Agency leadership

Have you unplugged lately?

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 [...]

By |November 11th, 2019|

What is an AMI owner peer network?

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 [...]

By |October 28th, 2019|

Want to get more done?

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 [...]

By |October 21st, 2019|

Your employees want more from you

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.

By |October 14th, 2019|

Are you protected from your partnership?

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.

By |September 30th, 2019|

If you’re going to go pro bono, at least get credit

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!

By |September 9th, 2019|

Consistency triumphs over bursts of brilliance

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 [...]

By |September 2nd, 2019|

Do you have every base covered?

Business development is a challenge on many levels. If you don’t have every base covered...being good at all the other aspects may not be enough. Many agencies have not defined their sweet spot client — so they don’t bother chasing after prospects that aren’t a good fit Most agencies don’t have a consistent new business machine that is actively and regularly touching prospects and working a targeted list The lion’s share of agencies have a great win rate with smaller, less profitable clients but struggle to win with “stretch” prospects that could really change their agency and help them elevate their game About 50% of agencies do not have a retention program to actively and intentionally keep and grow their best clients A weakness in any of these areas can really compromise your efforts overall. As you begin to plan for 2020, having a holistic business development plan of attack (with action items, a calendar and most important — regular accountability meetings) may be one of the most important aspects of your vision for the next year. It’s not too early to start working on this. If you’re getting at-bats but not winning or if you’re not getting invited to the pitches/opportunities that you think you should be, we’ve got a great two-day workshop for you. AMI is partnering with the agency search firm Mercer Island Group to help you work all the bugs out of how you chase new business. These guys see proposals, RFP responses and live pitches from agencies big and small. They’re going to give you a sneak peek into the mistakes that you’re making, the missteps of agency positioning and so much more. This is a very hands-on, work ON [...]

By |June 17th, 2019|

Do your employees trust you and do you care?

As we struggle to find and keep great employees, we need to do a quick self- assessment. Are you creating an environment that breeds trust and connection among your team? Especially with you and your leadership team? MediaPost asked me to explore how agencies can create a culture of trust and connection and I’d love your thoughts on my recommendations on the topic. So, how do you find out if your environment is one of trust and connection?  You ask.  We have built an assessment tool that will help you measure the health of your agency in five key areas - account service, finance, Bizdev, staff management, and agency owner happiness. We're aggregating a large number of agency owner participants so we can come back to you this summer with a comparative analysis of where agencies ranked on these issues. And so you can compare your rankings with other agencies. All you need to do to take the assessment is click here. Just a few minutes of your time and you will get your results as well as a follow-up email with your results.  Later this summer I will be letting you know that we're going to do a webinar where we will walk you through the results and you can compare yourself to everybody else and see how you're doing.

By |June 3rd, 2019|

Daily timesheet practices

You've probably heard me say it a million times, but timesheets are the source of foundational data that you need to to run your agency in a fiscally responsible way. They may have nothing to do with billing.  You can value price, project price or sell your work for chickens...that is not my point nor is it the reason timesheets matter.  They matter because they are a measure of the efficiency and effectiveness of your team.  Your people (W2 people) are your most expensive resource.  If you do not know if you're using your resources well, if they are performing at a high level, or if/when you need to add more resources -- then you are operating your business in the dark. I totally get that no one likes timesheets.  I have never met an agency employee or owner who does.  But without them -- I promise you, you are leaving money on the table.  Every month.  Timesheets that are not done daily are 67% less accurate than daily timesheets. So let's assume (humor me) that you've decided that daily timesheets are a mission critical focus for the agency.  You want to be able to use all of the other agency metrics that are based, at least in part, on timesheet data. But, your folks don't do their timesheets every day.  Maybe they don't do them at all.  Or, if you are like most agencies, most people do them once a week or so.  But you always have some stragglers who are a few weeks out. How do you change the culture? I have seen many agencies from from zero to hero in this arena in 2-3 months using the carrot and stick combo I [...]

By |May 28th, 2019|