Episode 432

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This year, agencies are in for many industry changes — and fast. We’ve been scratching the surface a little with AI ever since ChatGPT first dropped, but even since then, everything has changed drastically. To start the year, we’re shifting our focus to learning how agencies can use AI tools to become AI consulting powerhouses.

Many agency owners and employees have been learning how to integrate AI tools into their day-to-day over the past year or so, from writing, planning, research, and more. Now, it’s time to take it to the next level (and to our clients).

This week, Casey Meehan shows us how agencies can become thought leaders and subject matter experts for their clients using AI tools. Over his time as an agency leader, he has shifted from traditional marketing and PR work to creating content repurposed for AI consulting to teach clients how to harness the power of AI and create personalized content for their audience.

Although there’s something new in the AI market each day, it’s an exciting time to take advantage and lead the movement toward becoming thought leaders and experts for our clients through AI consulting work.

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.

AI consulting

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • Making the shift from traditional marketing and PR to AI consulting work and content creation
  • The cornerstone and cobblestone approach to content creation
  • The new look of agency staffing with AI tools
  • Using AI to make the agency function better internally
  • Bringing personalized results into the sales process with “Just in Time Content”
  • The different modalities of AI chatbots and their unique skills
  • Publishing and promoting content through cited subject matter experts
  • Where agency leaders should be setting their sights on AI tools

“I'm calling this just-in-time content, where it is for that one person. You hear how AI is built for the personalization of everything. This is now taking that into the sales process.” - Casey Meehan Share on X
“There's a lot of people who think they're taking AI seriously. But you have to pay that $20 a month for ChatGPT. It's light years better than the free version.” - Casey Meehan Share on X
“Chat GPT is slightly better at decision-making and logic, but Anthropic’s Claude is a better writer. And I start to think of these as my different interns that I want to send tasks to.” - Casey Meehan Share on X
“The thing I'm most excited about are custom GPTs. These are ways for companies to customize their core model and potentially sell it in their store.” - Casey Meehan Share on X
“It's interesting thinking about the agency model and restructuring the relationships you have with your team and with your different experts, and working with them to infuse what they're good at into these bots.” - Casey Meehan Share on X

Ways to contact Casey:

Resources:

Hey, before we get to the show, I just wanna remind you that we have created a private Facebook group just for you, our podcast listeners. There are almost 1500 agencies, agency owners, inside that Facebook group every day talking about what’s going on inside their shop, asking for resources, gut checking decisions, talking about everything from pricing to hiring, to biz dev. All kinds of things are happening there. We’re starting conversations. You guys are starting conversations. What I love about it is the community’s coming together and sharing resources, encouraging each other, and just sort of having a safe place to talk about what it’s like to own an agency. So all you have to do is head over to Facebook, search for a Build, a Better, Agency Podcast group, or Build, a Better, Agency Podcast.

And you’ll find the group. You have to answer three questions. If you don’t answer the questions, we can’t let you in. But they’re simple. It’s, do you own an agency or do you work at an agency? And if so, what’s the URL? What are you trying to get out of the group? And will you behave, basically? So come join us. If you haven’t been there for a while, come on back. If you haven’t joined, join into the conversation. I think you’re gonna find it really helpful. All right, let’s get to the show.

Running an agency can be a lonely proposition, but it doesn’t have to be. We can learn how to be better faster if we learn together. Welcome to Agency Management Institute’s Build, a Better Agency Podcast, presented by White Label IQ. Tune in every week for insights on how small to mid-size agencies are surviving and thriving in today’s market with 25 plus years of experience as both an agency owner and agency consultant. Please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.

Hey everybody. Drew McLellan. Guess what? Yep, another episode of Build a Better Agency. Love coming and hanging out with you every week. I just love the time that we get to spend together learning, meeting cool people, or for me, reconnecting with cool people I already know and sharing them with you. And that’s certainly the case of this episode. It’s also the case of the Build a Better Agency Summit. So in a blink of an eye, it’s gonna be May. And we are gonna be gathering in Denver 350 or so, agency owners and leaders gathering together to learn from each other, to share experiences, to share support, to encourage, to celebrate. It’s gonna be awesome. It is every year so grateful that we can come together and spend a couple days together just deeply thinking about our business and looking for ways to be helpful to each other.

It’s just, it’s really a great experience and, and we love it, and we know that you love it too. And so with that said, guess what we need to, we need you to get your tickets. So head over to agency management institute.com and on the upper left corner, build a Better Agency Summit. And you can click on it and you can register. And I’m telling you the speaker lineup is off the charts This year. We are gonna talk about biz dev. We’re gonna talk about growing your existing clients. We have experts who are gonna talk about how we’re leaving money on the table with our pricing. We are gonna talk about AI and the best practices that agencies are deploying right now, as in May ’cause, of course right now.

Now, it’ll change by May. Right now, how are agencies growing their business and their client’s business using AI and machine learning? We’re gonna talk about what you need to do, the mistakes that agency owners make as they think about or begin to move towards selling their business. We’re gonna have some proprietary research that we’re gonna unveil at the conference. So it is, it is all kinds of good things to be talking about. We’re gonna talk about HR and how to build a, a strong team at a higher, better. How to keep the, your best talent, how to keep them engaged, even if you’re a small shop and you feel like you can’t offer them as many opportunities just off the charts conversations.

And you’re gonna be a part of every one of ’em. So we hope you’ll join us. So speaking of the summit, one of the speakers at the summit is my guest today. So Casey Mehan successfully owned an agency. It was a content agency for about 15 years. Super Niche did these amazing long form blog posts that were tied to research and data, and they just performed off the charts and he and his agency were crushing it. But Casey’s looking down the road and he’s seeing AI coming and machine learning. And this is back in like 20 17, 20 18. And he begins to start thinking about a pivot. And today what Casey is doing is he’s working with agencies to help them figure out how to harness the partner, the power of ai.

And so we’re gonna talk a little bit about his journey, how he came, went from being an agency owner to more of this consultancy model, some of the things that he’s doing with his agency clients right now with AI and what he thinks is coming down the road. So buckle in. This is gonna be a fascinating conversation, and I know he is gonna walk us through at least one very specific process that we can deploy right now with our agencies to create better content for ourselves and our clients, again, using the power of ai. So let’s welcome him to the show and get started. Casey, welcome to the podcast. Thanks for joining us.

Hey, it’s absolutely my pleasure, Drew. Happy to be here.

So, you know, you, you’ve been a part of the AMI community for a while. You’ve been at a couple summits, you’ve been at some workshops, but you’ve made some changes in sort of the way your agency goes to market or the way you go to market. So give everybody a little bit of background on sort of what your agency was and then sort of kind of how you’ve pivoted today.

You bet. So we were highly focused on long form thought leadership blog posts. We didn’t do any paid media, no real advertising, none of the channels there. I I, my background was in SEO and we, you know, many years ago, I guess 10 years ago or so, we saw the writing on the wall of SEO being, becoming very content focused. Right? So, you know, that was kind of my first pivot many years ago, going from technical SEO to really just focusing on writing and building up a stable of amazing writers who were really good at some very niche, B2B industries, niche software B2B industries.

So that was our focus for 10 years. And along that ride, I’ve, I’ve always been a little bit fascinated by technology. We worked in the software space and a lot of my friends have created software startups. So I had always dabbled in code and was specifically pretty enamored in AI since I was a kid. I was right, you know, ro robots were my thing. So in about 20 18, 20 19, I started kind of taking that a little bit more seriously, especially as those first GPS came out. There was things in the New Yorker around that time about how well they could write, thought this is a good time to kind of get into this, learn some Python skills, learn what the state of the industry is, began to really collaborate with some amazing machine learning experts who, who still are very helpful to me.

But, you know, we, we were really focused on, on software, you know, helping software companies grow. We did a lot of work with Salesforce. We worked with a couple different software companies that were early stage startups and helped them reach the unicorn stage. One of them became a double unicorn now worth more than 2 billion. But, you know, things changed dramatically at right. You know, November of last year. You know, my buddy called me and was like, Hey, have you tried this stuff out? And I, I was, you know, that week just, just, you know, ever since then, I guess I’ve been spending 20 or 30 hours just, I can’t sleep unless I, you know, I’m just always thinking about about that stuff.

So that’s kind of the, the quick jo version of the journey. I don’t know if I skipped anything or if any of that needs clarification.

Well, so as you were learning more about machine learning and AI and all of that, how were you viewing, how were you viewing your business, your clients, the work, what you were selling clients through that lens? Like how did, how did that begin to shift for you?

So, I knew the day would come when these bots would be able to write, you know, really good stuff. I could just see that trajectory. But I think it still surprised me once, you know, the capabilities came out at that, at that time, a, a year ago, November of, of 2022. I guess that was so, you know, for me it was, it was an interesting time. ’cause I, I kind of talked with my team who were primarily writers, not necessarily technical folks. And I, I kind of asked them, you know, this, this seems pretty important to me.

This seems like a big, a big change and, you know, who wants to go on that journey with me? And, and a few of them raised their hands and a few of them said, you know, just, we’re kind of silent. So, right. We’ve, we’ve pivoted.

I think you, I think you faced a lot of what a lot of agencies are facing, which is half the staff is excited about the new tools and the other staff is like, this is gonna take my job.

Right? Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. And and to be honest, I mean, the fear is there for me as well, and the fear and the, you know, in some ways it’s, it, it could be more that, you know, the more time you spend with it, you, you really, you start to realize, and once you start to get good, very good with it, you know, it’s, it, it, it, it can take surprising, you know, shapes, but I guess I was just, for me, it just felt like a no no brainer. Like it or not, it just felt like something that was happening, right. That I, I couldn’t look away from.

You’re, this is, this is a train that is gonna, is on the track, right?

Yeah. This, it’s, you know, hiding your eyes from it, pretending it’s not there. You know, that just didn’t work for me. So. Right. Yeah. So, so, so we’ve pivoted pretty, pretty dramatically over the course of This year, moving from, you know, supplying this, you know, running this team of writers and, and supplying our clients with thought leadership blog posts, and, you know, some bit of PR outreach around those blog posts to now moving more into consulting about best use cases for, for AI in, in marketing has been the last six months or so of, of what I’ve been focused on.

So how’s it changed the work? So have you stepped away from really serving clients in the way that, like are you still producing long form content for clients? Have you stepped away from that completely?

It’s pretty much wound down at this point. Yeah. Yeah. We’re still working on a couple of, working with a couple clients that we’ve just had very long standing relationships with, but we’re not taking on any new writing clients. We’re, I’m, I’m primarily focused on this consulting coaching model and the research part of it. So really just researching as much as I can experimenting with it, you know, every day is, has been what, what I’ve been spending my time on. And I, I, I kind of feel like, you know, I don’t think there’s a lot of agencies, there’s really hardly any that I’ve spoken to that were so focused just on the writing.

Like we didn’t do anything else. Right,

Right. So

This hit us right square in the, yeah. In the superpower, I guess you might say. And in a way that was really good ’cause it was just a no brainer, you know, it was just like, I have to do this. Like, I’m not gonna all of a sudden decide to get really good at, you know, paid advertising, although, right.

Or designing logos or,

Exactly, yeah. I didn’t have those extra streams that we could kind of sh shuffle things around. It was like, one thing is ending and a new thing is beginning. So while it was a dramatic time, and, and you, you know, this very well, you’ve helped me through some of these very trying times. It, it was very clear, which I feel very lucky for, very grateful for that, that clarity. ’cause as, you know, it’s, those are, those are hard times to make decisions. There’s a lot of what ifs and a lot of sleepless nights as many agency owners can attest to. But, you know, you really help me come to that conclusion.

It’s like, okay, you know, you, you, you know, I think you told me at one point, you’ve been talking a lot about this stuff. Why don’t you just do it? And I said,

Okay.

That was really kind of the moment that I was like, all right, this is it. Let’s do it.

I, I do recall that coaching call, actually. Yeah. So, so you’re, so now you’re really the, you’re the student, the experimenter, the co-conspirator of experiments with other people. What’s the business model moving forward for you? So your old model was within your niche, you produced incredible research based long form articles that drove a ton of SEO value and traffic to your clients. That was, that was pre all of this. Correct. So now you’re in this phase of there’s so much to learn and, and grow. And I have the opportunity to experiment and coach as I continue to grow and learn.

Yeah. And what is the, so is that a stepping stone? Is that the new business model? Is there something after that that you, that you see on the horizon that you’ll shift to?

So yeah, it’s, it’s very fluid, but I’m really excited about, you know, you’ve told me, taught me a lot about the cornerstone approach and the cobblestone approach. And I feel like I have a little bit of runway now. So I’m focused heavily on building that, the cobblestone, casting that net. And I’m taking the, the approach of a YouTube channel. That’s how I get a lot of my information. And it’s just a format that I, that I think I understand, at least as a consumer, I’m still starting to understand it as a content producer.

So I feel like, you know, previously when I was trying to implement this, the cobblestone approach, I was doing it in the middle of running an agency and I was the one solely responsible for it. We weren’t big enough where I could just, you know, dedicate a team to creating our own stuff. So it was kind of hard for me to get some momentum there. So I’m, I’m taking a little bit of of time to try to get that right before I really go out with the more nano approach of trying to just, you know, close deals with folks and things like that. So the YouTube channel pointing to Patreon. So I create a, a video or two, or hopefully more each week.

Each one of those comes with a cheat sheet version that is in my Patreon for just a few bucks a month. Folks can get access to all of that. So I like the scalability of that. There’s also, that leads to the one-on-one coaching. There’s some options there as well. So that’s the, that’s the current model, which is sort of the, the baby, you know, MVP version of, of what I’m dreaming of, which, you know, I think, you know, could, could take a lot of different shapes as time goes on.

So what’s the dream? Is it to build, because you had an agency. Yeah. And now you basically, as you, as you moved away from doing the kind of work you were doing, I know you kind of shrunk down the team, you’re kind of fulfilling some last contracts, things like that, which Yeah, if I remember right, most of them wrap up around the end of the calendar year in 2023.

That’s correct. Yeah.

And so then the agency in essence goes away, right, right. Because you mostly at this point are staffing with contractors. Yeah. Correct. Yeah. So is the model. So is the model right now is, okay, look, I’m, I’m going to learn teach, and I’m going to sell tools that tie with my teaching on a more individual basis. And are you envisioning spinning up an agency again to use these tools? Are you thinking you’re now gonna be more of a consultant to help other people figure out how to harness the power of AI and machine learning? What if I had to say to you, okay, I, and I know by the way, the answer really is, I don’t know yet.

That’s part of why I’m doing this. But if I said to you, you gotta, you gotta know today. What do you think it is? Where do you think it’s going?

So I think in the, IM in the immediate term, or intermediate term I should say, it’s going to that consulting model. Yeah. So, you know, building out a suite of, you know, 10 folks that I’m working with on a monthly basis to improve and automate their processes. I have a great one right now that I’m working with. I feel very grateful for. Their, their, their name is Health Launchpad. They’re an agency out of Austin, Texas. And we’ve, we’ve known each other for a long time. We’ve got a great relationship. They’re really been, been helpful for me to test drive this. So I’ve been fueling their team with automations. We’re going basically department by department each month. I focus on a department.

I spend some time with them figuring out what their process is, and then utilizing as much AI to help, you know, each individual person on their team become, you know, AI infused, I guess. So that’s working great. So the immediate future I see growing that from, from the one or two that I have now to about 10 or so. And then beyond that, I envision, you know, in a perfect world, thinking of it as more of a media company, more of a company where we’re just putting out

A subscription model.

Yeah. You know, content Marketing Institute, you know? Right. That model is just so beautiful. And I know you, you work with Joe, you’ve known him for a long time, and being able to meet him at some of the events was really pretty inspiring. So, you know, kind of that, that similar playbook, there’s also these new custom GPTs that just rolled out where you can build your own custom bots, custom versions of chat GPT and monetize those. So that’s an avenue that I’m exploring, creating those, monetizing those training people, you know, with what I learn on how I’m, I’m monetizing those, that’s like the app store, right.

Will be launched later. The, you know, pretty soon there at Open ai. So those are some of the, the avenues that I’m exploring candidly. Yeah.

So when you think about the work you’ve done with the agency clients, you already have, give us a couple examples, both of sort of some internal, not client facing. ’cause I think everyone thinks of AI as like, oh, it can write client copy and oh, it can, you know, we can go into, you know, mid journey and create some designs. And so talk to us a little bit about how you’re using AI for the not client product or deliverable side. What are some of the ways you’re using AI just to make an agency work better? And then we’ll get to the client side.

Sure. So I love it as a decision making tool. Hmm. I’ve developed a process that I call the team of experts process that I, I, I really love because when you first start with, I’m talking about chat, GPT in particular GPT-4, the paid version. Yeah. Yeah. There’s other models that I use on a daily basis, but that still is for me, the gold standard. Especially when it comes to decision making writing. There’s some that may be better than, than chat GPT, but one of the, one of the techniques I use is I ask it whatever problem I’m trying to solve, maybe it’s, let’s just say a finance problem.

I say, you know, who are the top, you know, finance experts who might be, you know, suitable to this problem. And then, and then you have to kind of nudge it and say, please mention individuals. And it’ll mention a few individuals that it happens to know a whole lot about. So then I say, Hey, can you play the role of x individual top of the list? And, and then I ask it, you know, my questions and using it at that team of experts model, you can get quickly to some very nuanced information that is o often hard to, to, to cajole out of it if you don’t do that. ’cause you’ll often get these very generic, you know, things and you have to keep kind of plugging away at it before you get to the good stuff.

But using that team of experts for decision making has been been wonderful.

And are you helping them automate processes as well? I mean, is there, is, are there tools in play even at the beta level that are help? So for example, you know, we’ve been doing these, these webinars where different agency owners come on and, a