Agency Staff

How To Hire Strategic Thinkers — Not Just Order Takers

Good help is hard to find. You want people you can throw in the deep end on day one and can trust to make smart decisions and understand the context and impact of their choices. In other words, you want strategic thinkers. I work with hundreds of ad agencies every year, and they describe this as their No. 1 challenge. They can easily find great order takers, but these employees don’t know how to independently guide clients, which means the senior staff has to oversee everything. Some people have suggested that Millennials aren’t great strategic thinkers because they’ve never developed the ability to solve problems on their own. They had helicopter parents who overscheduled and over-orchestrated their lives, they were praised simply for participating, and they never developed real communication skills. But, however this happened, we have a glut of order takers who have trouble thinking strategically. The Brain Cocktail of a Strategic Thinker To hire independent, strategic thinkers, you first must understand what that means. Strategic thinkers have: Curiosity. They ask great questions, and they ask a lot of them. Patience. They don’t rush to an answer, but take their time gathering all the facts and talking to all the right people before coming to a conclusion. Big-picture thinking. They understand the context and long-term impact of their actions and are able to connect smaller decisions back to it. Confidence. They’re not afraid to take a stand and defend it. How to Spot the True Strategists It’s a challenge, but you can identify true strategic thinkers in the hiring process. Here are some steps you can take to weed out the order takers. Conduct professional assessments. This is not about personality, but ability, behavior, [...]

Don’t Be Held Hostage by Your Rogue Tech Team

Some things creep up slowly in life, like global warming and receding hairlines. Now you can add to that list: The reign of a digital team in agencies. As digital advertising continues its double-digit growth, more and more agencies routinely rely on tech-driven campaigns to keep the lights on. And as web, mobile, and social command larger and larger chunks of clients’ budgets, the teams tasked with executing these campaigns often start calling the shots. In a well-run agency in which all departments communicate effectively and honor agency protocol, a powerful digital team can retain its autonomy without much trouble. Unfortunately, when team members stop respecting agency leadership and begin doing their own thing, they can drive projects over budget and behind schedule. I’ve seen strapped teams give preferential treatment to favorite account executives and even stonewall projects by refusing to answer technical questions. When digital teams go rogue, agency owners can find themselves held hostage by their tech-savvy employees. The advertising world is plagued by a digital talent shortage, so for many agency owners, keeping their digital divas happy seems like a safer option than letting them go. When agency owners feel beholden to their digital teams, these employees can cut leadership out of the decision-making process and severely damage the agency’s ability to function. One agency I know sold a large digital project to a new client that included a website redesign. The team put together a timeline and budget for completion, and everything seemed to be going smoothly. Weeks later, the account executive discovered that the programmers had invested 40 unauthorized hours on “improving” the site. The project was running behind and over budget, and the agency had to eat the overage. [...]

Effective Team Building and How to Get Your Team to Work Well Together with Marcus Blankenship

For every agency the team you’ve assembled has a huge impact on your bottom line. You absolutely want to hire skilled, smart team members. You also want to have every player enhance the culture of your shop. But at the end of the day, you need them to work within your agency’s system and contribute to making the entire agency stronger and better. In my conversation with my podcast guest Marcus Blankenship we explore how to create the a dream team through better hiring, smarter accountability and the importance of regular feedback. Effective team building and keeping that team intact is what makes an agency money. Marcus and I show you how with: Why you must identify your high and low performers Why you shouldn’t be a passive-aggressive leader Why you can’t hire anyone you can’t fire Structured management: why you can’t set people free without management and why you need to set up strong management systems when your agency is small How to effectively build a team How to get your team to work well together Why consistent one-on-one meetings are so crucial What happens in your employee’s head when you cancel a one-on-one meeting How to create a safe environment where the people below you are willing to give you the feedback you need Why you shouldn’t let feedback sit more than a week Marcus’ one-on-one framework guide Marcus Blankenship is a management consultant, trainer and executive coach for software managers and leaders. He helps companies hire the right people, create the right culture, and set up the right process which achieves their goals. Managing a team isn’t something learned in college. In fact, his clients often tell him “I never prepared for [...]

Interpreting the Results of the 2016 Agency Workforce Report with Susan Baier

Think you understand the Millennials in your agency? You might be surprised. Think you know what motivates your employees? You might be surprised. Think you know what your best employees want and need from you? You know the answer – they just might surprise you. Here’s the good news – we can give you a very healthy glimpse into the concerns, wants and needs of your team. This past summer, AMI partnered with my podcast guest Susan Baier and her team at Audience Audit to talk to almost 1,000 agency employees about their work. The result was the 2016 Agency Workforce Report. We set out to find the answers to the questions above as well as many others. A lot of what we think we know about our agency employees flies in the face of their truth. So we kept digging to discover what they value, what motivates them and what they want more of down the road. In this podcast, we walk you through the data and provide you with a snapshot of the results. If you want to get to know your employees and learn what you can do to motivate and keep them, this podcast should be illuminating. Come dig into the results with Susan and me:     Our 2016 Agency Workforce Report What made our 2016 research different from other research projects we’ve done in the past How we crunched our data The three types of agency employees that we found in our research: agency advocates, prosperity partners, and “Millennial Mindset” (and why the majority of Millennials don’t fall in the “Millennial Mindset” group) What your agency can do to have less “Millennial Mindset” employees than average Why the opportunity to [...]

Hey Agency Owner — Employees Need Clarity

If you’ve been struggling to work with some of your team members, odds are you have not embraced the idea that employees need clarity.  Truth be told — most agency leaders struggle with this, especially if they are offering constructive criticism or even tougher — disciplinary action. Agency owners and department heads are notoriously passive aggressive in their management style (you may well be the exception to the rule) and I think there are a few reasons for that. Most agency owners/leaders are accidental leaders: Odds are you were a brilliant writer, art director, account exec or some other tactical role earlier in your agency life.  At some point, you either got promoted or decided to hang up a shingle. Suddenly, you’re the boss and now you have to supervise people. In many cases — the people that used to be your peers.  And you’re flying without a net because you’ve never been trained or coached on how to mentor and coach a team. You don’t have a practice dummy: When we’re trying to learn a new skill, it’s ideal to be able to practice before we have to actually execute. Managing people doesn’t work that way. So you need to ask for a lot of forgiveness as you improve. Admitting that you didn’t handle a conversation well or could have been better at a coaching opportunity doesn’t negate your authority. You may not have good role models:  It’s easy to conjure up the name of a bad boss but much tougher to point to someone who really did mentor you, give you constructive and specific feedback and held you both capable and accountable. Good bosses/leaders are not plentiful. So you may have to swim in uncharted waters. It’s difficult [...]

How to Deal with Stale Employees in Your Agency

One of the most heartbreaking realities in agencies today is what I call stale employees. These are employees that usually have been on your staff a long time and were a wonderful fit for your agency back in the day.  But today, they really aren’t pulling their weight, their attitude is slipping or you just don’t have as much use for their skill set as you used to. The other unfortunate byproduct of this type of employee is that the rest of your staff is either working around the stale employee’s lack of skills or they are resentful of them because they have slacked off but are still getting paid a pretty penny. Neither helps your agency be the best it can be.   It’s a tough, emotional situation. These are people who have been loyal to you for a long time. But the truth is, they aren’t worth what you are paying them. In this solocast, I give you some tangible steps to move that stale employee either out the door or back to becoming a productive part of your team again. What you can learn in this solocast: Stale employees: how to recognize them and why they’re holding your agency back Can these employees be saved? It’s a firm maybe How to have the necessary conversation with stale employees — you owe them honesty The kinds of goals to set to see measurable change and growth before determining their place inside your agency The costs to you as an agency owner for working with stale employees to up their game How to recognize if you really do have to let the employee go How to make a decision while realizing that you aren’t [...]

Hey agency owner — can you run an agency without any employees?

Can you run an agency without any employees? You're about to find out. Recently I received an email which in essence asked how feasible it was to run an agency without employees.  I thought it was a worthy discussion to share here. Here's the question I was asked:  In the last year or so I've noticed more and more agencies that have an organizational structure like this: a strategist or two lead the agency, do new business, do client strategy and service. And the design, technical work and production is done by virtual assistants. This seems to be a particularly popular model with agencies that are Hubspot partners (or partners with other marketing software vendors) or focus on inbound / content marketing. I'd love to hear your experience on this. Particularly, where you see this model working well and where you see the more traditional agency model (a model fully staffed with strategists, account people, creative, etc) working well. My answer: I see this model working with smaller agencies that deliver something that is almost formulaic — like SEO or email automation.  If you can sell it like a product/package — it may work. Typically these agencies are smaller, could be virtual and have little to no staff. They are also at great risk of being commoditized. But for an agency that wants to dig into strategy and really be at the decision making table (in contrast to the more order taking product/package model) it’s really not effective. I don’t believe account people (AE/strategist — whatever you want to call them) are great new business people.  In most cases, they lack the sophistication in business acumen to truly have the kinds of conversations that CEOs/CMOs want [...]

Hey agency owner — 2016 Content Conferences for Agencies

I recently had an AMI agency ask me which 2016 content management conferences for agencies I would recommend they consider putting into the budget. First -- bravo to the agency for actually baking professional development into their budget.  Most agencies underspend in this area and it costs them their best talent. A recent survey showed that agency employees consider being sent to a workshop, conference or other professional development opportunity as being equal to a 17% raise. Whether they are telling you or not -- your people want to keep getting better.  You have a responsibility and frankly it's just smart business, to help them sharpen their saw.  Do they have a responsibility too?  You bet.  I wouldn't send anyone to a conference or workshop if you don't see evidence of them also trying to learn on their own and them bringing that new knowledge into the agency as a teacher. You co-own the responsibility and the best employees are the ones who are hungry to learn and to teach their peers. And of course, whether they want to get better or not -- you NEED them to get better.  You invest so much into your people and they are your primary source of revenue, so you'd better keep investing in them. In our world today -- even if you know everything today, you will be woefully behind in a blink if you don't keep adding to your knowledge base. So your folks need to keep improving.  If not, you have to keep trading up and that gets very expensive. And it should go without saying but I'll say it anyway -- YOU my agency owner friend also need to keep sharpening your skills, knowledge and exposure [...]

Hey Agency Owner — Do you have the right people in the right seats?

Agency life is hectic.  Tight timelines, demanding clients and intense pressure is part of every day life.  In this kind of atmosphere every part of the machine must work in order to achieve both agency and client goals.  Anyone who has worked in an agency has experienced the aftermath of a bad hire. If one piece falters the whole thing can break down and cost more than just time. Digital Marketer asked me to talk about the common mistakes most agencies are guilty of in the hiring process and what steps can be taken to ensure you have the right person in the right position. A little bit of time on the front end in the hiring process can both save you a lot of lost time and money.  Have you assembled the right parts to make your agency run smoothly? You can read the article here and I’d love to hear what you thought.