Looking for tips on advertising agency management? Look no further. I just attended a Disney Institute event where I was reminded of Walt Disney’s business philosophy. I am paraphrasing here, but basically Walt said, “If you take good care of your employees, they’ll take good care of your customers. And that takes good care of your bank account.”  In other words — employees first.

Agency owners are so busy with advertising agency management, chasing after new business and putting out fires that it’s easy to take the employees for granted.  (Unless they’re the ones on fire — then they occupy all of your attention!)

The speed of agency life often gets in the way of an advertising agency owner really focusing on if they’re setting up their employees to be successful.

Now when I say employees first in advertising agency management — I’m not suggesting they only work 35 hours, get foot massages at their desks and that you keep the fridge stocked with caviar. We all know that working at an agency is not for sissies — it’s tough stuff. The deadlines can be killer, the clients are demanding and when the work load is heavy — the days are late and long.

All the more reason to create an environment where your employees know that you have their back and you want them to be successful.

What does an employees-first agency look like – it has vision/values that defines who they are

  • The agency has a profile of the kind of person who thrives in the agency (hire for attitude, train for aptitude)
  • The agency has a strong sense of its own traditions and heritage and a way to share/teach them to new recruits
  • There’s a defined set of values that EVERY employee can not only recite but give examples of how those values are brought to life
  • There’s a culture that has been created on purpose and it is tended to regularly

What does an employees first agency look like – it’s proactive

  • The agency is always looking for right fit employees, whether they have an opening or not
  • There’s a screening/interview process where their non-negotiables are clearly outlined (let the wrong ones self select out)
  • There is a carefully orchestrated on-boarding process that takes the time to teach the new employee about the culture of the agency, the clients you serve, the different departments and then, eventually, their own job requirements.

What does an employees first agency look like – it encourages everyone to act/think like an owner

  • The agency has an open door policy and welcomes input from employees
  • There’s a lot of cross training/collaboration so thinking can’t get stale
  • Employees are empowered to do what it takes to truly care for the clients
  • Great ideas are celebrated — regardless of where they come from in the organization

What does an employees first agency look like – it provides direction/mentoring

  • The new employee knows that they’re going to have regular feedback meetings with their supervisor
  • Everyone in the agency is committed to lifelong learning and each employee has a defined learning path
  • The agency encourages collaborative thinking not just for the clients’ business but for the agency as well
  • The agency invests in training for its people — and encourages those who are trained to bring that new knowledge back to the team

What does an employees first agency look like – it celebrates growth, wins and learning

  • Gold Medal Employees are recognized for honoring the values and helping to meet company goals
  • There’s a sense of play and fun in the air on a regular basis
  • Everyone knows what the goals are and are kept up-to-date on progress towards those goals
  • The agency’s bonus program is tied to financial metrics, not just “it’s December and we had some money left over.”

Whew… that’s a lot. But is it what separates the advertising agencies who consistently have low turnover and high profits.  We’re entering into an era when employees are going to have the upper hand.  Agencies will work harder to attract and retain great employees.  You need to create a workplace that is so appealing that even though you may not pay what one of the big box agencies pay — they choose to work for you.

Of course…there’s one element to effective advertising agency management that I haven’t mentioned yet and ultimately it is the most important aspect of creating an employees-first culture: the leader. As the fearless leader of your agency, you need to make sure you are investing in your people and mentoring your employees for growth.

This isn’t something you can fake long-term. So if you don’t really buy it, don’t try it. They’ll smell a fake a mile away.

Creating an agency that Walt Disney would approve of — an agency that takes great care of the employees so they will take great care of the customers — is not easy. But it’s doable and the rewards are huge.