About Drew McLellan

For almost 30 years, Drew McLellan has been in the advertising industry. He started his career at Y&R, worked in boutique-sized agencies and then started his own (which he still owns and run) agency in 1995. Additionally, Drew owns and leads Agency Management Institute, which advises hundred of small to mid-sized agencies on how to grow their agency and its profitability through agency owner peer groups, consulting, coaching, workshops and more.

Planning

We preach to our clients that they need a marketing plan and budget.  We ask about their goals so that our efforts help them cross the right finish line. We understand that it's pretty difficult to get to a destination when we have no idea what that destination is. And yet most agency owners do a lousy job of planning for their own agency. We might set a gross billings or AGI goal but beyond that, we don't: Have a plan with SMART goals Share out plan with our leadership team Prioritize our goals so we can tackle then, one by one Build an action plan to hold ourselves accountable Allocate resources (time and/or money) to get it done Or...a few (very few) of you go in the opposite direction.  Your business plan is a 3-ring binder that is laborious to complete and then it sits on a bookshelf because it's so overwhelming. I think there's a better way and I am hoping you will approach the coming new year by giving it a try. That's why I want to give you these agency annual planning templates. First -- it needs to start with the agency owner's life plan.  You own your own business because it's part of a bigger purpose/plan.  I want to make sure that your agency is actually serving you, your family and your life goals. Agency Owner Life Plan -- complete this plan every year.  Odds are much of it is pretty evergreen but you will notice subtle shifts over time.  And sometimes, a life event (birth, death, marriage, divorce, etc.) will cause it to shift pretty dramatically.  Do this first to make sure the agency you are building helps get [...]

By |December 9th, 2018|

Should I compare our agency to others?

How many times have you had a prospect say something like: You are a breath of fresh air compared to our current/old agency You actually understand our business Our other agency never asked us questions like this Wow - I actually know where our dollars are being spent with you It feels good, no make that amazing, when we know we are exceeding our clients' expectations, even if it is because they were with a lousy agency before us.  That makes it tempting to go out there and shout "we are not like the other guys! Come experience the difference! I totally get why you ask yourself "should I compare our agency to others?" I'm here to tell you, whatever you do, resist the urge. Think back to the 2018 mid-term election cycle and recall what I am guessing we all said or thought as we watched yet another political ad.  “Stop talking about how bad the other guy is and just tell me what you will do.” I get the temptation. But avoid it in your own messaging and marketing.  You talk about you.  Your philosophy of the work.  Your defined and tested process.  Your unique POV. Your depth of experience.  What is it like to work with you. Let them read between the lines and sense the difference. Where you can put some spotlight on the “we’re better than the other guys” is when you share other people’s words and reflections on you. Think: Google and FB reviews (which you should be actively seeking) Testimonials Client referrals The clients you offer to let prospects talk to You can create a cheat sheet of the above mentioned points of difference and ask them to [...]

By |November 18th, 2018|

Agency Owner/leader questions from the mail bag

From our question bag (okay -- from my inbox but you get the reference!).  I've cleaned it up a little to protect the privacy of the agency asking the question. Q: I am trying to understand what makes up the COGS number in order to calculate our AGI. We are a public relations agency. From listening to your webinar on Financial Matters, my takeaway is the one of the items to include in COGS is the cost of freelance contractors. I'm assuming there are other costs like annual subscriptions to services which are used in doing our work for clients should also be included. A: Anything you use or pay to create in service of clients (freelancers, online tools, reference books, printing, photographers, postage, shipping, media placement, mileage to client meetings, influencer fees, etc.) are all COGS.  They are COGS whether you bill the client for them or not.   A way to test this is ask yourself this question.  If we didn't have client XYZ, would we still incur this cost.  If the answer is no -- then it is a COG. The things that should not be included in COGS are agency expenses (w2 people, benefits for those people, auto allowances, lawyer and accountant fees, rent, supplies, professional development, travel (unless it is client related) Q: We also want to look at account level profitability. To calculate the cost per employee, I am including salary/wages, insurance and 401(k) benefits, cost of PTO/company holidays. My research into what percentage to use for overhead markup resulted in a wide range of figures - 80% on the high end; 50% on the low end. Do you have a recommended overhead percentage? A: Well, as you know, this [...]

By |September 4th, 2018|

How To Find New Clients That Fit Your Agency Perfectly

Vetting new clients is a lot like choosing who you’re going to marry. No one gets married after a handful of dates, and no company makes a strong client connection after one meeting. Just like jumping into a marriage can lead to disaster, moving too fast with a prospect can also spell trouble for a business. Unfortunately, because many businesspeople are Type A personalities, the patience needed to grow relationships with prospects is lacking. We’re aggressive and competitive, always pushing for the win. Sometimes, that’s a great thing. But too often, we can jump the gun. To prospect smarter, agencies should focus on the four Ts: teach, trust, told apart and timing. Agencies that follow these strategies should have no issues securing new clients who are a perfect fit. 1. Teach: Use provocation-based selling as a learning experience. Too many agencies continue selling long after they’ve secured a new client. Selling is necessary at the beginning, but it becomes overkill after a certain point. Once you’ve started working together and you’re investing in the relationship, it’s time to switch gears. No one enjoys being constantly sold to, but everyone loves learning. Teaching clients something new builds relationships. It shows you’re passionate about their brand and want them to grow. You don’t need a doctorate degree to educate, but you do need to do your homework. When you go to trade shows or conferences, soak up insights, trends and case studies clients might be interested in. Even better, use that information to provoke problems they didn’t even know they had. Shining a light on things your agency can help with is essentially selling, but it doesn’t feel that way. It comes off as helpful and informative, which builds trust between [...]

By |August 1st, 2018|

Speaking Engagements: Every Agency Owner’s Ace in the Hole

Stereotypically, speaking engagements may seem reserved for high-profile authors, nationally recognized experts, and former presidents. And while not as obvious, marketing professionals should seriously consider how securing the right speaking opportunities will not only elevate brands but they also hold the key to developing successful business opportunities. A common misconception about speaking engagements is they only serve to build a personal brand for thought leaders or authors. As an agency owner, your goal is to establish credibility with your audience. And by presenting at a conference or trade show with an audience of prospective clients and referral sources, you can successfully demonstrate your insights and expertise. In today’s world, when a single tweet, post, or video shows your brand to the rest of the world, booking the perfect speaking gig has never been so invaluable. Securing Multiple Speaking Engagements There’s no one right formula for securing the ideal speaking engagement. There are several different tactics to try, with speakers’ bureaus being a great resource. And most big conferences have an open call for speakers. So you can pitch yourself as someone with something an audience is hungry to hear. Aside from these more straightforward methods, do everything you can to prove your expertise and give people a reason to book you for their event. I’ve written a weekly column for Iowa’s business journal for more than a decade, and my weekly podcast has passed its two-year mark and shows no signs of stopping. Both serve as evidence to conference planners: Not only do I have relevant content, but I can also knit thoughts together in a coherent way to teach and inform. The key is to establish your credibility so you’re invited to do the same thing on [...]

By |July 25th, 2018|

Hey agency owner — are you noticing the signs?

I’m writing this note from South Africa, where I am on a photo safari vacation with my daughter. We’ve spent the better part of a week in the bush, coming face to face with prides of lions, serene giraffe, wild dogs right after a kill and even some mating leopards! (And yes...that elephant is THAT much bigger than that Land Cruiser!) I’ve been fascinated to watch how our rangers and trackers scan the dirt for tracks, examine the foliage to look for breaks and even test the temperature of dung to determine what animals are nearby and how long ago they came through.   The clues are so subtle that it’s amazing when they spot them. But the rewards that come from that attention to minute detail is the difference between an incredible game drive (or survival in different circumstances) or it being just a lovely drive in the woods. It made me think about our own business and all of the subtle clues that our clients, prospects, and employees give off.  I wonder how many of them we blindly walk by, about to enter into a danger zone we’re not expecting?  I think most agency owners are very astute at picking up the signs — unless we’re moving too quickly and are too distracted to be present.  Which is pretty much every day. So what are we missing? One of the traits of the tracker and ranger that took me some time to get used to is the speed at which they work.  Slowly.  Sometimes painstakingly slowly.  As a Type A kind of guy, I was pretty antsy in the beginning.  But then I began to understand the method to their madness and saw [...]

By |July 24th, 2018|

Applying The Right ‘Golden Handcuffs’ To Retain Key Employees

If there is one universal problem facing agencies today, it’s talent recruitment and retention. Agencies of all sizes are experiencing more employee churn than they’ve seen in a long time. In fact, agencies report an average 20% turnover per year. Agencies want to retain key employees, and great employees want reasons to stay. So why are so many agencies still seeing their best employees walk? Many agency owners are offering their key employees cars, vacations and hefty bonuses, yet people are still leaving. Unfortunately, many agencies, clients and corporations are offering employees the same perks, so someone can easily leave their current agency and get the same benefits somewhere else. Fortunately, with a little creativity and some honest conversations, agency owners can avoid this inevitable talent drain. How Agencies Keep Stars Unfortunately, money talks and most employees don’t take the time to do their homework. They don’t calculate the value of all of the perks, flexibility and benefits their current employer offers. Instead, in today’s competitive hiring environment, great employees get poached by companies that offer the most money. As a defensive strategy, some agency owners offer equity to retain key employees, hoping it entices them to stay and contribute to long-term growth. Sometimes that works, but when it doesn’t, the backlash hurts. Giving an employee equity doesn’t cost anything at first. However, if that person decides to leave, the equity leaves, too. When that happens, the agency loses control of both a star employee and a chunk of its ownership. The agency could always buy out the departed employee, but no one wants to send a big check to a person who just left the building -- especially if the company gave the equity away for free. Agencies that decide [...]

By |July 11th, 2018|

Best books for marketers (client and agency side)

I was recently asked by CEO Library to share my thoughts about reading, specific books and how being a reader has changed the trajectory of my career.  Which, no doubt it has.  I've always loved to read and can't imagine not doing it consistently. How about you?  Are you a reader? Has how you consume books changed? (My habits sure have!) Here's a peek at what I was asked and my answers:  1. What’s your favorite book and why? Business and non-business, if possible. Favorite business book — Radical Leap by Steve Farber Favorite non-business book that I would argue can teach you a ton about business leadership — The Harry Potter series by JK Rowling 2. Was there a moment, specifically, when something you read in a book helped you? Can you tell me about it? I’ve always been a voracious reader.  I read to learn.  I read to relax.  I read to cleanse my palette so I can be creative.  I read to find perspective. I read to entertain myself.  I loved reading to my daughter when she was little and as she got older -- reading the same book together. So books have helped me do everything from learn about my mom’s dementia, to keep current with trends that impact my clients, to cope with loss, to raise a daughter to find some balance in my life and by helping me fall in love with characters, places and ideas. 3. What books had the biggest impact on you? Perhaps changed the way you see things or dramatically changed your career path. I would argue that my favorite books (which I re-read every year or so) in question #1 have had the biggest [...]

By |July 7th, 2018|

Clients Long for Brave Agencies: 3 Fears to Conquer

Launching an agency means challenges are bound to arise, and these challenges often revolve around money and perspective. When the two collide, that’s when most brave agencies stumble a bit. As soon as the words “revenue” and “loss” appear in the same sentence, many brave agencies understandably freeze with fear. It’s easy to lose objectivity and the ability to stay focused on the big picture. That often leads to an agency scrambling to take on new clients, regardless of their suitability. This “any port in a storm” mentality can really jeopardize an agency’s ability to create stability and profitability. It also leads to brave agencies being less willing to stand their ground and advocate for what they know is the best solution for their clients. It’s easy to capitulate when you’re worried about making payroll. But when clients search for brave agencies, they’re looking for that outside perspective. They don’t need a “yes” man; they need objectivity and an outside viewpoint they can’t find internally. This difference in opinion won’t always have you seeing eye to eye, but that’s usually what sparks the big idea—that collaborative, 360-degree viewpoint. If you’re challenging one another, ideas get better. And it’s the co-creation of those ideas where trust is earned. The bottom line: Your agency must have the confidence—or dare I say, the bravery—to find your voice and speak up. That’s the value you bring to your clients, which in turn is what creates value for you as a business. How you go about finding your voice and solidifying those bonds with clients is entirely up to you, but it often starts with mustering the courage to do the following: 1. Hold Strong Opinions To be treated as [...]

By |June 27th, 2018|