Agency leadership

Are agencies a dying breed?

I always find it fascinating when conferences bring together a panel of professionals and ask them to look into their proverbial crystal ball and tell us how the world will be different. A couple weeks ago, during AdvertisingWeek's conference, a panel that consisted of Jack Bamberger (SVP of Global Partnerships at Oath, Jeannine Falcone, the Managing Director of Digital Marketing for Accenture Interactive, Kelly Mooney, Co-lead of IBM iX Studios, Stephanie Anderson, CMO and Strategy Officer at AI Media Group, Andrew Bailey, Partner and CEO of The & Partnership and Tim Castree, Global CEO of WAVEMAKER) pretty much predicted that agencies will not exist. You can watch the entire panel discussion here. A takeaway quote that you might listen for -- "In 3-5 years, agencies have a 30% chance of  survival." Have no fear -- they're wrong. First note that they all work for companies that sell with the "if you don't want an typical agency" line.  They are positioned against agencies already.  So of course they don't want to suggest that agencies can or will flourish in the future. Which doesn't mean they are completely wrong. As I have said many times, agencies need to: Stop focusing on selling stuff and instead sell their smarts, counsel and insight Need to re-think their pricing strategies Need to teach their account people how to ask better questions/be a strategic thinker Need to invest in continued education for themselves (owners) and rising stars I do believe that agencies will have to continue to evolve (as we always have) to stay relevant.  We have to get back into the C-suite.  We have to understand that we can't exist if we only serve the CMO anymore.  Our job is [...]

5 Big Agency Owner Mistakes Make and How to Avoid Them

All agency owners have one thing in common: the desire to create a company that does it better and does it their way. But you can’t realize your vision if your agency isn’t financially successful. It’s simple: Your agency must bring in revenue, and your team must be rewarded for its hard work. Agency owners still trip up on the same five mistakes over and over, despite having a straightforward goal. These five agency owner mistakes aren’t unique, and fixing them isn’t optional. Get back to your main goal, and get over what’s making your agency more complicated and less successful. The Big Five Agency Owner Mistakes These five mistakes are probably things you already know you need to fix. They’re the things holding your agency back and keeping you from being as efficient and successful as you could be. 1. Your agency doesn’t have a business plan. Most organizations don’t have one; of those that do, very few actually use them. But without one, how do you recognize areas that need improvement? Your plan needn’t be a 20-page monstrosity that sits on your bookshelf collecting dust. It can be a single piece of paper that identifies your most pressing needs in finances, management, staffing and more. If you commit to your business plan, you can increase your bottom-line profits significantly. The plan should focus on your vision for your company. What do you want for your future? Take your ideas, make a list, and then make them real. 2. You don’t stick to your processes. No one violates an agency’s procedures more than the owner. But we both know the problem with that. If you don’t do it, neither will the rest of your team. That’s why [...]

Get Your Clients to Sing Your Praises

In the Flight of the Conchords song “Carol Brown,” Jemaine’s attempt to serenade a love interest is thwarted by a choir of his ex-girlfriends. As Jemaine sings his own praises as a would-be lover, the choir sings Jemaine’s many faults: “He doesn’t cook or clean; he’s not good boyfriend material.” (“Ooh, we   can eat cereal,” he counters.) Contradicted and drowned out, Jemaine laments, “Who organized all my ex-girlfriends into a choir and got them to sing?” Poor Jemaine. One lone voice doesn’t stand a chance against a choir singing in harmony. A Choir of Clients Place your agency in Jemaine’s shoes. You’re wooing a company you hope will hire you. Instead of ex-girlfriends, though, the choir is made up of current clients. When you start singing, does the choir back you up? Or does it warn the potential client to make like Carol Brown and take a bus out of town? You can stack the odds in your favor by organizing the choir yourself. Build a strong, vibrant community for your clients — something that gives them a real sense of connection and value — and they’re much more likely to sing your praises. The Benefits By forging meaningful bonds among your clients, you become their common ground. As you foster connections for them and add value on all sides of the equation, they’re drawn closer to you. A community of clients also prevents your agency from being pigeonholed. When your clients tell one another about the customized services you provide, they’re helping you by painting a complete picture of your agency’s capabilities. This leads to opportunities to engage them in new ways. From your client’s perspective, the community provides added value in the [...]

How to Manage and Retain Your Agency’s Strongest Personalities

Working at an agency means you get to hang out with smart, creative people all day long. It also means you’re dealing with a lot of strong personalities -- imaginative, outspoken, and sometimes a bit too confident. When you step into agency leadership, you have to transition from collaborating with these personalities to managing them. Outspoken team members are always difficult to lead, but they present a special challenge in an agency environment, where you rely on their original thinking and courageous attitudes. Reining in these personalities without breaking their spirits requires a delicate leadership balance. As an agency owner for more than 20 years, I’ve had the chance to work with outstanding talent, and I’ve seen my fair share of strong personalities. I’ve learned that nurturing creative thinkers requires a special approach. But with smart management and clear communication, both your strong personalities and your agency can flourish. Here are four ways to maintain control of your outspoken team members without dampening their creativity: 1) Invest in leadership training. A lot of agency leaders came up in the industry. Many landed their positions because of their creative and technical expertise -- not their interpersonal skills -- and have never had formal leadership training. This problem is magnified for young leaders. They’ve been praised throughout their careers for being outspoken and unafraid to take risks, so they may not handle disagreements as respectfully as they should. If the people below them are older, they may feel intimidated and project a false bravado to appear more confident. Sound familiar? Even if you’re a natural-born leader, invest in leadership training for yourself and your entire team. Communication and teamwork programs such as Crucial Conversations can help you mentor [...]

Ready to Retire From Your Business? Avoid These 4 Mistakes

You’ve poured a lot of time and effort into building your business and watching it grow. In fact, you’ve probably built a contingency plan to troubleshoot any emergency that’s thrown your way, but what you may not have thought about is an exit strategy. OK, maybe you don’t feel ready to retire or even plan for it. But that’s a mistake. There’s a great deal of uncertainty that can impact your business without a well-defined succession plan in place. You might think it’s a given that you’ll hand the business over to a family member. But what if you become unable to run the business before your family is prepared to take over? Or perhaps you’re banking on the money it will bring in when you sell it. But what if it isn’t worth what you’d hoped? To guarantee stability when it’s time to leave your business, you need to plan accordingly. Use these four tips to avoid common retirement mistakes: 1. Don’t Assume That Your Family Members Want the Business If it’s important to you that your business lives on after you hang up your hat, make sure your family is fully prepared to take over. It may seem obvious to you that your family will step in, but that isn’t necessarily the case. You need to make sure someone in your family wants the job, is qualified for the responsibility, and can make smart business decisions. Properly groom your successor to ensure the business prospers. 2. Don’t Linger Once You Let Go Whether you gift your business to a family member or sell it to a trusted employee, you need to be able to let go. This can be difficult because of the emotional [...]

How To Give Every Employee A Personal Stake In Your Company

If you’re a business owner, you want your employees to feel as personally invested in the company as you do–but you probably know that isn’t likely. Still, your management strategy can have a huge impact on how deeply invested your employees feel in the work you do together. And getting everyone on your team to think and feel as passionately as you do isn’t as hard as it sounds. All Hands on Deck As an owner, your business is your baby. You watch over it obsessively. You make choices based solely on what’s best for it, even if that means pain in the short term. But I’ve been through the battles of running a business for 30 years, working with baby boomers and millennials, fax machines and iPhones. The most pervasive lesson learned through all those years was simple: Running a business is not a one-person job. You have to share the load. Teach your team that when the company does well, everyone does well. If you try to do everything, not only will you exhaust yourself, but you’ll risk your staff–either intentionally or accidentally–pulling in the other direction. If it begins to look like the boss can handle everything, no one else will feel their own work is mission-critical. They’ll feel unimportant, and your whole team’s enthusiasm and investment will flag. Instead, make it known that you all share the same objectives, and it takes every single person’s contribution in order to achieve them. Driving the Business Forward Employees often want to take more personal ownership for the companies they work for, but leaders don’t usually have the time and energy to teach their entire staff what it takes to run a successful business–let [...]

Best Practices when Forming an Agency Leadership Team

The smartest, most successful business owners have surrounded themselves with a strong, powerful leadership team. They don’t go into battle alone and they know that it’s easier to climb the mountain as a cohesive team. If you really want to scale your agency, build it for eventual sale and exceed your goals – you need a strong group of invested professionals around the table. In this solocast I look at agency leadership teams and how they should function, who should sit on one and why you’d have one in the first place. I explore the best practices around having a functional leadership team that helps the agency owners guide and run the agency day-to-day. Before you put your leadership team together, be sure to take a listen as I walk you through the steps with: Reasons to build a leadership team Why you should never start a leadership team out of frustration or overwhelm Why your leadership team is a great place to mentor employees ready for the next level How building a leadership team fits into your succession plan What kinds of employees should be on your agency leadership team (and why you shouldn’t just look at employees with certain titles) The huge decisions that you as the agency owner have to make before having your first leadership team meeting What leadership team meetings should accomplish Why every leadership team member needs to leave the meeting with a goal to accomplish before the next meeting How to decide when to include your agency leadership team in the decision-making (and the three levels of decision-making you can use) Drew McLellan is the Top Dog at Agency Management Institute. For the past 21 years, he has [...]

Why You Can’t Wait for That Magical New Business Person to Arrive

I’m not afraid to admit that during tumultuous times, I harbored a secret fantasy. Like many stressed-out agency owners, I dreamed of a magical “new business person” who would join my team and, with barely a trace of oversight, begin to sell the agency night and day, acquiring profitable new clients. But that mythical new business specialist is just that: a myth. Unfortunately for those of us wanting to stay in dreamland, this fantasy will only hurt a business. Not the Merlin You’re Hoping For The vast majority of new business specialists never pan out. Most agencies aren’t set up for that person to succeed, so he actually ends up costing an agency money. The reality is, agency owners want that magical new business guy because they don’t want to do new business themselves. They think there’s some kind of secret to it that someone else possesses. It can be a hard pill to swallow, but the best person in your agency to drive new business is the owner. Prospects want to talk to a business owner about business problems. You probably know that you have different conversations with them than anyone else on your staff. I’m not suggesting for a minute that you should do new business entirely by yourself, but you shouldn’t abdicate that control to someone else and walk away. Fulfill Your Own Fantasy The key to confidently stepping into the role of “new business guy” is simply improving those skills. Just like joining a gym for the first time, you may feel like an idiot at first. But as you develop your skills, you’ll grow more comfortable and successful. These three tactics will help you improve your skills and ensure that [...]

Hey agency owner – how do you recharge?

How do you recharge? I worry about you. I hang out with a lot of agency owners and I know that one of the biggest risks to your agency is owner burnout. It's that wearing fatigue that comes with 60+ hour weeks, sweating payroll, never really unplugging and everyone heading to your office when the s*#% hits the fan. We're coming off a long holiday weekend. Did you focus on recharging your battery, investing in your family and friends, and most important — doing something that makes you feel like a priority?  And before this week -- when was the last time you did that. I'm all for using the holidays as a respite but it's not enough.  You need to be taking better care of yourself every week, not just when a long holiday weekend presents itself. Agency owner and 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. This is a conversation I have with most of our remote 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?  DO you even know what refills you? I know I'm not [...]

What Your Key Executive Needs from You, the Business Owner with Craig Barnes

The cornerstone of AMI is our agency owner peer networks. As an agency owner, there aren’t a lot of people you can be 100% candid with, when it comes to how things are going, what you’re working on and the struggles along the way. That’s why network membership is so valuable. The owners get the best of both worlds by joining. You get that outside perspective you really need but from someone who walks in your shoes every day. Many of our network members have been a part of AMI for almost 20 years. They find it so valuable, they asked us to create a lookalike network for their right hand men/women. So we have done just that. We call this our key executive network. My podcast guest is Craig Barnes who is a part of the AMI team and facilitates the key executive networks. Craig‘s uniquely qualified for this role because of his 30+ years of agency ownership. He’s an amazing mentor and teacher so he’s perfect for the job. In this episode, Craig and I dissect what makes a great #1 and how an agency owner can set up their key teammate for success. The key executives (#1s) group Craig facilitates for AMI What makes key executives so valuable Integrators: the employees that don’t want to be owners and just want to pull the levers How we as agency owners make life hard for integrators by not letting go of control Having an empowerment agreement with your #1s for setting expectations for who gets to control what Setting regular meetings with your key executive that you do not break How agency owners can know whether or not they’re ready for a #1 to take [...]