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.
One of the biggest threats to your agency’s profitability and long-term existence is giving away the farm by over servicing clients, bad estimates, not issuing change orders and allowing clients to change the rules mid-game without any penalty or cost. Don’t get me wrong - I think it’s okay and smart to over-service certain clients on certain projects. I’m not suggesting you put military order into your agency. But conservatively — I believe most agencies can put another 10% to their bottom line if they rein in scope creep. The good news is — it’s easier to fix than you might think. I explored how scope creep happens and how agencies can contain it in a recent article for Hubspot. Take a look and see if you can find a strategy or two that you can implement in your shop to help you slow down the bleed. The article contains several concepts that I teach in the Advanced AE bootcamp as well. Your account executives should be managing their clients’ budgets and profitability. That means they need two things — the financial data to know how they’re doing AND the tools/knowledge of how to manage both the clients and your internal team so that they aren’t writing time and money off every job. Our next Advanced AE bootcamp is in September (September 9 & 10 in Chicago) and you can register your AEs here.
I had a great conversation (podcast) with Stephen Woessner, the host of Onward Nation about the value of podcasting, how my podcast Build A Better Agency has served my business and why I think it’s a strategy worth considering for any agency owner who is trying to establish a sustainable new business effort. Take a listen here. In the podcast, I talk about how podcasting creates a position of thought leadership and gives you a chance to connect with your prospects in ways you haven’t even imagined. It’s also killer for content creation. If it’s crossed your mind, the episode might be worth a listen. FYI — The AE bootcamp that we’re doing on September 24/25th won’t be offered again until 2020. So if you’d like your newer (5 years experience or less) AEs to actually understand their role in helping the agency and their clients make money and learn how to make that happen consistently — sign them up before we fill up! Register them today here!
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 [...]
In the last year, I boarded a plane at least once 48 weeks out of 52. And I’m not alone in my travel habits: In 2016, Americans went on close to 460 million business trips. I used to be convinced there was no way to get actual work done between the noise, the close quarters, and the constant interruptions of travel. Deadlines, however, don’t care about your travel plans. I have more than 200 emails to sift through, a podcast to produce, and content to create in addition to client work. When I’m in on-site meetings with clients, my focus is on the person in front of me; travel is the only time left to get the rest of my work done. But working while traveling doesn’t have to be a nightmare. I’ve learned how to maximize travel time, whether I’m waiting in line, stuck in a taxi, on a crowded flight, or sitting in an airport terminal. Others who struggle to stay productive while traveling can learn, too. Track your progress anywhere, any time. Whether you’re on the go or in the office, using an omnichannel platform to communicate with your co-workers and keep track of project statuses is crucial. Important information should be accessible to you whether you’re working on your phone as you wait to go through customs or you’re making use of a terminal’s Wi-Fi. I use Wunderlist, a productivity tool synced across devices to assign tasks to myself and keep my to-do list updated. Its interface is simple, and it helps me keep track of tasks, communication with co-workers, potential podcast guests, blog topics, and any other information I might need. Smartphones, of course, are another godsend for traveling businesspeople. [...]
Most agency owners are visionaries – able to see the future and come up with idea after idea to keep their agency on top of things. But most agency owners struggle to move those ideas forward on their own. They need an integrator to help them get things done – to wade through the details and processes. The integrator is the one to follow through and put the visionary’s ideas into practice. This perfect combination of visionary and integrator is what my podcast guest Mark Winters focuses on in his book, Rocket Fuel. Mark is a Certified EOS Implementer, working with agencies to identify this combination of the “visionary” who makes it up and the “integrator” who makes it happen and puts them together within a framework that will get your agency to extraordinary. See how identifying the visionary and the integrator in your agency can push you to the next level of success by learning: The “visionary” and the “integrator” from “Rocket Fuel” by Gino Wickman and Mark C. Winters How visionaries and integrators can build trust so that integrators can take control of what visionaries create What business owners need to do when they are an integrator and they need a visionary (most owners are visionaries) If you are a visionary, how to determine if you have an integrator on your team and what to do if you don’t The seven-step visionary integrator connection process for finding the right integrator How to know if you’re going to be able to sell your agency to your integrator or not (and what your exit plan can look like in both scenarios) Things that make visionary-integrator relationships fall apart The five rules and five tools for [...]
Agencies are beautiful, chaotic places to work. The nature of creative client work means the agency is always in a state of flux, growing and pivoting as clients do. The ability to adjust quickly is critical to survival, but it makes it all too easy for the agency vision to get lost in the daily shuffle. Recently, I worked with a mid-sized agency in Chicago that had good people, solid work, and consistent clients. The problem was that they were stuck. After a few years of stagnant billings and staff size, the owner decided to make a few changes. He instituted monthly “state of the agency” meetings, where he outlined the agency’s long-term vision and updated the staff on financial goals. He also established quarterly and yearly meetings that allowed the team to discuss goals and establish concrete action steps for achieving them. In the four years since instituting those changes, the agency has seen double-digit growth every year. Employees are happier and more energized, and the company is making a name for itself. On the surface, it seems really obvious: You need a clear vision to grow an agency. But it’s easy to get caught up in the daily grind and, when you do, you often miss clues that something is about to go terribly wrong. Why It’s Important to Look Up Agencies that stay in tactical mode all the time will almost certainly miss warning signs that they’re wandering off-target. This is what I like to call “shiny object syndrome.” With digital marketing, there seems to be a new “shiny object” every year. Focusing on your overarching vision will keep you from chasing every shiny object that comes along and help you pick [...]
For many unemployed young people, the job hunt is a dismal pursuit. Books about resume writing state the importance of “standing out,” but it’s hard to showcase your achievements when everyone around you has comparable triumphs. Even that stellar academic history becomes a minimum requirement when colleges are handing out As at record highs. You’ve listed many accomplishments, but from the perspective of a potential employer, you look exactly the same as every other applicant. If you’re relying on stale resume advice, you’ll only get as far as others taking the same approach. By thinking like a marketer and creating an ad campaign for yourself, you can defy the odds and outshine other qualified applicants. Adopt the marketing mindset Marketers have been tackling the problems of differentiating their product from competitors’ and becoming the go-to consumer brand for years. It’s a constant struggle, and they consistently have to up their game to stay in the race. Like them, you want to stand out among your peers. Applying these specific marketing tactics will help you leave a lasting impression on potential employers. Appeal to your target market. Before potential employers see your name on a list of applicants, you should be working to interact and market yourself directly. Turn one-way communication into an ongoing conversation by engaging with companies on social media. Don’t forget to spruce up your online personality, and keep your digital resume updated.Through your profile and interactions, demonstrate how your personality and experiences would benefit a company and its clients. Consider writing a blog to further express yourself. Ask yourself, "If my work were a product, how would I market myself to my target audience? How would I differentiate myself from other applicants?" When [...]
From Match.com and OkCupid to Hinge and Tinder, online and mobile applications are taking the dating world by storm, however, the algorithm-driven processes used by these sites don’t work for finding agency relationships. Data-centric tools such as Sortlist claim to help marketers find their “soul mate” agency, much like what Match.com promises to do for singles. Sortlist and similar platforms use system intelligence to match an advertising agency and in-house marketers looking for services. But an algorithm will never be able to replace real human connection when it comes to matching agencies and companies. The AOR Model Goes MIA Today, the traditional “agency of record” model is rapidly disintegrating. Clients used to be willing to ride out the valleys of their agency relationships, knowing that the peak was around the corner. As the number of advertising disciplines continues to increase, clients are less likely to believe that any one agency can be an expert in all of them, so they seek specialists for each task. This changes their agency relationships as well, causing them to switch partners on a project-by-project basis — and making it all the more tempting to use an automated system for the selection process. Where’s the Chemistry? Marketers don’t just need an agency that meets their advertising and communications needs, they need to share a special chemistry with a partner. Tools such as Sortlist attempt to speed up the process by using context and data, but no amount of technical intricacy can mimic the human touch provided by consultants, recommendations, and word of mouth. People in the agency world understand this better than people in any other industry. Our work is based on the fact that buying decisions are rooted in emotion–that’s [...]
Some things creep up slowly in life, like global warming and receding hairlines. Now you can add to that list: The reign of a digital team in agencies. As digital advertising continues its double-digit growth, more and more agencies routinely rely on tech-driven campaigns to keep the lights on. And as web, mobile, and social command larger and larger chunks of clients’ budgets, the teams tasked with executing these campaigns often start calling the shots. In a well-run agency in which all departments communicate effectively and honor agency protocol, a powerful digital team can retain its autonomy without much trouble. Unfortunately, when team members stop respecting agency leadership and begin doing their own thing, they can drive projects over budget and behind schedule. I’ve seen strapped teams give preferential treatment to favorite account executives and even stonewall projects by refusing to answer technical questions. When digital teams go rogue, agency owners can find themselves held hostage by their tech-savvy employees. The advertising world is plagued by a digital talent shortage, so for many agency owners, keeping their digital divas happy seems like a safer option than letting them go. When agency owners feel beholden to their digital teams, these employees can cut leadership out of the decision-making process and severely damage the agency’s ability to function. One agency I know sold a large digital project to a new client that included a website redesign. The team put together a timeline and budget for completion, and everything seemed to be going smoothly. Weeks later, the account executive discovered that the programmers had invested 40 unauthorized hours on “improving” the site. The project was running behind and over budget, and the agency had to eat the overage. [...]