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.

What’s the purpose of your bonus program?

When an agency shows a profit, one of the first inclinations of the agency owner is to pay a bonus to the staff. I applaud that instinct. But I don’t think you should do it simply because you have a little extra money. I believe you should have a bonus program that serves your agency every single day, whether you pay out any money or not. I think there are several elements of a successful bonus program: They should not be an end of the year thing. They should influence the employees to behave in ways that serve the agency year-round It needs to be simple and explained over and over (every month/quarter) It should be used to teach employees to think like agency owners (focused on the same metrics you do) It should be based on one or two metrics that accurately measure the financial health of the agency The metrics should be measured/achieved or not every month The metrics should be set in a way that your team hits the goal more often than misses (should be a stretch but a reasonable stretch...ideally they’d hit the metrics at least 7 or 8 months of the year) Bonuses should be paid quarterly (with most of the $ accumulated for an end of the year payout) to keep everyone motivated/focused The owners should hold an all agency meeting every month to report on financials/success on bonus program for the month/YTD At AMI, we have a specific bonus program that we teach in our workshops, owner peer networks etc. It’s based on two metrics. The big number in our opinion in terms of an agency’s health is AGI (Adjusted gross income — Look here for more [...]

By |July 15th, 2019|

How are you controlling scope creep?

One of the biggest threats to your agency’s profitability and long-term existence is giving away the farm by over servicing clients, bad estimates, not issuing change orders and allowing clients to change the rules mid-game without any penalty or cost. Don’t get me wrong - I think it’s okay and smart to over-service certain clients on certain projects. I’m not suggesting you put military order into your agency. But conservatively — I believe most agencies can put another 10% to their bottom line if they rein in scope creep. The good news is — it’s easier to fix than you might think. I explored how scope creep happens and how agencies can contain it in a recent article for Hubspot.  Take a look and see if you can find a strategy or two that you can implement in your shop to help you slow down the bleed. The article contains several concepts that I teach in the Advanced AE bootcamp as well. Your account executives should be managing their clients’ budgets and profitability. That means they need two things — the financial data to know how they’re doing AND the tools/knowledge of how to manage both the clients and your internal team so that they aren’t writing time and money off every job. Our next Advanced AE bootcamp is in September (September 9 & 10 in Chicago) and you can register your AEs here.

By |July 8th, 2019|

The fine line between value add and over servicing

One of the best compliments my agency ever received came from a client who said he never felt like we had our hand in his pocket. We were putting his interests ahead of our own. And while that’s a great way to build trust, it’s not sustainable. They always want a little more. Sure, it indicated we were satisfying our client, but if clients are satisfied with your work, you may be in trouble. Clients don’t want to be “satisfied” with their marketing agencies. They want to be wowed. And that means they want to be over-serviced. That’s a very fine line we walk. There’s a danger there. Offer too much, and you could be hurting your agency’s future. I explored that very thin line in an article for Spin Sucks (Gina Dietrich’s excellent site) and identified some ways you can dance on the line without crossing over to the dark side of actually giving away your work. I’d welcome your input into this challenge that every agency faces. Now that we've passed the halfway mark for the year, I know you’ve got a ton of items on your To Do list before year-end. But I also know you can get worn out from grinding it out 24/7. Be sure you take some time for yourself. Replenish your energy by sharing the Fourth of July holidays with those you love. Invest in those relationships that have nothing to do with your shop or the pile of work on your desk. The work will be there when you get back from some R&R.  

By |July 1st, 2019|

The Bad Habit That’s Killing Your Agency From the Inside

Right now, many agencies struggle with the same serious problem. This issue can drag down profitability, lower employee engagement and harm the reputation of the offending company, and in almost every case, the owner of the agency is the biggest offender. Unfortunately for clients and teams, some agency owners struggle to keep their promises. Does this sound like a problem your agency is experiencing? Don’t worry. Many agencies (and agency owners) deal with this issue at some point. I know I have — as have other owners I’ve worked with in the past few decades. In this article I wrote for Forbes.com, I discuss  how to rectify this foundational mistake that you, as an agency owner, may be making. I elaborate on the importance of not making promises you can’t keep and most importantly how you can hold yourself and your team accountable.

By |June 29th, 2019|

What’s your exit strategy?

I’m working with an agency owner to think through his exit strategy. He’s 52 years old and doesn’t want to retire for at least 15 years. You may think he’s crazy to be planning that far out but the crazy ones are actually the ones who wait too long. Because he’s ahead of the curve, he has the luxury of exploring all the options and laying the groundwork to keep those options open as his agency evolves and grows. I’ve seen so many agency owners who get close to their retirement age only to discover that they haven’t set up their business to be able to deliver what they would ideally like. The owner I’m working with now wants to sell his agency to an employee or group of employees. But there’s no one in his shop today that would be an ideal buyer. So we have to recruit/hire and train his eventual buyer. That doesn’t happen in a year or two. It’s definitely a long term strategy but because he’s starting so young, there’s no reason we can’t make it happen. We started our work by asking/answering some key questions. You might run yourself through these to see how many of them you can definitively answer. Do you want to sell the agency or is it your intention to use the agency as an ATM machine making as much money as possible each year, and grow your wealth outside the business? Do you want to completely exit the agency and be 100% retired (or doing something else)? If you want to retain some ownership — what would your involvement look like once you take on other owners? Do you want to build your agency [...]

By |June 24th, 2019|

A Traffic Manager Will Keep Your Agency Out of a Jam

Within the last five years, an agency’s traffic manager has become the new production manager—building timetables for projects, tracking every single deliverable, and mapping out the company’s work. But the role isn’t valued as much as it should be. In this article, that was originally a contribution I made to Marketo.com, I discuss the intrinsic value of a Traffic Manager and why your agency may need one if you don’t already have one. I’d love to hear from you concerning your stance on the importance of maintaining a Traffic Manager. How has it benefited you? Has your agency suffered without one?

By |June 22nd, 2019|

CMI releases new research looking at agencies and content marketing delivery

Content Marketing Institute just released a new study, asking agencies about what content marketing services they offer, where they are having success and where they’re still banging their head against a wall. The data is based on 197 respondents, with 71% being US based and 61% of the respondents being owners/partners. There were several takeaways of note in this research and some of it supports what I am seeing among the agencies we serve and some of it makes me scratch my head and wonder a little bit. The results certainly support the idea that content marketing is not new. I’d argue that we’ve always been in the content business, we’ve just changed up the packaging over the years and decades. No great surprise — agencies are reporting that clients of all sizes are seeking help with their content. This isn’t going to change any time soon — and that’s good news for all of us.    More surprising is that 73% of the agencies said they were extremely/very successful in achieving their client’s content marketing goals.  Given the challenges that I hear agency team members talk about every day (getting the content, getting approvals, getting clients to see the long tail play off content, appropriate pricing related to expectations, etc.) I question this number.  I’m sure it’s accurate from the research’s POV — I just wonder how those agencies are actually defining their client’s goals. I also wonder if our clients have the right goals.  How often have you heard a client express frustration because their content isn’t driving immediate sales? Have we helped them really think through a content strategy that is big and bold enough?  Or is it just a two blog [...]

By |June 21st, 2019|

Do you have every base covered?

Business development is a challenge on many levels. If you don’t have every base covered...being good at all the other aspects may not be enough. Many agencies have not defined their sweet spot client — so they don’t bother chasing after prospects that aren’t a good fit Most agencies don’t have a consistent new business machine that is actively and regularly touching prospects and working a targeted list The lion’s share of agencies have a great win rate with smaller, less profitable clients but struggle to win with “stretch” prospects that could really change their agency and help them elevate their game About 50% of agencies do not have a retention program to actively and intentionally keep and grow their best clients A weakness in any of these areas can really compromise your efforts overall. As you begin to plan for 2020, having a holistic business development plan of attack (with action items, a calendar and most important — regular accountability meetings) may be one of the most important aspects of your vision for the next year. It’s not too early to start working on this. If you’re getting at-bats but not winning or if you’re not getting invited to the pitches/opportunities that you think you should be, we’ve got a great two-day workshop for you. AMI is partnering with the agency search firm Mercer Island Group to help you work all the bugs out of how you chase new business. These guys see proposals, RFP responses and live pitches from agencies big and small. They’re going to give you a sneak peek into the mistakes that you’re making, the missteps of agency positioning and so much more. This is a very hands-on, work ON [...]

By |June 17th, 2019|

Your Startup Won’t Make It to 2022 Without Video in Sales

No matter how effective your current sales strategy might be, you won’t survive the next few years if you don’t add video to the mix. What’s changed to make video so important? Smartphone usage and internet speeds are driving video content consumption to unprecedented levels. Fortunately, those same technologies make it easier than ever for businesses to join the fun. Sales-centric video content makes the customer journey feel more personal while saving time for the salespeople. Instead of writing a 15-minute email, reps can spend two minutes on a short reply and include a video link that answers a prospect’s questions. In this article I contributed to Entrepreneur.com, I outline five steps to make video work for your sales strategy. Has your agency engaged the use of video marketing? I’d love to hear your feedback on what is holding you back, or the results you achieved from its use.

By |June 15th, 2019|

Your employees need clarity

I know it seems like common sense and your brain may agree — but your mouth often takes a different path. If you’re struggling to work with some of your team members, odds are you have not embraced the idea that employees need clarity. Truth be told — most agency leaders struggle with this, especially if they are offering constructive criticism or even tougher — disciplinary action. One group of employees that really needs you to get good at the whole clarity thing are your millennials. They come into your agency with very different ideas about how employees behave, what success looks like and how they can contribute. They’re eager but raw. But if you really find a way to be straightforward and very directive with your feedback, I think they will surprise you. Be it millennials or any other group of employees, agency owners and department heads can be vague, passive-aggressive, or just absent in their management style (you may well be the exception to the rule) and I think there are a few reasons for that. In a recent blog post, I dug into what gets in the way of us being more clear and then offered up some tools we can use to get better at it. Check it out and let me know what you think.  

By |June 10th, 2019|

5 Mistakes that cost agency owners money