Episode 346:

Women own less than 1% of the ad agencies in North America. This gender gap is disappointing and staggering, but in this episode of Build a Better Agency, our guest expert Christy Hiler reminds us that bridging that gap is far from impossible.

During our conversation, Christy helps us unravel this alarming statistic by exploring the barriers that may be keeping the women we lead and work with from pursuing ownership roles or viewing ownership, not just leadership, as an end goal in the first place. In addition to discussing the things that may be holding women back, Christy and I also discuss the progress from encouraging, elevating, and celebrating women-owned agencies, and what we can do as agency owners to help empower more women within our networks to pursue ownership roles.

This topic is near and dear to me as both an agency owner and someone who has the privilege of working alongside the women-led agencies represented in AMI. My hope is that you will not only enjoy this conversation with Christy, but that you will link arms with her and leaders like her so that we can all work together to tackle problems like this in our industry.

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.

Agency Owners

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • What the “Own It” initiative is, and what inspired Christy to launch it
  • Why women own less than 1% of all ad agencies in North America
  • The barriers that may be preventing women in the industry from becoming agency owners
  • Why inviting and empowering women in these spaces is a benefit for everyone
  • How women-led agencies are doing things differently — and why that’s so great
  • What current agency owners can do to mentor, encourage, and empower the women they work with to seek ownership opportunities
  • How you can help Christy identify, support, and celebrate women-led agencies in the industry
“You don’t really have the power until you own it. You can make decisions as a leader, but ultimately, the freedom is in the hands of the owner.” @chiler Click To Tweet “If you are leading the vision, driving the direction and the team and business, then you should also be rewarded.” @chiler Click To Tweet “In addition to lifting up the agencies through this list of women-owned businesses, I also really want to celebrate all of the other owners.” @chiler Click To Tweet “I truly believe that if you can see her, it is so much easier to be her. Listening to other women’s journeys, challenges, and joys of ownership is critical for overcoming any doubt around becoming an owner.” @chiler Click To Tweet “What’s really cool about this community is everyone has said, ‘What can I do?’ They’re ready. They want to do whatever it takes to see more women come into positions as owners, and they’re ready to help reach back and pull them forward.” @chiler Click To Tweet

Ways to contact Christy:

Resources:

Speaker 1:

It doesn’t matter what kind of an agency you run, traditional, digital, media buying, WebDev, 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 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 McLellan:

Hey, everybody Drew McClellan here from Agency Management Institute. I know it’s not going to be a surprise to you, but I’m here because I have another episode of the podcast, Build A Better Agency for you. And will tell you that I think this topic is a really important one. I’m excited that we’re going to talk about it, I’m super excited to introduce you to my guest. And what I would love for us to do as a community is to really link arms around this challenge that we’re going to talk about today and get some movement on it because it matters. It matters to me personally. It matters to all of you personally. And so I think we can make some change. And I’m excited about being part of that. But before I do that, I want to remind you, we’ve got some great workshops coming up this summer.

We have the AE Bootcamp, that’s for professionals who’ve been in the business four years or less. Junior AEs, project managers, account coordinators, that sort of role. Now, that’s going to happen the first week in August. We have the Advanced AE Bootcamp in June, mid-June that’s for people who have more four, five years or more experience. And if you have 25 years of experience, we still have things to teach you. And so we would love to have you join us. But the workshop I really want to talk about today is the Sell With Strategic Insights. That’s in July. I think it’s the 18th and 19th, also in Chicago.

All three of these are in Chicago. But the Sell With Strategic Insights is a workshop we have taught, I would say three or four times. It is taught by the amazing folks at Mercer Island Group. Rob and Steve and Lindsay will be with us again, and what they’re going to be doing from their position, their vantage point of being a search firm that sees hundreds of agencies pitch and sees why agencies win and lose because they’re in the room when the client decides who they’re going to hire.

They’ve put together this entire workshop, which teaches us how to have a framework, and to not only build a smart strategy to take into the pitch with prospects or existing clients. This is a great thing to do at contract renewal timer, things like that, but to build… So they’ve got this framework because everyone goes, “I can be a strategic thinker, but I don’t know how to teach it, or I don’t know how to bring everybody else into it.”

They’ve built a framework that will allow you to go back to the shop, to teach it to your team, to lead your team through it whether it’s for a BizDev opportunity or an existing client that you’re trying to save. And at the end of the day you come out with not only this amazing insight of where the client should go and why, but you have a story to tell through your presentation and what Rob and Steve and Lindsay will tell you is this is what’s lacking in most agencies proposals.

We go right to the tactical stuff or right to the stuff about us, but we don’t help the client understand the thinking underneath what we’re recommending. And I will tell you that we’ve probably had about, I don’t know, 75 or so agencies who have gone through this workshop. And we are at over $80 million of AGI wins from agencies that have reported back to me. So I’m sure there’s more than this I just don’t know about it, but have reported back to me, the win that they got after they deployed what they learned at this workshop. So this workshop is spectacular. It will help you and your entire team be more strategic, think bigger, think better. And it is a great way for you to build strategic thinking inside your agency for all kinds of things. It’s not just about the big pitch or the big renewal, but you can use this in all kinds of scenarios.

Again, head over to the AMI website, agencymanagementinstitute.com under the, how we help you’ll find the workshop section and you can register for Sell With Strategic Insights in July, I highly recommend it. All right. So let me tell you about the topic that we’re going to talk about today and my guest. I am very fortunate that I get to work with hundreds and hundreds of agency owners from all over the world. And I will tell you that in my world, the gender split, men and women is pretty even, but in the bigger world of advertising agencies, outside of AMI, that gender split is not equitable. In fact, it’s really inequitable. Most of the agency owners out in the world are men and a lot of women have never pursued it or thought they couldn’t do it. And my guest today is here to change that.

Is to say, you know what? We need to ask, we need to invite more women into thinking about, do they want to own an agency? And what could that mean for them and their family? And how do we dispel some of the myths or the things that get in the way, the boundaries to keep them from thinking about this as a viable option? Christy Hiler bought her own agency about a year and a half ago. She inside the agency as the president. When they first asked her if she wanted to buy it, she said, “Absolutely not.” And then had sort of a reawakening in terms of her thinking about it. But as a brand new owner of an agency, she wanted to connect with other women owners and started sculpting around to figure out where those women hung out and how many there were.

And she was appalled to find out the statistical data as best we can have it that, women are very underrepresented when it comes to ownership. Again, not so much in my world, but in the agency world at large. And so she decided she wanted to do something about it. What we’re going to talk about today is, what is the problem? Why is it a problem? How can we solve the problem together? And what caused the problem in the first place? What are the barriers? And how can we start moving those aside so that more and more women, not only want to be a leader inside an agency, but look at an agency and say, “I could own this, or I could own something like this,” and then pursue that dream. It’s going to be a great conversation.

I’m excited about it, as a father of a daughter. And honestly, I don’t think you have to have a daughter or you should have to have a daughter to care about this, we should all care about equity, but this is personal to me. I don’t want anything to get in the way of my daughter’s success. And everybody out there has a mom and a dad or spouse or sibling who feels the same way. And in fairness, and in honesty, we’re better as an industry with more diversity. And so one of the places we are not as diverse as we need to be is in female ownership. Let’s jump into the conversation with Christy and let’s talk about how we can change that.

All right, Christy, thanks for coming on the show. This is a topic that is near and dear to me. So I’m excited that we’re going to talk about it.

Christy Hiler:

Thanks for having me.

Drew McLellan:

Tell everybody how you got to be a spokesperson, if you will, how this became a passion for you to talk about with other people.

Christy Hiler:

Sure. Shortly after I purchased Cornett, which was about a year and a half ago now, I was applying for the WBENC certification to be a certified womened owned business. And that process is pretty cumbersome.

Drew McLellan:

I was going to say it’s onerous. Yeah.

Christy Hiler:

Yes, yes. And through that process, I started asking… Well, just, it kind of occurred to me, how many other women owned agencies are there? And it was a question that I posed and I thought I would get a pretty easy and quick response. And it turned out to be very difficult to get an answer to that.

Drew McLellan:

To find out how many women based or agency owners there were.

Christy Hiler:

Yeah. And so I had asked WBENC and that was hard because of course not everybody goes through that process, there’s a cost associated with it. And it’s also specific to agencies that are over. You have to prove that you own 51% or more in order to be certified. It’s really not inclusive either of agencies. And there are a number of agencies that are on our list now are 50/50 owners, or… And when I first started this, it was something that I considered greatly, should it be specifically only agencies that are over 51%, but I read something that made me rethink that. And it was actually Valerie Moizel. She has an agency, The Woo. And a separate part of her agency, she has this initiative called She Dynasty and this podcast. And she talks to incredible women in all different fields, but she noted that at one point she didn’t have the majority of the agency and she felt like she had was being marginalized anytime anybody spoke to her about having less than 51%.

And that really stuck with me.

Drew McLellan:

Interesting. Right.

Christy Hiler:

Because I didn’t want to do that either. I didn’t want to not recognize the great feet of owning any percentage. What we are doing through Cornett, when you recognize that you are a women owned agency, we will recognize you at whatever percentage. Now we are collecting data so that we can sort it and we can understand how many agencies are less than 50%, greater than 50%. And we are also capturing the data to understand each owner, what percentage do they own? We can sort that on the back end, but that’s not public facing. Any agency that has any female ownership is being recognized. But going back to your question, it became really difficult. They couldn’t answer it. And then I went to 4A’s and I had asked them if they had a good list.

And I knew that theirs would be tough because they have a membership. But I asked, “Do you know even outside of your membership?” And they did, they gave me probably the best list. But it wasn’t even, and they admitted from the very beginning, don’t use this for statistical purposes, but you can use it directionally. And I did look up almost all of the agencies on there to see are they in business? And they weren’t. So I knew it wasn’t a current or complete or clean list. Then I went to Ad Age and DataCenter and SBA, I tried very hard to find a good list and I just couldn’t. But the best source I find showed that of the 20,000 agencies, less than 200 is what I could get my hands on. Which is so less than 200 of the 20,000 are owned by women.

And that was not something that I could just sit with and go, “Okay, well, thanks for that.” Especially if you compare it to general business, so just in general in the U.S, 40% of businesses are owned by women. It just was so disappointing for me to look at that percentage versus over 99% of agencies are owned by men. And so then the conversation in my head was “Okay, one, we just, we got to talk about this issue. It’s not going to change unless you talk about it. Everything you get intentional about, you really do have the ability to change.” And so there was that, and I started thinking, okay, well, how do we change that? There has been tremendous success and I would say progress since we started having the conversation about getting women into positions of leadership.

And there are a lot of organizations within this business that are having those conversations and really pushing that as an issue. And it is allowing us to see progress. Now we have more women in positions of leadership because of things like the 3% movement and SeeHer and Have Her Back. And there are many great organizations and communities and initiatives. I just thought, maybe it’s as easy as going back to some of those organizations and saying, “Hey, what if we don’t look at the end goal as leadership? What if we stop saying leadership? Let’s all work towards leader. What if we’re working towards ownership? What if we just kick that bar up one more notch? Could it be that simple if we just change the conversation slightly and we make that the end goal? And we talk about why?” Because is you don’t really have the power until you own it.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Christy Hiler:

Right. You can make decisions as a leader, but ultimately the power is in the hands of the owner.

Drew McLellan:

And so is the revenue, and so is the earnings, and-

Christy Hiler:

Exactly.

Drew McLellan:

… it’s not just the power, it’s actually-

Christy Hiler:

It’s the wealth.

Drew McLellan:

… the wealth, but also the freedom, right?

Christy Hiler:

Yes.

Drew McLellan:

As owners, you get to work, your life gets to be in the center and work gets to go around your life. And it’s much harder to do that when you don’t own the joint. And as you and I were talking about before we hit the record button, the good news is, I’m going to be able to put a lot on new names on your list because in the AMI world, I would say conservatively 40 or 50% of the agency owners we interact with every day are women. And so between the podcast and our newsletter and me just telling all the women that I get to work with about you, hopefully we’ll really flood your list.

Christy Hiler:

Thank you. Thank you. Yeah. Okay. So the list piece of it. In addition to just saying, “Let’s make ownership the end goal.” And I do want to go back to kind of why too in that, and what you just hit on too. It is both as an owner, you’re taking on the risk and the weight of the decisions. For me, when I stepped into the role of ownership, I had already been serving as president of the agency for four years prior.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. But it’s different, isn’t it?

Christy Hiler:

It is. It is different.

Drew McLellan:

It’s like when someone tells you before you have your first baby, “It changes everything,” and you go, “It’s not going to be that big of a deal.” And then that you bring the baby home and you’re like, “Oh my God, this changes everything.” Ownership is the same way. We do a lot of succession work where we help agency owners do exactly what you did, transition ownership to an existing employee who wants to buy the agency, and male or female. And no matter what a great leader they are inside the organization, they think they’re ready for ownership, but it takes us a good year or so to coach them to really be ready. And even then, we can only prepare them so much. But it is still that holy buckets moment of, “This is mine now. And this could die if I do it wrong.” And so the weight and the pressure of it is very different. Absolutely, you’re right.

Christy Hiler:

It is. And you feel it, that was… And I would say immediately, you feel it.

Drew McLellan:

Oh gosh. Yeah.

Christy Hiler:

You feel like, okay, now the responsibility of these 50 people and their families and their livelihood is now ultimately on me. And I think it’s important when you’re making decisions about the agency that you feel that way actually.

Drew McLellan:

Absolutely. I think the minute you get cavalier about that, you have a problem.

Christy Hiler:

Yes.

Drew McLellan:

Because then it’s just… It does need to be about the numbers. And the listeners of this podcast have heard me rail on about how we have to run our business based on the numbers and the financial metrics that are unique to our business, but that’s the hard part. There always has to be the hard part.

Christy Hiler:

Yeah. And then there’s the other side of that which is, if you are leading the vision and you’re driving the direction and this team and that business, you should also be able to be rewarded for that.

Drew McLellan:

Absolutely.

Christy Hiler:

And I mean, financially too, and I want to see that transfer of wealth too. I want to see more equity on the wealth side. Okay. So going back to the list. Yes, we can have the conversation and we can talk about that, but that doesn’t solve for still not having an accurate number. So the first step of own it, and really what I want to be able to do is have a current and accurate number and count of how many the women owned agencies are there in this business. I’ve got a fantastic web team here at the agency. And so I turned to them and said, “Hey, can you build a really simple site and form that will allow us to capture that data?” All women have to do is just raise their hand, just stand up and be recognized.

Drew McLellan:

For the listeners, because obviously, hopefully a good chunk of them are women or agency owners, male agency owners that either have partners that are women or no other agency owners that are women, getting on the list of is what for me, besides being counted?

Christy Hiler:

A couple of things. That also can be a great resource for community is what I have found. That list, it is public too. You’ll go in there and it’s, I want to say, maybe 20 fields. It’s super quick, easy, painless. Fill out that, but then automatically your agency name, hyperlink to your website and then the location and the owners names. That is what is published. Not all of the information that you give is published the percentage of your ownership that is not published, but the agency.

And again, my hope is also in the future, at probably a later stage, I don’t know how quickly we’re going to see this happen, but I also want to celebrate these agencies.

Drew McLellan:

Absolutely.

Christy Hiler:

And start giving it as a resource for brands who want to connect with female owned agencies.

Drew McLellan:

Great.

Christy Hiler:

And people who want to work for female owned agencies, and even trade, and association or news publication that want to have a list. And it’s going to be a resource and you want to be on that resource, I think. But I think the other, and one important piece and kind of like what you and I were talking about before we hopped on here is, the community. And it is forming quickly and it is proving to be really needed. And that was a piece that I would say was unexpected. It wasn’t as planned.

There’s two parts of the site. There’s the list of agencies. And then there’s also the podcast which I started. And I started that because as I was building the site, I wanted to get some feedback from some other owners. And so I started sharing the idea and the site and saying, “What do you think about this? Any information I’m missing? Or any part of this that I could improve?” And I started having these fantastic conversations in getting to know these other owner and hearing their-

Drew McLellan:

They’re spectacular.

Christy Hiler:

… stories. It was.

Drew McLellan:

Yep.

Christy Hiler:

It was so fantastic. And-

Drew McLellan:

That’s the best part of my job, for sure.

Christy Hiler:

Yeah. And so then I thought, in addition to lifting up the agencies through this list, I also really want to celebrate these other owners. And I think that I really believe that if you can see her, it’s so much easier to be her. And so I never thought I would have a podcast, but I started that. And really it’s just like this, it’s just really comfortable conversations and allowing them to share their journey and also the challenges in the beginning or the challenges now, but also the joys of ownership so that people can start to see themselves in it and go, “Oh, I can do that too,” because that’s an important piece for a couple of reasons.

I think that part of what I hope to at some point be able to really dig into is what is holding women back? Why is this number so low in our business? And looking at just research. I don’t know that funding isn’t a piece of it. Being able to financially secure the funding. But I think the bigger piece in there is research to back this up that a lot of it is just doubt, just internal.

Drew McLellan:

In our succession work. We don’t see the funding issue different by gender. I mean, SBA will give anybody money, if you qualify. In fact, I think they might even have programs specifically to help-

Christy Hiler:

They do.

Drew McLellan:

… women and minorities and things like that. I want to talk more about the barriers. Two things, then we’re going to take a quick break. Number one, you really, really should come to our conference in May. If you want to meet 150 of the coolest, best to agency owners, you should come to the Build A Better Agency Summit, because they’ll be there.

Christy Hiler:

Okay.

Drew McLellan:

And two, we do have to take a break, but when we come back, what I want to talk about is what can we as a community of agency owners do to make it easier for women to see themselves in an ownership position and what can we, whether we are female or male do with our employees who have the potential to be owners to encourage and lift them up, to get them to think that way.

Christy Hiler:

Great questions.

Drew McLellan:

I’m going to put the pin there. Let’s take a quick break and then we will come back and dig into those topics. Hey everybody, I promise I will not keep you more than a minute, but I want to make sure you know that at AMI, one of the things that we offer are virtual peer groups. Think of it as a Vistage group or an EO group, only everybody around the table, figuratively in this case, is an agency owner. So you have to be an agency owner to belong. The virtual peer groups meet every month for 90 minutes on Zoom. This was not of COVID creation, it was pre COVID. You see the same people in your cohort every time, so you get to create relationships with them. And it is facilitated by a AMI staffer, Craig Barnes, who has owned his own agency for 25 or 30 years.

Plenty of great experience, both from Craig, but also learning from each other. If you have any interest in learning more about how that works, head over to the AMI website and under memberships, you will find the virtual peer group, and you can get all the information there. All right. Okay. Let’s get back to the show. All right. I am back with Christy and we are talking about the disparity of female ownership in agencies.

And we were saying before the break that, as Christy started to compile this list, she was seeing that it was a minute percentage of all agency owners are females. And I was saying that in my world, in the AMI world, it seems to be a little more equitable. I would have to put pen to paper, but in a lot of my peer groups, the women outnumber the men or maybe it’s just that they’re in charge of the group.

And so it feels like they outnumber the men, because they’re smart and don’t take any crap from anybody, which I love. But before the break, what I said was A, to me, the big question is, what can we do? I think, and this is also from a personal point, I’m the father of a daughter. The idea that anything would be in her way to be a success, not that she had wanted to join the agency business, that she had no interest in that at all, unfortunately, but I don’t want anything in her way. And so I don’t want anything in anybody’s way who wants to do this.

What do you think gets in the way? We talked a little bit about, could it be funding? Is it self-doubt, that I can’t do it? Is it feeling that there are lack of resources? I know a lot of times the first time we meet an agency owner, male or females, when they come to one of our workshops and they’re do just hungry to learn enough to know they can do it. And what can we do as leaders and owners in the industry and inside our own organization to encourage women to think about the potential of owning an agency someday?

Christy Hiler:

Yeah. A lot of different parts of what you were just saying, I would bring forward. A big thing is community. And what I am seeing is even women who have been doing this and been in the position of ownership and they either founded or they purchase and they’ve been running their agency for many years, they are even hungry for this community. And to continue to learn from one another and share with one another. So-

Drew McLellan:

Yep. Well, one of the things we talk about all the time is, it’s lonely down an agency, regardless of gender, because you can’t really talk to other agency owners in your local market because they’re your competitors. And so again, one of the things that attracts people to us in whatever capacity they come to us, workshops, peer groups, whatever, is they’re looking for peers that they can share with, they can learn from, and that they can share what, they show up as both teacher and student.

And some of it quite honestly, is just a big therapy session where it’s just like, you have to just talk it out about the fact that your number one employee just left and went to your competitor and how hurt you feel by that. And none of this is gender based, but it’s just the reality of owning a business and not having very many people to talk to about it. Yeah, the community’s a huge part of it.

Christy Hiler:

It is. And what’s really cool about this community is everyone has said, “What can I do?”

Drew McLellan:

Yeah.

Christy Hiler:

They’re ready. They want to do whatever it takes to see more women coming into this position. And they’re ready to reach back and help pull them forward. I think that mentorship is a really big piece of this too. And so one, having this community, this list of people that are saying, “Ask me. If you need help, I’m here.” And they are, that’s what they’re saying. Every one of them on the podcast are saying, “If you want to know for me, like I’m a great resource if you are buying an existing agency.” But I don’t know the first thing about founding an agency, those are very different challenges that you’re going to face. But what I can do, I can connect you with a founder.

Now I know more people who have had that experience, so let’s connect you with the right people. Some of it is just being able to reach out to one person, but also maybe even a number of people for different challenges that you’re facing. But I do think the community is going to be critical to seeing this number go up. And mentorship that comes within that community. And that can be for us when you are an owner, but also for those who are not yet owners or those going through the process and stepping into that role. I think community is key. But I also, like I said, I think seeing a large group of women that are already doing it, I just don’t think you see-

Drew McLellan:

It’s possible.

Christy Hiler:

… enough of it. Yeah. I think you just got to… And also what I love about all of these conversations through the podcast and I’ve had a number of women say, “I have listened to everyone.” And one woman said, “I listened to one four times because there was so much to learn.”

I forget how much I have already learned in this role. There is such a difference in skill sets required for leading a department or being… And Terry and Sandy, a creative duo that most agency owners know, they talk about the difference between leading a creative department, I mean being creative leaders and then stepping into the role and taking on the responsibility and much of it in operations. And having to learn about HR and finance it. So many things that just, they were unbelievably talented at leading creative and leading creative departments and teams, but it’s different. It doesn’t mean that you won’t be successful though. And I think just because you don’t know how to do it-

Drew McLellan:

It doesn’t mean you have to learn how to do it. And that’s what I was telling you. That is the basis of AMI is that most agency owners are accidental business owners. They’ve worked their way up into it, even though they consciously obviously bought an agency, but many of them didn’t, they got downsized, they hung up a shingle, they got some good work. They started adding more people. And all of a sudden they’re like, “I have 10 people. What am I doing?” And so, our role is to teach them the back half of that. How do you run the business of your business? But you’re right, it’s not that they can’t, it’s just that they don’t know the resource. And so it sounds like what your community is doing is they’re saying, “You know what? I didn’t know how to do that either, but here’s what I’ve learned. And here’s what works for me and now I do this.”

Christy Hiler:

And here’s a great resource.

Drew McLellan:

Right. Right.

Christy Hiler:

Well, and some of that could be you. You have a tremendous amount of information that you share through the previous podcasts and other resources. I think it’s also just, yeah, being able to point people to whatever it is they need, or they feel like they’re not prepared fully to take on. We can help with that and help each other with that. But here’s the other thing I would say that is unique for women, as we talk about the question of whether we can do it. And that is, and this was even personal for me.

I am a business woman and a leader within this agency. I was before I owned it. But I am also a mom. I am a sister. I am many other things. And we question our ability to be all of those things and do all of those things well. And that’s something that we take great pride in being able to do all of those and be present and be successful in all parts. And I think, having more women talking about improving that you can-

Drew McLellan:

How they do it.

Christy Hiler:

Yeah, yeah. And how we’re doing it differently in order… And that’s the biggest, what has to change too, is what I said was when I was first asked, “Christy, will you take over this agency?” My answer initially was, no.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Christy Hiler:

And for many years-

Drew McLellan:

Thank you, I’ll pass.

Christy Hiler:

… it was no. Yeah. Right.

Drew McLellan:

What made you say no?

Christy Hiler:

Because I didn’t want to do it that way. I didn’t feel like I could be successful.

Drew McLellan:

You didn’t want to do it the way it was being done.

Christy Hiler:

Yes.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. And what flipped the switch for you when all of a sudden you went, “Oh, wait, I could do it my way.”

Christy Hiler:

Totally. Well, I started doing it that way and so I said-

Drew McLellan:

Because you were in the president role?

Christy Hiler:

Right.

Drew McLellan:

So you got to kind of experience it a little bit?

Christy Hiler:

Exactly. I was able to prove it out that I could do it. The first no was, no, because I couldn’t see it. I don’t even know how I would do that. I don’t want to do that actually. But then I took a little bit of time and another part of it was I really enjoyed leading strategy. I loved that. And I think that’s also an issue for some folks who lead creative.

Drew McLellan:

I don’t want to have to give up the work.

Christy Hiler:

Right. I love that part. I don’t want to have to deal with-

Drew McLellan:

Look at Spreadsheets all day.

Christy Hiler:

… all the people problems. People are complicated and they’re hard. But after a little bit of time, I thought, well, if I could do it differently. And I kind of started this vision, started developing for how to do it different. And I thankfully had somebody who was willing to see that vision and allow that vision to come to life. And hear that vision and support that vision. And so when I stepped into the role of president, it allowed me to have the chance to change some things and see, can this be? Can we be successful and do it differently? And then so much of it had just changed that honestly, Drew, we talk about, we talked about earlier, like it feeling so different when you step into this role of ownership. And I will tell you really, the only thing that felt different when I finally did take on ownership was that weight.

Yeah. But it wasn’t like the agency didn’t change too much. I wasn’t all of a sudden this different leader, so much of it felt really natural. And that was great for me, that allowed me to feel like, oh, in some ways I was like, ah, I really felt like this was going to be more monumental than it was. But that was because I had that opportunity in stepping into the role of president and doing that for a while to build and to start to shift the agency in the direction that felt right to me and the agency I wanted to own.

Drew McLellan:

Right. Yeah. I think for a lot of agency owners being surrounded by other people and going, “How do you do that? Oh, how do you do that? Oh, okay. How do you do that?” But I also think, to our earlier point, we have to create that vision. You were lucky you had the time. Your owners could have said, “Okay, well Christy said no, so we’re going to sell it to somebody else.” You had the time to let that percolate and for you to form the vision. But it feels to me like, part of what our responsibility is to look at the leaders in our organization who have the potential to be owners and help them get the vision before they’re given the opportunity. Because then I think they’ll start to pursue the opportunity.

And I, and I think once somebody, in our world, when we’re doing succession planning, a lot of times the leader who’s in your position is going to buy the agency. They’ve been behaving like an owner long before even we started having the conversation. And I think that’s because they kind of did have the vision. How do we help young women in our organizations not see the end as the department head or maybe a COO position or something like that, but how do we help open up their eyes, that there’s absolutely no reason whatsoever, that they couldn’t own either this place or a place like it if they want to?

Christy Hiler:

Yeah. So a piece of this for me is about raising the issue outside of the agency, within the industry. But another piece of this is raising the issue within this agency too, and making sure I’m talking the women here and going, “What do you want to do? What does your path look like? Have you thought about-”

Drew McLellan:

Have you ever thought about?

Christy Hiler:

“And if not, why not?”

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Christy Hiler:

“What would hold you back? How can we build a roadmap for you to get wherever you want to go?” And maybe it’s here and maybe it’s not. But I want that. I want to see more owners in the industry, but I want to see it in my business too. And I think that if we can all start talking more about this as an end goal and include it in conversations with women that are inside this business, the more often we can do that and behave that way, and build those paths, and walk alongside of people and help them get there, we’re going to see change. We are.

Drew McLellan:

Right. I think another thing that we have to do is I think we have to be a little more vulnerable as owners to talk about what it’s like to be an owner. I think we want so badly for everyone to respect us and think we have our act together but I think there’s value in letting the curtain down a little bit and sharing the great things about being an owner. Like, I wanted to travel with my daughter and we decided we wanted to go to every continent before she finished nursing school. I couldn’t have done that if I didn’t own the business. Because I own an agency and I own AMI. My agency is almost 30 and AMI is pushing that too, but we would take three week trips because we’re not going to go to China for four days.

I couldn’t have done… I want to share that with my people, but I also want to share, boy, I sweated all weekend about this decision that I had to make and you know what? We just lost client X, Y, Z. And the only way we’re going to stay in the black is if we downsize. And so here was my thought process around that. And I think we have to be ready as, as leaders and owners to make it less mystical about what it means to own an agency.

Christy Hiler:

Yes, absolutely. And also just be willing to say it’s hard, right. It’s hard. And there are days it’s lonely. Yeah. And, and you are going to give far more credit and thank yous and applause than you’re going to receive.

Drew McLellan:

Yep. For sure.

Christy Hiler:

But that’s not where the joy comes from. You know? I mean, I think for me being able to say to somebody who’s going through something really hard in their life, whether it is their parent passing right. Or whatever, it might be just a hardship in their life to be able to say, you know what, check out of here.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Christy Hiler:

Don’t worry about a thing. I’m going to get it covered. We’re going to get you covered. We like the team has you, when you’re ready and I don’t even care when it’s, but whenever you’re ready. Yeah. You know, come back in and they will do the same.

Drew McLellan:

That’s it, about extending the freedom of ownership to your people, right?

Christy Hiler:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Drew McLellan:

To say, this is not just a privilege for me. I’m able to make it be a privilege for you too.

Christy Hiler:

Yeah. And here’s the things that matter and those things matter.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Christy Hiler:

And you need to be there. And we want that for you. Don’t worry about this.

Drew McLellan:

Right. Well, I do think one of the great things about being an agency owner is you get to create the place you want to work.

Christy Hiler:

Yes.

Drew McLellan:

That a lot of other people want to work too and can’t find. And so you not only, you build this community, I’m a little low to use the word family when it comes to agencies, because I think that colors our decision making. But you build this community, this team of people that you love and who love each other and have each other’s back and who do great work together. But you can also create an environment where they too can have a balance between their personal life and their work life. And they can feel appreciated and respected and they have opportunities to grow.

We get to create that for people, which is an amazing privilege. And so again, I think we have to show that part of ownership too. We can’t just show the hard part. We have to show the joy of it too. And I think you’re right, the joy is that we get to take good care of our people. And we get to build a place where people are, this is, I want to make this my work home.

Christy Hiler:

We’re in the creative business.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Christy Hiler:

We get to put out amazing work and build other businesses, lot of businesses, it’s not just building our business. We are in a relationship business with clients and incredible brands that we get to build. Being able to celebrate that success and be a part of that and own that, is amazing.

Drew McLellan:

Yep. And again, you can make a lot of money owning an agency. If you run the agency well and wisely and you really follow the metrics, then you absolutely can take care of your family in a way that you can’t even imagine. There’s lots of first ownership.

Christy Hiler:

And your teams families.

Drew McLellan:

That’s right. Absolutely. Yep. Yeah. We have a lot of work to do, but it’s important fun work.

Christy Hiler:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. And I think there has been such a great response. Now what I’m just feeling a little bit is like, I’m so glad that this community is so eager to jump in because there is a great response to it. There’s a lot of people who I think now are thinking about, “Oh, could I do that?” And they’re seeing that these are just people too, the women who are owning these agencies, they’re just people just like you.

Drew McLellan:

Super, smart people, right?

Christy Hiler:

Yeah. Super smart people. But we got a lot of smart people in this business who aren’t thinking that way and aren’t recognizing and seeing what they have within themself. I think some of that is there and is, we just kind of lit a little spark to it, but I’m excited because I think there’s a lot of people who are ready to reach back and bring more people forward. And like you said, we got a long way to go. We’re at less than 1%. There’s nowhere to go but up, but I want to see that number grow.

And I want to see what this industry will look like when we do. It is insane to me that we are in the business of connecting emotionally with consumers and purchasers, the large overwhelming majority of purchasing decisions are made by women.

Drew McLellan:

Absolutely.

Christy Hiler:

How we’re in this position is such an interesting question to think about. But yeah. And so, asking brands to think about that too. These brand, there are lots of brands working to motivate and connect with women, but yet they’re using male owned agencies and turning to men. And it’s not that they can’t, I just want to see more equity in that.

Drew McLellan:

Yep. More choice. Yeah.

Christy Hiler:

Yeah.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah.

Christy Hiler:

And thoughtfulness and intention.

Drew McLellan:

It’s interesting to me, I’m sure when you bought your agency, it didn’t occur to you that you would be on this crusade and this was going to be a passion project for you. It’s interesting how all of this has played out and how you now find yourself front and center, advocating for this. I’m sure this was not part of the job that you thought you were taking on. But I think-

Christy Hiler:

No, and this is like my least comfortable spot too, by the way.

Drew McLellan:

But the good news is, you’re not doing it by yourself. You’re building this community around you and together, all of the other women agency owners. And I’m a firm believer that if we want to change anything in terms of diversity, you have to have not just the people who are being compromised, but the other… I certainly hope that men like me can also be a part of this community and lift women up and show them the way and remind them that they’re perfectly capable of doing this. And there are all kinds of resources. You’re amassing an army of people who believe that we should have more women agency owners. And I certainly put myself in that camp, because I know how amazing they are and I see them every day.

Christy Hiler:

And you’re already helping equip women to do this successfully.

Drew McLellan:

I hope so. That gives me great joy is to help people be successful at this. And so I hope you’re excited by the fact that you’ve taken on this mantle of command and that you’re now leading this army, but it feels like really amazing things are going to happen from it.

Christy Hiler:

Yeah, I think so. Yeah, I would say that makes me a little uncomfortable to think about that piece because I don’t like doing anything alone, like another-

Drew McLellan:

Another lonely job.

Christy Hiler:

Yeah. But I do not see it like that at all. I really don’t. I feel already like I have many women locked arms with me ready to talk about this. Yeah. And make changes and see progress. I don’t feel like that. I feel like they just needed that spark too. We just needed to start the conversation.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. And now keep it going.

Christy Hiler:

Yes.

Drew McLellan:

And add more voices, and get louder and louder.

Christy Hiler:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. It’s exciting. All right. Christy, if people want to get on the list, they want to learn more about what you’re doing. They want to connect with you personally, if they want to be on your podcast, all of those things, how do they find you?

Christy Hiler:

Go to, untilyouownit.com and get on the list first. Put your agency on the list, put yourself as an owner on the list. And or if you know somebody who owns an agency share that with them. And then you can connect with me on LinkedIn. That’s the best place if you are interested in being on the podcast or connecting. Jean Freeman has been an incredible partner in this. She was one of the first women that I connected with because she owns one of the largest agencies, female owned agencies, Zambezi, and she is fantastic.

And she locked arms with me almost immediately. I would say, connect with her as well. Or any of the women. Listen to the podcast. All of them are really there and willing to help. If you have questions that are specific to anything that you heard through those podcasts, but we are planning to have a big group think tape. What can this community do together? That is one of our next steps to just talk about what can we do together to see progress? And that is going to be probably late May. Reach out to me before then, and I’d love to make sure that you’re a part of that conversation.

Drew McLellan:

Awesome. This has been a great conversation. I hope that it’s not the last time that you and I talk about this, because I think I would love to be a part of what you’re doing and I would love to magnify and tell the world what you’re doing so that certainly my community… And by the way, this is not a U.S based thing. This is you want women worldwide, I’m sure. Podcast listeners, wherever you are on the planet, this is for you. And whether you’re a young leader listening, or you’re already owning, you already own the joint, you need to step into this and your voice will be heard. You can influence it.

And the cool thing is you can influence the next generation of agency owners and women who enter into our business thinking they’re going to run the account service department, and that would be the pinnacle of their career. We need to remind them that doesn’t have to be, there’s nothing wrong with that being the pinnacle of your career, if that’s what you want. But if you want more, it’s okay to dream bigger and different and then find resources to make it happen. So, exciting. Christy, thank you so much for being on the show. This was a blast.

Christy Hiler:

For having me. Enjoyed the conversation.

Drew McLellan:

Me too. All right, guys, this wraps up another episode of Build A Better Agency. Certainly plenty of takeaways for you. I like episodes that give you homework and this one gave you homework, whether you’re male or female, you have homework on this. I do not think this is a female issue. I don’t think this is something that women have to solve by themselves. All of us. If you own an agency, you have smart women in your agency and you have an opportunity to help them dream bigger and better regardless of your gender. And I think you can, and if you’re a part of the AMI community, you are already wrapping your arms around other agency owners, male and female. Celebrating that and celebrating the women that are super smart and doing a great job, holding them up so other women can see them and say, “Okay, I could do that.

I could be that. Wow. She has five kids and she’s doing that. I’d like to learn how she’s doing that.” Or whatever it is. It’s not always just about kids. It could be whatever other responsibilities which we are have, we can hold each other up and we can celebrate it and encourage more people to follow the path. Get on the list, tell everybody else about this organization, this movement. And let’s change the industry for the better. We’ve had a lot of conversations about diversity over the last year or two and how we get more diversity into the business. And this is just another chapter of that conversation. I fully expect you to advocate and get on board, because I know you care about this too. And you know that the more diversity we have around the table, the better we all get, the more we learn.

This actually benefits you too regardless of who you are, where you are, where you’re at in the organization, this just lifts up all the boats. Let’s do that together. That’s homework. Number two, huge shout out to our friends at White Label IQ, as you know they’re presenting sponsor of the podcast. If you head over to whitelabeliq.com/ami, they have a special deal for you. Remember they do White Label PPC, dev, and design, and they’ve got some free hours for you as a podcast listener on your first project so check that out.

Would be remise to remind you and I am going to, as soon as I turn the record button off, I’m going to twist Christy’s arm to see if I can get her to come to the summit. But I want to remind you that the summit is coming up May 24th and 25th in Chicago, two days of community, and learning, and sharing, and all the things. Amazing keynote speakers, talking about innovation and building a community to lift your business up and how to pivot and what we from COVID to pivot, and all kinds of other… How to build wealth outside of your business, and to create a legacy for yourself, your family and generational wealth.

We are covering it all for agency owners. And the average agency that’s going to be at this conference is, probably 25 people or less. Somebody asked me the other day, they said, “I only have eight employees. Am I too small to come?” I said, “Absolutely not. You don’t have to have any employees. You can still come and learn and connect and grow.” Remember we’re capped at 300 people. Head over to the Agency Management Institute website, grab your ticket now, before we sell out, because I know we will sell out again like we did last year. Really you to be a part of that. And remember, I’m all about the hugs at the summit. You just come up and I will hug you all day long. I’m so excited to see all of you and be back in person with all of you.

Not only learning but hugging. That’s what I promise you at the summit. All right, I’ll be back next week with another guest. In the meantime, you guys know how to get ahold of me, at [email protected] And I just want to let you know that I’m grateful you’re here. I know how busy you are. And I love that I get to go golfing with you and be on the subway with you. And somebody said that I’m their treadmill buddy, or I’m your commute buddy. I am elated to be any kind of buddy I can be to get this content to you. And so I know you have a lot of choices and I know you have very little time, so I’m grateful that you choose to come back every week. All right, I’ll see you next week.

Speaker 4:

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. (silence)