Be Wary of the New Business Development Director With the Legendary Prospecting Network

There is a great dilemma many agency owners face time and time again: Do you hire an internal new business development person for your agency with solid sales experience (and a price tag to match), or an inexperienced individual that’s cheaper, but seems driven/teachable? The former example is certainly a potentially sound investment, although not always feasible, and the latter doesn’t traditionally have a great success rate unless an agency is willing to put real work behind their training and possesses the requisite patience to see the process through. That’s probably why the average new business director at an agency lasts about eighteen months. In my first example, you have likely experienced this in some form or another. That person with experience in one vertical and an abundant network of prospects within that vertical; or the other kind, that person with the fabled “ultimate agency new business Rolodex.” And sometimes, you run across someone with both deep experience in a vertical and an abundant network. These kinds of hires occur often and I don’t blame agencies for it. They can work but, in far too many instances, that new business director with the legendary prospecting network hire ends up flaming out. In fact, I recently spoke with an agency principal on this very topic, and she gave me permission to share her less than desirable experience with you. So, here goes. The Legendary Prospecting Network When my agency owner friend initially hired this new business development guru with the “legendary prospecting network,” the big draw was, of course, that huge network. There were assurances, apparently all in good faith, that success would result from that network. It sounded promising, but unfortunately, it was not in [...]

By |August 21st, 2018|

3 Steps to Stop Inflicting Help On Your Agency Team

The aroma of vegetable soup wafted up the stairs to my office. Moments later, my wife called, “Dinner’s ready!” “Mmmmm … I love homemade soup,” I thought. Rushing down the stairs and past the pantry, I spied a tube of crackers, grabbed them, and headed for the dining room. My wife sat at the table, waiting for me, smiling. Her smile vanished as she saw the tube of crackers. “Oh, this isn’t good enough? I really tried to get everything you like. I even brought out the oyster crackers …” Confused, I looked at her. Then, I looked at the table. She had arranged a beautiful spread of crackers, sliced cheese, chips & dips, salsa, veggies and grilled sandwiches to go with our soup. And there I stood, tube of crackers in hand, inflicting help. Acting Without Asking Inflicting help occurs when the helper acts in a way they feel as helpful but the recipient does not. It often stems from the helper not asking if, how or when someone would like to be helped. Instead, the helper jumps in and acts without asking. “But, I was only trying to help!” I was trying to comfort her. “I didn’t know you had all this out. I smelled the soup, saw the crackers, and grabbed them to be helpful.” We quickly sorted things out and went on to have a great meal together. Looking back, it was an interesting interaction, and it holds some lessons for agency managers. Because too often, well-meaning agency owners or managers inflict help on their teams. And when we realize what we’ve done, we might exclaim, “But, I was only trying to help!” Step One — Stop and Look Inflicting help is almost [...]

By |July 31st, 2018|

4 Questions to Ask Before Calling Your Talent Recruiter

Planning for growth or adding new services to your agency inevitably leads to “we need more people!” Of course, having a dependable, hard-working staff at your business is key. A talent recruiter can be a great asset in the new hire process, but before you dig out those job advertisements, or call your favorite talent recruiter, ask yourself these 4 critical questions:  Do you have a management problem or a hiring problem? Did the last person leave because of their manager?  Do you have a turnover problem or a not-enough-turnover problem, or a little of both?  Full time? Part time? Or is there a productivity problem that could be addressed by training the current team (or replacing a weak performer)?  Do you have an “up-and-comer” who would love to take on new duties, and view this new opportunity as a reason to stay and grow with your company? These are the four most important questions you can ask before you call a talent recruiter, and my bet is that you haven’t asked them about your agency team in a long time. So let's go through each one and how it can impact your need for a talent recruiter. 1. Management problem or hiring problem? The “management problem” is the number one reason people leave their jobs, and it often concerns the trusted employee who’s been with you for a long time (perhaps since the beginning). They “have your back” and “run the place” so you can get out there and grow your business, but is their management style costing you good employees? You may be aware there are issues with the way they handle day-to-day management issues—and you need to re-engage with individual employees to find [...]

By |July 17th, 2018|

Applying The Right ‘Golden Handcuffs’ To Retain Key Employees

If there is one universal problem facing agencies today, it’s talent recruitment and retention. Agencies of all sizes are experiencing more employee churn than they’ve seen in a long time. In fact, agencies report an average 20% turnover per year. Agencies want to retain key employees, and great employees want reasons to stay. So why are so many agencies still seeing their best employees walk? Many agency owners are offering their key employees cars, vacations and hefty bonuses, yet people are still leaving. Unfortunately, many agencies, clients and corporations are offering employees the same perks, so someone can easily leave their current agency and get the same benefits somewhere else. Fortunately, with a little creativity and some honest conversations, agency owners can avoid this inevitable talent drain. How Agencies Keep Stars Unfortunately, money talks and most employees don’t take the time to do their homework. They don’t calculate the value of all of the perks, flexibility and benefits their current employer offers. Instead, in today’s competitive hiring environment, great employees get poached by companies that offer the most money. As a defensive strategy, some agency owners offer equity to retain key employees, hoping it entices them to stay and contribute to long-term growth. Sometimes that works, but when it doesn’t, the backlash hurts. Giving an employee equity doesn’t cost anything at first. However, if that person decides to leave, the equity leaves, too. When that happens, the agency loses control of both a star employee and a chunk of its ownership. The agency could always buy out the departed employee, but no one wants to send a big check to a person who just left the building -- especially if the company gave the equity away for free. Agencies that decide [...]

By |July 11th, 2018|

8 Lessons For Entrepreneurs (That I May Have Learned the Hard Way)

Happy Anniversary to me. Yep, eight years and two months ago  (May 1, 2010) I re-entered the world of entrepreneurship by starting Converse Digital with a mere two weeks notice, no money in the bank, no investors, no credit line, a wife, four kids, a big mortgage payment and lots of private school tuitions. I’ve learned a lot along the way and today I wanted to share some of those lessons for entrepreneurs with you. 1) You Need an Entrepreneurship Runway The common rule of thumb for starting a business is to have at least a few months income in your bank. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to do that. I didn’t have the luxury so many of my fellow entrepreneurs have, where they don’t take a salary out of the company for months or years, instead reinvesting all profits to quickly grow the business. Nope, Converse Digital had to be cash flow positive from day one. But this lack of runway has been a blessing and a curse. It’s been a curse because I’ve never really had the chance to strategically grow the company. Sure, here and there we launch little initiatives like our Social Reconnaissance Products…or our CIBER product (that I don’t even have a full webpage live for yet – just a quick landing page), usually after they’ve been on the drawing board for months or more. But on the flip side, that lack of runway makes you scared. Every day you wake up expecting the other shoe to drop — for a client to fire you or cut their budget, or for that big project you were counting on to NOT come through, or my "favorite" — a client falls way behind [...]

By |July 3rd, 2018|

Sharing Agency Performance Goals—It Changes Everything

If you’re operating your agency with the goal of achieving the performance metrics of 55/25/20 recommended by the AMI, it’s easy to see in any given month just how well the agency is performing. Those three numbers should be the basis to guide your decisions on everything from personnel to pencils. Setting goals is great, sharing agency performance goals though, that has the power to change everything. One of the most important questions agency owners should be asking themselves is a simple one: How many of your agency staffers understand or are even aware of those numbers and how they drive a healthy, sustainable enterprise? Is it just a few—perhaps your finance person and your number one key executive? That’s the most common answer, and it’s also a big mistake. As an owner, if you’re hesitant to educate everyone in the agency about the numbers, you’re literally managing with one hand tied behind your back. Here’s how sharing agency performance goals changes everything, empowers your team, and sets an exciting path for the future. Sharing Agency Performance Goals—Financial Transparency Fuels a Growth Mindset In coaching sessions I have with agency owners, one of the first things I want to uncover is the owner’s comfort level with financial transparency. If the owner is new to AMI, I’ll take them though the metric; 55 percent of adjusted gross income (AGI) is the target for the agency’s fully loaded compensation, 25 percent utilized for overhead, and 20 percent profit. For those who already know the formula, I work to understand just how deep this foundational knowledge runs throughout the agency. As an agency owner for 30+ years, I get the hesitancy about “opening the kimono.” A common concern [...]

By |May 29th, 2018|

Win The Talent War Through Student Loan Reimbursement

In 2016, student loan reimbursements were called the trailblazing benefit of 2017. With several young employees in my business, I’ve seen just how heavily these debts weigh on college graduates and even those in their 30s and 40s who continue to pay down massive sums. By packaging loan reimbursement as an employee benefit, companies can offer an eye-catching incentive and stand out to rising talent. Why Everyone Wants To Be Reimbursed The prevalence of U.S. student loan debt is no secret. In total, Americans owe $1.45 trillion in student loans. With about 44 million borrowers, that’s about $33,000 for the average graduate, with each graduating class going deeper in the hole than the last one. According to CNBC, carrying this much debt is taking a personal toll on young Americans. Half of them report that finance worries negatively affect their health. College debt is so common that it has broken the conversational taboo of personal finance. As a man in my 50s, it never would have occurred to me to talk about a debt I owed, but younger generations don’t see a problem. They talk about it in person, on social media and everywhere else young people congregate. When everyone is dealing with it, why keep it a secret? According to an article from last year, only about 4% of U.S. companies currently offer loan reimbursement programs. By repackaging bonus programs into reimbursement benefits, companies can address a millennial pain point in a way few of their competitors do. How To Build A Mutually Beneficial Reimbursement Program Follow these four steps to build a student loan reimbursement program that attracts better prospects without breaking the bank. 1. Make reimbursement a bonus.  Student loan reimbursement programs are secretly bonus programs [...]

By |January 24th, 2018|

Why Good Writing Matters — and 4 Ways to Teach It to Your Team

In a time of emoticons, abbreviations, and 140 character-count replies, a three-paragraph email is the equivalent of “War and Peace.” But communication is a vital part of office life, whether you’re a lab technician sharing results or a human resources staffer announcing a new wellness program. There’s a simple way to guarantee that miscommunications happen as infrequently as possible on your team: ensure every person has good writing skills. Writing Right Clarity is vital to the business world. But in a world that operates at a faster and faster pace, brevity is key. Why write an email when a short text message suffices? There are many reasons. It’s easy to misunderstand a message that’s hastily or poorly composed. It’s even easier to read the wrong intention in a short email that doesn’t provide the right emotional context. Every member of your team needs to communicate precisely and concisely — in writing and face-to-face. Mastering the Message Every office tries to be timely and efficient. Most of them do it at the cost of context and clarity. When you’re pressed for time, the last thing you want to do is over-explain to your client or co-worker. A quick note might actually cause more problems than solve them. Are you neutral or irritated? Is this urgent or not? Mistakes and misunderstandings suggest that you aren’t well-educated, don’t care about your client’s project, or lack the skills to complete it capably. That’s why poorly written emails affect communications inside your office and customers’ perceptions of your business. That’s not an impression you want to communicate to your customers or your employees to communicate to each other. Here are four ways to build a team that communicates clearly: 1.     [...]

By |October 4th, 2017|

Don’t Be Mad About Promoting Mad Men (or Women)

The expression “those who can’t do, teach” is well known for good reason. But many business leaders nevertheless assume that top-performing employees are automatically good at managing and teaching their skills to others. The consequences of this assumption can be troubling, especially in today’s advertising  or  business. It’s perfectly understandable — even desirable — to want to reward exceptional workers, but owners and managers often believe that the only way they can reward employees is by promoting them to supervisory roles. This is not only not true, it is dangerous thinking. Simply put, leadership requires a completely different skill set than most people use in performance positions. As a result, employees who perform the best aren’t automatically good at training or supervising other people in their areas. Indeed, without training, mentoring and ongoing coaching, the practice of rewarding top performers with leadership roles rarely has a happy ending. Keep in mind that promotions typically remove employees from jobs at which they thrived, while exposing the entire company to their hidden shortcomings. Someone whose strength is putting clients at ease might not be assertive enough to lead a team. Promoting this person, meanwhile, risks creating a void in client relations that others can’t fill. A poorly executed promotion also tends to drive talent away. After all, when skilled people aren’t successful in new positions, they don’t typically want to stick around. The above is true for all industries. But today’s marketing environment makes it especially treacherous to move ad agency people around without solid planning. It has always taken time for agency employees to master their craft. But the rise of tech- and data-driven strategies is constantly adding new levels of complexity to our work. These complexities [...]

By |July 31st, 2017|

Building Loyalty Within An Agency

In May 2016, the New York attorney general filed a lawsuit against Domino’s for underpaying workers at least $565,000 at 10 of its New York stores. The pizza chain urged franchisees to use its PULSE computer system — even though executives knew the system had been under-calculating gross wages for years. Long story short, Domino’s opted not to fix the flaw, instead labeling it a low-priority issue. In doing so, Domino’s kept vital information from employees. Not only did employees lose hundreds of thousands of dollars, but Domino’s also lost employees’ trust. Communicate Openly for Success In today’s workforce, in which employees are motivated by company inclusivity and identifying with employer values, successful agencies are transparent with employees. They clearly define annual goals and aspirations with team members. With measurable milestones set, agencies must communicate regularly to ensure everyone stays informed, motivated, and excited about their work and the agency as a whole. It’s not enough to distribute the company Kool-Aid; getting employees to drink it requires you to authentically express — face-to-face — why you believe in your agency and what end goals it will achieve. Passion and charisma are contagious. Help your team members understand what drives you, and they will enthusiastically commit. Some issues like salaries are meant to be kept private, but others — like the financial state of your business — should be shared. When employees don’t have access to financial data, they miss out on critical facts like company profitability or loss, cash flow, and gross margin comparisons with direct competitors. Teams without this valuable information are limited, which can result in poor decision-making. Share your numbers with your employees to show that you trust and value them. Building Loyalty [...]

By |July 5th, 2017|