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.
When I talk to agency owners about their employees, one of the common frustrations I hear is that they’re not strategic enough. Many owners feel like they have to stay in the day to day mix with clients because they’re the only ones who can develop fresh strategies and direction. In our AE Bootcamps, I teach the attendees to be nosy. We make so many assumptions about our clients’ businesses. But if we had to prove our assumptions, we’d be in trouble. The best and most strategic thinkers I know are the ones who ask the most (and most interesting) questions. I think agency people need to be good at sticking their noses into our clients’ operations. We should care about, wonder about and ask about everything from how billing is handled to packaging to who answers the phone. It’s all marketing. A great and easy exercise to do is to pull together your team (by accounts they work on) and make an extensive list of what you really don’t know about that specific client. Go into every aspect of their business from sales to production to distribution and operations and dig deep. Then, share them with your client and work on ways you can learn the answers. You’ll be amazed at how appreciative your client is, the things you’ll uncover and how much smarter your work will be. Teach your employees how to be nosy. Encourage them to go way beyond the questions on the creative brief. Celebrate when they start asking questions you hadn’t thought of. And best of all — watch how strategic they get.
I believe that one of the most challenging aspects of our work is the forced creativity. We have no time to wait around for a muse or to stand in the shower all day, hoping that inspiration will strike. Every day we need to be creative. Now. And I mean that in every sense of the word. The word creative no longer belongs to the creative department, if you even have one. Whether it is a strategy, a media channel decision, a messaging hierarchy or finding the right combination of words to get an uptick in Google Adwords — every single person in your agency needs to push past the mundane and expected ideas and find that diamond in the rough. Oh yeah — and they need to do it in 60 minutes. Or by tomorrow. Or in between meetings. I had an interesting conversation with Jason Keath, founder of the Social Fresh Conference about this struggle and from that, I captured 4 strategies to spark on-demand creativity in an article for Hubspot. Give one or more of them a try and let me know what you think.
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!
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 [...]
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.
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 [...]
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 [...]