drew

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 hundreds 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.

Money mistakes are so easy to make and so costly

I live in the Midwest and as a result, I am fascinated by farmers. They can do everything right and in the blink of an eye — a hail storm, too much rain or on the flip side, a drought can wipe out all of their efforts. It seems like the riskiest and most frustrating business model in the world. But I can’t deny that our world of agency life has some similarities. Agency owners and leaders work their tails off to chase down new clients, to keep the clients they have, to attract and grow the right team members. But then we make mistakes that either erode or completely eliminate all of the effort and the potential profits from those efforts. I identified some of these money mistakes in an article for Hubspot Mistakes that Will Bankrupt Your Agency. Check it out and put a plan in place to eliminate those mistakes from your agency’s SOP before you pay too great a price. If you know that your agency could use a tune-up (right structure, operating systems, staffing, actually making a double-digit profit, etc.) why not spend two days with us talking about these topics? Our workshop, Running Your Agency for Growth, Profit (and a little sanity) is designed for agency owners and we will pepper you with best practices, practical tips, and hacks that will help you make more and keep more of what you make.

By |January 20th, 2020|

Business development happens in inches

I have had several phone conversations lately with agency owners who have sales pipelines that have dried up. They’re frustrated and scared about business development. I get it. We’ve all been there. But when I asked them about their new business activity, they all admitted that they’d taken their foot off the pedal. Sure — they all had great reasons why they didn’t do the follow-up or initiate the new tactic. You know what I’m going to say because you’ve said it to yourself. There will always be another reason/excuse. There’s always a fire to put out or something to be done internally. You have to carve out the time to work your new business plan and protect it like it’s your favorite kid’s birthday. It’s too easy to slide backward and once you lose the momentum, it’s back to the starting gate. Like exercise, it’s a lot easier if you work the muscle on a regular basis. By the way, this is never going to happen by accident or wishing. If you don’t calendar it out, your day is never going to suddenly free up. This was originally published in the weekly AMI newsletter. To subscribe, click here.

By |January 13th, 2020|

Does diversity matter?

My intention with a short email isn’t to talk about the bigger, cultural issues our world is facing around diversity but I think we can all agree it’s a topic that we need to keep front and center. That’s true in our agencies as well. Our clients are starting to demand it. It will have influence over our ability to hire and retain talent and it changes the caliber of our work. In fact, 42% of marketers feel the brands they work for don’t accurately reflect the racial diversity of our society. It’s a big deal and we need to pay attention to the challenge. Forbes asked me to write about how this is impacting agencies, our clients and our industry. I also offered up some tactics for thinking about and broadening the diversity in your own shop. I hope you’ll check it out and find it of value. We will be talking about best practices and new tactics for hiring the right team member in our upcoming workshop, Running Your Agency for Growth, Profit (and a little sanity!) coming up in March. It’s two days of how to operate your agency for maximum profit using the right structure, operating systems, and staffing to make it all possible. Hope to see you there! This was originally published in the weekly AMI newsletter. To subscribe, click here.

By |January 6th, 2020|

Do you have traction?

I’m a big fan of the book Traction by Gino Wickman. It’s a business parable that outlines a systematic way (EOS or the Entrepreneurial Operating System) of running any business. It’s incredibly well suited for agencies, because it forces a discipline onto a leadership team that is often plagued with wearing too many hats, running from fire to fire every day, and a tendency to get distracted by squirrels and shiny objects. The result of the hats, fires, squirrels and shiny objects is that many internal projects (how long did it take you to deploy your agency’s last website) get delayed or never get done. At AMI, we weave a lot of Traction’s elements into our coaching and when our clients look back over the previous twelve months, they are astonished at how much they accomplished. The EOS methodology leverages the power of focus and shared accountability and man, does it work! If you haven’t read it, I’d highly recommend it, especially if you’ve had internal projects (revising processes, an employee handbook, updating your website, improving your agency’s marketing or business development efforts, etc.) that are dragging on and on. We'll be talking about some of the Traction principles at our Running Your Agency for Growth, Profit (and a little sanity!) workshop and how they intersect with you making more money every month/year. It’s designed for agency owners and we will pepper you with two full days of learning the tricks and tips on how to operate your agency for maximum profit using the right structure, operating systems, and staffing to make it all possible. This was originally published in the AMI weekly newsletter.  To subscribe, click here.

By |December 30th, 2019|

Business development happens in inches

I have had several phone conversations recently with agency owners who have sales pipelines that have dried up. They’re frustrated and scared. I get it. We’ve all been there. But when I asked them about their business development activity, they all admitted that they’d taken their foot off the pedal. Sure — they all had great reasons why they didn’t do the follow-up or initiate the new tactic. You know what I’m going to say because you’ve said it to yourself. There will always be another reason/excuse. There’s always a fire to put out or something to be done internally. You have to carve out the time to work your new business plan and protect it like it’s your favorite kid’s birthday. It’s too easy to slide backward and once you lose the momentum, it’s back to the starting gate. Like exercise, it’s a lot easier if you work the muscle on a regular basis. By the way, this is never going to happen by accident or wishing. If you don’t calendar it out, your day is never going to suddenly free up. In our Best Practices of Agency Owner’s workshop, Running Your Agency for Growth, Profit (and a little sanity!)  in March, we’re going to show you some strategies for actually controlling your days so new business happens on a consistent basis. We’re also going to walk you through how to construct a business development plan that is actually sustainable and successful. Be sure to grab a seat if you think it would be helpful! This was originally published in the AMI weekly newsletter.  To subscribe, click here.

By |December 23rd, 2019|

What do you ask next?

Given the amount of competition out there, the challenges of landing a new client and the struggles with keeping the clients you have – I totally get the hunger to have the right answers. After all, that’s what they’re paying us for, right? Our expertise. Our years of experience. Our guidance. I want to suggest that while all of that is true – our expertise, experience, and guidance should show up in a different way. It’s not about the answers we provide, it’s about the questions we ask. When we are meeting with a prospective new client, the sentence I love to hear more than any other is “I’ve never been asked that before.” That means I am adding value. I am taking them in a direction they haven’t been before or coming at their issue from a different perspective. And odds are, the closer I am getting to the best answers. Many agency owners are frustrated that they’re the only ones who can do strategy inside their shop. I believe that’s because they’re the only ones who know how to ask questions that go beyond the surface or the expected. If you recognize your shop in that description, it’s time to teach your employees how to ask better questions. It helps if they’re naturally curious. Is their brain wired to wonder? That’s a critical trait when you hire. But if you have some team members who aren’t, then you need to help them exercise that muscle/develop that habit. Here are some tips you can offer as you’re coaching them. Keep it open-ended: Try to keep the conversation going by asking questions that require a longer response than a yes or no. Certain words trigger [...]

By |December 16th, 2019|

Who are your inside confidants?

I’ve never met an agency owner who doesn’t find the job a bit lonely sometimes. Most of us grew up in the agency business and we’re used to having at least a portion of our social life stem from our co-workers. As our careers advanced, we were probably in the inner circle but it was definitely a circle so you had people to talk to, confide in, and bounce ideas off of when the &^%# hits the fan. But now that you own the joint, it’s not quite the same. You know and think about things that really shouldn’t be shared with anyone (or too many someones) and who your confidants are can have huge consequences — good or bad. In our work with agencies, we sit around the table with a lot of leadership teams. Here are some of the skills/traits that I think are mandatory if you’re going to give someone the privilege/responsibility of one of those seats: They can keep their mouth shut (you’d think this was a given but we all know better) They can step outside their departmental or day-to-day role to care about the agency as a whole They have mastered the ability to be “kind but clearly candid” with you, the boss and don’t pull punches They’re comfortable not knowing or with uncertainty (if they are fretters — you have trouble) They’re hungry to keep learning Naturally, there are more but those are some biggies. Miss one or more of them and, next thing you know, you’re confiding in the wrong people. By the way — hopefully, it goes without saying that age, title or years in the business don’t always guarantee that those traits are present. I [...]

By |December 9th, 2019|

What’s the plan?

When you’ve worked in your own agency for 20+ years, it’s hard to fathom doing something different. And yet, we all have that vague (or not so vague) impression that we’re working and planning for something. Some talk about retiring in the traditional sense. Other agency owners talk about the next chapter — be it teaching, writing a book or going on the speaking tour. Others have aspirations that are a complete 180-degree shift from where they are today. Wineries, B&Bs, and other dreams loom large among my agency owner clients. I’m currently working with several owners who are in the process of thinking through/planning for that transition. Most of them are in their 50s. No — they don’t want out any time soon. But they realize that this is not the sort of thing that should be left to the last minute. I’ve never had an agency owner say, “Gee, I want to sell my agency” and voila in 12 months, they were sipping a Mai Tai on a beach with their buy out money. Ideally, you’d give yourself about a ten-year ramp to go from initial thoughts to closing the deal. And by the way, closing the deal for many of you will simply be to pick a retirement date and lock the door behind you. That requires it’s own plan so don’t think you’re off the planning hook. Other than waiting too long to get started, the biggest mistake I see agency owners make is that they don’t know what that next chapter is going to be. It’s pretty tough to get excited about walking away from your baby if you don’t have something new and exciting to look forward to exploring. [...]

By |December 2nd, 2019|

Are you a helicopter boss?

We’ve all heard about or been accused of being helicopter parents by now. The results of helicopter parenting (aka a parent who takes an overprotective or excessive interest in the life of their child or children) often show up in the workplace. You might recognize the employees who need a ton of praise for seemingly simple accomplishments, require direction/instruction as opposed to being self-directed, and/or seem moody and anxious and have no real goals or sense of direction. I am not suggesting for a minute that all employees of any age group fit this description. But I talk to enough of you to know that odds are good that you have one or two in your shop. What I want you to consider for a moment is if you’re actually making it worse. Ideally, every employee would come to you in perfect condition, not needing any mentoring or education. Let me know if that ever happens. Until then — you are responsible for molding them into the team member you’re hoping for. Here are some of the ways I see agency owners/leaders helicopter their employees, stunting their growth and productivity. You own their growth: How many times have you had an employee walk into your office and ask what their career path was? You can coach them through mapping out a plan but they should drive it. If you tell them what they want to be when they grow up — odds are, you’ll get it wrong and they’ll get disenchanted and leave. You handle the details: Is your employee traveling on behalf of the business? Do you still make all their travel arrangements? Let them at the very least, make a few recommendations or [...]

By |November 25th, 2019|

Who is wearing the golden handcuffs?

For most agency owners, one of their biggest fears is losing that key employee who helps you run the show. Especially in today’s competitive job market, it’s a fair concern. Many long- term agency employees are being lured away by the stability of a corporate job or the thrill of a start-up. I did a podcast about how many agency owners consider offering minority partnerships as a way to lock in that senior team member. That podcast triggered a lot of conversation on social media and among some of our coaching clients. Forbes also found the topic of interest and asked me to put together some questions that owners should ponder before they extend that offer. The article that resulted from that exploration is here.  I’d love to know what else you think should be part of the consideration set. Not to change the subject, but we're fast approaching the holiday season. Have you taken a break, enjoyed your family and friends and just unplugged for more than a weekend? If not, you have 6 weeks before the end of the year. Don’t miss the opportunity. This was originally published in the weekly AMI newsletter.  To subscribe, click here.

By |November 18th, 2019|