"By prioritizing your people and striking a balance between strong core operations and flexibility, you can set your team up for success, no matter what the new year brings." In this piece I recently contributed to Forbes.com I discuss how to create your business plan for 2021 amid uncertainty.
Agency people are lifelong learners. If you aren’t — odds are you will be “counseled” out of your role if you don’t own the joint and pushed out of the day to day, if you do. We can’t afford to stop learning in our world. It’s simply changing too quickly and to keep up, we have to make learning a priority. What I love the most about AMI is that in everything we do — you are learning from people who are actively involved in agency life. I’ve owned my shop for 25+ years and am still active there. Craig (who runs our Key Executive networks and the Virtual networks) also still has an agency and has been an owner for 27+ years. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The best aspect of AMI is that owners who attend our workshops, network meetings, webinars, etc. — are all both students and teachers. I love how owners are so quick to offer to share resources, forms, best practices, and connections with other owners. That spirit is the best of AMI and of our profession. If you don’t have a posse of other agency owners/leaders — I implore you to find one. If AMI works for you, great. If not, seek it somewhere else. But do not fight the fight alone. Looking for some places to learn from other agency owners/leaders? Build and Nurture your Agency's Sales Funnel— January 21/22 in Orlando on WDW property Running Your Agency for growth, profit & a little sanity — April 6/7 in Chicago Advanced AE Bootcamp –August 17/18 in Chicago AE Bootcamp — September 14/15 in Chicago Money Matters for Agency Owners — Dates TBD We’d love to help [...]
We have all bought clothes that weren’t quite the right fit. Whether too tight, too big or whatever the issue — they are uncomfortable and when you are wearing that misfit of clothes — you are very aware that something is not quite right. In fact, pretty soon, the pinching, sagging or snugness is all you can focus on. You either bought it without doing your homework (trying it on or moving around in it) or it was so cool/cute/dashing that you ignored the intial discomfort, thinking you could either fix it or get used to it. But we don’t. I think that exact same thing happens with clients. We either ignore the warning signs, think we can fix them or, if we’re honest with ourselves, we want their money and don’t care if the fix is off. You know it when you do it. There’s that nagging voice in the back of your head that you shhh every time it raises a concern. We’ve all done it. If you haven’t done it yet — you haven’t owned your agency very long. I get why we do it. But I also get the price we pay. I have never seen an agency turn that situation into a profitable one. In the short run — sure, you can make some money. But in the long run, you are going to lose money and even worse, potentially lose critically valuable team members. That’s why I wrote the article How to Find New Clients That Fit Your Agency Perfectly for Forbes. I not only believe we don’t have to settle for wrong fit clients but I think we’re fools if we do. Take the time to find the [...]
A couple of years ago, when we were able to be out and about and travel the world, I went on a photo safari vacation to South Africa with my daughter. We spent the better part of a week in the bush, coming face to face with prides of lions, serene giraffe, wild dogs right after a kill, and even some mating leopards! I was fascinated to watch how our rangers and trackers scanned the dirt for tracks, examined the foliage to look for breaks, and even tested the temperature of dung to determine what animals were nearby and how long ago they had come through. The clues were so subtle that it was amazing when they spotted them. But the rewards that came from that attention to minute detail was the difference between an incredible game drive (or survival in different circumstances) and just a lovely drive in the woods. It made me think about our own business and all of the subtle clues that our clients, prospects, and employees give off. I wonder how many of them we blindly walk by, about to enter into a danger zone we’re not expecting? I think most agency owners are very astute at picking up the signs — unless we’re moving too quickly and are too distracted to be present. Which is pretty much every day. So what are we missing? One of the traits of the tracker and ranger that took me some time to get used to was the speed at which they worked. Slowly. Sometimes painstakingly slowly. As a Type A kind of guy, I was pretty antsy in the beginning. But then I began to understand the method to their madness and [...]
Owning, leading, or even just working in an agency is a fantastic gig. You get to be surrounded by wicked smart, witty, committed teammates, you get to save the day for clients on a regular basis, and let’s face it, the work is fun most days. We are lucky. Damn lucky. But we are also tired. Along with all of those privileges comes the worry of keeping the sales pipeline full, dealing with the human side of your team and clients (which can be both joyful and tragic as we all walk out our lives together), and long, arduous days. (and nights, and weekends....) We work at a pace that is fast and furious, shifting from one client to the next and often working weird and long hours. That is unsustainable without giving yourself some respite. But we’re not so good about giving ourselves that break. It’s not about taking a vacation or a long weekend or just not checking email for 24 hours — it’s about survival. Back when I was a kid in the business (call me 30 or so) I remember one of my mentors saying “this is a young man’s game, Drew. “ And that was before the 24/7 connectivity we have now. I think he was both right and wrong. Our chosen profession does require an incredible amount of energy and passion but that’s not about being young. It’s about recognizing that it’s an endurance sport and we have to train and plan for that. Here’s my challenge to you — when was the last time you didn’t check email for 24 hours? When was the last time you took 5 workdays off (in a row!) and played as hard [...]
You have probably said or at least heard the agency-centric expression “new business cures all ills,” and it’s pretty accurate. Will it fix fundamental problems at your agency? Unfortunately, no. Those are still on you to solve. But it does fix a lot of cash flow challenges, too much time on our hands bickering, and morale issues. I believe that agency owners need to invest a significant amount of their time and attention to biz dev and yet, when I get into most shops, to say the effort is haphazard is an understatement. Most of you have a reactive new business program, which means you respond to what walks in the door through referrals, RFPs, etc. One of the areas where I see the least amount of prep is in that initial conversation. You go to all of that effort to get the meeting. I want to make sure you make the most of the opportunity. I wrote an article for Spin Sucks about seven steps you can take to improve that first impression, whether it’s a coffee meeting or a full RFP presentation. My guess is that some of them will just be a reminder but hopefully a few will inspire you and your team to tweak what isn’t working. Making some minor tweaks in how you show up may be all it takes to move you from being the agency that hears “we really liked you but we went a different direction” to “We can’t wait to work with you!” This was originally published in the weekly AMI newsletter. To subscribe, click here.
I remember my parents lamenting how quickly time passed and, as a kid, I thought they were crazy. Every day seemed to crawl along. Now, I get it. A blink ago it was December and we were all planning our amazing 2020. Little did we know what 2020 had in store. Now, we’re almost to December again. How are you coming on those plans? If you’re a typical agency — you’re behind. Distractions, especially this year, (both worthy and the squirrel variety) have drawn your attention and your time away from your biggest priorities. It’s not too late but it is time to get serious about it. Here’s what I’d like you to do: Pull together any planning documents you developed for 2021 Schedule a 2-3 hour meeting with your leadership team A week ahead of that meeting, send them all the documents with your assessment of the agency’s progress on each goal Ask them to come prepared to discuss: Is this still a priority? (For each item) What do we need to do to get this back on track/keep on track? Who needs to own this goal/initiative? If we only accomplished one of these goals — which one matters the most? Have an open conversation around these questions and then revise your plan. Odds are, you were more ambitious than is reasonable. So get realistic with yourselves and get back on track. Note — if you don’t have any planning documents — that does not mean you should disregard this. You can still pull everyone together and create a plan for the new year. It’s time to build a rock-solid foundation for your agency. Think about how to strengthen your current client relationships, increase [...]
One of the most frustrating things for agency owners is finding and keeping good employees. Before the pandemic, many agencies were having an amazing 12-18 months in terms of business development but those same agencies were actually choosing to tamp down their new business efforts because they were worried that they wouldn’t be able to staff for it. That’s a crazy position to be in. When a right fit client knocks on the door, you don’t want to say “thanks, but no thanks” because you’re afraid you can’t convince someone to work for you. I think it starts with having a very candid conversation with yourself. Given all the options out there, would you want to work for you? Many agencies (and corporate communications departments) are paying attention to what today’s employees value, especially given the pandemic, and modifying the work world. Here’s what you are competing against: Flexible work hours (everyone needs to be in from 9-4 but you can start earlier or stay later, based on your life’s needs) Permanent work from home options Unlimited PTO An AGI (or another metric) based bonus program Educational opportunities Student loan reimbursement 401K match A suite of insurances (health, dental, disability, life, etc.) and the agency provides at least partial payment Paid time off to serve the community or agency led community projects Bring your dog to work privileges A stocked snack room, with both healthy and not so healthy options Knowing that you can get some or all of that at the agency down the street (or from one of your clients) would you work for you? If you’re an old-school agency owner, I know you might be growling at that list. And if you [...]
When the pandemic hit, AMI agencies hit back. Hard. They got very innovative to help their clients survive and thrive and they did the same for themselves. I find their ingenuity infectious and inspirational. I'm betting you will too. They embraced the idea of building genuine thought leadership that would help their clients and prospects and in doing so -- they attracted new clients and grew their agency as well. Check out their smarts! Moxxy invested in research that served their niche -- the produce industry. The research helped their prospects and clients understand the shifting trends of consumers in a post covid world. LoSasso shared their smarts on B2B usage of connected TV, helping their audience understand why connected TV is the most important innovation for B2B media in 2o years. Axia PR launched a new podcast to help their PR clients understand today's PR and the power of doing it well. Willow Marketing launched a research project aimed at helping their association clients and prospects understand the different types of members and how their view their association membership. Hollywood Branded conceived of and created a remarkable virtual event called the Marketers Content Playbook with over 100 speakers to help marketers learn how learn how to leverage their content marketing opportunities. This is just scratching the surface of what AMI agencies did since March. And they're just getting started!
...you don’t go anywhere! I’ve spent the last several weeks with agency owners in our peer network meetings. As a part of that meeting, the owners have to present their financials (show P/L, Balance sheet, etc.) to the group. They also have to report sales progress, staff issues, and a host of other metrics. It’s always an interesting lens from which to see the agency owners. I am reminded of what a rare breed they are. We all get frustrated and discouraged sometimes. There have certainly been moments in time when I would have gladly sold my agency to you for a nickel. But not very many and that malaise never lasted very long. Because you’re an owner (if you are one) you forget how unusual you are. The risks you have taken are not risks most people are willing to accept. The emotional roller coaster you ride on a daily basis isn’t a ride most people can stomach. There is a blend of fortitude, resilience, and confidence in you that you take for granted but the truth is, it’s a very uncommon combination. Agency ownership is hard, even on the good days, but it’s relentless when things aren’t going your way (which, by the way, is inevitable). Your unflagging enthusiasm, “it will get better” belief and most of all, your willingness to be very uncomfortable for as long as it takes, is your secret weapon. Why am I reminding you of all of this? Because you think everyone is wired the way you are. But you are a rare breed. And that’s okay. But the misperception that everyone is like you can cause some trouble. It creates expectations that your employees often can’t meet. [...]