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.     [...]

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 [...]

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 [...]

High Employee Turnover? How to Get Interview Tests Right

Hiring managers can be a little narcissistic. When interviewing job candidates, they favor people who remind them of themselves over those who are most qualified. They're not alone: Everyone's got a streak of narcissism to some degree. But hiring managers directly influence who works at your company, so it's a good idea to keep their self-love in check. Yet the standard interview process does the exact opposite. Unless you're Google, your hiring process probably looks something like this: Interviewers bring in candidates, ask a few questions, do way too much of the talking, and give jobs to the people they like the most (translation: the people most similar to them). Unsurprisingly, a high percentage of these "mini-me" hires turn out to be duds. By the time you realize someone is a bad fit, you've wasted resources, upset clients, and frustrated your other employees. Fortunately, you can avoid all these problems by integrating screening and performance tests into the interview process. Test drives for potential hires Companies often rely on personality tests and social media screening to weed out lackluster candidates. But personality tests are poor predictors of whether people will perform well, and candidates know that potential employers scrutinize social media, so they craft their Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn profiles carefully. Their online personas may not align with who they are in real life. If you really want to know whether someone is a fit, you need to run better tests. The first step toward identifying high-quality candidates is comparing them to the best people in their fields. My company does this by using a list of top performers in other agencies and assessing applicants alongside their standout peers. We analyze how similar their behaviors, motivations, [...]

What Your Key Executive Needs from You, the Business Owner with Craig Barnes

The cornerstone of AMI is our agency owner peer networks. As an agency owner, there aren’t a lot of people you can be 100% candid with, when it comes to how things are going, what you’re working on and the struggles along the way. That’s why network membership is so valuable. The owners get the best of both worlds by joining. You get that outside perspective you really need but from someone who walks in your shoes every day. Many of our network members have been a part of AMI for almost 20 years. They find it so valuable, they asked us to create a lookalike network for their right hand men/women. So we have done just that. We call this our key executive network. My podcast guest is Craig Barnes who is a part of the AMI team and facilitates the key executive networks. Craig‘s uniquely qualified for this role because of his 30+ years of agency ownership. He’s an amazing mentor and teacher so he’s perfect for the job. In this episode, Craig and I dissect what makes a great #1 and how an agency owner can set up their key teammate for success. The key executives (#1s) group Craig facilitates for AMI What makes key executives so valuable Integrators: the employees that don’t want to be owners and just want to pull the levers How we as agency owners make life hard for integrators by not letting go of control Having an empowerment agreement with your #1s for setting expectations for who gets to control what Setting regular meetings with your key executive that you do not break How agency owners can know whether or not they’re ready for a #1 to take [...]

4 Strategies to Spark On-Demand Creativity

Back in the "Mad Men" days, only writers and artists were held accountable for driving an agency’s creativity. Today, that dynamic has expanded to include just about everyone. Whether it’s the account services team bringing fresh ideas to clients, the business development team finding new ways to engage with prospects, or creative services producing content, everyone has to be creative for the agency to succeed. Individual contributors also must be able to tie their creative efforts to measurable ROI. Why is creativity so important? Because for agencies, creativity is currency. The successful execution of good ideas separates top agencies from closed shops. The barriers to entry for marketing are lower than ever -- anyone with an idea and an hour can build a website or whip up a logo. Agencies must communicate their value proposition as the owners of the best ideas and know how to measure that value. But creativity alone is not enough. Agencies and the people within them must be creative on demand. To do that, every department and every employee must become part of a culture that excels at creative problem-solving. Bringing New Ideas to the Table Often, creativity is talked about like it’s a magical ability of the chosen few -- something we have little control over that strikes at random. But Jason Keath, founder and CEO of Social Fresh Conference, says universal creativity is not as hard to achieve as some entrepreneurs would imagine. I spoke with Keath recently, and he said that creativity is less about inspiration and more about learning to solve problems. “Anyone can be creative,” he says, adding that creativity is a process that we fail to teach in schools or in business environments. This is good [...]

7 Things to Consider When Taking On an Employee as a Partner

Let’s say you have an employee named Bob. He’s a great employee. Not just great, stellar. You can’t see the agency functioning without him. You don’t want to lose him. So how do you ensure that he’s happy and not being wooed by a competitor? Or maybe you’re 55 and beginning to think about your exit strategy. What if Bob could buy you out? Or you could still keep a piece of the business but not work so hard? In both cases, the solution I often hear agency owners come up is, “Why don’t I offer him some sort of equity or employee partnership in the agency?”   Taking on an employee as a partner may be a brilliant solution all around. Or it could be the demise of your agency. This is a huge commitment that involves many more moving parts than you might be considering. My solocast sheds some light on the issues that I have helped agency owners walk through as they are considering this option, including: Why you need think long and hard before making employees partners Why partnerships will look different if you’re a C Corp than any other structure (S Corp, LLC, etc.) Why you need to make sure someone actually wants to be a partner before you offer them a partnership Why you need to sell shares and not gift shares Why you should only bring on one partner at a time Why -- if your employee doesn’t have the skills they need to be a partner -- and they probably don’t -- you need to teach them Why it usually takes about 10 years to groom someone to take over for you Why you really need to [...]

Today’s Agency Employees Crisis and What to Do About It

New business is on the upswing, you’re experiencing shorter sales cycles, and your business is growing by leaps and bounds. All of that is great. But you’re still facing a crisis. An agency employee crisis. There just aren’t enough qualified people to fill the spots needed to service all that business. Or maybe you have just enough employees right now but you are seeing other agencies lose staff to corporate clients and media groups and are fearful that you might be next.    It’s time to take a breath and discover all the reasons that your agency employees want to stay with you and how you can attract more of the same. Your employees have lots of reasons they like agency work and you just might be surprised at the number one reason they offer for wanting to stay. Believe it or not, it’s not about the money.    Find out my take on the current agency employee situation as I detail out:   The agency employees shortage: why it’s happening right now What agency employees want most (and how to use this to attract and retain them) Things that will cause employees to leave The best benefits you can offer to attract and retain employees How you can compete with the corporate world for employees Why you need to be actively looking for employees, even if you don’t need them right now Drew McLellan is the Top Dog at Agency Management Institute. He has also owned and operated his own agency over the last 20-years. And all through the year, he straddles the fence of working in his agency and working with 250+ small- to mid-size agencies in a variety of ways. He works [...]

How to Prevent Internal Fraud from Happening in Your Agency

Internal fraud. Two words that strike fear into the hearts of any agency owner. It’s not a subject that we want to talk about but it’s a real danger for agencies. And while most agency owners think that it could never happen to them, I know from my experience with hundreds of agencies that it can and does happen to the best of us.    But have no fear, by following some very simple best practices around your accounting systems and the people you trust with your money, you can take great strides in making sure the right checks and balances are in place inside your agency.   Take a listen to this solocast where I detail out: Common ways internal fraud is committed and ways to prevent it from happening How agencies are targeted with email scams The ways agency employees embezzle hundreds of thousands of dollars from agencies The systems you need to put in place to prevent fraud Drew McLellan is the Top Dog at Agency Management Institute. He has also owned and operated his own agency over the last 20-years. And all through the year, he straddles the fence of working in his agency and working with 250+ small- to mid-size agencies in a variety of ways. He works with agency owners in peer network groups, teaches workshops for owners and their leadership teams, teaches AE bootcamps, and does a lot of consulting. Because he works with a lot of agencies every year — he has the unique opportunity to see the patterns and the habits (both good and bad) that happen over and over again. He has also written two books and been featured in The New York Times, Entrepreneur [...]

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 [...]