … They get that they owe the agency something and they are willing to do a quid pro quo, look you send me to the conference or you let me take this class or you let me do that and yes, I will do a lunch and learn.

One of the signs to you that perhaps, an employee is more a Millennial Mindset is if they push back on that, if that just seems like a burden that they would have to then turn around and teach all of that, that’s a sign to you that perhaps, that’s what you have in front of you.

I think one of the other big findings from this study, one of the big insights or, a-ha moments for me is to remind all of you that your employees are choosing to invest at different levels and to show up and give you 70 percent or 90 percent or 110 percent and so, it’s okay … I think sometimes we are, we’re a little like the parents who want to make sure that the four kids all have the same number of presents under the Christmas tree and we try and treat every employee exactly the same.  

And I think one of the moments of clarity for me around this study is a reminder that there are certain employees that you should invest in more than others and there’s nothing wrong with treating them … You need to treat them all fa