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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.

Who are you learning from?

Agency people are lifelong learners. If you aren’t — odds are you will be “counseled” out of your role if you don’t own the joint and pushed out of the day to day, if you do. We can’t afford to stop learning in our world. It’s simply changing too quickly and to keep up, we have to make learning a priority. What I love the most about AMI is that in everything we do — you are learning from people who are actively involved in agency life. I’ve owned my shop for 25+ years and am still active there. Craig (who runs our Key Executive networks and the Virtual networks) also still has an agency and has been an owner for 27+ years. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The best aspect of AMI is that owners who attend our workshops, network meetings, webinars, etc. — are all both students and teachers. I love how owners are so quick to offer to share resources, forms, best practices, and connections with other owners. That spirit is the best of AMI and of our profession. If you don’t have a posse of other agency owners/leaders — I implore you to find one. If AMI works for you, great. If not, seek it somewhere else. But do not fight the fight alone. Looking for some places to learn from other agency owners/leaders? Build and Nurture your Agency's Sales Funnel— January 21/22 in Orlando on WDW property Running Your Agency for growth, profit & a little sanity — April 6/7 in Chicago Advanced AE Bootcamp –August 17/18 in Chicago AE Bootcamp — September 14/15 in Chicago Money Matters for Agency Owners — Dates TBD We’d love to help [...]

By |January 11th, 2021|

A bad fit pinches

We have all bought clothes that weren’t quite the right fit. Whether too tight, too big or whatever the issue — they are uncomfortable and when you are wearing that misfit of clothes — you are very aware that something is not quite right. In fact, pretty soon, the pinching, sagging or snugness is all you can focus on. You either bought it without doing your homework (trying it on or moving around in it) or it was so cool/cute/dashing that you ignored the intial discomfort, thinking you could either fix it or get used to it. But we don’t. I think that exact same thing happens with clients. We either ignore the warning signs, think we can fix them or, if we’re honest with ourselves, we want their money and don’t care if the fix is off. You know it when you do it. There’s that nagging voice in the back of your head that you shhh every time it raises a concern. We’ve all done it. If you haven’t done it yet — you haven’t owned your agency very long. I get why we do it. But I also get the price we pay. I have never seen an agency turn that situation into a profitable one. In the short run — sure, you can make some money. But in the long run, you are going to lose money and even worse, potentially lose critically valuable team members. That’s why I wrote the article How to Find New Clients That Fit Your Agency Perfectly for Forbes. I not only believe we don’t have to settle for wrong fit clients but I think we’re fools if we do. Take the time to find the [...]

By |January 4th, 2021|

Noticing the signs

A couple of years ago, when we were able to be out and about and travel the world, I went on a photo safari vacation to South Africa with my daughter. We 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! I was fascinated to watch how our rangers and trackers scanned the dirt for tracks, examined the foliage to look for breaks, and even tested the temperature of dung to determine what animals were nearby and how long ago they had come through. The clues were so subtle that it was amazing when they spotted them. But the rewards that came from that attention to minute detail was the difference between an incredible game drive (or survival in different circumstances) and 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 was the speed at which they worked. 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 [...]

By |December 28th, 2020|

How do you avoid losing your star players?

Every day I talk to agency owners who are worried about losing a key employee and every day another key agency employee walks out the door so it's easy to see why finding and keeping talent is the #1 pain point for most agencies today. Unfortunately, having a laid back culture, flex time and more vacation isn’t enough anymore. I wrote an article for Forbes on this topic and I identified several ways (based on our research with almost 1,000 agency employees) agencies are upping their game to keep their best team members. As always — I hope it’s helpful and I’d love to hear how you’re managing this challenge.

By |December 21st, 2020|

Agency owners — no rest for the weary?

Owning, leading, or even just working in an agency is a fantastic gig. You get to be surrounded by wicked smart, witty, committed teammates, you get to save the day for clients on a regular basis, and let’s face it, the work is fun most days. We are lucky. Damn lucky. But we are also tired. Along with all of those privileges comes the worry of keeping the sales pipeline full, dealing with the human side of your team and clients (which can be both joyful and tragic as we all walk out our lives together), and long, arduous days. (and nights, and weekends....) We work at a pace that is fast and furious, shifting from one client to the next and often working weird and long hours. That is unsustainable without giving yourself some respite. But we’re not so good about giving ourselves that break. It’s not about taking a vacation or a long weekend or just not checking email for 24 hours — it’s about survival. Back when I was a kid in the business (call me 30 or so) I remember one of my mentors saying “this is a young man’s game, Drew. “ And that was before the 24/7 connectivity we have now. I think he was both right and wrong. Our chosen profession does require an incredible amount of energy and passion but that’s not about being young. It’s about recognizing that it’s an endurance sport and we have to train and plan for that. Here’s my challenge to you — when was the last time you didn’t check email for 24 hours? When was the last time you took 5 workdays off (in a row!) and played as hard [...]

By |December 14th, 2020|

Do you treat yourself with respect?

Let’s be honest — sometimes the biz dev process can leave us feeling like we’ve somehow compromised ourselves to get a seat at the table. Hopefully, we don’t make compromises that actually left us feeling dirty but even with a sweet spot prospect, we can certainly feel like we’ve twisted ourselves into a pretzel or performed like a dancing poodle rather than being respected for how we can elevate the prospect’s business. I think it’s easy to forget that clients actually want their agency to have a point of view and an opinion about the work and the direction the client should pursue. We’re so busy trying to be invited to the dance that it’s easy to lose a little bit of ourselves. I wrote an article for Marketo about this idea that clients actually long for brave agencies and it’s our responsibility to walk with some swagger and confidence to the negotiating table, rather than acting like we’re grateful for the handout. When I look at the agencies who are knocking it out of the park from a biz dev point of view, they all have one thing in common — the courage to speak their mind. I’d love to hear your take on this topic and on the article. This was originally published in the weekly AMI newsletter.  To subscribe, click here.

By |December 7th, 2020|

Seven steps to better biz dev

You have probably said or at least heard the agency-centric expression “new business cures all ills,” and it’s pretty accurate. Will it fix fundamental problems at your agency? Unfortunately, no. Those are still on you to solve. But it does fix a lot of cash flow challenges, too much time on our hands bickering, and morale issues. I believe that agency owners need to invest a significant amount of their time and attention to biz dev and yet, when I get into most shops, to say the effort is haphazard is an understatement. Most of you have a reactive new business program, which means you respond to what walks in the door through referrals, RFPs, etc. One of the areas where I see the least amount of prep is in that initial conversation. You go to all of that effort to get the meeting. I want to make sure you make the most of the opportunity. I wrote an article for Spin Sucks about seven steps you can take to improve that first impression, whether it’s a coffee meeting or a full RFP presentation. My guess is that some of them will just be a reminder but hopefully a few will inspire you and your team to tweak what isn’t working. Making some minor tweaks in how you show up may be all it takes to move you from being the agency that hears “we really liked you but we went a different direction” to “We can’t wait to work with you!” This was originally published in the weekly AMI newsletter.  To subscribe, click here.

By |November 30th, 2020|

What is going unsaid?

If there is an Achille’s heel for agency owners, it’s the ability to have candid conversations with members of their team. In our work with over 250 agencies a year, this is a pattern I’ve come to recognize all too often. A strong, charismatic owner is petrified to be honest with a member of their team. So they either avoid the topic altogether or they pussyfoot around the discussion, leaving the employee in the dark but feeling as though they can check it off the list. I have my own theories about why so many agency owners allow this weakness to paralyze their agency’s growth but whatever the root cause, it’s one of the biggest barriers to building the agency you deserve to own. See if any of these seem familiar: You don’t do regular reviews of your team You often find yourself talking (and repeating the same conversation) about an employee with your business partner or another employee that serves in a leadership role You have a love/hate relationship with a superstar performer who isn’t in alignment with your agency’s culture You tiptoe around conversations because you’re afraid of the repercussions You believe that having frank conversations that hold people accountable is not good for your agency’s culture You can be good at just about everything else, but if you can’t cultivate a culture of respectful candor — you’re going to hit a brick wall. Again and again. This is a leadership issue. This is a maturity issue, and this is a profitability and growth issue. If you want to attract and retain top performers — you have to be willing to rise above your discomfort and be candid with them. Beyond that, you [...]

By |November 23rd, 2020|

You still have time

I remember my parents lamenting how quickly time passed and, as a kid, I thought they were crazy. Every day seemed to crawl along. Now, I get it. A blink ago it was December and we were all planning our amazing 2020. Little did we know what 2020 had in store. Now, we’re almost to December again. How are you coming on those plans? If you’re a typical agency — you’re behind. Distractions, especially this year, (both worthy and the squirrel variety) have drawn your attention and your time away from your biggest priorities. It’s not too late but it is time to get serious about it. Here’s what I’d like you to do: Pull together any planning documents you developed for 2021 Schedule a 2-3 hour meeting with your leadership team A week ahead of that meeting, send them all the documents with your assessment of the agency’s progress on each goal Ask them to come prepared to discuss: Is this still a priority? (For each item) What do we need to do to get this back on track/keep on track? Who needs to own this goal/initiative? If we only accomplished one of these goals — which one matters the most? Have an open conversation around these questions and then revise your plan. Odds are, you were more ambitious than is reasonable. So get realistic with yourselves and get back on track. Note — if you don’t have any planning documents — that does not mean you should disregard this. You can still pull everyone together and create a plan for the new year. It’s time to build a rock-solid foundation for your agency. Think about how to strengthen your current client relationships, increase [...]

By |November 16th, 2020|
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