I'm not that definitive about a specific book as a general rule, so you know this one is special. But if there’s anything I know about 2021 and beyond — the agencies and organizations who consistently deliver big and bold ideas that solve new problems are the ones who are going to win the day. We've always known this truth. If there’s one thing every agency has to be able to do, it’s innovate. We are paid to be creative thinkers on command. We have to be able to generate ideas on a regular basis that serves both the agency and our clients. But now -- in 2021? It's survival. Both for our agencies and the clients we serve. One of the biggest challenges in terms of being able to do this consistently is that it’s usually only the agency owner or a handful of leaders who can do this work. What if everyone in the agency had the skills and confidence to be an innovative thinker? We’re reinventing everything right now and what an amazing time to be front and center with ideas that will light the way. Carla Johnson’s brilliant book RE:Think Innovation will remind you that you were born with the ability to innovate but it got dampened along the way. Fortunately — Carla wrote this to show you how to awaken it in yourself and your entire team. This book will show you how to do it, how to teach it and how to sustain and scale it. The book launches today… and you can get all kind of goodies if you order today! To hear my podcast interview with Carla, go here. To register for the workshop Carla and I [...]
Creative provides the largest opportunity for marketers today. But with limitless creative decisions... How can you be sure you’re nailing every choice you make? The rules for digital marketing can sometimes feel too fast-paced. Our world is full of ever-changing targeting and privacy restrictions, especially due to the updates ushered in by iOS14 and Google’s phasing out of third party cookies. Investing in creativity is the ultimate way to serve your customers, no matter what changes we encounter in the future. Embracing creative thinkers and optimizing their work with machine learning is the ultimate way to ensure your customers’ campaigns provide the impact they need. How Can Marketers Keep Up? When trying to learn how to create the best content, we often research best practices. Facebook itself has a slew of best practices, tips, and creative standards to follow in order to get brands their biggest reach. Still though, both Facebook and consumers want creative diversity. Following best practices can take you places, but it won’t get you as far as one novel, well-executed idea. In a study of Pattern89’s 11 years of historic digital marketing data, we found that top performing creative goes stale after just 10.4 days. In practice though, creative life cycles are much longer, sometimes lasting months. The most feasible way to update all your creative in a timely manner is to tap into new technologies. For example, machine learning can make optimizations and predict what content adjustments will perform for your audiences and goals. Let’s take a look at how machine learning can offer the perfect support for creative teams. Understanding the Algorithm Obviously, the greatest creative accomplishments came from people. Only human minds-- such as William Shakespeare, Frida Khalo [...]
Content creation is hard. It’s a vital part of modern marketing, it feeds SEO, and nearly every customer I talk to—SMB, digital agency, publisher, you name it, they all struggle. For digital agencies especially, multiply “this is hard” by a list of demanding clients and flakey freelancers, and you’ve got a recipe for something not delicious. My company, Verblio, creates content for 500 agencies every month. As a result, I talk to a lot of digital agencies and I hear the same complaints over and over: good writers are hard to find. Quality content is expensive and difficult to produce. Did you know that only 25% of digital agencies consider their content programs “successful?” We surveyed 115 agencies and compiled the results and takeaways in Verblio’s 2020 Digital Agency Survey. The 5 biggest content trends should not surprise you—most savvy agencies are doing this stuff. What may surprise you is how hard it is to execute these strategies at scale and to price for success. Trend #1: Content is getting longer The data says: 57 percent of agencies are producing longer content than they were two years ago. Longer content = better results. 29% of agencies said their content length hasn’t changed in 2 years Only 14% of respondents said their content is getting shorter. 43% of agencies said their average blog post today is longer than 1,000 words For any agency steeped in SEO, those numbers are no surprise. The average length of a top-ten Google search result has now topped 2,000 words. Search engines prioritize in-depth pieces that provide significant value to audiences, especially when they also happen to naturally cover related keywords and phrases. Agencies looking to provide tangible SEO value to [...]
Agency people are lifelong learners. If you aren’t — odds are you will be “counseled” out of your role if you don’t own the joint and pushed out of the day to day, if you do. We can’t afford to stop learning in our world. It’s simply changing too quickly and to keep up, we have to make learning a priority. What I love the most about AMI is that in everything we do — you are learning from people who are actively involved in agency life. I’ve owned my shop for 25+ years and am still active there. Craig (who runs our Key Executive networks and the Virtual networks) also still has an agency and has been an owner for 27+ years. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The best aspect of AMI is that owners who attend our workshops, network meetings, webinars, etc. — are all both students and teachers. I love how owners are so quick to offer to share resources, forms, best practices, and connections with other owners. That spirit is the best of AMI and of our profession. If you don’t have a posse of other agency owners/leaders — I implore you to find one. If AMI works for you, great. If not, seek it somewhere else. But do not fight the fight alone. Looking for some places to learn from other agency owners/leaders? Build and Nurture your Agency's Sales Funnel— January 21/22 in Orlando on WDW property Running Your Agency for growth, profit & a little sanity — April 6/7 in Chicago Advanced AE Bootcamp –August 17/18 in Chicago AE Bootcamp — September 14/15 in Chicago Money Matters for Agency Owners — Dates TBD We’d love to help [...]
A couple of years ago, when we were able to be out and about and travel the world, I went on a photo safari vacation to South Africa with my daughter. We 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! I was fascinated to watch how our rangers and trackers scanned the dirt for tracks, examined the foliage to look for breaks, and even tested the temperature of dung to determine what animals were nearby and how long ago they had come through. The clues were so subtle that it was amazing when they spotted them. But the rewards that came from that attention to minute detail was the difference between an incredible game drive (or survival in different circumstances) and 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 was the speed at which they worked. 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 [...]
Let’s be honest — sometimes the biz dev process can leave us feeling like we’ve somehow compromised ourselves to get a seat at the table. Hopefully, we don’t make compromises that actually left us feeling dirty but even with a sweet spot prospect, we can certainly feel like we’ve twisted ourselves into a pretzel or performed like a dancing poodle rather than being respected for how we can elevate the prospect’s business. I think it’s easy to forget that clients actually want their agency to have a point of view and an opinion about the work and the direction the client should pursue. We’re so busy trying to be invited to the dance that it’s easy to lose a little bit of ourselves. I wrote an article for Marketo about this idea that clients actually long for brave agencies and it’s our responsibility to walk with some swagger and confidence to the negotiating table, rather than acting like we’re grateful for the handout. When I look at the agencies who are knocking it out of the park from a biz dev point of view, they all have one thing in common — the courage to speak their mind. I’d love to hear your take on this topic and on the article. This was originally published in the weekly AMI newsletter. To subscribe, click here.
You have probably said or at least heard the agency-centric expression “new business cures all ills,” and it’s pretty accurate. Will it fix fundamental problems at your agency? Unfortunately, no. Those are still on you to solve. But it does fix a lot of cash flow challenges, too much time on our hands bickering, and morale issues. I believe that agency owners need to invest a significant amount of their time and attention to biz dev and yet, when I get into most shops, to say the effort is haphazard is an understatement. Most of you have a reactive new business program, which means you respond to what walks in the door through referrals, RFPs, etc. One of the areas where I see the least amount of prep is in that initial conversation. You go to all of that effort to get the meeting. I want to make sure you make the most of the opportunity. I wrote an article for Spin Sucks about seven steps you can take to improve that first impression, whether it’s a coffee meeting or a full RFP presentation. My guess is that some of them will just be a reminder but hopefully a few will inspire you and your team to tweak what isn’t working. Making some minor tweaks in how you show up may be all it takes to move you from being the agency that hears “we really liked you but we went a different direction” to “We can’t wait to work with you!” This was originally published in the weekly AMI newsletter. To subscribe, click here.
At the beginning of most of my engagements, I start by sending the client team a questionnaire that helps me establish a baseline understanding of how the agency approaches business development—strengths, weaknesses, skills, and areas of resistance. In it, I ask them to describe their ideal client. Here’s a sampling of what I hear more often than not: “Open-minded, seek out expert advice, and take it, challenge us with problems they can’t solve, value our time and expertise.” “Really smart, and motivated to get things done.” “Collaborators who recognize the importance of strategic planning and thoughtful execution.” “They provide us with direct access to key decision-makers. They’re collaborative, value our opinions and input, and have a healthy balance of practical and aspirational thinking for their brand.” “They’re ‘brand collaborators’—marketing-led companies looking for a long-term, transparent partner to challenge the status quo and collaborate on integrated solutions.” “They trust us, respect us, and like spending time with us. Discussion is always thoughtful, relaxed, and challenging. It never feels like we’re not on the same team even when we disagree.” “They are appreciative of the work we do and pleasant to work with.” These are pretty idyllic descriptions. And not necessarily unrealistic. Every agency deserves to work with clients like these. The problem is, these descriptions are limited in their ability to help you find ideal clients. I began to consider why agencies default to describing ideal clients in this way. What I realized is agencies tend to frame the question as "who are we best served by?" when the question I’m really asking is “whom do you serve best?” Understanding the distinction between the two has big implications for the effectiveness of your new business outreach. Who is [...]
...you don’t go anywhere! I’ve spent the last several weeks with agency owners in our peer network meetings. As a part of that meeting, the owners have to present their financials (show P/L, Balance sheet, etc.) to the group. They also have to report sales progress, staff issues, and a host of other metrics. It’s always an interesting lens from which to see the agency owners. I am reminded of what a rare breed they are. We all get frustrated and discouraged sometimes. There have certainly been moments in time when I would have gladly sold my agency to you for a nickel. But not very many and that malaise never lasted very long. Because you’re an owner (if you are one) you forget how unusual you are. The risks you have taken are not risks most people are willing to accept. The emotional roller coaster you ride on a daily basis isn’t a ride most people can stomach. There is a blend of fortitude, resilience, and confidence in you that you take for granted but the truth is, it’s a very uncommon combination. Agency ownership is hard, even on the good days, but it’s relentless when things aren’t going your way (which, by the way, is inevitable). Your unflagging enthusiasm, “it will get better” belief and most of all, your willingness to be very uncomfortable for as long as it takes, is your secret weapon. Why am I reminding you of all of this? Because you think everyone is wired the way you are. But you are a rare breed. And that’s okay. But the misperception that everyone is like you can cause some trouble. It creates expectations that your employees often can’t meet. [...]
I very rarely meet an agency owner who doesn’t want to grow their agency. And of course, we translate that in our heads to mean more people and more money. But growth is much more diverse than that — and the other aspects rarely get as much attention or thought until those demands and/or opportunities are right in front of us. I haven’t touched a garden since I was a kid and my mom would make me weed for her — but I do know this. If you want the best yield, you prepare the ground and give it all the advantages you can. (My mom grew a zucchini so big the local TV station did a story on it.) It was as embarrassing as you are imagining, but clearly, I have earned that garden analogy. I was part of the Squash Squad.) Our agencies are the same way. If we want them to grow — we need to prepare the soil. Forbes invited me to write an article identifying some of the aspects of growth that you may not have thought of and what it takes to be prepared for it and as always, I’d welcome your feedback. And by the way — growing doesn’t have to correlate with size. We have several AMI agencies that grew by reducing their staff in half. Others have been the same size, in terms of FTEs for years, but continue to outpace the previous year’s performance. Not everyone’s cup of tea for sure but don’t think adding more bodies is the only way. This was originally published in the weekly AMI newsletter. To subscribe, click here.