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.

You only have so many seats on the bus

I’m a huge baseball fan and one of the more interesting aspects of the game for me is watching how teams manage their roster.  They only have 32 spots- 20 position players and 12 pitchers.  They have to play over 160 games with that small set of players on the team.  They can’t afford for any of them to be in a slump for too long. If a player isn’t helping the team, they don’t stay on the roster for too long. They have to win with the team they have, so they can’t really tolerate a player who isn’t contributing in a significant way.  They can’t just add more people to make up for someone’s deficiency, so they’re forced to deal with sub par performances in short order. Unfortunately, our agencies don’t have a player cap.  Which means we often tolerate too many games where someone on the team isn’t holding up their end of the bargain and the team suffers a loss as a result.  I am working with a couple agencies right now who are dealing with the toughest thing I think an agency owner can face.  Wrong people in the wrong seats.  If you’re a small to mid-sized agency, you have no wiggle room when it comes to your team.  Everyone has to be an A or at worst, a B player if you are going to survive, let alone thrive. In this instance, I am not talking about having to lay people off (which also sucks) but I’m talking about coming to the painful realization that you hired someone to do a job they are not capable of doing.  Odds are you and the team have been working around this [...]

By |May 6th, 2022|

How to Be a Better Company Leader in a Post-Pandemic World

COVID-19 challenged businesses across the globe. Teams were stretched thin, and leaders tried to help where they could. As the pandemic comes to a close, it’s time for leaders to refocus their energy on what matters most. In this piece I recently contributed to CEOWorld.biz, I discuss how you can be a better leader in the post-pandemic world.

By |April 29th, 2022|

Four Steps to Shift Your Agency’s Mindset And Promote Business Development

While you might be used to chasing down the perfect clients to work with, it's possible to flip the script. In this piece I recently contributed to Forbes.com I discuss how a mindset shift will allow you to pull in the right clients without needing to chase them down.

By |April 22nd, 2022|

Sell with Authority

I’m super excited (also relieved, fatigued and so over it as anyone who has written a book will tell you) to introduce you to my latest book, which I wrote with agency owner and AMI member Stephen Woessner called Sell With Authority. The premise of the book is simple — it’s written exclusively for agencies and acknowledges that if your agency’s future is tied to making stuff, then you’re destined to be on a perpetual financial roller coaster. Someone will always make stuff less expensively than you can. We’re entering the era of the authority. While you may already be sick of the phrase thought leader, the truth is there aren’t that many of them in our industry. Thought leaders don’t write content that any other agency could claim. Thought leaders don’t write about anything and everything and thought leaders don’t compete on price. And their time is now. Experts are afforded the highest level of confidence and trust because they have a depth of knowledge that can’t be denied or easily replicated. Why wouldn’t we capitalize on that, as opposed to writing generic marketing tip posts that look like every other agency’s content? Agencies are at the cusp of a huge shift, and if you take full advantage now, you’re going to be tough to catch. You can own an authority position that will future-proof your agency. You’re going to be hearing more about some incredible research data that delivers proof that our  clients are seeking an agency with a deep expertise and when they find one — their relationship lasts longer and is more fruitful for both parties. The question is — are you ready to see your agency through this lens? Are [...]

By |April 15th, 2022|

Growth goals

I am a huge fan of doing one on ones with your team member.s. I outlined the strategy and benefits in an early podcast that might be worth a listen. The very first question that should be covered in every one on one is what is your quarterly growth goal and how are you going to accomplish it? It’s a powerful way for your employees to feel as though you are investing in their growth and care about helping them carve out their career path. From your leadership perspective, it gives you the opportunity to add new skills and knowledge to the team and to help your employees understand that they have to keep getting better — no matter how long they’ve been in the business. That, my friend, also applies to you. Many of us have been in the agency business for our entire careers and that probably means decades, not days. What are your growth goals? One of the patterns I see among the AMI agencies is that the most profitable agencies have leaders who still love to learn and set some impressive goals for themselves. No matter how long they’ve been doing this work. They take classes to improve their presentation skills. They get google certified so they can talk more intelligently. They surround themselves with other owners to learn about best practices, hacks, and industry trends. It’s incredibly easy to get stale in our world. It’s our job to stay relevant and it’s tough to do if we are not experimenting and evolving along the way. If you want your employees to keep evolving so they add more value — set the example and show them how its done. It will [...]

By |April 8th, 2022|

Where do you lay your head?

Every spring, I put together a list of trends that I think agency owners need to be tracking.  I present this content at the spring meetings of the AMI owner peer groups and then later in the summer/fall, I share the trends with my podcast audience (2019 part one and two).  I just finished the deck last week and presented it for the first time today. One of the trends that we talked about that has really gathered steam is the idea of embedding an agency employee into the client’s work environment.  Many agencies initially offered it to keep a client from taking work in-house but what they’ve discovered is that it’s an amazing biz dev strategy.  Remember that 60-70% of your new business goal should come from existing clients and this is a smart way to trigger some of that growth. I don’t have one agency in my world that has an embedded employee that isn’t reporting client growth, new opportunities with other divisions within the company and a strengthening of the relationship.  It’s definitely a winning strategy for the agencies that have implemented it. Now that I’ve had a year of studying it from afar, I have some thoughts on best practices around this growing trend.  It is not without its pitfalls, if you make some wrong turns. This is a premium product — having your AE on site in their environment so price it accordingly. Think long and hard about who you choose to embed. It’s easy for them to begin to feel more like your client’s employee than the agency’s employee.  You want someone who is very committed to the agency’s success. Do you allow them to work onsite at the [...]

By |April 1st, 2022|

Find your people

I am wrapping up two weeks of workshops and I am so gratified that AMI gets to offer these educational experiences. Yes, I love that we help agency owners and leaders get smarter and succeed faster but what I love even more is the energy that happens when agency people are together. It’s such a relief to be in a room where people have actually walked a mile in your shoes. An attendee asked me, “what do you enjoy most about these workshops?” and my honest answer was — “I love watching the connections happen. It’s wonderful to watch people discover they’re among their own kind.” This can be an insular business. We hold our cards close to the vest, we don’t talk about our struggles and we wonder if we’re the only agency struggling with the issues that plague us. Being with people who understand your world is good medicine. It’s invigorating and inspiring. And for many agency owners, it re-fills your energy bucket for a long time. Everyone left the workshops with a notebook full of new ideas (and a few stop doing items) and a little more pep in their step because they’d learned and laughed together about their shared reality. Whether it’s AMI or some other resource — don’t go on your own. Surround yourself with people who not only understand your world but want to actively participate in your success. You will learn more and have a posse of people who will celebrate your wins, commiserate with you on the tough days and be the first ones to offer help when you hit a challenge.   This was originally published in the weekly AMI newsletter.  To subscribe, click here.

By |March 25th, 2022|

Sometimes you have to check out

As agency owners and leaders — we live in a pressure cooker.  There’s always an endless list of To Dos.  Deadlines constantly loom.  Someone is always in our doorway, needing five minutes that quickly turns to twenty. Clients call with emergencies, employees have personal issues and we seem to be the focal point where all of these demands gather.  Truth be told, most of us like the controlled chaos. We thrive on the challenge, the pace, and energy that comes from our daily demands. Until we don’t.   I’m a high energy person as a general rule.  I juggle multiple companies, work long hours, produce a significant amount of new content, and am constantly working to create something new and valuable — be it a course, writing a book, launching a conference or guiding a client through a thorny issue. So when the holidays wrapped up, I planned on jumping right back into the fray, going at 110 mph and getting back into my usual routine. But I couldn’t.  This past fall and early winter were packed with some colossal challenges and demands in both my personal and professional life.  The specifics don’t matter but suffice it to say, I have not been stretched that thin in many years.  I was emotionally, physically and mentally spent. I went on a trip that I had been looking forward to all year. I thought that it was what I needed to re-charge my battery. But instead, it just exasperated the issue. I am not an apathetic person.  In fact, I am sort of the opposite.  I care about everything. But, when we got back from our trip, I was pretty much apathetic about everything. I didn’t care about [...]

By |March 18th, 2022|

If you could read your employee’s thought bubbles

Do you remember the movie “What Women Want” with Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt. You do watch any movie that takes place inside an advertising agency, don’t you? Anyway —the premise of the movie is that Mel Gibson is an arrogant, sexist ad guy who receives the “gift” of being able to hear what women are thinking all around him. As you might imagine, it was a shock to Mel’s ego to see himself through the eyes of the women in his life. If you haven’t seen it — check it out. It’s definitely worth a Netflix night. The movie popped into my head because I’ve had some interesting conversations with agency employees over the past few weeks and my conversation with Craig in a previous podcast also touched on how our employees see the agency and us as the agency leader. I wish you could hear their unedited thoughts because I think we unintentionally miss the mark sometimes because of our assumptions. Like poor Mel — sometimes the listening would not be easy to hear. But given what we do for a living — we know how important perspective is and as you might imagine, the Mel at the end of the movie is a different guy than the Mel we meet initially. I wonder if that would be true for you too. Here are some of the biggest refrains that are running through agency employees’ brains that I believe are worthy of your time and attention:  “I’m relieved that she got a new car. It means the agency is stable financially and I don’t have to worry about my job.” “He has no idea how much harder it is to do my job [...]

By |March 11th, 2022|

Agency Partnership Agreements: Addressing the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

If you're going into business with someone, the best thing you can do for yourself, your agency and your partner is to establish an agency partnership agreement. This document details each person's respective role, expectations for the partnership, how finances will be handled and more. In this piece I recently contributed to Forbes.com, I discuss how you can save yourself lots of time, money and headaches in creating agency partnerships in the future.

By |March 4th, 2022|
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