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.

If you’re going to go pro bono, at least get credit

I have yet to meet an agency owner who did not have a generous spirit. Whether your clients live in your community or not, every agency I know does a ton of pro bono work for the non-profits in their area. My agency has always been that way too. But I have to admit, I got tired of always being asked and feeling like a jerk when I had to say no. On top of that, I felt that in most cases, we were just slapping a bandaid on the non-profit’s issue. A run logo here or a golf tournament t-shirt design there or even a simple website now and then. But I never felt like we were leaving a true mark — I couldn’t see how we were deeply improving the non-profit in the long run. So I created a completely different way of approaching pro bono work. A way that allowed us to create events that attracted hundreds of thousands of dollars to some of the charities — year after year. Long after we were done working with them, they were still reaping the benefits. And we got a little publicity for our efforts as well. I described the pro bono transformation we experienced in an article for Hubspot and I’d love to hear what you think. I believe we can do good, make it really last, and benefit from it as well. I love that combination!

By |September 9th, 2019|

Consistency triumphs over bursts of brilliance

Last week, one of my mornings was consumed with podcast recordings and interviews. In some cases, I was the subject matter expert but in most, I was the host, asking questions of other agency- centric subject matter experts. By sheer coincidence every conversation danced around some aspect of business development, retaining clients and creating a culture that had the capacity and passion for chasing opportunities. Interestingly, there was a thread that wove through all of these separate conversations. The theme was consistency and the overarching opinion was that agencies live and die by their habits and by the agency owner’s habits. What we do (or don’t do) on a consistent basis sets our course. That got my wheels spinning and I came up with a little quiz for you to take. Do you have at least 4-5 hours a week blocked off on your calendar for new business sales (not marketing) activity? Do you hold (and not cancel) a weekly new business meeting with your internal team? Do you have a list of no more than 25 “I’d love to have them on our roster” prospects that you proactively touch at least every 6 weeks? Have you defined your agency’s philosophy/point of view so you can differentiate yourself and does every agency employee know, understand and use the same language to describe it? Now, a tangential question. How many new clients that are individually worth at least 15% of your agency’s current AGI have you earned since January? My guess is that there’s a correlation between how you answered the quiz questions and your answer to my tangential question. You and your agency are a product of what you consistently do. Are you reaping the [...]

By |September 2nd, 2019|

Your employees are hungry to learn

A couple of months ago I spent two days sequestered in a conference room with 45 agency employees that all have “digital” in their job description, their daily work or on their long list of responsibilities. They were from 20+ different AMI agencies and the reason we were all together was that they wanted to pick each other’s brains. In advance of the meeting, they put together a nine-page discussion guide of all of the topics they wanted to cover. Nine pages! I can’t tell you how impressed I was with these professionals. For two days, they shared, questioned, taught, learned and grew. They were so hungry to get better, to help their agencies get better and to help their clients knock it out of the park. I know there are times when you, as an agency owner, get frustrated with your employees. They don’t always work in the way you want them to work. Or they may not burn the midnight oil at the office like you used to do. And they definitely are bolder about asking for what they want than we were in our early days. But I am here to tell you — they love their work, respect you and genuinely want to keep adding to their skills. So take heart — your team is as committed to their craft as you were when you were their age. My experience also reinforced one of the biggest takeaways from our AMI/Audience Audit research findings. The most important benefit from your employees’ point of view is educational opportunities and the chance to sharpen their saw. That’s good news for your agency and for you.

By |August 26th, 2019|

Sample travel policies for agencies

It’s a rare agency that does not incur any travel for either themselves or their clients. Because travel norms are very different for everyone, it’s important that the agency have a written travel policy that clearly spells out the processes, boundaries and expectations that come along side that employee’s travel on behalf of the company. In our work with 250+ agencies a year and our annual salary and benefits survey that is answered by almost 1,000 agency leaders – we were able to pull together what seems to be the “norm” for most US based agencies. Each agency owner will want to review and modify these policies to fit their own culture, budget, expectations and unique circumstances. In some cases, I’ve just listed what seems to be the common policy and in other cases, I’ve given you some commentary like 30% of agencies do this or that. My goal is not to give you an off the shelf set of policies but rather a framework from which you can build your own travel policy for your agency. AGENCY TRAVEL POLICIES (modify for your own shop) Allowable Expenses  Most agencies will pay or reimburse the employee for all reasonable business expenses incurred while traveling on behalf of the agency. Agencies will typically not pay for upgrades i(n rental car classes, hotel rooms, flight classes) without prior approval. The exception to this is international travel. Most agencies will pay for business class plane tickets for travel of 6+ hours. If an employee chooses to live in a different country, the agency does not pay for their travel back to the agency’s home country for meetings (internal or client-facing). Meals and client entertainment are typically on a daily [...]

By |August 26th, 2019|

How to Keep Your Agency’s Top Talent Without Breaking the Bank

Agencies can no longer expect to hold onto fantastic writers, designers, or account managers for the next 20 years. In fact, they’re lucky if they can get three years. After surveying almost 1,000 marketing and advertising agencies, I learned that just about every agency is facing similar turnover problems. Agencies are struggling to find and keep good employees, especially because workers are being poached by clients, other agencies, and even corporations.  As a result, agencies are worried about taking on new business opportunities that would require recruiting more talent. To resolve the problem, they’re adding more significant benefits (and more money) to their new employee packages. It won’t be long, however, before there’s another economic shift. Throwing more money into the mix may not be an option: Likely, agencies will have to ratchet it down as soon as next year, especially when clients are asking for prices to remain the same or sometimes even shrink.  So how can you become a stickier employer without emptying your wallet?  Beef up your company culture. You must know how to celebrate your agency’s unique core values. What’s the ultimate vision for your agency? Consider the intangible reasons someone chooses agency life over corporate life (and why someone would choose your agency over another). You work there, too, so don’t forget to make the agency unique in ways that matter to you. As you determine what makes the business unique, emphasize it. Money alone won’t win the day. Create a work environment where someone chooses to stay for fit instead of funds. For example, do you offer flexibility that allows an employee to attend her child’s midday soccer game or opportunities to take longer vacations?  Invest in what matters [...]

By |August 24th, 2019|

How we create AMI’s weekly videos

Hey there — folks have been asking me what tools I use to create our weekly videos, so I thought I would spell it out for you. Here’s the equipment I use. My criteria for anything I am using is that it has to be durable, reasonable small, and lightweight because every week, I am throwing it all into my suitcase and taking it on the road (except for my phone!) And I did not want to spend an arm and a leg. I'm sure you could go higher quality, but this works for me. Camera: My iPhone X Microphone: Shure MV88 iOS digital stereo condenser microphone (plugs into my phone) $149 App for the filming: Shureplus MOTIV video (get in app store) Tripod: Fotopro Phone Travel Tripod $23 (I needed two -- one for the camera & one for light) Lights: Rotolight NEO on-camera LED light $149 15 foot extension cord: Amazon recommended $7 I use an app on my iPhone (Shureplus MOTIV Video -- tied to the microphone) to record the video. For a long time, I was relying on natural light but some of the videos were just too dark so I decided to invest in a light (hence the 2nd tripod and extension cord) box which is about 4 inches square and about an inch and a half thick, so easy to pack. I don't use any sort of teleprompter. Honestly, I don't script these out. I have an idea of the main point I want to make and I just shoot from the hip. Usually, I shoot it a couple times before I'm happy with the flow of the message, but I am rarely shooting for more than 10 minutes. [...]

By |August 23rd, 2019|

Are you offering “the trail blazing benefit”?

In an AMI network meeting last week, the big topic was employee recruitment and retention. If your agency isn’t struggling with this issue, consider yourself one of the lucky few. Agencies (and it seems all businesses) are fighting tooth and nail to find and keep productive, committed employees. Many of you are looking for so long that you end up compromising just to get someone in place. And we all know how well that usually works. Overall, agency owners are incredibly generous with benefits and flexibility. But there’s a new benefit that I want to make sure you’ve got on your radar screen because it may be worth considering as a recruiting tool. One of the things we talk about in our Managing Millennials workshop is that all employees (but particularly millennials) love to have “brag-worthy” benefits and this one is definitely brag-worthy. The benefit is student loan repayment. You can read more about it in this Forbes article and see some examples of how it is being positioned and packaged. Employee recruiting and retention will be a major discussion at our owner’s workshop (Best Management Practices of Agency Owners) this coming March in Chicago. Registration is open if you’d like to hear how other agency owners are reducing their workweek, actually getting to their family events and putting more profit on the bottom line.

By |August 19th, 2019|

Timesheets are not optional

I know there are agency consultants who will tell you that timesheets aren’t necessary. Unfortunately, they’re wrong. I totally get it. No one likes doing them. But they are an important management tool for you as you run your agency. It has nothing to do with how you bill clients or if you’re still billing by the hour (which I hope most of you are not doing) or project versus retainer billing. It’s about resource management. Your agency may be profitable and everything seems to be running smoothly but the truth is — you don’t know. You don’t know if a few superstars are carrying the weight of a handful of slackers. You don’t know if someone is putting 50% more billable time on jobs than the estimate calls for. You don’t know if you’re over-servicing clients or if one of your employees is struggling with some aspect of their job. You are in the dark. Timesheets illuminate what’s really going on in your business. Marketing Agency Insider asked me to write an article about timesheets, how to get your squad to do them and how important they are to the success of your agency. I don’t want hate mail but I would love to hear your thoughts. Be gentle — remember, I am just the messenger! If you’d like a healthier, heartier bottom line — timesheets are not optional.

By |August 12th, 2019|

Employee or contractor?

Before the recession (we when utter that phrase, I suspect we look like old men in overalls, smoking a corncob pipe and rocking on our porches but...) there were many agency owners who swore that they would never work with outside contractors.  They believed that the quality and integrity of their work relied on having all of the work done by employees that toiled under their roof. Today -- I know very few agencies who still cling to that belief.  Most agencies today have a stable of contractors that help them augment their offerings and skill sets. (Not to mention remote employees, etc.) The truth is, and our research shows this, that when an agency of 10 or 20 or 50 employees calls themselves a "full-service, integrated agency" their prospects do not believe them.  The prospects know how complicated and specialized marketing has become and they know that it's pretty challenging to have every discipline under our roof and to deliver against all of those needs at the highest levels. The great news is -- there are plenty of freelancers, strategic partners, and solopreneurs that we can hire to help us serve clients better.  The rub is when we walk the thin line of are they really an employee or are they a contractor.  Should they legally be getting a W2 or a 1099 (in the US) from you at the end of the year? Independent contractors are generally outside the coverage of various laws that apply to the employer-employee relationship. Which means that it's easy to get into trouble if you do this wrong. This is especially important when it comes to issues like pensions and retirement accounts, workers compensation, and wage and hour [...]

By |August 11th, 2019|

Who should be your agency’s voice?

If you’ve heard me say it once, you’ve heard me say it 1,000 times — it’s tough to be a generalist out there. In simple terms, it means your competition is everyone from the 16-year-old kid who builds websites, to every freelancer, to 99 designs, to every other agency within your prospect’s knowledge base. I am a firm believer in positioning your agency (see solocast #190 — positioning your agency) and then leaning heavily into those niches. When you have a depth of knowledge in a particular space (industry vertical, audience or problem you solve, or in rare cases — a specialty offering like crisis communications) you can begin to build an authority position. Key to claiming that position of authority is creating content that demonstrates your expertise by teaching your audience what you know. (More on all of that in later newsletters! -- You can subscribe here) But who should be that voice of authority? Many agency owners see that ask as “do I really have to be the one who writes all of the blog posts and finds all of the podcast guests?" or whatever your creation demand is based on the channels you want to build out. That’s not what I’m talking about. Who should be the voice/face of your authority position is not the same question as who should create all the content. But let’s put a pin in that for now. If you are like some agency owners, the idea of being in the spotlight (literally or metaphorically) is pretty unappealing. And you’d like to have one or all of your employees step up into that role. Not an awesome idea. Why? Because like the Coca-Cola logo or PMS red [...]

By |August 7th, 2019|