The recession damaged a lot of agencies a few years ago, but one of the most damaging aspects of the financial crisis was that many agencies and their owners had to scramble just to keep the doors open. They were cutting deals, taking work they shouldn’t have and getting by on less for a long time. Unfortunately, for some owners — they haven’t been able to shake that stink. I believe one of the biggest impediments to your agency’s new business efforts is the lack of swagger. I don’t mean cockiness. I mean confidence. I want agency owners to make prospects prove to them that they’d be a great client. As much as you have to earn their business, I want them to have to earn the right to work with you and your team. I think if you can bring back your swagger and a little bit of attitude — you’ll actually win more and better business. I explored this idea over at Agency Post and I’d welcome your input. How do you keep your swagger?
We’re a full service, integrated marketing agency. We partner with our clients. Sound like something you might say? I hate to tell you-you and most other agencies-many agencies struggle with how to truly differentiate themselves from other agencies. And it isn’t easy. But it starts with recognizing that every client is not a good client for you and that there is a recipe for your perfect clients. Those are the prospects you should pursue with a vengeance. There are plenty of them out there to keep your agency growing and prospering. Agency Post asked me to offer some options if an agency is truly ready to take the bold leap of differentiation. Check it out here. I expect some of you will have a strong opinion about this and I’d love to hear it. Our Fall workshops are starting to fill up. If you want to invest in your AEs or yourself — check them out before they sell out.
Most agencies use the the accrual basis method of accounting because it aligns more closely with how our businesses actually run and gives the agency owner more realistic numbers and metrics, so their decisions are better informed throughout the year. In the cash method of accounting – the day a business gets a check or cash from the client, it recognizes the revenue. This works well in a retail world. I walk into the grocery store. I pick up milk and bread and give the cashier some money. At that point, they have actually earned that money. Our transaction is complete. But in our world – in many cases, when a client gives us money, we haven’t actually earned that money. If the client asked for the retainer or the media pre-payment back, we have to return the money because it’s not ours yet. We haven’t done the work. But in the accrual model of accounting, transactions are accounted for when the transaction occurs or is earned, regardless of when the cash is paid or received. (Note: most agencies convert to cash for tax purposes.) Let’s play this out. You send a client an invoice for $30,000 which is 50% of a project’s fee, after they sign the scope of work. They send you a check. Your bookkeeper should book that $30,000 as a liability. Again – if they ask for the money back the next day, you owe them the $30,000. If your bookkeeper books that as a sale or revenue (like they would in the cash method) it would tell a lie. It would say that you did $30,000 worth of work in that month and you can spend that money without risk [...]
Change—some thrive on it, while others resist it. Why is it that two individuals can look at the same thing and think totally different thoughts? Some see change as essential, while others fear the worst. "Half full" versus "half empty"—possibilities versus consequences. We have a few ideas on managing change in your business. Here’s our basic behavioral profile—we’re optimists; we enjoy interacting with others, have a high trust level, sometimes talk too much, are generally quick to accept meaningful change and at times too direct. We share these behaviors with about half of the population. Our natural tendencies are to quickly accept change. Keep in mind that over one-third the population is naturally reserved about accepting change and there’s an additional 14% who flatly resist change. (Figures based on DISC Behavior population norms.) While sometimes we control change, most of the time we are impacted by change and are expected by employers, clients, boards of directors or the government to accept change and support it. But if our natural tendencies are to be reserved or resistant, is it a fair expectation? Our answer, setting aside our personal tendencies, is “no.” Even for change “embracers” like ourselves, skepticism may set in if a change effort is poorly managed. For “change” to take place we need a large segment of the work force to accept, believe and support the change. Change needs to be accepted and ultimately viewed positively. If change isn’t accepted, it will become the kryptonite that brings an organization to its knees. The real questions are “Where?,” “Why?” and “How?” will an organization make critical changes. and "What are the implications if changes are not implemented?" Here is a change process designed to engage the [...]
The aroma of vegetable soup wafted up the stairs to my office. Moments later, my wife called, “Dinner’s ready!” “Mmmmm … I love homemade soup,” I thought. Rushing down the stairs and past the pantry, I spied a tube of crackers, grabbed them, and headed for the dining room. My wife sat at the table, waiting for me, smiling. Her smile vanished as she saw the tube of crackers. “Oh, this isn’t good enough? I really tried to get everything you like. I even brought out the oyster crackers …” Confused, I looked at her. Then, I looked at the table. She had arranged a beautiful spread of crackers, sliced cheese, chips & dips, salsa, veggies and grilled sandwiches to go with our soup. And there I stood, tube of crackers in hand, inflicting help. Acting Without Asking Inflicting help occurs when the helper acts in a way they feel as helpful but the recipient does not. It often stems from the helper not asking if, how or when someone would like to be helped. Instead, the helper jumps in and acts without asking. “But, I was only trying to help!” I was trying to comfort her. “I didn’t know you had all this out. I smelled the soup, saw the crackers, and grabbed them to be helpful.” We quickly sorted things out and went on to have a great meal together. Looking back, it was an interesting interaction, and it holds some lessons for agency managers. Because too often, well-meaning agency owners or managers inflict help on their teams. And when we realize what we’ve done, we might exclaim, “But, I was only trying to help!” Step One — Stop and Look Inflicting help is almost [...]
I’m writing this note from South Africa, where I am on a photo safari vacation with my daughter. We’ve 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! (And yes...that elephant is THAT much bigger than that Land Cruiser!) I’ve been fascinated to watch how our rangers and trackers scan the dirt for tracks, examine the foliage to look for breaks and even test the temperature of dung to determine what animals are nearby and how long ago they came through. The clues are so subtle that it’s amazing when they spot them. But the rewards that come from that attention to minute detail is the difference between an incredible game drive (or survival in different circumstances) or it being 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 is the speed at which they work. 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 saw [...]
Creative agencies such as marketing firms, website developers, and advertising and design groups can often be reluctant to approach the issues of confidentiality and intellectual property rights ownership with prospective business clients. Those who set agency policies may feel that asking for a nondisclosure agreement (NDA) is too off-putting during business development discussions – as if bringing up such matters might sully the burgeoning trust that is being established in the working relationship and create an uncomfortable tension. Others feel that such agreements aren’t actually enforceable (yes, they are), or that a prospective client will always refuse to sign them (some will sign, some won’t). While some of these concerns are well founded, there are good reasons why creative agencies should still pursue a nondisclosure agreement. Let’s take a look at three of those reasons, below. Three Reasons Your Agency Should Utilize a Nondisclosure Agreement First, a nondisclosure agreement sends the professional message that the Agency respects the confidentiality of all parties involved. Integrity always makes a company shine brighter, don’t you think? How can an NDA protect everyone? Simply make the confidentiality provisions mutual so that both the client and the Agency are protected. In this way, the Agency’s client feels valued and is also subconsciously reminded that he or she is working in a private relationship. Secondly, an NDA offers a convenient opportunity to address rights ownership issues in writing prior to a pitch, proposal, or a new business discussion. Many agencies worry about protecting their intellectual property during the new business process as well. A mutual nondisclosure agreement can include helpful language about the Agency’s rights to the concepts and work it discloses, prior to actual engagement by the client. Thirdly, a [...]
Recently I spoke at the Austin CTO Summit about lessons from my article, Why Your Programmers Just Want To Code. I wanted attendees to feel a strong connection between programmer motivation and an environment where everyone’s idea matters. Of course, these ideas don't just apply to programmers, but to any business staff. Let me unpack how the demonstration I used at the conference can help you get more ideas from your agency team. Shall We Play A Game? My talk was only twenty minutes, so I designed a simple ten minute exercise to create an environment for a simulation. To simulate “real life”, I asked each person to write their title and the number of conferences (known as their ConferenceLevel) on a 3x5 card. Titles were given a numeric score from 5 (VP) to 1 (Programmer), and ConferenceLevel was scored from 3 (Expert Attendee) to 1 (Novice Attendee). They were then given two minutes to write their one best idea for improving next year’s conference on a 3x5 card. After they wrote their idea, I presented the rest of the game: 1.The goal of the game is the find the people with the best and worst ideas. 2. People would exchange their card with a stranger, where each scored the other’s idea. 3. The range of scores was -5 (very bad) to +5 (very good). Players were told to defend their idea in hopes their score would be changed. 4. Players were also told to be as objective as possible in scoring, so we could find the best idea. 5. Each person’s score would be calculated with the formula: TotalScore = IdeaScore * ((ConfLevel* 1.4) + (Title * 2.2)) 6. Each person was told they [...]
Every day across the globe, agencies are working hard to differentiate their clients and help drive their clients’ growth. These agencies use the art and science of positioning to help their clients stand out from competition in an important and authentic manner. Sadly, most of the agencies doing this fine work have not worked the same positioning magic for themselves, in spite of the fact that they compete with dozens—if not hundreds—of other agencies on a daily basis. There is an abundance of talented and effective agencies who have failed to differentiate themselves. As a result, they are missing out on the significant (and very profitable) growth opportunities triggered by a compelling brand position. So, how to position your agency for success? Let’s talk about it. The Challenges of Agency Growth As you no doubt know, there are numerous challenges when it comes to growing an agency today. These challenges include: • More competition • Greater complexity • Difficulty expressing the uniqueness of your agency • A more educated and informed buyer who does his/her agency research without your knowledge Most agencies face these challenges. There is, however, an opportunity to address these challenges by positioning your agency in a truly unique, compelling and differentiated fashion. In this paper we will share the learning we have regarding how to create such a differentiated position for any agency by leveraging best practices that we have learned from our 28 years of agency related consulting. The Great Agencies of Old Most agencies today face the challenge of how to effectively position their firm and how to present their agency in a compelling, client-centric manner. It was not always like this! The great agencies of old stood for [...]
If you’re operating your agency with the goal of achieving the performance metrics of 55/25/20 recommended by the AMI, it’s easy to see in any given month just how well the agency is performing. Those three numbers should be the basis to guide your decisions on everything from personnel to pencils. Setting goals is great, sharing agency performance goals though, that has the power to change everything. One of the most important questions agency owners should be asking themselves is a simple one: How many of your agency staffers understand or are even aware of those numbers and how they drive a healthy, sustainable enterprise? Is it just a few—perhaps your finance person and your number one key executive? That’s the most common answer, and it’s also a big mistake. As an owner, if you’re hesitant to educate everyone in the agency about the numbers, you’re literally managing with one hand tied behind your back. Here’s how sharing agency performance goals changes everything, empowers your team, and sets an exciting path for the future. Sharing Agency Performance Goals—Financial Transparency Fuels a Growth Mindset In coaching sessions I have with agency owners, one of the first things I want to uncover is the owner’s comfort level with financial transparency. If the owner is new to AMI, I’ll take them though the metric; 55 percent of adjusted gross income (AGI) is the target for the agency’s fully loaded compensation, 25 percent utilized for overhead, and 20 percent profit. For those who already know the formula, I work to understand just how deep this foundational knowledge runs throughout the agency. As an agency owner for 30+ years, I get the hesitancy about “opening the kimono.” A common concern [...]