Episode 45

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Drew McLellan is the Top Dog at Agency Management Institute. For the past 21 years, he has also owned and operated his own agency. Drew’s unique vantage point as being both an active agency owner and working with 250+ small- to mid-size agencies throughout the year, give him a unique perspective on running an agency today.

AMI works with agency owners by:

  • Leading agency owner peer groups
  • Offering workshops for owners and their leadership teams
  • Offering AE bootcamps
  • Conducting individual agency owner coaching
  • Doing on-site consulting
  • Offering online courses in agency new business and account service

Because he works with those 250+ agencies every year — he has the unique opportunity to see the patterns and the habits (both good and bad) that happen over and over again. He has also written two books and been featured in The New York Times, Entrepreneur Magazine, and Fortune Small Business. The Wall Street Journal called his blog “One of 10 blogs every entrepreneur should read.”


What you’ll learn about in this episode:

  • The daily traffic / huddle meeting for discussing daily vital priorities and how to make this meeting work regardless of agency size
  • The monthly all-staff meeting for informing and inspiring your team
  • The twice a year to quarterly meeting for team building and planning


The Golden Nugget:

“Your employees want more information from you.” – @DrewMcLellan Share on X


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Ways to contact Drew McLellan:

We’re proud to announce that Hubspot is now the presenting sponsor of the Build A Better Agency podcast! Many thanks to them for their support!

Speaker 1: If you’re going to take the risk of running an agency, shouldn’t you get the benefits too? Welcome to Build a Better Agency, where we show you how to build an agency that can scale and grow with better clients, invest in employees and ,best of all, more money to the bottom line. Bringing his 25 plus years of expertise as both an agency owner and agency consultant to you, please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.


Drew McLellan: Hey, everybody. Drew McLellan here with another episode of Build a Better Agency. Today’s episode is one of my solo casts, so no guests this week, just you and me chatting about a topic that I know is on many agency owners’ minds, so I wanted to make sure that it’s on yours. So I’ve had a lot of conversations lately with agency owners about what kinds of all agency meetings they should be holding. So what are the meetings where everybody in the shop is in attendance? And I think there are three different kinds of meetings that every agency should at least be talking about whether or not it would serve them well to hold their agency.


  And I know that out there, you guys are structured in lots of different ways. Some of you are all in one office and everybody shows up to work every day and works in the office. I know some of you are in one office or one location, but you have a lot of fluidity around your work, so some people come in and work in the office. Other people work from home. Some folks do a hybrid of that. Others of you have multiple offices, and there are certainly lots of you out there that are all virtual today, where you have no physical space in which you share a workspace with your coworkers other than online. So you’re going to need to think about all of these meetings in the context of how you’re structured. But let me tell you about how they are, and I’m going to talk about them as though you are a single office and at least on a given day of the week, everybody or almost everybody is in the shop.


  So I think there are three kinds of meetings you need to think about. The first one is absolutely functional. So back in the day, when I was starting in my agency career, we called it a traffic meeting. Some people are now calling it a huddle, but what that is is that’s a very quick daily meeting. It’s typically a standing meeting. And in that meeting, you literally are just talking about what are the vital priorities that must be done today. So here’s how this works.


  And by the way, before those of you who are large agencies go, “Can’t do this. I have 100 people,” or, “I have 150 people,” I will tell you that I have AMI agencies that are that size, that are doing this every day, and what they tell me is that when they started it, it was a little awkward at first and they had to figure out how to get through it efficiently and quickly. But once they did and everyone realizes it’s not a place to chat. It’s not a meeting where everybody sits down and you bring bagels, but it’s really a functional 15 or 20 minute at the most meeting, it’s amazing how quickly it goes.


  So what that daily traffic or huddle looks like is either you have a traffic manager or a production manager, or whoever runs traffic in your shop, or make sure all the jobs get loaded into the systems. In some cases that might be your account service folks. So in some agencies, whoever is responsible for trafficking jobs, whether that’s one person or it’s the AE team, whatever that may be, they literally walk through a hot list of here are the jobs that are hot today, and they’re checking in with each teammate to find out if they are on time and are on target for delivering the deadlines, whether that’s an internal deadline like comps are due or concepts are due to the AE team to review, or it’s something that is client-facing like revision round number three is due back to client today, whatever that may be.


  Another way to think about that traffic meeting is the way more and more agencies are doing it, which is it’s more of a huddle if you will. So again, everyone is standing around and people answer four quick questions and they literally just go around the circle until everybody is done. The four questions are: here’s what I absolutely must get done today, and then they list them out; here are the things that I had to get done yesterday that I did not complete, and I need to complete them today; I have capacity. Here’s how much capacity I have if someone else needs help; and number four is I need help, here’s what I need. And then obviously usually on those last two, if somebody has capacity or needs help, then someone else in the room might speak up and either offer help or ask for their time and help.


  So very quickly, again, here’s what I have to get done today. Here’s what to do for me today. Here’s what was due for me yesterday that I did not complete and must complete today. And by the way, in most cases, the answer to that question should be nothing. I’m very concerned about the lack of attention that we spend in agencies today on deadlines. I don’t know when deadlines became optional, but they shouldn’t be. So again, that question, most of the time the answer should be nothing, but sometimes they don’t get everything done or the client delayed something, so that’s part of that equation. And then, I have capacity. Here’s what I have and here’s how I can help, or I need help and here’s what I need.


  So that’s the daily huddle. In and out in 20 minutes, even if you have 100 employees. Some agencies will break that up into teams. And if you’re large enough to do that without making some people, like some of your creatives, attend four and five meetings, that’s okay. But I suggest that it is easier than you think to get through it with everybody. And it really helps everyone get a sense of where the agency is at. So that’s the daily meeting, the traffic or the huddle meeting.


  The next meeting is a monthly meeting. And by the way, the daily meeting should not be run by the agency owner. That should be run by whoever is driving work through the agency every day. The monthly meeting, however, the all staff meeting we’ll call it, that should be run by the agency owner or leader. So if you are an absentee owner and you’re not actively running your agency, whoever’s actively running your agency should be running this meeting. And in most cases, that’s the owner. If it is not you, it doesn’t mean you should not attend. You absolutely should be there, but you may not be driving the train.


  So the monthly meeting, what that’s all about is that is an opportunity for you to inspire and inform your teams. So the purpose of the all agency meeting is to make sure that all the employees feel plugged in and informed. I promise you no matter how often you talk to your employees, no matter how transparent you are, no matter how much you tell them, they want more information from you. They want to hear from you more often than they do. And just because you told them once does not mean that they are going to remember what you said and that they are going to retain all of that. So the first purpose of this monthly meeting is to keep the employees feeling plugged in and informed.


  The second reason why you have this monthly meeting is because you should have goals and you should have agency-wide goals. They might be financial goals. They might be adding a new system or process, whatever they are. And if you’re not setting agency goals, you need to go back to one of my very early solo casts about setting annual goals for your agency. There’s worksheets there. I walk you right through how to do it. But let’s assume that all of you have done that and you’ve got goals. So the other reason why you have this monthly meeting is to bring your team up to speed on where you’re at with the goals, and that’s to hold you and everyone else accountable. That’s about, are we doing what we said we were going to do? Are we on track? What are we working on? Where do we need help from the team?


  So a big part of this meeting is, A, to hold your people accountable, but B, it is for you and your leadership team, if you have one, to demonstrate that you are accountable as well. You need to make sure that your staff understands what you’re working on and what are the priorities that have your attention. And in most cases, the goals that agencies set on an annual basis are big goals. They might be a billings goal. They might be a process improvement goal. They might be a quality goal. It might be an award that you want to win. Whatever it is you need to be keeping people informed and keep that top of mind for everyone so you can get the help that you need to actually accomplish those goals.


  Another reason why you have these monthly meetings is to get the employees or to keep the employees excited about the work that you do and the agency. Many of you are experiencing a very tough job market. Your employees are being cherry-picked and their salaries in the new jobs are being, in some cases, doubled and tripled. So you are being cherry-picked. It’s harder for you to hire good people. So once you have people on board, you want to keep them. Unless they suck, and then you should be firing them, but that’s a different solo cast.


  So in this meeting, you want to have some things that make people proud to be a part of your agency. So you might show some work and talk about the results you got for client. You might read out loud some testimonials from clients or an email from a client. If you have some sort of an employee recognition, which I know I’ve talked to a lot of you about, this would be the meeting where you announce the winner of that recognition for the month. And then, you would also talk about initiatives inside the agency. Maybe it’s a volunteer thing that you’re all doing together, whatever it is. But think of it as an opportunity to sprinkle some culture into the meeting and to create a sense of excitement and pride around your agency.


  And the last reason why you hold this meeting is it should be partially an open forum so people can address issues and concerns. Some agencies just ask people to speak up. And in some agency cultures, that’s fine. Other agencies may have some sort of a suggestion box or a question box that they leave out through the month, and the agency owner or leaders will read those questions in this meeting and then answer them. So you can handle it a lot of ways, but it should be a place where if someone has heard something or is worried about something, this is the place to ask.


  If you have people in the ranks who come to you and say, “Hey, heads up, people are worried about this,” or, “People are upset about this,” or, “They’re not happy about the change in the healthcare plan,” or whatever it may be, you may also say, “Hey, I’ve heard rumblings that people are concerned about X, Y, Z. Let me talk to you about how that decision was made and why it’s good for the agency,” whatever it is. But again, it should be a place for an open forum for your agency.


  So that’s what the monthly meeting should be. And again, that’s probably an hour at the most. And a lot of agencies will include that they celebrate the month’s birthdays at the same time or whatever it is. So you can put other things in it if you would like to, but those are the things that need to be there. And this is also a time for you to acknowledge employees who are sort of living up to the company brand, the agency’s brand, who are really serving clients or each other. Well, it’s also a place for heads up. So, “Hey, this is coming up. We have insurance renewals.” So it also can be just a functional, everybody needs to know stuff meeting.


  And then, the last meeting that I think you need to consider holding should be held either quarterly or at least twice a year, and those are a combination of team building and planning. So think of those meetings. At my agency, we call those love ins. I can’t remember, we’ve been doing it for so long. I can’t remember how that came to be. But in a love in, the morning is spent on working on something big. Maybe if you’re a traction person, maybe it’s a moving some rocks that are on your list. If you are just working on some big goals, maybe it’s bringing everybody together to role play through a new traffic system to see if you can debug anything. Whatever it is, you’re going to set a topic. Sometimes you might have a speaker. There might be some education involved in it. So it’s about improving your agency by all of you working together on one thing.


  Then you should have lunch together. And then, in the early afternoon, you should do some sort of team building activity. And this could be anything from working on a habitat house together, although I think usually that takes more of a full day. We have some things like we took an improv class together, which was not only hysterical, but really helpful in terms of everyone’s speaking ability and their presentation skills. So it doesn’t matter what it is. We’ve gone to one of those places where you paint the pot and then they cook it for you. I know there’s a better name for it, but you know what I mean? So we try to do things that are creative, that are inspiring. We’ve gone to art museums, but do something as a team together in the afternoon and celebrate the fact that all of you are creative in your own ways.


  So the beautiful thing about this quarterly or twice a year meeting is it allows you to step out of the fray for the day and for everybody to focus on something big. So some agencies use it as a blog writing day where literally they hunker down for two hours and everybody has to write a blog post or two so that they have enough blog content for the next three months or six months. So there’s lots of things you can do with it and I’m happy to chat with you about some of the ways you can use those meetings.


  But the important thing is it’s an investment. So I can hear all of you groaning, “Take everybody out of the office for a whole day?” You know what? It’s an investment. It’s an investment in making your agency better. It’s an investment in those people. It is an opportunity to build a team. And again, it’s about investing in your culture. It’s about making your employees feel good about where they work. It’s about connecting them to the agency. One of the things you guys are always saying to me is, “I want my employees to act more like owners.” It’s meetings like this that allow them a glimpse of how to think and behave like an owner and how to really work on the big things. It is great training ground for your more junior people who have not worked in another agency before. And it’s a great place for you to tap into the brain and experience of your more seasoned agency folks, especially if they’ve worked in other agencies.


  So that’s it, the daily huddle, the monthly state of the agency meeting, and then the quarterly or twice a year love in, or call it whatever you want, big picture planning. Those are the meetings that you should be having as an agency every year with your team to get the best from your team and to also create the best team. Hopefully that’s helpful. Hopefully you can steal some nuggets from those ideas and put them into place. I’d love to hear how that’s working for you. In the meantime, I will be back next week with an episode with a guest who will talk to us about something that’s important to all of us as we run our agencies. In the meantime, if you need me, go ahead and reach out at [email protected] and I will see you next week. Thanks for listening.


Speaker 1: That’s all for this episode of Build a Better Agency. Be sure to visit agencymanagementinstitute.com to learn more about our workshops and other ways we serve small to mid-sized agencies. While you’re there, sign up for our e-newsletter, grab our free ebook and check out the blog, growing a bigger, better agency that makes more money, attracts bigger clients, and doesn’t consume your life is possible here on Build a Better Agency.