News outlets have been warning of a potential recession for a while now, and it’s no secret that marketing services are often the first items to go in the event of a recession. In 2009, the last year of the Great Recession, United States advertising spend fell by 12%, while it plummeted 9% globally. What’s more, a February 2019 survey of CMOs revealed that most CMOs are “on the fence” about the U.S. economy. So what can agency leaders do to prepare for a recession properly? Based on interactions AMI has had with our partner agencies, we have identified these top four trends that may affect how your agency prepares for the future. I recently contributed this article to SpinSucks.com discussing some steps agency leaders can take to prepare for another recession. I hope it provides some valuable insights into how to run a more productive agency, and I look forward to hearing your feedback on it!
We're getting ready to head into a long holiday weekend. Are you planning on unplugging? Really unplugging? I'm talking about focusing on recharging your battery, investing in your family and friends, and most importantly — doing something that makes you feel like a priority. Don’t worry — I am not giving up AMI and going into the Oprah business. I swear — this is very relevant to my day job. In fact, it may be one of the most important best practices that I preach. Agency owner/leader burn out is one of the biggest threats to the health of your agency. You have to understand your role in the agency. You are the epicenter. Your energy, your focus, and your contributions are what set the course. When you let yourself get too weary, too burdened or too overwhelmed — everyone feels it. They may not be able to articulate what they sense, but it absolutely changes the dynamics in your shop. I just had this conversation with two of our coaching clients — I believe your #1 obligation as an agency leader is to make sure you stay replenished, refreshed and that your head/heart is in a very good place. That does not happen by accident. Is protecting your state of mind a conscious part of your week? None of these things will happen if you don't commit to them, which means putting them on your calendar and paying for them in advance. We all know what happens to an open hour on your calendar. Here are some suggestions: Weekly: (3 measly hours) Take 15 minutes to write in a gratitude journal every day. You'll be stunned at how powerful this is Take an exercise [...]
Millennials will soon take over as the leaders of the workforce, and we need to be ready for their preferences. They are used to more advanced technology than we had at their age, and their access to social media and other communication platforms during the Great Recession means they think of things like money and value in a much different way than generations before. My agency also recently surveyed 1,000 agency employees to learn more about this generation’s mindset. I draw upon my own experiences, our research, and other sources to help agency owners understand how to manage millennials. Create True Transparency: To millennials, real transparency means increased context fueled by the desire to engage and connect with those around you. So next time, tell your millennial employees what could be improved or how their efforts have helped the business grow. And don’t be afraid to be honest about why a competing agency might have won that valuable client (and what the team can do collectively to get better). Get to know your millennial team members as people, not just as employees. Ask about their interests outside of work, and inquire about their weekends on Monday mornings. These little connections can add up. Help Them See How They Fit Into Your Agency: Millennials have a lot of options in front of them, causing a struggle to make important decisions about their future, further leading to confusion about their identity and purpose. Social media platforms like Instagram and Twitter nurture this; younger generations always have someone to compare themselves too. Millennials are accused of being “job hoppers” because they always see greener grass on the other side. With all this in mind, leverage the compassionate side [...]
Most agencies today are struggling to recruit and retain good talent. If that’s you, you’re not alone. Our industry is experiencing a 30% turnover on average. If you’re not seeing that issue in your shop, my guess is that you have discovered the secret that every agency has but few truly leverage. Culture. Yes, you have to pay them a fair wage (check your salaries against our 2019 salary survey if you’re not sure) and offer decent benefits. But we all know those are just table stakes. Agencies are in a very unique position to create “brag-worthy benefits” that will help you attract and keep strong team members. I recently wrote an article for MediaPost that outlined some of the most important elements of culture. As always, I’d love your thoughts. But it’s not just about the list of perks and opportunities. It’s also your agency’s spirit. When I walk in the door, is it like a tomb with everyone whispering or not talking at all? Does spontaneous fun break out at least once a week? Do you give your team permission to generate that fun and demonstrate your support by participating? Create a culture that has your employees sharing it on social media and over the dinner table. That sense of belonging and energy is very hard to walk away from and very attractive when someone is looking for a place to call home.
Many agency owners and leaders ask me about the AMI networks so I thought I would explain them here in my weekly note to all of you. Very few people in your life truly understand the unique challenges and potential of running a small to mid-sized agency. If you’ve got a partner or two — you can kick ideas back and forth, but you’re all inside the same bottle. And just like we tell our clients — you can’t objectively see or describe the outside of the bottle from inside. This is why our agency owner peer networks are the cornerstone of AMI. By joining a network you get the best of both worlds. You get that outside perspective you really need but from someone who walks in your shoes every day. Each one has a mix of advertising agencies, PR firms, marketing shops, digital marketing, and design firms with the desire and drive to grow their business to the next level. Only one company from any specific geographic market or niche specialty is admitted to a network. This allows you to collaborate with people outside your bottle – to gain new perspectives and share ideas with other driven and passionate agency owners. The network is truly a safe and open harbor where valuable business connections and lifelong friendships develop. The networks meet in person twice a year (for 2 full days + dinner on the night before we start) and stay in touch throughout the year. They share resources, partner on business, seek counsel and enjoy each other’s support, and when needed, a kick in the pants. Your network becomes your advisory team, sounding board, and a group of great friends. At the in-person [...]
I don’t know a single agency owner who does not lament over the lack of time. Every one of us faces a daunting To-Do list and there are very few days when you push away from the desk and think “Wow, I covered it all today.” I am not going to promise you a magical solution to wiping out your To-Do list. But I can help you put a serious dent into it. The only way I’ve discovered to be uber-productive is to be ruthless with your mornings. For the last few months, I’ve been conducting an experiment. On the days where I carved out 2-3 hours of uninterrupted work time in the morning, I crushed my list. On the days that I started with calls, meetings, or checking my email — I got significantly less done. Every night, I write down the three biggest things I need to accomplish the next day. I would get up and be working by 7 am and work for 2-3 hours without checking email, voicemail or picking up the phone/texts, etc. On my power mornings (as I’ve come to refer to them) I could usually get at least two of the three accomplished. I have a lot of all-day meetings so on those days, I might only get an hour in. But I’d try to knock out at least one of my must-dos before the meeting started. Now that I know the value of these morning sprints, I am marking off my calendar to protect that time as many days a week as I can. It’s a work in progress but the more I do it, the better my outcomes. The trick is the solitude. No team, no [...]
When there’s new client money on the table, it can be all too easy to ignore red flags and gut instincts. Our judgment can be temporarily clouded if it means account and wallet growth. However, I’ve seen how signing the wrong clients can cause agencies to lose money, reputation and even employees. Likely, you’ve experienced this kind of client before -- or perhaps you’re currently dealing with one -- but don’t worry. It’s a problem all agency owners, including myself, have dealt with at one time or another. To make things easier, consider a proactive "client filter" approach. To identify the ideal client for your agency, follow these simple steps: Organize your tangible needs: These can include a client’s industry size, marketing department size or company location as well as client budgets and potential future marketing goals. Create a list of intangible needs: These can include how collaborative a client is or whether a client has worked with an agency before. Keep in mind what kind of workplace culture your agency promotes—straightlaced, laidback, or something in the middle? Determine levels of sophistication: Sophistication meaning how established are your clients and how will that affect the amount of work they expect from you and what you can feasibly commit to completing. These scales will be unique to everyone, but try to find clients who are in a happy medium of sophistication in order to avoid problems from “big fish” and “minnow” clients. Draw your lines in the sand: Based on the needs and values you lined up in the first three steps, make sure you proceed forward by ranking every prospect according to that list. Will you accept clients who possess 50% of the traits on [...]
For many of you, the biggest pain point you are facing today is attracting and retaining talent. Agencies are really struggling to find strong prospects for their open positions and to keep their best players. I’ve even had agency owners tell me that they’re taking their foot off the new business gas pedal because they’re afraid they won’t be able to get the work done because of the staffing challenges. All of that means keeping the best players you already have on the team takes on an added importance. You can’t afford to lose a key teammate or be shorthanded. I spend a fair amount of time with agency employees and I think you might be surprised at what they want from you. They want: More mentorship from you (they want to learn from you because they admire your abilities) More training (this was their #1 criteria for job satisfaction) like digital certifications and our AE bootcamps More feedback when they’re trying something new More praise when they’re meeting or exceeding your expectations An opportunity to earn more (through defined, goal-centric bonus programs) when the agency does well A chance to stretch themselves with new challenges and by developing new skills As you can see, most of what they’re looking for won’t cost you a dime. But it will cost you some time and attention. I know what your days are like because my days are like that too. Don’t let your busyness cost you a key employee. Find ways to deliver on the list above to keep your team stable, happy and strong.
Most agencies struggle with sales. Honestly, I think one of the challenges of business development is that many agencies blur the lines between marketing and sales. Many agencies are getting better at marketing. Technology and social media, and all of that make it easier for you to create content or do an e-newsletter, or have a Facebook page. The challenge with that is — it’s not sales, it’s marketing. It feels like you have a new business program when really you have marketing activity. In some ways, the fact that agencies are better at marketing makes some even worse at sales. All of that marketing “stuff” makes them feel as though they can check the box of new business activity. But really that’s just erroneously putting two things in the same box that should be in separate boxes. Many agency owners say to me, “If we can get across the table from someone, we can make the sale.” And what that says to me is: A) they’re probably punching below their weight class because nobody wins all the time. B) they’re waiting for opportunities to present themselves as opposed to going out and creating an opportunity that really is the right kind of client, the right fit, the right industry, and the right size. Take a good look at your business development efforts. Do you really have a sales program or are all of your marketing activities blurring your vision? If you’re waiting for luck and referrals to completely fill your pipeline — is that helping you grow the agency you actually want to build?
No one buys homeowners insurance because they actually expect to have a fire at their house. But they know if they wait until there’s a fire, it’s too late. So, on the very first day of homeownership — they buy the insurance as well, hoping they never have to use it. For some reason, agency owners don’t always apply this same logic to their business. If you have any sort of partner (minority, silent, 50/50, etc.) you need to have insurance in case that partnership goes south. Hopefully, it will never happen but an illness, a divorce, a midlife crisis or a myriad of other things could put your business in harm’s way. Without the proper partnership documents that outline how you handle any threat to the agency — you can be left holding the bag. I’ve had many conversations with owners over the years who find themselves in a position they’d have sworn could not happen. And yet it did. A good partner will welcome this conversation and exercise. After all, they’re at risk if you’re the one who gets sick, goes off the deep end or has personal issues that trickle into the agency. If you’re a 50/50 partner, your documents should also outline how to settle disputes when the two of you are on opposite sides of an issue and neither is budging. Don’t be the person standing on their lawn, watching their house burn to the ground, all the while wishing they’d purchased the insurance. Protect your partnership now — when there are no issues, problems or worries. It’s a much easier conversation to have when you can’t imagine ever needing it.