Episode 58:

Kris Hoet has a broad experience on both the client and agency side and brings a unique perspective to his work at the crossover of creativity and technology. His passion for technology and how to translate that into change and impact first came through when he was working as a client enabling better connections with consumers by building some of the first online cinema experiences in the late 90s and kickstarting some of Microsoft’s first influencer marketing activities in the early 2000s.

Currently Kris is heading up the innovation initiatives at Happiness, an agency he co-founded, a role he also fulfills for the global FCB network to which Happiness belongs. Before joining Happiness, Kris was part of the management team at Duval Guillaume responsible for some advertising classics such as TNT’s Push to add drama & Carlsbergs Bikers. During his time there the agency became Digital Agency of the Year twice and following that was elected Agency of the Year for three consecutive years.

Kris is also a renowned speaker at international marketing conferences. He was one of the Advocates of the TED Ads Worth Spreading program and is still a curator of All Gunns Blazing, a selection of some of the most innovative worldwide creative work of the famed Gunn Report.

He is an avid mountain biker and a self-proclaimed petrolhead with a special love for vintage cars.

 

 

What you’ll learn about in this episode:

  • Why Kris made the jump to the agency side — and why he started his own agency
  • Innovation initiatives and driving change in every aspect of a company
  • Why small changes across a company are better than one big change
  • Getting ideas for change from other industries
  • Some feeds that Kris follows to get inspiration
  • Finding the time to focus on innovation and learning for learning’s sake while also running a client-driven profitable business
  • Why everybody needs to be involved in an initiative
  • Working in a messy way with these innovation initiatives and why that demands more trust between agency and client
  • Why you can do this with your employees you have (if they’re actual good employees)
  • How to inspire your team to want to innovate
  • How to get innovation started

 

The Golden Nugget:

“Whether it’s your staff or your clients, you have to inspire for action.” – @krishoet Click To Tweet

 

Subscribe to Build A Better Agency!

Itunes Logo          Stitcher button

Ways to Contact Kris Hoet:

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

Speaker 1:

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

Drew McLellan:

Hey, everybody. Drew McLellan here with another episode of Build A Better Agency. Today, my guest is Kris Hoet. So Kris and I have known each other for, I don’t even want to speculate how long. Kris was one of the authors when Gavin Heaton and I put together The Age of Conversation books back probably ’06-’07, something like that. So Kris, you’re going to recognize right away, has an accent that sounds a little different than how I sound. So we’ll let him tell you a little bit about his background, but let me tell you a little bit out his professional background, and then he can tell you about where he calls home.

So Kris has a broad range of experience. He’s sat on both sides of the table, the client side, and the agency side, which allows him to bring a unique perspective to his work. Kris has always been fascinated by the crossover of creativity and technology, and he’s got a great passion for technology and how to translate that into change and really came into being around that idea when he was at Microsoft and he was involved in kick starting some of their first influencer marketing activities back in the early 2000s.

Currently, he is the head of innovation initiatives at Happiness, an agency that he co-founded, and he’s going to tell us more about that. He also fulfills that role for the Global FCB Network to which Happiness belongs. Before that, he also worked for other agencies and he worked on some advertising classics that you will recognize like TNT’s Push to Add Drama and Carlsberg’s bikers. So during that time, the agency he was working with became the digital agency of the year twice, and then following that was elected agency of the year for three consecutive years. So Kris, obviously, has a path of success that he trails with him wherever he goes.

He’s also a speaker all over the world at international marketing conferences. He was one of the advocates of the TED Ads Worth Spreading program, and is still a curator at All Gunns Blazing, which looks at some innovative worldwide creative work if you’re not familiar with that as part of The Gunn Report.

Personally, he is an avid mountain biker, and one of the things that I know about him is he is fascinated by vintage cars. If I remember right, Kris, it’s Mustangs, right?

Kris Hoet:

That’s absolutely right. First of all, thanks for having me on the call, but I’m a petrolhead as we call it.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Well, I’m glad to have you. It’s great to have your perspective on the show. So thanks for joining us. So talk to us first about, so Microsoft is probably one of those companies that once you get there, it’s probably a pretty good gig. So what made you hunger to go over to the agency side?

Kris Hoet:

Well, there’s a few reasons. I mean, Microsoft when I joined, Microsoft was in a little bit of a different place than it is today. I think you can imagine Microsoft right now being an exciting place. They have solid products. It’s not the same as Apple, but it’s at least in a better place than it was when I was there when we went from killing MSN to launch Windows Live. I think Windows 7 had just been released, all kinds of things that people, I think, commonly acknowledge as being not the best to say it, honestly.

So we were doing marketing initiatives, and I think in the beginning it was exciting. I collaborated with a colleague of mine on a project called Bring the Love Back. I don’t know if you remember that one. It’s a little video with the advertiser and the consumer sitting in a restaurant where she said, “I want to break up,” which was often used in marketing events, I think, later on, which was really a breakthrough for how Microsoft did some of their stuff, and especially knowing that the initiative didn’t come out of Redmond, Seattle, but some odd place in Belgium as where I’m from.

After a couple of years, I think I spent there five years running the European marcomms for MSN and then Windows Live. You’d saw that these initiatives didn’t get any room anymore. So just as one of the topics that I’m most excited about, it was time for change. Literally, I think I wrote a blog post about the change and there’s some restructuring at Microsoft as well. That all didn’t work out. Then immediately, four or five companies contacted me, one of which was an agency called Duval Guillaume, and it sounded exciting. It was something very different.

Still, I had a feeling I could do a lot of stuff with them. I could teach them. Literally, it is probably sounding a little bit as in that guy really knows his stuff, but it was a mistake. I had written a few blog posts around, well, I think it was called Where’s Agency 2.0 or something of the like as in I was working with a lot of agencies at the time. There were a few things that I was missing.

So when an agency contacts me and say, “Hey, do you want to become our head of digital and our head of strategy?” that was a unique opportunity to do something about it. I remember being at the agency for maybe a week or so and I was thinking, “I have no idea what these guys are doing,” and that was a bit of a struggle and an eyeopening. If there’s something I’d advise everybody some form, if you can, then it really makes a little sense to spend time at both sides of the table because even if you’ve experienced working with the other side, it’s very different when you are working at the other side.

Drew McLellan:

Absolutely. I think a lot of agency folks who have come from the client side find that insight, A, unique inside their agency but, B, incredibly beneficial. Yeah. So working for an agency is a little different than starting an agency as most of our listeners know. So what made you decide that you wanted to start Happiness? What prompted that? Then tell the listeners a little bit about it because you’re structured in a unique way in that you have offices in a couple different countries and you’re doing work in a much broader sense. So give everybody a sense of, A, how you guys are structured and where your offices actually physically are and, B, what prompted that desire.

Kris Hoet:

Okay. So the agency I’d spent five years that’s called Duval Guillaume. As you said, we did some iconic work. The times were a little bit different, but I think we did about 100 million views on YouTube without a single paid view or seating or what. It didn’t really exist anyway. So that was exciting times, but then it belonged to a network. I think the vision of where we wanted to go further in the change and where the network wanted to go didn’t really comply. So we said or at least I together with the two creative leaders, we decided to leave that agency to go someplace else.

Then very quickly, one of the creative leaders and myself, we got onto a conversation with the original founder of an agency, Happiness in Brussels. So the agency Happiness in Brussels existed for a while. There’s a bigger structure right now, which we co-founded, but there was a basis there that was already solid, meaning that it had probably 20 or 30 people staff. It had already also a good creative recognition, but the person felt that she needed.

So Karen, who was the original founder, needed additional support to bring the agency further. For us, it was interesting because we could bring the ideas that we tried to bring to the table at the other agency to bring it further that all of a sudden wouldn’t work anymore we could do it here because we would be our own. We wouldn’t just be management. We would own a piece of it. So indeed, right now, we have Happiness in Brussels and we have another office in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. So it’s two odd locations. We also are-

Drew McLellan:

Not necessarily locations that one would match up together.

Kris Hoet:

No, and parties because we also have a digital production unit, which is based out of Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City, I should say, but also if you look at Southeast Asia, it’s one of the biggest places for startups. When Geoffrey, my creative partner, and I, we worked at Duval Guillaume I think in 2012 just right after TNT Push to Add Drama and the Carlsberg and these things had been released or some of these had been released, I think we won 15 lines in Cannes and we’re media agents of the year. If you know, we were an agency of 45 people at the time.

Drew McLellan:

That’s crazy.

Kris Hoet:

That’s a line for every three people. So that’s pretty impressive, and something that we hadn’t seen coming. We’ve been always creatively successful. We would have our line or two, whatever, but not 15, right? That would be massive.

Drew McLellan:

That’s a big year. Yeah.

Kris Hoet:

Yeah, and as a result of it, we’ve started working for Coca-Cola in Paris and for Carlsberg in Copenhagen, P&G in Geneva, Smirnoff in London, and they didn’t seem to make a big deal out of that location that we were based in Antwerp, not even Brussels. I don’t remember who it was, but all of a sudden, one of the bigger clients, I think it was Coke said, “I don’t really care where the ideas are coming from as long as they’re good ideas.”

That made us think, “Why would we go sit in London?” So later on with happiness, “Why would we go to Hong Kong or Singapore where you’re competing with all the other international small groups? Why don’t we go to a place that maybe is a little bit more interesting, a bit more challenging, and that suits a little bit more what our belief is and who we are?” and then Saigon seemed to be a really good place to do that. I have no regret of that decision ever since.

Drew McLellan:

So other than that it was time to move on, what about ownership as opposed to just joining another shop as a manager or in the management role? What about that was appealing to you and did that actually play out the way you thought it would?

Kris Hoet:

Well, if we’re three owners, so if the three of us, although we are quite different, but still in terms of where we want to bring this agency to, we’re on the same page. So if we make a decision on either invest in something or how we want to organize or reorganize the business or how we want to deal with a big issue on a client or whatever it is, then we can just do it. There’s no like I used to have somebody in Paris who had to give their go on whatever it was or even if it was on small things at the time, there’s often approval that you need to get. So this time you give your approval. So you get a little bit of a sense that you own it, and at the same time, the responsibility that if it doesn’t work out is also yours and that there’s people obviously counting on you making it work because if it doesn’t work and you lose business, then you have to let go of people and you don’t want to do that, right?

It gives a lot more boost and excitement on trying things because if you cannot get some change or you cannot drive some of the things that you, and I want to change all the time, then you lose interest and I don’t want to wake up in the morning and question why I go to work. I’m in early ’40s. It’s way too soon to just be getting up and just spend some time in an office and then go back. I just really want to make a bigger difference than that.

So here I can with all of the responsibilities that go with it. Right now, we’re doing pretty good business. I think we’re 55 to 60 people in Brussels and 30 something in Vietnam. So it’s going all right. Then at the same time, I have, as you said, I spend basically half of my time with that agency and the other half I spend on helping FCB as a network on the innovation projects or mostly their own agency and client transformation.

So it’s interesting to try and make some changes something that you own and then see how you can get some of these ideas to work in a network with where, it’s what? 8,000 people work or something. So different challenge, but interesting, nevertheless.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. So has it been everything that you hoped that it would be in terms of all of that?

Kris Hoet:

Well, it also gives new headaches. That, for sure. Obviously, not every decision that you make … If you are in an agency with just management, you make it. If you want something, it’s somebody else’s responsibility to make it work numbers wise, and then you can be mad at them if they don’t work.

Drew McLellan:

Right, or they say no.

Kris Hoet:

I know it’s silly, but you’re like, “Come on. You got to see this,” and here, you’re more responsible to that. So sometimes you got to say, “I really want this or I think it’s necessary, but I can see why this is not something we should push in the next six months,” but I think the overall, it has been really an awesome experience. The energy that you get from it of not only renew task or responsibility to drive change, but also the responsibility, more responsible of all of the people that are part of the company makes it you’re thinking about it even more in a very positive way as in, “How could we do this?”

I saw this person in the morning, and I’m not saying that you don’t do it as a manager because also as a manager, if you see somebody coming in that doesn’t look happy, you’ll think about sorting that out.

Drew McLellan:

Right. Different motivation.

Kris Hoet:

Yeah. It’s yours. I mean it’s a different kind of responsibility. So I like it.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Good. So one of the things that I talked about in your bio is that you are responsible for heading up the innovation initiatives, and I think in many cases that that has the risk of being a buzzword like I’m empowering my people. So what I want to really dig into for the lion’s share of our conversation is what does an innovation initiative look like and how do agency owners bring that kind of thinking and activity into their shop? So let’s take a quick break and then I want to jump right into that.

Podcasts are a great way to learn and a great way to educate your staff. Another great way are live workshops, and AMI offers many of them throughout the year. If you’d like to check out the schedule, go to agencymanagementinstitute.com\live. Okay. Let’s get back to the show.

Okay. We are back with Kris, and we are going to be talking about innovation. Every agency owner I talk to is anxious about making sure that their agency is staying out ahead of ideas and creativity and very concerned about being innovative. Certainly, clients are telling us in the research that we do every year that one of the things they’re looking for from their agency are fresh, big ideas, and innovation. So Kris, talk a little bit about this idea of innovation initiatives inside your shop. What do those look like?

Kris Hoet:

Yeah. So I think one of the important things to notice that even though I head up innovation, we don’t think about it as say a unit or a separate track on where we have three initiatives that are being dealt with very separately like a lab or any kind of maybe common innovation setup. The idea really is that I’m probably engaged both with clients as with our own staff as in trying to make changes or drive some of the changes or try something new on every aspect of the company.

So we had a chat earlier this morning with one of the executive creative director on something specific I thought we should do different in how we review ideas. Then usually, my ideas are a little bit more far out on where we can agree on in the end and probably that’s for the better, but it’s an interesting discussion or it might be on a client where I think we have an opportunity to change the collaboration a little bit in a certain way or change how we do R&D. We do a lot of our R&D ideas mainly with our technical guys in Saigon, but maybe have a little bit of a different flow in how we do that or see if we can have different partners for a specific production setup, but it can also be very common.

As part of the innovation role, I also head up most of the digital projects, although digital is integrated within the agency. When a request comes in and then a client wants to, I don’t know, throw away their website and do something new, then I’ll be the go-to guy, the first person to go and see what is it that they really need and how can we put this thing on the rails in a direction that is very exciting for both the clients for us.

So it’s quite wide, sometimes difficult to define exactly what it is as in an account manager does this or our director does this, which often makes it a little bit difficult in introduction as in what is this guy doing, but I don’t know, I’ve in a lot of projects engaged on trying to make a little bit of a shift and trying to make a small step, a small change. I think also that is essential. I don’t believe in the one big initiative projects. I think you need to do a million small things at the same time across the company and see how they impact each other, see which flies, and then take it from there, and are probably one of the driving forces for a lot of these small things.

Drew McLellan:

So that requires a certain mindset, for example, at the way you’re collaborating with a client and think, A, there’s a different way to do this and, B, here’s the different way. So one of the things that agency owners tell me is they’re running like a chicken with their head cut off. They’re so busy. So how do you make sure that you stay in a mind frame where you recognize opportunities to do things differently and how do you bring those ideas forth?

Kris Hoet:

Well, I think part of the mindset is if I also look at myself, I need to feed myself with different kinds of information. I’m usually not very easily inspired by other great advertising ideas, but I’m looking into things that startups are doing or looking into what maybe the MIT media lab is doing or I’m looking into local technology company. It doesn’t even have to be technology, but I’m usually inspired by other businesses that are trying change. Then thinking about not just the, call it just the more superficial layer of literally what it is that they do. I don’t want to do the uber of something, but you try and understand what is the underlying shift that actually has been made for this to happen, and is that underlying shift something that we could use.

I think part of why often people bring me in in a conversation is because they know I’ll look at it differently from how they look at it. I don’t see myself as an advertising guy either. I know a lot of people probably say it, but I’m not. I don’t get the similar excitement as many of the purely ad guys get. Then I don’t think there is anything wrong with the excitement that they get from other advertising pieces.

I think it’s interesting that you’re not all getting your excitement from the same places because it brings a much richer inspiration. I think you also made a very good point. I think the most thing that will really get in the way of changing anything is the day to day. It is always … Okay. So even for the simplest things you might say, “Okay. We got, whatever, Facebook in for an inspiration session. 20% of the company won’t be able to make it for some stuff they got to do.” I’ll always be the first one to challenge, “How can you let this go before that because this thing is for what happens tomorrow.” What I want to show is what’s going to impact your job next month, next quarter or whatever it is, but then I got to help for it and also to find time for it. I realized it’s not easy, but I think it’s really crucial that you find time to learn.

I know that Google always been this example of where people can do their own stuff as a part of their own time. I don’t really care if it’s be busy with their own project or anything, but the fact that there’s a culture where you realize that not the full amount of time can be booked on a day to day I think is really healthy to drive some of that change.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. So you were talking about other places getting inspiration, if you will, or ideas from other places. If you had to say the three or four things that you make sure every day, week, month, however often you’re consuming them, where are nontraditional, so non-agency sources that you tend to always go to as your I’m going to get some fresh perspective or ideas from?

Kris Hoet:

Well, I don’t know exactly. I have 500 feeds through RSS. I find my own or I found my own way to go through them at least at reasonable speed. So I don’t have to go literally word by word through a thousand updates a day or whatever,. Then there’s always Twitter and Facebook and some other channels where occasionally some good stuff appears.

Drew McLellan:

For example, if I were to take a peek into your RSS feed or who you follow on Twitter, you said startups. Are there media outlet or resources that other agency owners are like, “Yep, that would be good brain food for me that I haven’t been consuming”? Are there some things that you would recommend your peers pay attention to that perhaps is not traditional enough that it’s been on their radar screen?

Kris Hoet:

So the interesting feeds that I like, Motherbird, for instance, The Creators Project, which I like a lot. There is Monday Note, which is around mobile, which is really, really interesting website, PSFK, but it’s a more logical one. I think about a lot of strategist website as they tend to get their inspiration from culture and writers, which is less so my thing, but at least if they can cite it for me, then I think it’s really cool. 538, fun site around data. Yeah. There’s many.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. So how have you and your co-owners created this culture that, A, every agency worries about the billable hours? So how do you create a culture where it’s okay to not be billable all the time and how do you balance that with the business end of the business, which is we have a lot of mouths to feed so we need to make sure that everybody is billable enough that we can pay the rent and pay people and all of that?

Kris Hoet:

Well, I think especially in an agency business, you’re so client-dependent and changes with client projects and budgets happen often. So I wouldn’t be able to say that this is the same way throughout the year. There’s definitely periods where we probably are 100% dealing with the business and there’s very little room to do anything else. It depends on maybe a client that just said that a big project is not going to happen and you’d obviously want to make sure that you don’t have to fire people or hire too much or want to keep that balance, and then sometimes we get a little bit more wiggle room, and sometimes we don’t have it, but at least we want to make sure that we organize or have people organize plenty of moments where external speakers, where we can try and do small hackathons or little workshops or where we try and do meetings that are not immediately client-specific or for the moment to make sure we keep feeding that culture, but it’s not as in how Google defines it like one day out of five or whatever it is, you can do your own stuff. That is impossible, I think, within an agency of our size, anyway.

Drew McLellan:

Yes. It’s got to come in smaller bite size pieces.

Kris Hoet:

Yeah, absolutely, but it’s about what it is that you organize or let your staff organize for themselves. It’s about the ideas that you let them work on for their own or that are partially related to the agency as well. There is one of the parts of the newer website that we’re building, where we also have a piece where we’ll feature all the side projects of the individuals even if they’re not agency-related because we could use the platform just as well to promote our own business I think to help them promote their initiatives. That’s part of Happiness as well.

So it’s different ways to support it. I wish it was as easy as sake. Maybe it’s more difficult than I make it sound, but I wish it was easy as Google and just go do your thing for X amount of time, not in our business, but we keep the idea alive and we try and do as much as we can to make sure that there is a reality there.

Drew McLellan:

How do you connect those dots for your clients? So I would think that your clients love the fact that you guys are focused on innovation and learning for learning’s sake and that it’s not all advertising-driven or client-specific, but that you are creating and cultivating thinkers inside your shop. So how do you connect that with your clients so that they understand what they’re buying and, again, it’s a point of differentiation for you, I would assume?

Kris Hoet:

Yeah. There’s many different things. I think as I said before, yourself, you got to take many different steps or many different initiatives at the same time, smaller probably, but to try and drive change for the agency. I think today it’s very okay also to say to clients like, “Look, we don’t know everything. We are also changing. We’re also trying to figure it out.”

I think we used to come from a time where an agency has to say they knew everything. Otherwise, you’re not a good agency. Right now, that sounds unbelievable to me. I think it makes a lot more sense if you could say, “You know what? We’re learning, but there’s another thing we can tell you. Why don’t you learn with us? So if there’s big learnings or insights that we have from an experiment that we did or an event that we went to even if it’s a little bit more off topic, why don’t we gather some of that together and let’s discuss it together as well?”

So if you find ways to bring it back to clients, it’s also easier to make it work in the agency reality. So again, as I said before, it’s not just cutting a piece of the week away and say, “Go do whatever you want,” but you can, by linking it back to your client, you can make more wiggle room exactly for that, but you got to try and bring it back, “So what does that thing I went to the last week? What does that mean for you?”

If we can do that, it’s easier for me to send somebody to that thing in the first place or be busy prototyping something in the first place, but you got to bring it back. If you don’t bring it back, it becomes, I don’t know, a useless knowledge in someone’s head. I think one of the essential things you got to do today is you got to, whether it’s your staff of your clients, you got to inspire for action. I use those words deliberately because inspiration happens all the time, but you got to inspire for action. You got to make the inspiration in a way that after you’ve talked about an inspirational piece, the next thing always is, “Okay. What does that mean for us? What are we going to do now or change now or do differently now that we’ve seen this thing?” that it doesn’t become like, “That’s been cool,” and you can talk about to your, whatever, advertising friends that you’ve seen the coolest thing the other day, and then what?

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. In my mind as you’re talking about that, you have to inspire for action both internally and with clients, right? So it’s really, again, it’s an attitude of fascinating for fascinating sake is cocktail conversation, but what are we going to, especially I think in the world today that we live in both our clients and us as agency folks, change is so rapid that you can’t really afford to learn new stuff if you don’t do anything with it because tomorrow will be different than today. So you have to be constantly evolving.

Kris Hoet:

Yeah, absolutely. It’s also why I personally have a bit of an issue with quite a few of these transformation agencies or companies because they pick up on the smartest things they read on the web and repack it a little bit, but that’s the easy part. The difficult are is, “Okay, and now you’re a cookie company. What does that mean for you?” It only changes if you can turn it into action, even if it’s three small steps and maybe that’s small steps.

I was at a meeting in London the other day. I can’t say which client, and literally, they were talking about an initiative and they were eager to do more right now. It was definitely not perfect, but you felt how that initiative opened minds of a few people in the company to allocate more time and money to do more of that, but that initiative first had to happen. That might not be that big, but somebody first had to do it.

Again, what I said in the beginning, the reason that I probably left, one of the reason that I left Microsoft is because there was no more room for initiatives like Bring the Love Back or anything of that matter. So then I lose interest, typically.

Drew McLellan:

Well, I’m curious about your opinion, but I think we’re in a period of time as business owners and as advertising people or marketing people, it’s like we’re in the middle of this great experiment that there is no solid footing anymore of, well, this has always worked for decades and it’ll always work, but we’re constantly trying new things. I think one of the challenges for agencies is helping clients understand, to your point, of we actually either haven’t done this before or we’ve only done it a couple times or this is new for us, too, let’s learn it together, which is very different than the authoritative position that agencies have taken with clients, which is you should do these four things.

Kris Hoet:

Yeah, and it’s interesting is that the client relationship for that needs to change. So it’s very difficult if the client wants different kind of work, so to speak, but looks at the relationship still like used to from the past because then it’s much more collaborative. We usually talk about co-creative management typically because you want to have much more conversation and much more involvement on the client also within the process while it’s ongoing and not … I’ve been doing this for two weeks in my corner, then I send it to you. you go do your stuff in your corner for two weeks, and then you send it back to me. No. That doesn’t work anymore.

Here’s a few things that we think are interesting and here’s why. So let’s have a talk about it, and then before we delve more, et cetera, et cetera. It’s much more interesting, and it speaks into the notion also that within that experimentation era, as you say, I think you got to make everybody responsible, I think. It won’t work if it’s a one guy or if it’s a agency initiative versus a client or one guy initiative versus the rest. Everybody’s got to have a piece of responsibility in the full thing for it to work.

Drew McLellan:

Right. You can’t really be passive and just sit in your corner and do your thing anymore.

Kris Hoet:

Yeah, because the other guy is going to fix it. You had the initial head of digital type of setup, and I’ve been there. I mean, I was a head of digital for a while. It’s like because we have the guy and he’s got two people, we’ve got this digital thing sorted and that, definitely, it probably didn’t work then maybe for a while, but it definitely doesn’t work right now if you think about change or innovation or transformation, whatever you want to call it. Everybody has got to have a bit of responsibility in there, but that means they all got to be part of the process. You cannot say to somebody, “You have that kind of responsibility, but I’m going to do this thing without informing you about most of the stuff that we’re doing.”

So it changes the power balance in that relation, but I think that’s exciting. I see a lot of people have difficulties with that. I think I’m really passionate about changing stuff that the more change also probably makes me happier, which is not necessarily the case for a lot of people, but-

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, that’s right. That may make you an odd duck. Yeah. Well, I just think it’s a messier time to be in business that the boundaries and lines are not as clearly delineated. You made the comment earlier. It’s not a department. I think for most agencies today, even digital, isn’t a department anymore. It’s that we have to be innovative and creative in both our ideas and the execution of those ideas. While each of us may have a set skill, you may be a great artist and I may be a decent writer, so eventually we may boil down to some skillsets, but we have to be messy in the middle together longer than I think we used to have to be in the business.

Kris Hoet:

I like it, but it’s not necessarily something that everybody feels comfortable about. I like it because it gives wiggle room. I like it because I think it makes the conversations more interesting and especially if you have the client that is in that same spirit, I think you do the best work ever right now, but unless that is the case, the agency has to show that they know stuff about things they might not know everything about, and then it gets a little bit difficult. I think, of course, you got to know your stuff. I mean, if-

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. No doubt.

Kris Hoet:

… it has to be specific parts of strategy, you’re going to know what you’re talking about and you got to be able to come with advice, but don’t say, “This is it.” Say, “There’s a few reasons why these things are interesting. This is our favorite,” et cetera, et cetera, and don’t do co-creation or anything like that. When I talk about co-creative management, I literally mean stop sending stuff over and then work on it individually for a while and send it back. I talk about much more integrated approach. I’m not a big fan of the co-creative management where you put or, I’m sorry, the co-creation where you put 10 people in a room and then with the idea that you get a good idea in the end or that you ask a question online for anybody to participate in the hope that you’ll get something that’s better than what a good creative team can come up, but collaborate on it.

As you say, I like the point of with the idea or in the spirit that it’ll be messy, that everybody needs to take their ownership and their responsibility on their own parts, but let it be messy. Let it make, well, not the FC Barcelona player, but you know what I great.

Drew McLellan:

Right. Right. Yup.

Kris Hoet:

Let it be messy and make sure that you allow for change and wiggle room around. It’s a thing. I think it’s a very odd approach also with agencies or ad agencies talk about agile, and I like the idea agile a lot or the spirit of agile a lot at least, and sell that into a client, but then keep working in the same way as before, I mean, with a budget and a scope that is predefined and say, “Now, we’re going to go with agile.” No. You already set it up as in making that impossible, right? So keep it a little bit open. That’s all right. It’s uncomfortable, but it’s better.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Yeah. Well, as I’m listening to you talk, boy, it requires a lot more trust between the agency and the client to work in that messy way and to not have a defined scope because both of them are at greater risk, right? I mean, the client can run you ragged and not want to pay you, and the agency can take you down a lot of rabbit holes that don’t produce any results. So it does require a more collaborative, trusting relationship than perhaps we’ve seen in the past with clients.

Kris Hoet:

It’s true, but I think and, again, I’ve been both sides, I think a lot of agencies are at that and that kind of thinking, and then demand the client to be more trustful of them. This goes both ways.

Drew McLellan:

Absolutely.

Kris Hoet:

I mean, go be a client for a while and then come back to the agency, and you’ll probably have a few nuances in whatever you were thinking about before. One of the key things I would say, if you have an opportunity, whatever it is, you don’t all have to shift jobs, but just go to one of your major clients and say, “You know what? I want to be in your team for a month.” I don’t care what it is, but it really is such a big beneficial thing to have been into their reality, selling in ideas to bigger structures, budgeting in ideas a year ahead. I remember when I had to do the budgeting for MSN, the marketing spent. I think I had to start budgeting a half year before actually that financial year would start.

Drew McLellan:

So 18 months before you were spending money.

Kris Hoet:

Yeah. Well, that’s the first part for the spectrum and I had to divide it on the month. I had to divide it per product and also per product on whether it was retention or acquisition, right?

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. That’s a lot of guessing.

Kris Hoet:

Without knowing-

Drew McLellan:

Right, a lot of guessing.

Kris Hoet:

… what the release schedule would be of the products because that they couldn’t tell, but I have to be very precise.

Drew McLellan:

Wow.

Kris Hoet:

So I understand that the reality of why we say, “This is a great idea. Why don’t we move some stuff around?” is difficult, is different if you’re on client side. So I think, yes, the trust is an important part, but it’s something that we cannot, as agencies, not just demand from clients to be more.

Drew McLellan:

Oh, no. Right. I think it’s got to be earned on both sides. Yeah, I agree. So I want to be mindful of your time and the listeners’ time. So we could keep chatting for another couple hours on this. This is fascinating, but if agency owners have been listening to us and they’re liking this idea of this messy experimentation and this idea of really collaborating with clients more and going into this experimental age of our world, what are some ways … Two questions. One, do you think that requires a different kind of agency employee because, as you said, everybody’s got to bring their A game and everybody’s got to own it and, two, if you were trying to infuse that into a new agency, what are some things that you would do to start that process?

Kris Hoet:

Yeah. Well, difficult questions. One, I’m not sure if you need a new kind of employee. I’m pretty sure you can go a long way with the employees that you have presuming that they’re open for change more than anything else. There will always be people that just don’t want to be part of the game or don’t feel comfortable and like how it was before and then maybe leave, but the idea that you got to change at least X percent of your staff to make it happen, I don’t think you should do that.

I think it’s about trying out a lot of changes at the same time, a small change in the account department, a little bit of coaching on a specific person in a different direction, a little bit of different view by just adding a new type of creative to every idea presentation that you do to a client from then on and so on. So a lot of difference and you can work that out with most of your staff, I think.

I’ve been at what I think were good agencies probably from when I got there already, but still we’ve made a lot of changes being there and mostly with the people that were there, and then some go and some new people come in, but I’ve never felt like this group of people it’s impossible to do anything, whatsoever.

Then the second … I’m sorry.

Drew McLellan:

I think you’re right, but I also think it requires, again, back to your comment about inspiring to action, helping them understand that we can’t do it the way we’ve always done it, especially if you have employees that have been around for 10 or 15 or 20 years.

Kris Hoet:

Yeah. Absolutely. Therefore, I say I’ve maybe been lucky that the situation I’ve been in never was with part of the staff that was onboard for whatever amount of period that they’re too old and too expensive to let go, but don’t want to change. So I’ve never really had that, maybe always younger people and the ones that just didn’t feel comfortable left. So yes, if the staff mix is different, then it might just be much more difficult than I describe. I can only speak out of my own experience, but just saying the openness, the willingness or maybe just realization that things got to change is one, and maybe the first start you got to make with your staff when you want to make that change is making sure that you can open people’s eyes to a newer world because then you can start building together.

One of the agencies that was part of the transformation also within FCB is a network, which is a very interesting project to be in and nothing that we don’t want to talk about because the transformation doesn’t sound like they are not on their A game yet. I think everybody needs to be changing all the time. So if you talk about this agency is changing, I think that’s just the right way to go about anything, anyway, but you see one of the agencies that I think we did the last meeting that we did in Silicon valley, where we had some of the newer companies talk about some of the change that we’re doing really took that onboard, brought their staff together, made them responsible to some of the key changes that need to happen.

Then at the end of the day, everybody had their part in this whole change, had their own responsibilities. Everybody had a smaller or a bigger project, then in total made sure that the agency, which is already in a very nice place, but basically sped up their changes to hopefully outperform the market.

So it’s even nothing to do with catching up to anything, but just to be even better. It’s a good thing about change and when you’re in that spirit is that or at least how I think about it, but that it makes you thirsty for more. You want to find ways to change more and faster once you get the hang of it and that only can bring you to a better place.

Drew McLellan:

Agreed. Agreed. Okay. So a couple quick steps. What if you were going to start to infuse this kind of thinking? Are there some little things you could do to ease folks into this or is it, boy, you just got to jump into the deep end of the water?

Kris Hoet:

No. I think first as you suggested in a way, and I think that’s totally right, if you’re looking at a change you don’t know how to go about, first of all, you probably got to scare the hell out of everybody with something like, “Here is what’s going on,” and make everybody really, really uncomfortable. It usually is a very good situation to be in to start talking about, “This is a good place to be. Let’s go change some stuff because it’s actually more exciting than scary,” but scare them first.

Make sure you find loads of small and big projects and also make sure that everybody in some form is involved. One can be a small coaching of a person very specifically. The other could be a small group project either in one of your own project or your own assets or a client project or where you say, “You know what? I’m actually thinking about changing this thing, and before we present to the board, I’d like you and me to have a little bit of a talk about it.”

So there’s so many different ways to get people involved in whatever kind of project, but that they’re part of this thing that they can feel that very little step of their own, they’re engaging in a change, and then at the end of the day that change happens, they’re also proud because they’re part of making it happen. It was not something the top decided and then we all had to go do. No. They realize that whatever has happened in that period of time is something they made happen and your company will be more richer for it.

Then inspire for action. Make sure that people realize that even if you want to drive that innovation about or show interesting ideas that show the future, choose those things that help you go back very quickly and say, “Okay. Cool, but what does this mean for us?” If you just keep on showing cool Elon Musk stuff, fine, but you get boring at a certain point in time and you are not seeing anything with it.

Drew McLellan:

Well, and it’s hard to allocate the time because you’re not changing anything. So why am I going to keep giving you my attention?

Kris Hoet:

The last thing I would say to that is also because of the world is changing, everybody’s changing, and it’s the same counts for me, although it’s very fun in saying. I was involved in making Push to Add Drama or anything else, but that is an example from 2012. I think you’re only as good as the last thing you made. So it’s fun to sometimes reflect on past successes, but that’s not why, especially in agency world, that’s not why a client will come and buy stuff from you.

So you cannot wait with that. You got to make sure you step out of the day to day from time to time and start building those projects and get people involved and try. I think that, as I said before, once you get this in motion, I really, really believe people will get a hang of it and actually will start enjoying it and you’ll speed up the change process.

The difficult part is, to come back to the petrolhead part of me, is that initial kickstart as we would turn on an old engine and once that engine is going, you’re at no speed before you know it.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. I think you’re right. It’s this snowball effect at the top of the hill. If you can get it started rolling, then it takes on a life of its own.

Kris Hoet:

Yeah.

Drew McLellan:

Absolutely. Yeah. This has been great. Thank you so much for your time and for sharing your insights. I really appreciate you making the time for us today.

Kris Hoet:

Oh, you’re welcome. Enjoyed it. It is really good talking to you again. It’s been a while.

Drew McLellan:

It has been a while since we bumped into each other in New York.

Kris Hoet:

Yes, absolutely.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Yeah. Hey, if folks-

Kris Hoet:

Well, because it’s less time in between New York now and then whenever we were on-

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, blogger social back in the day. Yeah, yeah. That’s right. Gosh, it seems like eons ago. If folks want to track you down, they want to follow you on Twitter, they want to learn more about your agency, what’s the best way for them to reach out and find you?

Kris Hoet:

Well, personal Twitter account is Kris Hoet, spelled a little bit difficult, but I’m sure we can have a link on there somehow.

Drew McLellan:

Yep. Yep. We’ll have it in the show notes.

Kris Hoet:

Then I think if you want to be inspired from different parts of whatever people are doing in the world, I try and do a good capture of that in a weekly newsletter called Warp, which I’ve been doing for the last three years. So you can sign up. There’s a link in my Twitter account. So that is covered. The Twitter account also has actually a link to Happiness. So if you want to follow, Twitter account is probably a good place to go and then click on the quick links in the bio and then you’re all set.

Drew McLellan:

Awesome. Thank you again so much. Folks, this wraps up another episode of Build A Better Agency. So as you know, if you need me, you can reach me at [email protected] Be happy to chat with you about this episode or any others. Always grateful for review and ratings. I will be back with you next week with another great guest to help you build a bigger, better, stronger agency. Talk to you soon.

Speaker 1:

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