Episode 363:

What makes an employee want to stick around at your agency? Every year since 2014, we’ve been doing the research and compiling it into our Agency Edge Research to help agency owners get to the bottom of how to maintain employee satisfaction.

We expected certain things like financial compensation and work-from-home flexibility to be most important this year. Still, we were surprised to find many other desires shining through that have nothing to do with money. This year, Susan Baier returns to help me break down our findings.

In our analysis, we’ll highlight three categories that most agency employees fall into and how their needs, wants, and levels of loyalty differ across the board. Each group has their own unique way of viewing their role in the agency, how they want to be cared for, and what’s missing that would make them want to stay. We’ll talk in-depth about each group and how we can best address their concerns to boost employee satisfaction.

A big thank you to our podcast’s presenting sponsor, White Label IQ. They’re an amazing resource for agencies who want to outsource their design, dev, or PPC work at wholesale prices. Check out their special offer (10 free hours!) for podcast listeners here.
employee satisfaction

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • What is the Agency Edge Research Series, and what agency-specific issues does it address?
  • What questions do we ask agency employees when compiling the research?
  • The three categories that most agency employees fall into when looking at employee satisfaction
  • The most important things that employees feel are lacking in the agency culture
  • Where millennials stood out more than other age groups in certain categories
  • What are the driving reasons behind an employee choosing to leave an agency?
  • How to build loyalty in your agency and take care of employees
  • How to identify employees who might be at risk of leaving your agency or agency life altogether

“72% say what they want is leadership to empower others, or the ability to empower others.” @SusanBaier Click To Tweet“Almost half of our group is working hybrid, 32% are fully remote, 21% in-person. And most of them say that the way they're working now is how they want to be working.” @SusanBaier Click To Tweet“The at-risk group is significantly more likely to be women. 66% of the at-risk are women, compared to only 40 to 50% on the other two segments.” @SusanBaier Click To Tweet“That middle group, the self-reliant 45%, are significantly more likely to be millennials. 63% of them are millennials compared to about 45% for the other two segments.” @SusanBaier Click To Tweet“The at-risk group is more likely to focus on collaboration, these folks who care so much are at the center of your agency and may not be getting the level of collaboration they want.” @SusanBaier Click To Tweet

Ways to contact Susan:

Resources:



Announcer:

It doesn’t matter what kind of an agency you run, traditional, digital, media buying, web dev, PR, whatever your focus, you still need to run a profitable business. The Build a Better Agency Podcast, presented by White Label IQ, will show you how to make more money and keep more of what you make. Let us help you build an agency that is sustainable, scalable, and if you want, down the road sellable. Bringing his 25-plus years of experience as both an agency owner and agency consultant, please welcome your host, Drew McClellan.

Drew McClellan:

Hey, everybody. Drew McClellan here from Agency Management Institute, back again with another episode of Build a Better Agency. This week’s guest is probably our most return guest, Susan Baier, and we’re going to talk about the Agency Edge Research that we literally just came out of the field with. What we did was we talked to agency employees. It was very specific. How are they feeling about the work? How are they feeling about their specific agency? How are they feeling about the industry in general? What’s great about their job? What’s not so great about their job? This is an episode and a piece of research that you really need to see and understand as all of you continue to build the agency, want to build your capabilities.

Some of you are still struggling with finding talent. You’re still losing talent to either other shops or to the client side, and so I want to help you be better in terms of keeping the employees that you want and taking care of all of your folks. That’s what we’re going to talk about is we’re going to walk through that research. I will tell you, though, one of the things that we heard loud and clear are a couple of things that we’ll dig into deeper once we bring Susan onto the show is agency employees want more professional development and they want to know where they’re headed. They want a career path.

You don’t have to do it for them, but you need to do it with them. They don’t know how to build these career paths for themselves. I know a lot of you took control of your own career and made your own path, but the people we’re employing today, they don’t seem to have that skill set and they expect us to help them think about where their career could go and what they need to do to continue on that trajectory. That’s on us to do, and to participate in it if nothing else.

One of the things I want to talk to you about is remember that we are offering the AE Bootcamp and the Advanced AE Bootcamp twice a year now, once in the fall and once in the spring. The Advanced AE Bootcamp, it’s too late for you to do the fall version, but the AE Bootcamp for kind of your more junior people, zero to four years of experience, is in October in Denver. Then, we’ll offer both the AE and the Advanced AE Bootcamp again in the spring of ’23. If that makes sense for some of your folks, we would be happy to have them and you can learn more about it on the Agency Management Institute website.

In the meantime, I want to welcome back Susan Baier. As you know, Susan and her company, Audience Audit, are AMI’s partner in the Agency Edge Research Series. We are on our ninth year of doing these studies and every year we learn really insightful things that are both surprising, but also things that we could take action on and do something about. This study is no different.

There’s lots to be learned here and there’s lots to do to make our employees happier, more productive, to retain them for longer, and so I want to jump right into that conversation and give you as much information as we can. We’re also going to talk about a webinar where you can get even more information that’s coming up in October. All right, let’s welcome Susan to the show and get going. Susan, welcome back to the podcast. It’s always good to have you on the show.

Susan Baier:

Oh, thank you. Drew. I love being here in front of your audience. It’s wonderful.

Drew McClellan:

As always, we ventured out into the world to ask people some specific questions as part of our Agency Edge Research Series. This year, our question was, I think, the same question that was on every agency owner’s mind, which is, “What in God’s name is going on my employees’ heads? What can I do to keep the ones that I love and that are incredible performers? How can I find and attract the right fit for my team? What matters to employees today?” I mean, we did this, gosh, how many years ago? Probably six or eight years ago we talked to-

Susan Baier:

Yeah-

Drew McClellan:

… agency employees.

Susan Baier:

… I think it was about six years ago, and that study surprised some folks, the findings from that study-

Drew McClellan:

That’s right.

Susan Baier:

… and this is the second time we’ve spoken to agency employees as opposed to agency clients, and once again, I think the results of the study are going to surprise some folks, so that’s been fun.

Drew McClellan:

When I think about the results of the last survey, I mean, the world has literally changed since then, and so while-

Susan Baier:

Yes.

Drew McClellan:

… some of what we learned six years ago was certainly still valid, we went out really this time with the intent of trying to understand where agency employees’ heads were at, heads and hearts, really. How are they feeling about the work? How are they feeling about the agency they work for? How are they feeling about everything from hybrid work to all of the changes that have been sort of thrust upon us over the last couple of years? We were pretty focused in our intentions I think.

Susan Baier:

Yeah. Well, yeah, and we intentionally held this study, so one of the things we’re going to talk about later is the webinar, the executive summary, all of that stuff is in process now because this study just came out of the field this summer. It is really, really, really, really new, so I think we do have our finger on the pulse of where employees are right now, which I hope will be helpful to agency owners.

Drew McClellan:

Yeah, so we’re recording the week of September 12th, and later this week, this data will be unveiled, if you will, at Content Marketing World. You guys are going to hear this the week after that, so we’re just… We recorded this last week if you’re listening in real time to when the podcast comes out because we wanted to get this to you, and also because, as Susan mentioned, we have a webinar. I’m going to mention this several times during the show because it’s important. As always, in this hour, Susan and I are going to barely be able to scratch the surface of all of the data that we gathered, and we want to really be able to do a deep dive with any of you that are interested, and so on October 4th, correct me if I’m wrong, Susan, noon Central, right?

Susan Baier:

I just trust you when you tell me things like that.

Drew McClellan:

Yeah. That is not a good idea. I think it’s noon Central, right? Hang on. One of us has to look. Anyway, Susan, you look while I give them the information.

Susan Baier:

Okay, that sounds good. I’ll look.

Drew McClellan:

On October 4th, sometime around noon Central, which we’ll get to in a minute, we’re going to do a live webinar where you can actually see all the data visualized and you can ask us questions about the data and we can talk about it. Here’s how you sign up for that free webinar. You’re going to text the word “Research2022,” all one word, so no space between Research and 2022, to this number, 833-592-2949. It’s going to prompt you to send us your email address, and then the minute you do that, we will register you for the webinar.

Susan Baier:

Which is at 10:00 Pacific, 1:00 Eastern.

Drew McClellan:

Noon Central.

Susan Baier:

Well, depending on what happens with Daylight Savings. I’m in Arizona, so I never know what all you people are doing with your-

Drew McClellan:

All right-

Susan Baier:

… clocks.

Drew McClellan:

… ignore Arizona, who has turned their back on Daylight Savings.

Susan Baier:

10:00 Pacific-

Drew McClellan:

A very-

Susan Baier:

… 1:00 Eastern.

Drew McClellan:

… controversial topic, I know, so noon Central. 10:00 if you’re in California, 11:00 if you’re in Denver, 12:00 if you’re in Kansas City, 1:00 if you’re in New York City. All right, and if you’re in other parts of the world, that’s as far as I can go. Check it out for yourself, but anyway, “Research2022” to the number 833-592-2949, and we will include this in the show notes as well. The autoresponder will prompt you to send us your email address, and then we will get you registered. As always with all AMI workshops and webinar, or sorry, not workshops, that would be a lie, all webinars, if you can’t make it live, we will send you the recording. Even if you know already that you’re booked on October 4th, but you want to hear us really deep dive into this content, feel free to sign up.

Okay, let’s start talking about the content. Susan, let’s talk a little bit about the methodology as we always start with, and then let’s talk about what we found out.

Susan Baier:

Right, so as always, these studies are statistically reliable. We talked to about 400 agency employees, which gives us a really high level of confidence on the results of this study. Our focus, we always capture a lot of information, but the real core of this research has always been trying to understand what’s in people’s heads and why they’re making the decisions that they’re making and how they feel about various things. We don’t predetermine what those buckets are going to be. There’s a lot of assumptions that we as owners have about employees, but none of those are built into this study.

The segmentation that we find is organic, and it’s only based on the attitudes that people have, not their demographics or any of those other things. As usual, that process went into play at this time, and when we pulled the analysis of the data, what we saw are three very distinct attitudinal segments this year. They’re not even, as they have been in other years at times, but that’s just the way the data fell out. We have three segments of employees. The first group we’re calling Enthusiastic, which is 27% of our audience. Self-Reliant is the largest group at 45%, and we’ve got a group called At-Risk, which is 29%.

Let’s talk a little bit about what’s different between these agency employees and how they were thinking about things. That Enthusiastic group, which was 27%, are just like the dream situation for an agency owner. They feel very good about their ability to succeed at their agency. They’re proud to work in their agency. They are giving their agency high marks for things like professional development, opportunities, compensation, culture. They say leadership is really in touch with the needs of employees. They think working in agencies is more fun than the client side, and these are people who have done both for that question, and they think the best way to build a career is to stay in one agency for many years. That’s really an excited, supported, enthused group of agency employees, but that’s 27% of our total group.

Drew McClellan:

Unfortunately, those dream employees are the smallest group-

Susan Baier:

Yeah, yeah.

Drew McClellan:

… and by the way, as usual, one of the things that’s always interesting about our studies is when we look at, “Okay, does it matter what part of the country they live in? Or does it matter how big their agency is or their age?” What you will see on October 4th, because we don’t have time to dig into it now other than just to say, none of those things were really factors in where somebody’s attitudes fell into. There is one other group’s that tended to be the younger employees, if I remember it.

Susan Baier:

Yeah, yeah. We’re going to talk a little bit about some tendencies, but as you said, we found all of these segments across all ages, all genders, all agency sizes, so if you have assumptions about who’s enthusiastic and who isn’t based on their generational position, you would be wrong.

Drew McClellan:

Yeah, yeah. Now, the second group, the Self-Reliant group at 45%, is actually… In all the years we’ve done the studies, we’ve never had one group this large before I don’t think.

Susan Baier:

No, I don’t think so. This is really, really interesting, and I think the tendency is going to be for people to hear about this group, to make some assumptions about how they feel about agencies. These folks actually would like agencies, but they’re not very happy with their current agency, and they really feel like their career success is solely their own responsibility. They are not relying on anybody else, including their current or future employer to carry their career happiness and success.

Drew McClellan:

I do think it’s not that they wouldn’t welcome better support from their agency-

Susan Baier:

Oh, of course not.

Drew McClellan:

… on our, or their agency, but they feel kind of their out on an island. They feel very responsible for their own career success, which I think for many agency owners sounds like great thing, but it’s the words “solely responsible” that is the concern. They don’t really feel like the agency owner to agency leadership is that invested in them, and they find the work to be a little pedantic, that many of them have a side hustle just to kind of fulfill themselves in terms of their creativity.

Susan Baier:

Well, and they say they need that.

Drew McClellan:

Right.

Susan Baier:

They say like that’s a requirement for them because it’s not being fulfilled someplace else, and when we talk about how they’re feeling about their current agency, not only are they not feeling sort of that their career is being nurtured at the place that they are right now, but they say things like, “Success at an agency depends on who you know, how well you perform, and that a small number get the credit for everything that happens at the agency.

Drew McClellan:

One of the interesting things I think about this group is I think they feel invisible inside your shop. They’re not getting the pats on the back that they need, and I know for many agency owners, the whole patting people on the back thing is sort of a burr under your saddle. that people should just know they’re doing a good job cause they’re not getting in trouble. Or a lot of times I’ll hear, “My God, I can’t compliment them enough to make them happy,” but again, almost half of the people we talk to are feeling underappreciated and kind of invisible. They also believe right now that they would have a better work experience at another agency than the agency they’re at now. They don’t find working at multiple agencies to be a problem. They actually see some value in moving around.

Susan Baier:

Yep. I think these folks are really looking for the opportunity to exercise their creative expression and really try some other things. They’re just not seeing that, and so what they’ve decided is that they have to manage that themselves. This is why so many of them want to side hustle. I think the interesting thing about the side hustle is it’s not about money. One of the things that I think we expected to thread through this research was compensation, money, money, money, you know? That’s not what it’s about for these folks. They really want to be able to stretch their creative muscles, and that’s why a side hustle is so important for them.

Drew McClellan:

Yep, and I will say that this group is less likely, understand less likely meaning not everybody, but-

Susan Baier:

Right.

Drew McClellan:

… less likely to be responsible for strategy, project or account management, or leaderships. This is more likely to be the folks on your production side of the business, the people who are producing the work.

Susan Baier:

That’s exactly right.

Drew McClellan:

Yeah.

Susan Baier:

That’s exactly right.

Drew McClellan:

Yeah.

Susan Baier:

All right, so that’s 45%, and then we come to this group that I thought about the name for this group, and I don’t think there’s a better name than At-Risk. This is 29% of our employees. These folks really expect their agencies to help employees be successful, be engaged. They want agencies to show concern for their employees’ well-being, and these are least happy with their career trajectory, their compensation, their path for advancement. Here’s the scary thing about this, Drew, this is the group that is most likely to be responsible for strategy, leadership, project management, and account management. These people are at the very center of how your agency works or doesn’t work, and they are the least happy with how things are going for them right now in their agency. Even though they say their agency is doing well, they are really struggling, and of all the groups, as we’ll talk about in a minute, this is the group mostly likely to look outside the agency business completely.

Drew McClellan:

Right. They’re so burned out.

Susan Baier:

They’re so burned out, and-

Drew McClellan:

If I remember right, Susan, these are the people who are working the most hours, too, right?

Susan Baier:

They are. They’re working the most hours. They’re carrying most of the sort of senior type of load. Even though we see these folks at all age ranges, they’re really doing a lot of the work, that really strategic high-level stuff. They’re struggling with it, and this is the group that has the compensation concerns more than anybody else. I think that’s one of the reasons that they are looking outside the agency business, not just outside their current agency, but leaving the business completely and going over to the corporate side. We’ll talk about that, I think, a little more.

Drew McClellan:

Yeah. You know, one of the things that I think is interesting, and again, we often talk about that, it’s very rare that a segment is driven by age or gender or geography, but there were some… While we saw people of all age groups, genders, job levels, years of experience, all of that in all of the groups, there were a few things here that I think are worth [inaudible 00:18:21]-

Susan Baier:

That are different-

Drew McClellan:

… like, yeah.

Susan Baier:

… that are statistically different for certain segments. As you said, all age groups, genders, job levels, time in the agency business, agency revenue, budgets, all of that kind of stuff we see across this spectrum of all three segments. That middle group, the Self-Reliant, 45%, are significantly more likely to be Millennials. 63% of them are Millennials, compared to about 45% for the other two segments. They’re not all Millennials and not all Millennials are going to be in this group, but there is definitely a lean towards that generation in that group.

That third group, the At-Risk group, are significantly more likely to be women, Drew. 66% of the At-Risk are women, which compares to only 40 to 50% on the other two segments. Those are big differences from a demographic standpoint. Those Self-Reliant folks are also more likely to be working at bigger agencies, a hundred or more employees at multiple offices. The At-Risk folks are more likely to work in that 10-to-25 employee range agency and to say their agency is a generalist, which is kind of interesting. When you think about what the Self-Reliant are dealing with and what the At-Risk are dealing with, for a lot of them their experience is pretty difference with respect to their gender, their age, and the size and type of agency that they’re in.

Drew McClellan:

Yeah. Well, and again, I think when we hear the struggles of the At-Risk people, you can see. You can understand why more women would fall into that category, so it’s not unlike what I’m hearing agency owners say, which is their ability to juggle their life and work and all of that is a challenge. As we said earlier, the other thing about the At-Risk group is they are more likely to be working longer hours, so most employees, everyone’s always wondering how many hours everybody’s working.

Most of the people in the survey reported that they work 40 to 45 hours a week. Again, what all of you have been saying about employees at 5:00, they’re checking out. After they’ve done their 40 hours, they’re done, the data supports that, but the At-Risk people are much more likely to be working longer hours than the average of 40 to 45 weeks.

Susan Baier:

They are. Yeah, they are, and you can understand given the load that they’re carrying, and a large percentage of them are carrying that load in an agency that has at most 25 employees. There’s a lot of work to go around, and these folks are bearing the breadth of that. We also looked at where people are working, how people are working. Alost half of our group is working hybrid. 32% are fully remote and 21% in person, and most of them say that the way they’re working now is the way they want to be working.

That At-Risk group is most likely to have a hybrid setup, 68%, and they, too, say that’s what they prefer. I know you hear a lot from agency owners about what we should be doing in terms of coming back to the office and all that kind of stuff. Our data suggests that there’s a mix out there, and most folks are in the situation they want to be in.

Drew McClellan:

Right. It’s not the working environment that is causing these problems, what we’re saying. They’re content with the working environment.

Susan Baier:

Exactly right. Here’s what really struck me, Drew. We asked all of these folks if they had considered leaving their agency job, and they got the options definitely, sort of, not really at all. The enthusiastic, only 10% say they’ve definitely thought of leaving their agency job, and almost 40% said, “Nope, not even considering it at all.” Okay, that’s great. The Self-Reliant, that middle group, 22% of them have thought about leaving their agency job, and we know because of what they told us that they’d go to another agency. The At-Risk folks, 26% said they’d definitely thought about it, and only 12% said that they have not considered it at all.

Drew McClellan:

Right, and, in fact, over 50% of them said either definitely, or sort of-

Susan Baier:

Yes-

Drew McClellan:

… so again-

Susan Baier:

… yes.

Drew McClellan:

… these people are At-Risk.

Susan Baier:

They’re At-Risk and they’re carrying a lot of the really important work in the agencies. The other question we ask that really shows this problem is we asked a net promoter score for working in the agency business. Would you recommend it to a friend or colleague? Would you recognize just not your agency, but just the agency business? 63% of the Enthusiastic are promoters. They’re like, “Absolutely, absolutely.” They have a net promoter score of 59, which is good.

Self-Reliant, 38, not bad. The At-Risk, 12, because only 30% of them promoters, 18% are detractors, and they have a huge… More than half of them are in that passives group, meaning even if they’re feeling okay about things, they’re not talking about it and they’re not recommending the business to anybody else. We know that these are the most likely to say that if they left, they would be welcoming at client side work.

Drew McClellan:

Well, and again, remember, these are the people who are driving account service and strategy and all of that in a bigger volume than the other two groups, so to most agency owners, these are the critical employees.

Susan Baier:

Yeah, absolutely, and I don’t think they’re the people that agency owners think are the problem.

Drew McClellan:

Right.

Susan Baier:

You know, I think that when we look at the… For example, we’ve heard since our initial study, before our initial study, “Oh, Millennials are the problem.” When you looked at that Millennial group, these are no more likely than the At-Risk than the Enthusiastic. It’s the Self-Reliant who are more of those folks, so I think that if you’re looking at age, you’re missing this story and you’re potentially missing how at-risk some of your really crucial employees may be.

Drew McClellan:

Well, and I think it’s important to note that, and then we’re going to take a quick break, but I think it’s important to note that these are the people who you are thinking are your superstars. They’re working longer hours, they’re driving the client relationship, they’re driving strategy, so the cost of losing one of those people is exponential to your agency. You have to recognize they may not be vocal about it, they may be suffering in silence, but they are hurting, and they’re hurting to the point that they want to leave not only your agency, but the industry.

Susan Baier:

Yep. That’s exactly right.

Drew McClellan:

All right, so let’s talk about… Well, when we come back, we’ll talk a little bit about choosing and staying in agencies, but first, let’s take a quick break.

Hey there. Just a quick interruption. I want to make sure that you are aware that you are cordially invited, not just invited, but cordially invited to join our Facebook Group, our private Facebook Group. All you have to do is go to Facebook and search for Build a Better Agency, and you’ll find the Facebook Group. You have to answer three quick questions. You have to put in the agency URL. You have to talk about what you want to learn from the group and you have to promise to behave yourself, and that’s it.

Then, we’ll let you in and you can jump into the conversation with over a thousand other agency owners and leaders, and there’s a robust conversation happening every day. People are sharing resources and best practices and discussing everything from work-from-home policies to maternity and paternity policies to biz dev strategies, so come join us and jump into the conversation. All right, speaking of conversations, let’s head back.

All right, so we are back, and we are talking about the Agency Edge Research from 2022 where we talked to agency employees about how they’re feeling about the work. As we’ve told you before the break, they broke into three segments with a disproportionate number of people in that middle segment, the Self-Reliant segment, a larger group of people than we’ve seen before. Let’s talk a little bit about how they’re feeling about staying in, choosing an agency job or staying at their agency.

Susan Baier:

Yeah, so the first question we asked was, why did you decide on an agency job in the first place? What was it? I found this really interesting. The most influential factors that they cited in choosing an agency job, the first one was opportunities to work on a lot of different types of projects. That was cited by 70% of our respondents, which is really high. 67% said the ability to be creative, so I think this aspect of excitement and diversity of work and creativity and stuff was a real driver for most of the folks, regardless of age in our study. Stability, 64% of them cited stability.

Drew McClellan:

Yeah. Who would have thought people would say-

Susan Baier:

Who would have thought that?

Drew McClellan:

… agency life is stable, right?

Susan Baier:

Well, maybe that’s just the owners who feel that. I don’t know. A good agency reputation was cited by 62% and the casual work environment by 60%. That Self-Reliant group that tends to be a little younger on average with a larger percentage of Millennials, were also more likely to say access to agency thought leaders was a powerful driver and media depictions and articles about agency life. They might have come into the agency world a little more sort of starry-eyed with Mad Men in their heads, but they didn’t differ on the most influential components of that. Then, when we ask them, “Okay, fast forward to today and tell us what you think is most important for agency owners to know about attracting the best employees now,” the most important, what do you think it is? What would you have expected the most important thing to be?

Drew McClellan:

Actually, I expected in this moment in time that it would be what it was, which is flexible work environment. I-

Susan Baier:

Yep.

Drew McClellan:

… you know, I just think right now, people are… COVID forced us to do work in different ways. People had sort of adjusted their life, knowing they were going to either work from home or be hybrid or, again, be back in the office. I mean, certainly lots of the listeners globally, but certainly here in the U.S., there were certainly a lot of agencies that never went home, that they lived in states where that was never mandated. Even if you’re in the office five days a week, you certainly have added a lot of flexibility and a lot of humanity to how you’re treating your employees and how they’re dealing with kids and family and all the things that life brings into it. I think people have gotten used to and now expect a more flexible work environment.

Susan Baier:

Yeah, and that was number one, competitive pay was also in the top four at 58%. Benefits were at 50%, and career advancement opportunities were at 54%. That was the top four. That At-Risk group cites more than the other segments a good agency reputation, an engaging work culture, a values match between you and the agency, and opportunities for employees to be mentored. They have their eye on some different aspects of attracting the best employees today.

Drew McClellan:

Yep, and you guys have heard me pound home this idea of values match and the importance of having a mission and vision and values, however you define those things. I’ve defined them for you and sort of our perspective of them, but being able to say what you believe in, and then actually weaving those beliefs and values into your organization so people see that it’s not just writing on a wall or just talk. It’s super important to all your employees, but again, these employees who you value so deeply want to match, want to align with your values. If they have no idea what your values are, by the way, they’ll decide what your values are based on-

Susan Baier:

Oh yeah.

Drew McClellan:

… your behavior. It’s not that they don’t think you have values, but it may not be the values that you want them to be thinking of or that you really want woven into the behaviors of your employees. It’s a really important topic for sure.

Susan Baier:

Yep. We also asked folks what they think are the positive and negatives about working in agencies, and overall kind of what you’d expect and what we hear all the time. It’s a fun place to work. We can be creative. You work on a range of clients, flexible work environment, work-life balance, all of that kind of stuff. Interestingly, that At-Risk group is more likely to focus on collaboration, and that’s actually one of their core attitudes is that collaboration is important. It makes me think of these folks who are caring so much at the center of your agency may actually not be getting the level of collaboration that they would want.

Then, on the negative side, overall high stress, difficult clients, the pressure or expectation to work outside conventional hours for the top three sort of overall, but the At-Risk, listen to this, Drew, more likely to cite high stress. 70% of them say high stress is a negative of working in agencies. They also cite turnover, lower income, scope creep, insecurity, all of these things that someone at the center of your agency like these folks do would be more likely to see maybe than other employees.

Drew McClellan:

You know, some of these things are just inherent in agency life, and so as you’re hearing these things, you’re thinking, “Well, I can’t change the fact that we have scope creep. I can’t change the fact that deadlines change. Our clients are the way that they are.” I think the insight is not that we have to change it. I think the insight is we have to be more transparent in acknowledging it. I think part of… I think this is true for any human being. When you feel isolated and alone, like you’re the only one feeling like you’re feeling, it’s easy for those feelings to fester.

I think for a lot of agency owners, they believe that they have to be strong and stoic and all of that, and they can’t talk about the fact that they’re struggling with work-life balance, or they’re struggling with how frustrated they are with some of the clients’ behavior. Or, that all of the things that make or that it is hard that sometimes client demands ask us to work outside of sort of traditional hours. We’re not going to change any of those things. That is agency life, but for us to acknowledge them and to appreciate when somebody has been under that pressure or has had to work all weekend or whatever, and to make that acceptable for you to talk about it and for you to reward them or thank them for kind of going above and beyond or enduring something beyond the ordinary.

Now, all of a sudden, it’s a shared problem rather than an isolated problem, and I think, again, a lot of these at-risk people… Actually, I will say this. I think the Self-Reliant and the At-Risk people feel like you don’t see them and feel like you’re not acknowledging what they’re going through. You may think you are, but clearly what they’re asking for is more overt communication around some of the challenges of working in an agency.

Susan Baier:

Sure, and I think that even though we can’t change all of those factors that are happening-

Drew McClellan:

No.

Susan Baier:

… I think there are things agencies could do to help ameliorate the impact of those things.

Drew McClellan:

Oh, that was a really good word.

Susan Baier:

Oh, do you like that word?

Drew McClellan:

Yeah, yeah.

Susan Baier:

That’s a 25-cent word.

Drew McClellan:

That is a good one.

Susan Baier:

Thank you, undergraduate education, but right. When we ask folks like, “What are the most important things to keep you committed to the agency that you are in?” Listen to this list of overall the most influential things. Number one is-

Drew McClellan:

This is across all-

Susan Baier:

… this is everybody.

Drew McClellan:

… of the segments, right?

Susan Baier:

Everybody. Number one, more opportunities for advancement. What is my career path?

Drew McClellan:

Right, so again, for many of you who have small agencies, if you are not really clear about how you see opportunity for your employees to get better, to grow in their skill set, to grow in their compensation, they look at you and they say, “Well, it’s a five-person agency. There’s nowhere for me to go.” That’s not true. We all know that’s not true. There’s opportunities for them to continue to add more value to the agency and, therefore, earn more value back from the agency. If you don’t help them articulate that and map that out and really scope for them, you know what? You’re a junior woodchuck, and if you want to be a woodchuck, here are the skill sets that you need to have to get to advanced to being a woodchuck.

What I will hear many of you say is, “Well, I don’t want to promise that because I might not have the job opening,” or whatever. If you don’t help them get better at their job inside your agency, they will get better at their job at somebody else’s agency-

Susan Baier:

That’s true.

Drew McClellan:

… so don’t take the risk because you can’t promise them a job on the day they checked the final box. They understand that, but honestly, if you can grow them, you will find a place for them. If they’re adding more value, if they’re helping you build more or retain clients or whatever it is their role is, win awards, whatever it may be, you will find a way to compensate them better. That’s what they’re asking for.

Susan Baier:

Yep. Yeah. They want to know what that path looks like, so that’s number one. Then, the other things that are in the top five, better work-life balance, we’ve talked about, more growth and development resources. Help me get to where I want to be.

Drew McClellan:

Which by the way, ties right back to the number one, right? Which is-

Susan Baier:

Right.

Drew McClellan:

… I think one of the most exciting aspects of most agency employees is they actually want to get better and learn more-

Susan Baier:

Yes.

Drew McClellan:

… and it’s perfectly fine to say to them, “You know what? Professional development is a shared responsibility. Sometimes it’s on my diamond time, sometimes it’s on your diamond time, but together, let’s map out a plan. I absolutely will invest in you for you to get better, and I want you to make some investment as well, both time and money, but yes, let’s help you grow and become even better at your job than you are today.” So-

Susan Baier:

Yep.

Drew McClellan:

… two of the five top things are about them advancing in their career.

Susan Baier:

Being able to see that path, for sure.

Drew McClellan:

Right.

Susan Baier:

Then, more comprehensive benefits and recognition of my successes.

Drew McClellan:

Right, 36%.

Susan Baier:

You know, so that’s the whole group. Yeah, so that’s such a simple thing, and then when we look at that At-Risk group that is most likely to be eyeing an exit, the things they’re more likely to cite than anybody else, work-life balance, recognition, things like summer Fridays and hybrid work, and investment in who they are as a person. Those are things that agencies should be able to do.

Drew McClellan:

With very little expense, actually.

Susan Baier:

Yeah, to help their most critical folks not leave. What they want from leadership, I love this question. Number one, communication skills. This is what you were talking about, Drew-

Drew McClellan:

Right.

Susan Baier:

… like, “Talk to us.” Collaborative spirit, empathy, flexibility. Again, all things that every agency owner I know has these things within them, but maybe they’re just not getting out to all of those employees. That At-Risk group, again, the highest bar, but listen to this. 72% say what they want is folks to leadership to empower others, the ability to empower others. I think about them in the role they’re in, and to your point, where do I go from here? Well, if the owner or leadership of the agency is not delegating and is holding onto everything, that does look like a dead end  to one of these employees.

Drew McClellan:

That’s right. Well, and the other things that the At-Risk people talked about, again, most of these don’t cost you a dime and it’s really you’re probably 90% of the way there and you just have to extend yourself another 10%, but they want authenticity. That gets back to what we were talking about before, which is it’s okay for them to see you struggle, too, and then for you to be frustrated or mad or sad or whatever. You don’t have to be so stoic. It’s okay for you to show them that you’re feeling some of the same things that they’re feeling so they don’t feel so isolated. They’re also want to work for a leader that has ethics, that has accountability and, by the way, that’s a 360 accountability. Not that you just hold everybody else accountable, but that it’s fair and reasonable for them to hold you accountable as well.

Then, one of the things I love that we saw, and to me this is the easiest thing to do, is they want leaders who are grateful and demonstrate that gratitude. The other thing that they talked about was they want to know what the vision is. “Why are we working this hard? What are we trying to create beyond more billable hours or a higher AGI? What is our purpose for being here?” That’s, “How are we thinking strategically about the agency?” Then, also, “How do I get to think strategically about other clients?”

Susan Baier:

Yeah, exactly. Yeah, so I think about our listeners who are out there going, “Okay, who in my agency is in this At-Risk group? Who’s whatever? What am I going to do?” I think we have so many good clues as to what you can do for these folks. In terms of implications, Drew, with all of your agencies and all of your years of expertise and your own experiences as an owner, what do you think are the key implications of this research for agencies?

Drew McClellan:

Yeah, I found this research fascinating, and I also took heart in that, as you said earlier, we were expecting it to be all about the money, and the money just really… That was not a hot topic for anybody in the… I mean, yeah, for some people it was, but not in a way that was really statistically valid.

Susan Baier:

Even among the at-risk-

Drew McClellan:

Right.

Susan Baier:

… even among the at-risk, it wasn’t the primary thing. That’s right.

Drew McClellan:

What they’re really saying, in a nutshell, all of them in their own way, is, “We want more of you, agency owner. We want you to talk to us. We want more of your focus. We miss hearing from you.” I think this has been certainly one of the downsides of post-COVID work is I think it’s harder to create connection with your employees when you’re not physically in the same place. When you can bump into somebody over the water cooler, if you will, you talk about their kids or their weekend or whatever. You also get into more conversations around their career and mentorship and all of those things.

Overall, they miss you and they want more from you. They want you to see them and they want you to engage with them. Keep in mind that 78% of these people are working 45 hours a week or less and they are still not happy, so it’s not about the workload, it’s not about the work hours. It is really for most of them them feeling kind of invisible.

Susan Baier:

Yeah.

Drew McClellan:

Agency work is so female-centric. For most agencies, the lion’s share of your employees are women, and remember, 66% of the At-Risk group are women. As you look out over your workforce, understand that… I’m thinking of an agency in one of the AMI peer groups that’s about 25 people, and I got an email from her over the weekend saying that they had a new hire and she was super excited about it because it was a guy. He’s like their first or second guy, right? Because they-

Susan Baier:

That’s a diversity hire.

Drew McClellan:

… right. Well, they just struggle given the specialty of their agency. They struggle to find men who have a depth of expertise in it, so it’s not that they haven’t wanted to hire men, but nonetheless, she should be looking at her agency and going, “Holy crap, 66% of my employees are women, are at-risk potentially based on this data. Two-thirds of my staff are unhappy and not only thinking of leaving my agency, but leaving agency life in general.”

Susan Baier:

Yeah.

Drew McClellan:

Right?

Susan Baier:

Yep, yep, for sure. From an opportunity standpoint, what I hear you saying is when you think about trying to build loyalty and trying to harness that loyalty, which is really what this study was about, it’s really about being invested in folks, and not just financially invested in them, but making them feel seen and making them feel heard. We’re going to talk about some segment-specific approaches in a minute, but this At-Risk group is interesting. One of the things about this At-Risk group is the compensation. Given all they’re carrying, their compensation concerns are greater than the other groups, but agencies can’t really compete with that corporate pay scale benefit structure, right? So-

Drew McClellan:

No, no, but honestly, this is I why we see so many boomerang employees where people have worked at agency and left to go down the corporate side for the money and the benefits, and then come back because if we think people feel invisible in agencies, imagine how they feel in a corporate setting, right?

Susan Baier:

Yeah.

Drew McClellan:

We’re never, ever going to be able to compete with corporate pay or benefits. Agencies are just not going to be able. We can certainly keep pace a little bit, but they’re always going to outpay and outpace us, but we can compensate for that by being more in tune with our people, by being more invested, by creating a culture where people see each other, care about each other, support each other. That, as we have seen in the study, is worth more than than more money.

Susan Baier:

Yeah. Well, and so many of the things that people cite that they like about working in agencies like the opportunity for creative expression and the ability to work on a lot of different kinds of things can be very difficult to find on the client side where you’re sort of locked into an industry and a business and you’re just sort of doing the same thing over and over again. Interesting. Well, let’s just take a few minutes to help people sort of think about the employees that they have, how to maybe spot them, and your ideas, Drew, for building loyalty within that community. Let’s start with Enthusiastic.

Obviously, these are the folks that you’re going to know who they are. They’re happy, they’re engaged. They’re not asking for more money. They’re referring people into your agency saying, “Come work here with us and it’s great.” When we talk about building loyalty with those folks, there’s still opportunity there I think.

Drew McClellan:

Absolutely, so I think it is, again, remember, amongst all the segments, people want to grow professionally. It’s providing continued opportunities and, I think, these are often employees that we kind of take for granted because they’re not making noise, so make sure that you’re… I will say this is true for all of the groups, having a growth plan that is personalized to them so it’s not just a generic growth plan or a, “Hey, all the junior woodchucks eventually become woodchucks.” You need to help them look at themselves, their own skill sets of what they need to do to develop enough new skills and knowledge that they can move from whatever role they’re in today to the role that they want.

Don’t assume that they want to stay in the track. For example, if they’re a associate and if they’re a account associate or a junior AE, don’t assume that they love that work and they want to be an AE. They might want to go on the strategy side or the media side or something else, so having actual conversations with these people about where they want to see their career, and then helping them craft that career inside your agency is critical. The other thing these people are… not only are they happy and engaged, but they’re contagious, so if you can have fun things going on in the agency and you have a fun culture, they will spread that like wildfire through the rest of your agency and can be very influential with the other two segments.

Susan Baier:

Yeah, absolutely. Okay, that Self-Reliant group reminder, these folks say they need a side hustle to be creatively engaged, so if somebody’s asking about a side hustle, there’s a hint they may be. They may be less engaged with their day-to-day work. How do you build loyalty for somebody who’s self-reliant?

Drew McClellan:

Remember, these are people who like agency work, but are perfectly content to go to another agency if they cannot find a mentor and a confidant in your agency. They want to actually carve out their own career path, but they want you to know what their goals are and where they want to be and actually support their efforts, whatever that is. One of the things that’s interesting is for many of you, you have rules that say they can’t freelance or they can’t have a side hustle. This is an interesting conversation I have with agency owners all the time. There is a way for you to allow them to do something on the side that does not conflict with their work, that is never going to be a client of your agency, but for some reason gives them some creativity, some creative juice that they need to stay engaged.

Some of you, I mean, let’s be honest, some of you, your clients are sexier than others, so if they are in the B2B space in something that’s highly technical or highly regulated or just not as sexy, they may want to help a local nonprofit or something else that they have a passion around to kind of fill that creative need. Looking for ways to create that opportunity that you feel comfortable with, but also says to them, “It’s okay to pursue your passions and to use your talents to do that.” The other thing, remember, this is the group that sort of feels that they don’t get credit-

Susan Baier:

Right.

Drew McClellan:

… that some of your pets or favorites get all the credit. Again, my guess is that this is going to be more about account service, that they feel like account service people get all the credit, but the people who are making the things, right? Your-

Susan Baier:

Mm-hmm.

Drew McClellan:

… art directors, your coders, your writers, those folks are sort of feeling, and I often hear them talk about this, they sort of feel like they’re the monkey in the back of the shop and you’re just throwing peanuts every once in a while and they’re supposed to perform.

Making sure that you give them credit and also talking to your account service team about making sure they put the spotlight, this is something we teach in the Bootcamps, making sure they put the spotlight on everybody else on the team who contributed to what probably happens as the client gives the AE the pat on the back. When something goes well, you want your AE to know that it’s their job to spread that love through the agency.

Susan Baier:

Yeah, absolutely. All right. Here’s the At-Risk. This is a tricky group, so spotting these folks. I mean, they’re probably the ones carrying more of the load, working longer hours, highly involved in really demanding central roles to the agency. They may have expressed some unhappiness with their level of compensation because these folks clearly feel that they could make more outside of the agency world. How do you build loyalty with those folks?

Drew McClellan:

Yeah, I mean, I think, first of all, you recognize that they’re carrying a heavy load. You acknowledge them and you make sure that you are helping them figure out how to delegate. You’re teaching them how to delegate, and maybe that’s by demonstration by your own improvement and delegation. It is also seeing them as a whole person. This was the group that was like, “I want you to be connected to me in more ways than just the work.” Empowering them and giving them a chance to…. If they’re going to carry a big, heavy load, some of it should be fun and interesting and exciting work, but a lot of this is about giving them a break, so making sure if they’re working long hours that you are making sure that they use their vacation time.

Even if you have to mandate time off and say, “Look, in the next three months, you have got to take five days off in a row that do not include a weekend, and we’re turning off your email or turning off Slack. You really have to unplug.” In smaller shops, this is super challenging because a lot of times, they just come back to more work. If they unplug for a week, there’s no one backing them up, so make sure that you’re giving them the opportunity to truly unplug, but you’re also making it so that they’re not coming back to just a pile of stuff on their desk and email. Somebody has to be carrying their load for a week.

Susan Baier:

Even if that somebody is you-

Drew McClellan:

That’s right because-

Susan Baier:

… the owner, right?

Drew McClellan:

… I was going to say, even if it’s the owner, which, by the way, would be very insightful for you the load that they’re carrying, right?

Susan Baier:

Yeah, no doubt.

Drew McClellan:

Again, remember, these are the people who are thinking not only of leaving your shop, but agency life in general, so you’ve got to really spend some time talking to them about what’s possible inside agency life and inside your agency for them in terms of career projection and trajectory.

Susan Baier:

Yeah. Fascinating, so as you said, I mean, we’ve got a ton of data in this study, even beyond these. We’re looking at a whole bunch of stuff that’s going on with these folks, so there is more to come with in [inaudible 00:52:19] deep dives, the executive summary and the ability for all of your listeners to actually play with the data themselves and look at it for shop that… search shops their size or whatever. Remind us again how everybody’s going to be able to get access to that when we finally get it ready.

Drew McClellan:

Yeah, so if you get the newsletter, the AMI Newsletter every week, once we get the executive summary, this data is so hot. It’s literally just coming out of the field that we don’t even have the executive summary of the research done yet. If you would like the executive summary, make sure that you’re on the newsletter list, and if you are listening and you’re not getting the newsletter from me every week on Wednesdays, shoot me an email and give me your email and we’re happy to add you to that list.

If you want to join us on the webinar, which is October 4th at noon Central, I’m not going to go through all the other time zones again, but here’s what you need to do. Here’s the easiest way for you to get on that list. I’ll put the link to the webinar in a newsletter, but this is easier for you if you’re just listening or you’re on a treadmill or whatever you’re doing. This’ll be in the show notes, too. You’re going to text the word “Research2022” to 833-592-2949. I sort of feel like this is like putting a phone number on a billboard as you’re driving by at 60 miles an hour, but I’m going to give you that number again. 833-592-2949, and then the autoresponder will walk you through the process of shooting your email address to us so we can get you registered for that webinar.

Susan Baier:

Yep.

Drew McClellan:

Those are the best ways. If you are an AMI agency, just FYI, the webinar that Susan and I are talking about now is for everybody. Remember that we hold a special webinar for members, which we will do later probably in early November, because as always, we share some data with you that we don’t share publicly, so-

Susan Baier:

Yeah, we save a few choice pieces.

Drew McClellan:

Yeah, so Susan, this as always, I love the research we do every year because it’s always surprising and fascinating, but there’s always ways to make things better. Whether we’re talking to clients or we’re talking to the employees, anything we find is fixable for the most part.

Susan Baier:

Yep, yep, and this is our ninth study, Drew. Next year, we’re going to have to have a party or something, 10 years doing-

Drew McClellan:

Yes.

Susan Baier:

… this work together, so-

Drew McClellan:

I am always game for a party.

Susan Baier:

Yeah, and it’s great to see over the course of all of those years, always something new. I’m an agency owner, too, and this is fascinating data for me. I’m super excited to get it out to your community, so thanks for having me again on the podcast today.

Drew McClellan:

Thank you for being on the show as always. I think this must be like your fourth or… I think you are the most repeated guest I believe on the show, so-

Susan Baier:

Well, I just don’t want them to get tired of me.

Drew McClellan:

You know what? We always have interesting things to talk about, so-

Susan Baier:

We do-

Drew McClellan:

… I-

Susan Baier:

… we do, my friend.

Drew McClellan:

… don’t think that’ll be the case. Hey, if-

Susan Baier:

We do it [inaudible 00:55:23].

Drew McClellan:

… folks want to learn more about the research you do for agencies, the work you’re doing, if they want to subscribe to your video series, all of those things, what are the best ways for them to do that?

Susan Baier:

So audienceaudit.com is the website and you can go /resources and see a bunch of free stuff and also find the Fun with Research video series and the content on all of the studies we’re doing, not only with you, but we have a lot of thought leadership studies we’ve done with other agencies that, I think, are just fascinating to look at that they’ve published and really shed an interesting light on some of the folks that your audiences undoubtedly encountering in their travels.

Drew McClellan:

Yeah, no doubt. Thanks for being with us again and, as always, thanks for being such a great partner at AMI. I’m always grateful to you and for you.

Susan Baier:

Back at you, my friend.

Drew McClellan:

All right, guys, so as you know, I like episodes that are juicy and rich with things to do, things for you to change, things for you improve, things for you to stop doing. I’m telling you this one was packed with them, so as I often say to you, do not just listen to this and go on your merry way. I want you to think and pick one or two things that we talked about. You can’t do it all right away, but pick one or two things that we really resonated with you when we were talking and you were like, “Oh, crap, that’s Babette,” or, “Oh, crap, that is So-and-So.” You know what you need to do to protect and save those employees if you can and make them feel like the valuable member of your team that I know in your heart they are.

Do not dilly nor dally on this. Put some of this into action right away and watch. I think one of the things that I find fascinating about how agency owner and employer relationships are is it’s a very direct line. When you show up differently, even marginally differently or just more blatantly differently, you may think you’re showing up with all kinds of gratitude, but to stop someone, put your hand on their shoulder, or send them a handwritten note that talks about how grateful you are that they’re at the agency, that might be the one notch up from what you’re doing now. You watch how directly that impacts that person’s behavior, their attitude, all of the things.

Pick one or two things, put it into action, and then come join us on October 4th and hear more about what we learned. Then, you can build a whole plan around employee retention based on this data. If there’s one problem that all of you are struggling with right now, it is retaining great talent or attracting and gaining good talent. Some of the changes that we’re talking about making here are going to make your agency the one everybody wants to work at and everybody wants to stay at. Do not dismiss this as, “Oh, that was interesting.” This is an action plan for you, so put it into play, okay.

As always, I want to thank our friends at White Label IQ. They are the presenting sponsor. I think they’ve been the presenting sponsor for about three years now, so super grateful to them because they help us be with you every single week. As you know, they do white label dev design and PPC, and they have served many, many of you over the course of the years. Often, agencies talk about them, calling them saviors and a godsend and all kinds of other high praise. These are good people and they’re ready to help you, so head over to whitelabeliq.com/ami, and you can learn more about them.

All right, I’ll be back next week with another guest, and in the meantime, if you need me, you know how to reach me, [email protected] Be patient, sometimes it takes me a couple of days to get emails back because there are a lot of them. I love you guys. I am grateful for you. Thanks for listening, and I’ll see you next week.

Thanks for spending some time with us. Visit our website to learn about our workshops, owner peer groups, and download our salary and benefit survey. Be sure you also sign up for our free podcast giveaways at agencymanagementinstitute.com/podcastgiveaway.