I think agency leaders and owners are incredibly generous people. I’m always astonished at how you take care of your people, often to your own detriment. You give to them in ways that mean you get a little less. It’s just who you are. So as I thought about this week’s message, I decided I might be able to help you scratch your natural tendency to show your gratitude in this crazy season we find ourselves in. Odds are you’re pretty good at saying thank you directly to your people. But I’m going to suggest you try a different tactic. Identify one of your super stars and take a few minutes jotting down what they do that is so valuable to you. If you can, capture a story of something that really illustrates their talent and value to you. Now, take that story and write a letter of gratitude to their spouse, kids, parents or whoever you think would be most proud to hear it. Tell them how awesome your employee is and acknowledge the sacrifices (missed dinners, Mom out of town, etc.) the family has made to allow your employee to thrive. Thank them for their willingness to let your team mate give their best to the agency and your clients. If you want to — include a gift card so they can all celebrate how amazing your employee is to you and for them. Don’t tell your employee you’re going to send the letter. Let it be a surprise. I think you’ll be stunned at the impact your letter has — both short and long term. It’s a gift they will cherish for a long time, as will their family members. And honestly [...]
Remember the “good old days” right after the recession when incredibly talented employees were easy to find, quick to hire and grateful to have a steady paycheck? The upside to that story is that in 2020 the economy is stronger, the job market is much more stable and everyone is making more money. The downside is — the days of just having a job being enough are over. Today, agencies are in a battle to recruit and retain talent and I don’t see that changing any time soon. Some agencies have adopted a blended staffing strategy (a mix of employees and a consistent contract labor pool) to combat this challenge. Other agencies are investing heavily in professional development and growth opportunities for their team (The #1 reason why an agency employee chooses to take a job/stay at an agency according to our 2016 research) to keep their top talent. But there’s a new benefit that is emerging as a deal clincher. Many of our employees (at every age) are strapped with student loans so a Student Loan Reimbursement perk is music to their ears and bank accounts. I wrote a story about this for Forbes, including some best practices for getting the most out of offering the benefit. I’m curious — if you’ve cracked the recruiting and retention code — what do you believe makes the difference? This was originally published in the AMI newsletter. To subscribe, click here.
In our owner peer group meetings, one of the things we always do is share a recommended app, tool or book. It’s a really easy way to discover some new ideas and tools for getting better without lots of trial and error. One must-read book has surfaced to the top over and over again and it’s become an instant classic among my agency owners. I hear them referencing the author’s terminology and more important — I hear them changing their communication patterns for the better. Radical Candor by Kim Scott is a framework that shows us how to be both a better boss and a better colleague. The book is packed with eye-opening truths and practical suggestions that will make you feel like she’s been spying on your office. You’re going to recognize yourself in many of her stories and examples and best of all — you’ll see the way to significantly improving how you work with others, give feedback and get the best from your team, your business partners, clients and yourself. Couple reading this book with starting the one on one employee meetings I keep harping about (because they are that important!) and you can have a great 2020! This was originally published in the weekly AMI newsletter. To subscribe, click here.
One of the more interesting takeaways from the research we have done over the years is the juxtaposition between two beliefs that our clients have about account executives. The first was that about a third of the respondents felt that AEs were too pushy when it came to sales and that was off-putting. But that same group of clients expected (not wanted) their account exec to bring them new opportunities. How our AEs sell matters. When they go at a client in the context of their business challenges and an opportunity that their business can take advantage of — it’s welcome. When they go in talking about agency services or new “stuff” that we can make for them, it feels like a pushy sales effort. I know that you know the difference. I know that you can have that level of conversation. But you can’t be the only person in your shop who is capable of doing that. How are you helping your AEs learn the language of business? Are you encouraging them to spend time on the factory floor, so to speak? (You can’t always bill for this time but it always comes back to you) Are you sending them to your client’s big industry trade show so they can listen to the speakers, walk the exhibit floor and absorb the business? Are you surrounding them with the trade pubs your clients are following? Are you having these sorts of strategic discussions in your one-on-one meetings? This level of learning will not happen by accident. And while some of your account execs will intuitively understand they need to do this work, others will not. You’re going to have to not only show them what [...]
We’ve all heard about or been accused of being helicopter parents by now. The results of helicopter parenting (aka a parent who takes an overprotective or excessive interest in the life of their child or children) often show up in the workplace. You might recognize the employees who need a ton of praise for seemingly simple accomplishments, require direction/instruction as opposed to being self-directed, and/or seem moody and anxious and have no real goals or sense of direction. I am not suggesting for a minute that all employees of any age group fit this description. But I talk to enough of you to know that odds are good that you have one or two in your shop. What I want you to consider for a moment is if you’re actually making it worse. Ideally, every employee would come to you in perfect condition, not needing any mentoring or education. Let me know if that ever happens. Until then — you are responsible for molding them into the team member you’re hoping for. Here are some of the ways I see agency owners/leaders helicopter their employees, stunting their growth and productivity. You own their growth: How many times have you had an employee walk into your office and ask what their career path was? You can coach them through mapping out a plan but they should drive it. If you tell them what they want to be when they grow up — odds are, you’ll get it wrong and they’ll get disenchanted and leave. You handle the details: Is your employee traveling on behalf of the business? Do you still make all their travel arrangements? Let them at the very least, make a few recommendations or [...]
For most agency owners, one of their biggest fears is losing that key employee who helps you run the show. Especially in today’s competitive job market, it’s a fair concern. Many long- term agency employees are being lured away by the stability of a corporate job or the thrill of a start-up. I did a podcast about how many agency owners consider offering minority partnerships as a way to lock in that senior team member. That podcast triggered a lot of conversation on social media and among some of our coaching clients. Forbes also found the topic of interest and asked me to put together some questions that owners should ponder before they extend that offer. The article that resulted from that exploration is here. I’d love to know what else you think should be part of the consideration set. Not to change the subject, but we're fast approaching the holiday season. Have you taken a break, enjoyed your family and friends and just unplugged for more than a weekend? If not, you have 6 weeks before the end of the year. Don’t miss the opportunity. This was originally published in the weekly AMI newsletter. To subscribe, click here.
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.
I believe that one of the most challenging aspects of our work is the forced creativity. We have no time to wait around for a muse or to stand in the shower all day, hoping that inspiration will strike. Every day we need to be creative. Now. And I mean that in every sense of the word. The word creative no longer belongs to the creative department, if you even have one. Whether it is a strategy, a media channel decision, a messaging hierarchy or finding the right combination of words to get an uptick in Google Adwords — every single person in your agency needs to push past the mundane and expected ideas and find that diamond in the rough. Oh yeah — and they need to do it in 60 minutes. Or by tomorrow. Or in between meetings. I had an interesting conversation with Jason Keath, founder of the Social Fresh Conference about this struggle and from that, I captured 4 strategies to spark on-demand creativity in an article for Hubspot. Give one or more of them a try and let me know what you think.
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.