Most agencies today are struggling to recruit and retain good talent. If that’s you, you’re not alone. Our industry is experiencing a 30% turnover on average. If you’re not seeing that issue in your shop, my guess is that you have discovered the secret that every agency has but few truly leverage. Culture. Yes, you have to pay them a fair wage (check your salaries against our 2019 salary survey if you’re not sure) and offer decent benefits. But we all know those are just table stakes. Agencies are in a very unique position to create “brag-worthy benefits” that will help you attract and keep strong team members. I recently wrote an article for MediaPost that outlined some of the most important elements of culture. As always, I’d love your thoughts. But it’s not just about the list of perks and opportunities. It’s also your agency’s spirit. When I walk in the door, is it like a tomb with everyone whispering or not talking at all? Does spontaneous fun break out at least once a week? Do you give your team permission to generate that fun and demonstrate your support by participating? Create a culture that has your employees sharing it on social media and over the dinner table. That sense of belonging and energy is very hard to walk away from and very attractive when someone is looking for a place to call home.
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.
A couple of months ago I spent two days sequestered in a conference room with 45 agency employees that all have “digital” in their job description, their daily work or on their long list of responsibilities. They were from 20+ different AMI agencies and the reason we were all together was that they wanted to pick each other’s brains. In advance of the meeting, they put together a nine-page discussion guide of all of the topics they wanted to cover. Nine pages! I can’t tell you how impressed I was with these professionals. For two days, they shared, questioned, taught, learned and grew. They were so hungry to get better, to help their agencies get better and to help their clients knock it out of the park. I know there are times when you, as an agency owner, get frustrated with your employees. They don’t always work in the way you want them to work. Or they may not burn the midnight oil at the office like you used to do. And they definitely are bolder about asking for what they want than we were in our early days. But I am here to tell you — they love their work, respect you and genuinely want to keep adding to their skills. So take heart — your team is as committed to their craft as you were when you were their age. My experience also reinforced one of the biggest takeaways from our AMI/Audience Audit research findings. The most important benefit from your employees’ point of view is educational opportunities and the chance to sharpen their saw. That’s good news for your agency and for you.
In an AMI network meeting last week, the big topic was employee recruitment and retention. If your agency isn’t struggling with this issue, consider yourself one of the lucky few. Agencies (and it seems all businesses) are fighting tooth and nail to find and keep productive, committed employees. Many of you are looking for so long that you end up compromising just to get someone in place. And we all know how well that usually works. Overall, agency owners are incredibly generous with benefits and flexibility. But there’s a new benefit that I want to make sure you’ve got on your radar screen because it may be worth considering as a recruiting tool. One of the things we talk about in our Managing Millennials workshop is that all employees (but particularly millennials) love to have “brag-worthy” benefits and this one is definitely brag-worthy. The benefit is student loan repayment. You can read more about it in this Forbes article and see some examples of how it is being positioned and packaged. Employee recruiting and retention will be a major discussion at our owner’s workshop (Best Management Practices of Agency Owners) this coming March in Chicago. Registration is open if you’d like to hear how other agency owners are reducing their workweek, actually getting to their family events and putting more profit on the bottom line.
Before the recession (we when utter that phrase, I suspect we look like old men in overalls, smoking a corncob pipe and rocking on our porches but...) there were many agency owners who swore that they would never work with outside contractors. They believed that the quality and integrity of their work relied on having all of the work done by employees that toiled under their roof. Today -- I know very few agencies who still cling to that belief. Most agencies today have a stable of contractors that help them augment their offerings and skill sets. (Not to mention remote employees, etc.) The truth is, and our research shows this, that when an agency of 10 or 20 or 50 employees calls themselves a "full-service, integrated agency" their prospects do not believe them. The prospects know how complicated and specialized marketing has become and they know that it's pretty challenging to have every discipline under our roof and to deliver against all of those needs at the highest levels. The great news is -- there are plenty of freelancers, strategic partners, and solopreneurs that we can hire to help us serve clients better. The rub is when we walk the thin line of are they really an employee or are they a contractor. Should they legally be getting a W2 or a 1099 (in the US) from you at the end of the year? Independent contractors are generally outside the coverage of various laws that apply to the employer-employee relationship. Which means that it's easy to get into trouble if you do this wrong. This is especially important when it comes to issues like pensions and retirement accounts, workers compensation, and wage and hour [...]
There’s a talent shortage in the agency business. I can’t remember a time in recent years when agencies were hiring as much as they are today and having as much trouble finding the right fit employees. You’ve heard the adages about the costs of a bad hire and, if anything, they underreport the costs. But today, those costs are even greater because not only does the bad employee do incredible damage to your shop — they also leave a gaping hole that’s tough to fill. Unfortunately, in most cases, our bad hires are our own fault. We’re horrible interviewers. We talk way too much and we spend more time trying to convince the candidate that our agency is a wonderful place to work than we do discerning if this candidate will serve us, our team and our clients. We also don’t test the candidates well. iMedia asked me to expand on that idea in an article about how to get interview tests right. I’ll be curious to hear your thoughts. If our hiring practices could use some work, our onboarding could absolutely use an overhaul! Once you get a team member who is dedicated, committed to your team and clients and is hungry to keep getting better — don’t just bury them in work. Our research talking to over 950+ agency employees showed us that the #1 factor your employees consider as they decide whether or not to stay with you is if you’ve offered them educational opportunities. At AMI, we’re always looking for ways to help you build the team you already have. Our Advanced AE bootcamp gets rave reviews so if you want to enhance the skills of your AE crew — it’s [...]
I know it seems like common sense and your brain may agree — but your mouth often takes a different path. If you’re 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. One group of employees that really needs you to get good at the whole clarity thing are your millennials. They come into your agency with very different ideas about how employees behave, what success looks like and how they can contribute. They’re eager but raw. But if you really find a way to be straightforward and very directive with your feedback, I think they will surprise you. Be it millennials or any other group of employees, agency owners and department heads can be vague, passive-aggressive, or just absent in their management style (you may well be the exception to the rule) and I think there are a few reasons for that. In a recent blog post, I dug into what gets in the way of us being more clear and then offered up some tools we can use to get better at it. Check it out and let me know what you think.
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.
Many agencies are struggling with what I have termed “stale employees.” These are seasoned pros who have probably been with your agency for a long time. They were incredibly talented and valuable back in the day, but their skills have not evolved as your agency and the marketplace have. Odds are, they’re someone who has stuck by you through thick and thin as your agency has gone through its ups and downs. Which is why you’re ignoring the issue. But the truth is — this employee is typically one of your more expensive salaries and they are contributing less and less. Not only is this team member costing you money but odds are, they’re going to cost you some of your most valuable employees too. American Express’s Open Forum asked me to dig into the issue and offer some solutions. If you’ve dealt with a stale employee — I’d love to hear how you resolved it.
If your advertising agency culture sits on either end of two extremes, you don’t need an engagement survey or a high-priced consultant to confirm your reality. You can feel the energy when things are amazing, and you can smell the stench when things are rotting away in your business. But what if things are somewhere in between? What if you’re unsure if things are heading in the right direction? Or what if you’re confident they’re really good, but you want a heads-up before you suddenly realize you’re whiffing six-day old cod? You might need that engagement survey, and you may need that consultant. In the meantime, here are three danger signs that will tell you if your advertising agency culture is in trouble: YOU’RE EXPERIENCING "MEGO" A journalist friend once had an editor who routinely rejected poorly written copy because it produced what he called MEGO – My Eyes Glaze Over. In other words, it was boring. Are your organization’s vision, mission, and values creating MEGO? When you read the statements to employees, do they say, “Yes! That describes us so well!”? Or do they roll their eyes and say, “Yeah, right. That’d be nice.”? It’s great to have statements that set the bar high, but most employees have a pretty sophisticated BS meter. If you acknowledge the gaps between where your advertising agency culture is and where you and others want to take it, most employees will help you make it happen. If you’re trying to prop up your culture with $10 words, however, you’ll lose respect and trust. YOU’RE BEGGING FOR RECRUITS When your culture is strong, healthy, and vibrant, your employees become your best recruiters. They sing the company’s praises every chance [...]