By Robin Boehler & Steve Boehler Founding Partners Mercer Island Group As Covid-19 begins peaking across the country, what do you and your agency do now? You’ve applied for your PPP loan, reassessed your business plan, and everyone is working from home. There’s been a lot of client handholding and adjustments to media plans and scopes of work. It’s time now to turn the page and begin Chapter 2: Planning for Recovery. To help get started, we’ve come up with 10 starter ideas that you and your agency can run with or adapt to meet your needs and the evolving needs of your clients. Help Your Clients Recover 1. Love the One You’re With Your current clients are the heart of your business. They are the best source of stability and future revenue. Show them how much you love them. Make it easy to repurpose scopes of work, timelines, maybe even deferred payment. Be flexible and, above all, be gracious. 2. Find New Ways to Add Value Your clients face new unpredictable business challenges for which there was no way they could have adequately prepared. There’s a good chance your current scope of work does not reflect the realities of their new business challenges. Time to engage in conversations with your clients to be sure you understand their most pressing needs so you can do what you do best – provide solutions that address their needs. 3. Offer Quick & Cost-Effective Ideas For many of your clients, their business models and marketing approaches have been disrupted. Despite this, they still need to engage with their target audience. Ideate and provide free ideas that help them do this. We are big fans of paying it forward. [...]
Agency owners constantly ask me why they are always busy but are not making more money. The answer?—we write off too much time and overservice our clients to the death of our agencies. How do we figure out how badly we are writing time off? What is your billability, and what is your utilization? Billability is how many hours your employees are working doing billable tasks, tasks that can be billed directly to a client you already have. Utilization is “hours” you actually assign to an invoice to a client. You do not have to bill by the hour, but it still starts with figuring out how many hours a task will take and adjusting your flat fee you charge your clients accordingly. Billability should always be more than your utilization. Your goal should be 65% of all available hours are utilized, meaning your billability average should be 75%. Keep in mind you will almost always overservice your clients. Every billable hour will not actually be billed, and that is okay as long as you stick to the goals above. One problem could be that your agency has too many people and employees are taking more time than necessary to complete tasks. This is called Parkinson’s Law. Each task you assign with a due date or time will use the full amount of time available to complete it, even if it can be completed quicker. You might have too many people, and there is not enough work to keep each of them busy at a pace that is reasonable. Another problem is overservicing your clients. Be clear with your team about how many hours there is to work on a project. People go over because [...]
By: Steve Boehler & Matt Driscoll of Mercer Island Group “Every brand is now in the business of public service.” - Ed Cotton, Creative Strategist Many companies are adapting their products, services and communications to be helpful to their communities as we await sunnier days ahead. Some manufacturers have retooled to produce medical supplies, restaurants are offering free meals and delivery service, and banks are deferring loan payments. Agencies are getting into the act by sharing helpful content and advice with their clients and the broader community. These are thoughtful, appropriate responses to the Covid-19 crisis. At Mercer Island Group, our belief is straightforward: if brands and agencies want to live the notion of "we're all in this together", they should provide service that is helpful. Clients face difficult decisions and unique business needs right now. To be helpful, agencies should help clients and communities with their business needs in a manner that is thoughtful and considerate of their emotional needs. We have collected some good examples of agencies doing just that – helping their clients and communities with important business needs. These firms are providing help in a sensitive and respectful manner that is considerate of their audiences’ emotional needs. You will find examples of content that agencies have been sharing with their clients and the broader marketing community below. Feel free to use this advice yourselves, and with your clients as you see fit. We also suggest that you create your own advice and share it with your clients, communities and other agencies. 360i – The Only Constant Is Change 360i has assembled a guide for clients, helping ground their clients with facts regarding Covid-19’s impact. They reviewed a ton of data and [...]
There are days (and we love them) when price isn’t a barrier and that prospect gladly signs on the dotted line and off we go. But, we’ve all had the experience of being in front of a prospect who is excited to work with our agency until the conversation circled around to dollars and cents. The minute we went from helping them slay their dragons to how much it was going to cost — something happens to the energy in the room. Those kinds of conversations are what have driven a small number of agencies to try to come up with a different pricing model that eliminated the connection to selling time by the hour. We have some AMI agencies that have created a subscription model. Others have created a points system where they, in essence, created their own points system. If you’ve read the book The Marketing Agency Blueprint by Paul Roetzer, you may be familiar with this idea. Paul and his team at PR 20/20 have been using their point pricing model for a few years now and through their agency education arm, offer a free download, Sample GamePlan that show you how their point pricing model works. Here are couple different articles on the idea of point pricing, if you’re interested in learning more. PR 20/20 article on eliminating hours from agency pricing Articulate’s explanation This was originally published in the AMI newsletter. To subscribe, click here.
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 [...]
Recently, I was listening to an interview with Craig Berube, coach of the St. Louis Blues hockey team. The interview covered how they've been able to stay very competitive and lead their division while enduring the absence of their most productive player, who underwent shoulder surgery in October. He said two things. “We have a well-defined system based on a high level of competition and our players have a clear understanding of their roles.” That resonated with me as I thought about how that applies to managing our agency teams. The fact that the club has a solid system of play enables them to identify the types of players who can thrive under the stress. And it gives each member of the squad an opportunity for success by following the system’s specs – which is a “North/South” approach with aggressive forechecking. No worries if you don’t understand hockey terms – just know that every player understands what’s expected of them. Berube shared a story of talking with a young player who was having a bit of difficulty gaining success in the system because he hadn’t fully bought into it. His message to him was, “Look, you're a really talented player who belongs in the NHL. But here's the deal. You have to play within the system we have, or you'll just have to play for a different team.” That’s a very clear message. As agency owners we often fail in being clear with our teams about expectations. And think about how much easier it would be if our systems were well-defined. What if we provided a road map for team members to follow and meet those expectations? Why is it that we sometimes struggle with [...]
When business owners are brainstorming new ways to grow their revenue, they first jump to their prospective new client list. Prospective clients who become new clients of yours are great for building revenue, but I argue to look at your current clients instead. Most of your new revenue should come from your existing clients, approximately 60-70%. Here are a few reasons why: You’ve already earned their trust. They’re accustomed to sending you money every month or every quarter. You’ve already demonstrated how smart you are and how much value you are providing. You are embedded within business on some level, and you have an opportunity to show how you could grow their business. These four things will add up to become an easier and faster sale than seeking out new clients. One of your responsibilities as a business owner is to teach your Account Executives (AEs) how to grow their book of business. Think of every AE as a franchisee and yourself as the franchisor; this will help open their eyes to this growth process. AEs will start thinking of how to grow their book of business instead of just maintaining it so that all of your clients are happy and satisfied with your services as they currently are. Additionally, they will start to see that if they are growing your business with the clients they are currently managing, you will give that AE more accounts and clients to manage—which helps them in the long run. There will be some pushback at first, feeling overwhelmed with their current workload. Start by breaking down agency math for them, showing them how much of the agency’s revenue goes towards adjusted growth income (AGI)—the money the agency gets [...]
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.
Public speaking is something many people fear — even visionary CEOs. Tesla’s Elon Musk, for example, has publicly chastised himself for his lackluster performances. Even if you’re not Musk-level famous, public speaking is an essential skill. It could be argued that every time you speak, you’re doing so to influence opinion, inspire action or stir up a certain feeling. You’d better know how to present like a pro. If you’re a business owner, speaking might arguably be one of the most powerful tools in your arsenal. I realized this recently when I interviewed Michael Port, a best-selling author on the subject. He reminded me that great speeches have changed the world many times over—like Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. What most successful speakers like Port will tell you is that natural talent only takes you so far. The key is practice. Many of the best public speakers approach public speaking as a craft that can be honed through dedicated persistence. Use the following tactics to improve your skills, whether you’re giving a big presentation, pitching to a potential client or even having one-on-one conversations with your employees. Home in on your goal — Figure out why you are speaking and why your audience wants to listen. Are you educating, persuading, or simply connecting with them? Your goal will help you decide which tactics you will use to engage your audience. Rehearse, but wisely — Steve Jobs practiced his speeches thoroughly, and it paid off. His keynote addresses were legendary, even praised by rival Bill Gates. Rehearsing will make you feel more comfortable and more likely to achieve your objective. A good rule of thumb is to spend less time on low-stakes [...]
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.