Who are your inside confidants?

I’ve never met an agency owner who doesn’t find the job a bit lonely sometimes. Most of us grew up in the agency business and we’re used to having at least a portion of our social life stem from our co-workers. As our careers advanced, we were probably in the inner circle but it was definitely a circle so you had people to talk to, confide in, and bounce ideas off of when the &^%# hits the fan. But now that you own the joint, it’s not quite the same. You know and think about things that really shouldn’t be shared with anyone (or too many someones) and who your confidants are can have huge consequences — good or bad. In our work with agencies, we sit around the table with a lot of leadership teams. Here are some of the skills/traits that I think are mandatory if you’re going to give someone the privilege/responsibility of one of those seats: They can keep their mouth shut (you’d think this was a given but we all know better) They can step outside their departmental or day-to-day role to care about the agency as a whole They have mastered the ability to be “kind but clearly candid” with you, the boss and don’t pull punches They’re comfortable not knowing or with uncertainty (if they are fretters — you have trouble) They’re hungry to keep learning Naturally, there are more but those are some biggies. Miss one or more of them and, next thing you know, you’re confiding in the wrong people. By the way — hopefully, it goes without saying that age, title or years in the business don’t always guarantee that those traits are present. I [...]

By |December 9th, 2019|

What’s the plan?

When you’ve worked in your own agency for 20+ years, it’s hard to fathom doing something different. And yet, we all have that vague (or not so vague) impression that we’re working and planning for something. Some talk about retiring in the traditional sense. Other agency owners talk about the next chapter — be it teaching, writing a book or going on the speaking tour. Others have aspirations that are a complete 180-degree shift from where they are today. Wineries, B&Bs, and other dreams loom large among my agency owner clients. I’m currently working with several owners who are in the process of thinking through/planning for that transition. Most of them are in their 50s. No — they don’t want out any time soon. But they realize that this is not the sort of thing that should be left to the last minute. I’ve never had an agency owner say, “Gee, I want to sell my agency” and voila in 12 months, they were sipping a Mai Tai on a beach with their buy out money. Ideally, you’d give yourself about a ten-year ramp to go from initial thoughts to closing the deal. And by the way, closing the deal for many of you will simply be to pick a retirement date and lock the door behind you. That requires it’s own plan so don’t think you’re off the planning hook. Other than waiting too long to get started, the biggest mistake I see agency owners make is that they don’t know what that next chapter is going to be. It’s pretty tough to get excited about walking away from your baby if you don’t have something new and exciting to look forward to exploring. [...]

By |December 2nd, 2019|

Are you a helicopter boss?

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 [...]

By |November 25th, 2019|

Should You Respond to That RFP?

RFPs are costly. As calculated investments, they may have great ROI, but on the whole, they waste resources. Some agencies have gotten to the point where they refuse to participate in the RFP process altogether. On the other end of the spectrum, some agencies get excited just to receive an RFP, submitting each one that comes their way. Which approach is right for you? Probably neither, and definitely not the latter. Despite the drawbacks of the RFP process, it’s unlikely to die anytime soon, and it remains the pathway to doing business with many brands. For most agencies, it makes sense to include some RFPs in their new business generation mix. The question is: what is the smartest way for your agency to approach RFPs? It pays to be picky. A lot of introspection and qualification should go into your evaluation of an RFP opportunity, just to determine if it’s worth your time. If you are unlikely to win it (or worse, if the prospect isn’t a good fit), what is the value in pursuing it? Exercise your right to say “no.” There is a lot of power in rejecting opportunities that are not worth your time; in being selective. Pursuing fewer, better-matched opportunities (instead of more, poorly-vetted ones) will lead to better outcomes. One of the dangers of RFP evaluation is a thing called “hope-ium.” That’s where you gloss over the red flags that tell you not to respond to the RFP because you are singularly focused on what it would mean for your agency to win the business. When you are thinking about how much you want to win the account, you aren’t focused on how likely it is for you to win [...]

By |November 25th, 2019|

Who is wearing the golden handcuffs?

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.

By |November 18th, 2019|

3 Proactive Ways to Prevent Ghosting

You had a great conversation with your prospect.  Maybe even a few conversations. Emails flew back and forth.  You had done your research, figured out their challenges, and developed solid solutions.  You had shown the ROI that would come when they bought from you. It was going great. Or so you thought. Because one day they just weren’t there anymore.  Emails didn’t get returned, phone calls always went to voicemail, and your letters were sent back marked “return to sender.”  (OK, maybe not that last one.) But you had to accept the fact: You had been ghosted. The Pain of Getting Ghosted The term ghosting comes from the dating world when someone abruptly cuts off communication without warning or explanation.  Usually, it stems from one partner trying to leave the relationship without conflict or having to deal with the negative repercussions. And now the practice has infiltrated the business world as well.  Instead of telling salespeople or potential professional partners “no”, prospects cut off communication and become impossible to reach. This isn’t the same problem as when you are first reaching out to a prospect.  That has always been a challenge and will remain so. Ghosting is different because it happens once the conversation has already started.  And not only has the conversation started, it’s usually going well. There can be multiple phone calls and emails where the prospect is excited, and it seems like there is a legitimate chance to move business forward. That’s why getting ghosted hurts on both a business and person level.  It’s a surprise that doesn’t seem to make sense. Everything is going smoothly and then radio silence. Why Do Prospects Ghost You? Here’s the biggest challenge for salespeople when [...]

By |November 18th, 2019|

How Can Agency Leaders Prepare for Another Recession

News outlets have been warning of a potential recession for a while now, and it’s no secret that marketing services are often the first items to go in the event of a recession. In 2009, the last year of the Great Recession, United States advertising spend fell by 12%, while it plummeted 9% globally. What’s more, a February 2019 survey of CMOs revealed that most CMOs are “on the fence” about the U.S. economy. So what can agency leaders do to prepare for a recession properly? Based on interactions AMI has had with our partner agencies, we have identified these top four trends that may affect how your agency prepares for the future. I recently contributed this article to SpinSucks.com discussing some steps agency leaders can take to prepare for another recession. I hope it provides some valuable insights into how to run a more productive agency, and I look forward to hearing your feedback on it!

By |November 16th, 2019|

Have you unplugged lately?

We're getting ready to head into a long holiday weekend. Are you planning on unplugging? Really unplugging? I'm talking about focusing on recharging your battery, investing in your family and friends, and most importantly — doing something that makes you feel like a priority. Don’t worry — I am not giving up AMI and going into the Oprah business. I swear — this is very relevant to my day job. In fact, it may be one of the most important best practices that I preach. Agency owner/leader burn out is one of the biggest threats to the health of your agency. You have to understand your role in the agency. You are the epicenter. Your energy, your focus, and your contributions are what set the course. When you let yourself get too weary, too burdened or too overwhelmed — everyone feels it. They may not be able to articulate what they sense, but it absolutely changes the dynamics in your shop. I just had this conversation with two of our coaching clients — I believe your #1 obligation as an agency leader is to make sure you stay replenished, refreshed and that your head/heart is in a very good place. That does not happen by accident. Is protecting your state of mind a conscious part of your week? None of these things will happen if you don't commit to them, which means putting them on your calendar and paying for them in advance. We all know what happens to an open hour on your calendar. Here are some suggestions: Weekly: (3 measly hours) Take 15 minutes to write in a gratitude journal every day. You'll be stunned at how powerful this is Take an exercise [...]

By |November 11th, 2019|

If You Have Millennials In Your Agency, Follow These Three Tips

Millennials will soon take over as the leaders of the workforce, and we need to be ready for their preferences. They are used to more advanced technology than we had at their age, and their access to social media and other communication platforms during the Great Recession means they think of things like money and value in a much different way than generations before. My agency also recently surveyed 1,000 agency employees to learn more about this generation’s mindset. I draw upon my own experiences, our research, and other sources to help agency owners understand how to manage millennials. Create True Transparency: To millennials, real transparency means increased context fueled by the desire to engage and connect with those around you. So next time, tell your millennial employees what could be improved or how their efforts have helped the business grow. And don’t be afraid to be honest about why a competing agency might have won that valuable client (and what the team can do collectively to get better). Get to know your millennial team members as people, not just as employees. Ask about their interests outside of work, and inquire about their weekends on Monday mornings. These little connections can add up. Help Them See How They Fit Into Your Agency: Millennials have a lot of options in front of them, causing a struggle to make important decisions about their future, further leading to confusion about their identity and purpose. Social media platforms like Instagram and Twitter nurture this; younger generations always have someone to compare themselves too. Millennials are accused of being “job hoppers” because they always see greener grass on the other side. With all this in mind, leverage the compassionate side [...]

By |November 9th, 2019|

Are you leveraging your hiring advantage?

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.

By |November 4th, 2019|