My intention with a short email isn’t to talk about the bigger, cultural issues our world is facing around diversity but I think we can all agree it’s a topic that we need to keep front and center. That’s true in our agencies as well. Our clients are starting to demand it. It will have influence over our ability to hire and retain talent and it changes the caliber of our work. In fact, 42% of marketers feel the brands they work for don’t accurately reflect the racial diversity of our society. It’s a big deal and we need to pay attention to the challenge. Forbes asked me to write about how this is impacting agencies, our clients and our industry. I also offered up some tactics for thinking about and broadening the diversity in your own shop. I hope you’ll check it out and find it of value. We will be talking about best practices and new tactics for hiring the right team member in our upcoming workshop, Running Your Agency for Growth, Profit (and a little sanity!) coming up in March. It’s two days of how to operate your agency for maximum profit using the right structure, operating systems, and staffing to make it all possible. Hope to see you there! This was originally published in the weekly AMI newsletter. To subscribe, click here.
When I talk to agency owners about their employees, one of the common frustrations I hear is that they’re not strategic enough. Many owners feel like they have to stay in the day to day mix with clients because they’re the only ones who can develop fresh strategies and direction. In our AE Bootcamps, I teach the attendees to be nosy. We make so many assumptions about our clients’ businesses. But if we had to prove our assumptions, we’d be in trouble. The best and most strategic thinkers I know are the ones who ask the most (and most interesting) questions. I think agency people need to be good at sticking their noses into our clients’ operations. We should care about, wonder about and ask about everything from how billing is handled to packaging to who answers the phone. It’s all marketing. A great and easy exercise to do is to pull together your team (by accounts they work on) and make an extensive list of what you really don’t know about that specific client. Go into every aspect of their business from sales to production to distribution and operations and dig deep. Then, share them with your client and work on ways you can learn the answers. You’ll be amazed at how appreciative your client is, the things you’ll uncover and how much smarter your work will be. Teach your employees how to be nosy. Encourage them to go way beyond the questions on the creative brief. Celebrate when they start asking questions you hadn’t thought of. And best of all — watch how strategic they get.
One of the best compliments my agency ever received came from a client who said he never felt like we had our hand in his pocket. We were putting his interests ahead of our own. And while that’s a great way to build trust, it’s not sustainable. They always want a little more. Sure, it indicated we were satisfying our client, but if clients are satisfied with your work, you may be in trouble. Clients don’t want to be “satisfied” with their marketing agencies. They want to be wowed. And that means they want to be over-serviced. That’s a very fine line we walk. There’s a danger there. Offer too much, and you could be hurting your agency’s future. I explored that very thin line in an article for Spin Sucks (Gina Dietrich’s excellent site) and identified some ways you can dance on the line without crossing over to the dark side of actually giving away your work. I’d welcome your input into this challenge that every agency faces. Now that we've passed the halfway mark for the year, I know you’ve got a ton of items on your To Do list before year-end. But I also know you can get worn out from grinding it out 24/7. Be sure you take some time for yourself. Replenish your energy by sharing the Fourth of July holidays with those you love. Invest in those relationships that have nothing to do with your shop or the pile of work on your desk. The work will be there when you get back from some R&R.
Content Marketing Institute just released a new study, asking agencies about what content marketing services they offer, where they are having success and where they’re still banging their head against a wall. The data is based on 197 respondents, with 71% being US based and 61% of the respondents being owners/partners. There were several takeaways of note in this research and some of it supports what I am seeing among the agencies we serve and some of it makes me scratch my head and wonder a little bit. The results certainly support the idea that content marketing is not new. I’d argue that we’ve always been in the content business, we’ve just changed up the packaging over the years and decades. No great surprise — agencies are reporting that clients of all sizes are seeking help with their content. This isn’t going to change any time soon — and that’s good news for all of us. More surprising is that 73% of the agencies said they were extremely/very successful in achieving their client’s content marketing goals. Given the challenges that I hear agency team members talk about every day (getting the content, getting approvals, getting clients to see the long tail play off content, appropriate pricing related to expectations, etc.) I question this number. I’m sure it’s accurate from the research’s POV — I just wonder how those agencies are actually defining their client’s goals. I also wonder if our clients have the right goals. How often have you heard a client express frustration because their content isn’t driving immediate sales? Have we helped them really think through a content strategy that is big and bold enough? Or is it just a two blog [...]
Let’s face it, having a nice client who doesn’t complain and just chugs along is a relief, now and then. But what if that nice client is simply non-confrontational and is actually unhappy? Where are they venting that frustration and will their silence precede you being surprised to learn that you’ve lost the business? It’s important that your account people (and you) understand how to get those clients talking, draw out the feedback that you need and actually build more honest rapport in the relationship. Chief Marketer asked me to explore how to recognize a Nice Guy client and how to get them to open up so you really know where you stand and how you can strengthen the relationship. Check it out and let me know what you think. Our September workshops, AE Bootcamp and our Advanced AE Bootcamp are getting close to maxing out. If you want to grab a spot — do it quick!
I spend a lot of time in various agency conference rooms, critiquing their new business pitches. The invitation to do that usually comes after a streak of “we loved you, buts” or worse — not even making it to the final face to face meeting stage. The truth is — you are pitching your agency every day, whether it’s a formal review where you put on a suit and stand up in front of a committee or you’re sitting across the table from a prospect talking over coffee. Whatever the circumstance — the biggest (and most common) mistake agencies make is that we’re so enamored with our fill in the blank (proprietary process, programmatic prowess, award-winning creative, etc.) that we forget that is not what the prospect needs. They need results. They need proof that their marketing dollars are working. They need leads and sales. Go grab your last three proposals/pitches (word docs, PPT — whatever the format) and give yourself a score. How often do you talk about your agency (our work, our results, our team, our process, etc.) versus the tangible results that the prospect can reasonably expect if they hire you? If you’re honest and your proposals look like most — you are not going to get a passing grade.
You know the drill. Client or prospect calls. They have an urgent need and you drop everything to figure out how to help them. About a third of the way in — when you need something (copy, assets, information, etc.) from them, suddenly there’s a grinding halt and you wait. And wait. It’s part of agency life. Unfortunately, so is that sucking sound you hear as the profits get drained from the project because of the delay. The longer you tread water, the more the work costs you and it’s difficult to recoup the expense of trying to cajole your client into giving you what you need. The delays aren’t always on the client. Sometimes an outside force creates the lag time. But either way — your agency ends up holding the bag. You can greatly reduce that drain on your profitability if you anticipate it up front and build a contingency into your scope documents/contracts. In another blog post, I shared some language you can use to protect yourself from these delays. Feel free to use it verbatim or modify it to fit your agency’s voice. But don’t leave yourself more exposed than you need to be. Check it out and let me know what you think. Our September AE Bootcamp is getting pretty full. If you want to send some of your crew — it would be good to get them registered soon.
It’s annoying and expensive when clients pull the plug on a project before you can recoup all of your upfront investment. And yet it happens all the time. So much of our work requires a huge investment on our part on the front end and when a client stalls or does a 360 and cancels the work — we often get left holding the bag. I wrote a blog post about this challenge and offered some language you can include in your contracts and/or scope of work documents that will help protect you from losing money in this situation. Check it out and let me know what you think. Our September AE bootcamp is getting pretty full. If you want to send some of your crew — it would be good to get them registered soon.
For many agency owners, the constant grind of winning new business but feeling like you’re treading water because it just replaces the revenue from lost business is grueling and disheartening. We all know that it’s tough to make money on a new client right off the bat. No matter how aggressively you price it, you end up investing a lot to get them onboard. The saving grace comes from consistency in your client roster and enjoying the profitability of a client who has been around for a year or more which can really offset the startup investment you make in new clients. Understanding and controlling client departures should be a critical element of your new business program. Part of that equation should be becoming as indispensable as possible. I explored that topic over at SmartBlog on Leadership and discussed ways you can create multiple relationships inside the organization so you aren’t as vulnerable if your day-to-day contact leaves. I hope it triggers some discussion inside your shop and even some modifications to your client retention plan.
How many times have you had a prospect say something like: You are a breath of fresh air compared to our current/old agency You actually understand our business Our other agency never asked us questions like this Wow - I actually know where our dollars are being spent with you It feels good, no make that amazing, when we know we are exceeding our clients' expectations, even if it is because they were with a lousy agency before us. That makes it tempting to go out there and shout "we are not like the other guys! Come experience the difference! I totally get why you ask yourself "should I compare our agency to others?" I'm here to tell you, whatever you do, resist the urge. Think back to the 2018 mid-term election cycle and recall what I am guessing we all said or thought as we watched yet another political ad. “Stop talking about how bad the other guy is and just tell me what you will do.” I get the temptation. But avoid it in your own messaging and marketing. You talk about you. Your philosophy of the work. Your defined and tested process. Your unique POV. Your depth of experience. What is it like to work with you. Let them read between the lines and sense the difference. Where you can put some spotlight on the “we’re better than the other guys” is when you share other people’s words and reflections on you. Think: Google and FB reviews (which you should be actively seeking) Testimonials Client referrals The clients you offer to let prospects talk to You can create a cheat sheet of the above mentioned points of difference and ask them to [...]