Episode 116

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Lindsay Grinstead & Bill Boris-Schacter have lived and breathed the experiential marketing space collectively for over 50 years. They started Tonic Consulting Group to take that experience and help other live event agencies, and their partners, grow both their top and bottom line. Through their combined experience, they bring an operations and sales expertise to their clients.

Lindsay has worn a sales & marketing hat for her clients and her agency throughout her career. In her 15 years at Jack Morton Worldwide, she grew small accounts into huge ones and created a few award-winning programs along the way. Lindsay understands the challenges in finding and winning new business and how to organically grow business. She expertly navigated Fortune 500 companies, maximizing opportunities for revenue growth.

Every client calls Tonic looking to “grow”. Lindsay & Bill help their clients identify what is hampering their growth, develop a roadmap to success and then roll up their sleeves & help implement the recommended changes.

 

 

What you’ll learn about in this episode:

  • Treating your employees as your first audience
  • The importance of continually refining your agency’s message
  • Why your agency must specialize
  • Why agencies struggle seeing themselves (and their problems) clearly
  • What happens to your agency if you take an opportunity that doesn’t fit your niche
  • Using working documents to continually hone your agency’s message and why you need to have your team define your agency in their own words
  • Why your clients need to have relationships with more than just one person inside your agency
  • The dangers of keeping around employees that aren’t pulling their weight (even if they’ve been incredibly loyal to your agency for a long time)
  • Why social media may not be the best place to get on your prospects’ radar screens
  • Increasing the amount of work you do for clients who already love you
  • Learning how to build your budgets and staff accordingly with the AOR relationships on the decline

The Golden Nugget:

“Continually reinforce your message to your employees so they get great at communicating it to people they meet.” - Lindsay Grinstead Click To Tweet

 

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Speaker 1:

If you’re going to take the risk of running an agency, shouldn’t you get the benefits too? Welcome to Agency Management Institute’s Build a Better Agency Podcast, presented by HubSpot. We’ll show you how to build an agency that can scale and grow with better clients, invested employees, and best of all, more money to the bottom line. Bringing his 25 plus series of experience as both an agency owner and agency consultant, please welcome your host, Drew McClellan.

Drew McClellan:

Hey there, everybody. Drew McClellan here with another episode of Build a Better Agency. As always, we are here to help you think differently about your business to help you kind of peel back the layers and see what you can do to tweak it to make it better. If you’re still standing today, odds are, you are already running a pretty good shop. You’ve survived the recession and all the different things that the economy has thrown at us over the last decade. But the world is changing and it’s changing quickly.

So my goal is to bring you guests who help you think about the next step and the next evolution of your shop. I think our guest today is going to do just that. So let me tell you a little bit about her so we can jump into the conversation. So Lindsay Grinstead works for… Is one of the co-partners of Tonic Consulting Group, which has been around for a couple years now.

But Lindsay started in the, what I call a big box agency space. So after graduating from the University of Florida with a BS in public relations in psych, she moved to San Francisco and began working in the world of experiential marketing, joining Jack Morton Worldwide, starting like we all did back in the day as sort of a low man on the totem pole and growing… Before she left there, she was an SVP and a senior account director consistently growing and managing some of the largest clients in the largest book of business that they had on the West Coast.

Lindsay decided to step away from that and to form a consultancy where she and her partner help agencies. And that’s where we meet her today. So Lindsay, welcome to the podcast and thanks for joining us.

Lindsay Grinstead:

Hi, Drew. Thank you so much for having me.

Drew McClellan:

So before we hit the record button, you said something that I want to just jump right on top of. So you talked a little bit about that one of the philosophies that you bring to your clients is the idea that the very first and most important audience that they serve are their own employees. So talk to us a little bit about that because I think when I go into agencies and I’m sure you do too, no matter how often the agency ownership talks to the staff, they want more.

Lindsay Grinstead:

I couldn’t agree more. And in fact, I’ve actually found it surprising how many agency owners or agency managing directors don’t communicate effectively to their employees. They think they are, and they might say something off hand, or they might have a message one week and then it’s a different message the next week. But what we really try and help our clients think about is not just communicating to your sales team.

I mean, obviously your sales team needs to know who you are and what you do, and be able to very articulately describe and talk about your agency, but every single one of your employees needs to be able to do the same. I am a huge advocate for treating your employees as your first audience. They need to be able to understand and articulate who you are as an agency, what your differentiator is.

So many agencies really work hard to hone their craft and hone their message and they’ll have brilliant outbound marketing campaigns. And then they don’t take the time to communicate internally. And not just communicate at once, but to continually reinforce that message I think is so important.

As I said, it’s not just your sales and your account people because every one of your employees has friends. They have family. They’re at a party talking to about what they do. You never know where that next client is going to come from. So having all of your employees and staff being able to communicate that is so important. I think it really empowers employees as well to know you’re not just a cog in the wheel of the agency, you’re part of something bigger and they understand what that is I think is really important.

Drew McClellan:

In fact, I think that employees are hungry. So the analogy I use is I have a 24-year-old daughter and every day for many, many years, I repeated the same sentence, which was go upstairs and put on your pajamas and brush your teeth every single day. I didn’t stop after the first time because then the teeth would’ve never been brushed.

I’m not equating employees to children, but I do think the repetitive nature of a message, especially important messages that we want them to be able to internalize and own and understand is critical.

Lindsay Grinstead:

I totally agree. It’s that reinforcement. It’s that saying it once in your weekly staff meeting and then reinforcing it in an email. It just kind of becomes a mantra and then you ensure that all of your employees are walking to the same beat. It can be kind of culture building and it just helps define who you are as an agency, so that you can go out and attract the clients that you want to have, and everyone in your agency understands what it is you’re doing and what your goals are or what your mission is.

I also think it’s helpful in terms of it’s… I’m not going to say it’s particularly important, but it’s maybe more important when you have a dispersed or a geographically dispersed agency. So if you have a few different offices. I had a client who in one office, they were selling almost a completely different set of capabilities than another office because they hadn’t com effectively communicated who they are as an agency and what they specialize in.

All I could keep thinking is, gosh, imagine how much missed revenue they left if they’ve been sharing those capabilities across the different offices. They might have been able to find more business organically in their existing accounts. It seems like such a no-brainer and it’s amazing how many agencies don’t communicate to their employees and like you said, reinforce that message.

Drew McClellan:

So I’m hearing all the agency owners in my head as you’re talking, and they’re saying, “I’m so busy. I have a lot of things to do. I’ve already told them three times. Why can’t I just hire people who are smart enough or intuitive enough, or have better memories, so I don’t have to do that?”

Lindsay Grinstead:

That would be great. I think it’s human nature, and I think just as the agency owners are busy, so are your employees. I’ve found that one of the things that gets in the way of any type of change or messaging that you’re trying to kind of create internally is your daily work. In the agency world, our clients always take first priority. So whatever is going on in the agency owner’s world or in your employees world, whenever the client calls, everything else stops.

So the work ends up getting in the way, and so I think employees are equally busy. You just have to keep pounding that drum. It’s like that song that gets stuck in your head so that it stays top of mind, because it’s so easy when the phone is ringing and the client is screaming or whatever is happening to just go back into old habits and to just get the job done, get the clients, whatever the pressing need of the day is done. Then that message that the agency owner has been trying to reinforce kind of goes out the window or it slips your mind.

So I understand and also I have a four year old son. So I understand how frustrating it can be to have to keep saying something over and over again. But eventually it will stick. Eventually you will also get other advocates internally who can begin to do some of the heavy lifting for you as well, and have other advocates on your side who are continually reinforcing the message. At some point, it will become a muscle memory, and your employees will all know who you are and be able to articulate it and articulate it to out to the outside world.

Drew McClellan:

Yeah. We must become our employee’s ear worm is what you’re saying.

Lindsay Grinstead:

Yes.

Drew McClellan:

Yeah. So as I think you know, I wear two hats. So I still own my own agency because I think it’s important to stay, keep my hand in the game. But on the agency side, I apparently repeat myself so much that they actually made me a gift once that crystallized all of this sentences that I say all of the time. So I think you’re right. I think it’s important to have a message that you keep driving over and over. How does an agency owner decide which messages are important enough that those are the mantras they keep repeating?

Lindsay Grinstead:

That’s a great question. I think it’s probably a little different for every agency, but where we typically start or where I typically start with an agency owner is what do you specialize in? What makes you differentiated? What-

Drew McClellan:

You mean it’s not they’re great people?

Lindsay Grinstead:

I mean, everyone has great people. So I’m sure your people are better than the ones down the street.

Drew McClellan:

You mean it’s not that they’re a full service strategic marketing agency?

Lindsay Grinstead:

As great as that sounds, I am a huge proponent of focus and specialization. And I think the age of a client going to a one stop shop, it still happens for sure, but more and more, I hear call clients saying they want experts. They want someone who specializes. They want someone who knows whether it’s industry specific or it’s a specific capability. Something like social media marketing or event technology. A very, very specific thing that clients want that specialization.

It creates a headache, I think for agencies because the client then wants us all to play nice in the sandbox. But that’s a different topic for another day. But I do think it’s really important to focus and to specialize and to understand what is your differentiator. Clients don’t want to hear about your process.

They don’t care about what it is that you’ve developed that makes you better than agency X down the street. They really want to know what you bring to the table that no one else does. So I think that being able to focus… I use that word a lot, speaking of. I have had clients who actually roll their eyes when I say that word again, but it’s important.

Drew McClellan:

That’s your F word.

Lindsay Grinstead:

That’s my F word. I think it’s really important to hone your brand. I understand why it’s scary. I mean, I actually went through this as a business owner myself. I didn’t want to narrow my audience because I didn’t want to niche too much because I was worried I’d leave money on the table. I was worried that there were so many things that I could offer a client, and if I said I only did this one little piece of the pie, then what about all those other clients?

I mean, I understand why people don’t want to focus. You don’t want to get pigeonholed. You don’t want to narrow your customer base. That being said, you do have to hone your brand. You have to hone your brand. You have to focus your message. So once that’s kind of figured out, and it’s not a dramatic shift for a lot of agencies, and I’m not not saying that you then stop doing all of the other work, but it’s really still figuring out if you can articulate it clearly and then you can articulate it clearly to your employees, then you can articulate it clearly to your potential customers.

So when thinking about, God, there’s so many different things that you need to tell your employees, I’m a big fan of keeping it simple. So don’t overload. Don’t overload with a thousand capabilities and a mission statement, and vision, and values and all of those things. How can you create something whether it’s a sentence or a paragraph that an employee can understand and it truly defines who you are as an agency.

Drew McClellan:

Yeah. We go out into the field every year and we do primary research with CMOs about their relationships with the agency. And you’re absolutely right. The number one thing that is a deciding factor for them hiring and firing agencies is the niche or the expertise or the there of. And you’re right that for some clients, it is, “I want you to know my industry.” And for them you have at least 25% of all your clients sit in their industry. They want that depth. And for others, you’re right. They want specialists.

In fact, in the survey, it showed that most clients who responded to the survey had relationships between two and four agencies and they like it. They like having lots of different ideas and people around the table. What they don’t like is what you alluded to is that we bicker amongst ourselves.

Lindsay Grinstead:

Well, it is hard.

Drew McClellan:

Sure.

Lindsay Grinstead:

I mean, I have been in this situation where the client throws a creative idea out there and it’s kind of ripe for the taking. So in the event world, we would decide that it needed to be some sort of event. And the digital agency would decide it needed to be a digital campaign. It can be a bit of sharks in the water.

Drew McClellan:

It’s a little survivor-esque, right?

Lindsay Grinstead:

It is a little survivor-esque. But when it works, it can be brilliant and I do think that when you can get agencies… And a lot of that starts from the client side and cultivating a culture where the agencies aren’t threatened that one’s going to take their piece of business. So they stay in their lanes. They know what they’re doing. They’re all beating to the same drum, but they’re all bringing, like you said, creative ideas to the table.

When agencies can get along like that, and I had some clients who did a really good job at cultivating that kind of creativity that can happen when you have multiple different agencies and types of agencies and types of specialists sitting at the table. The results can be fantastic. And in the end, I was always… I was an account director. So part of my job was kind of leading the team.

I really felt strongly that to not get paranoid that all the agencies were trying to take our business, because ultimately if we can all work better together, we are all going to generate more revenue for the agency. It’s a rising tide. If the client is happy, they will keep giving all the agencies more business. Let’s partner together and this can only help us in the long run.

Drew McClellan:

Well, and I think the other side benefit to that is when you work well with other specialists, they become a new business conduit.

Lindsay Grinstead:

Totally. I was just going to say that you never know when that other agency that you’re working with or partnering with, they have a whole base of clients as well. So they will feel comfortable bringing you in and introducing you to other clients because they know that you’re not going to take their business. They need to be threatened. You’re only going to enhance what they’re already doing for their client.

Drew McClellan:

Yeah, absolutely. So for you, when you guys work with agencies or when you think about agencies listening, I think what I find fascinating is that this idea of differentiation and building a brand and all of that, that’s what we do for a living. And yet, man, it’s hard to do when you’re looking in the mirror and have to do it for yourself. What gets in the way of an agency from your experience seeing themselves accurately?

Lindsay Grinstead:

I think this is true for probably all of us or at least I know it’s true for me. We just get into whatever we are doing. We’re heads down. We’re doing the same thing. I think this can happen in your personal life. It’s happened to me at Tonic. It can happen to an agency. You’re meeting the client’s needs. You’re doing what you need to do to keep the agency growing and thriving. I think it’s two things.

One, I think it’s hard to step back and take the blinders off and see what’s really happening and really call a spade to spade. I also think a lot of people don’t… They know what their challenges are. They know what the problems are, but they almost need someone else to tell them. I’ve had clients say to me before, like I was talking to them through something or an observation I’ve had and they’re shaking their head. They’re nodding knowingly, closing their eyes saying, “I know, I know.”

Drew McClellan:

Right?

Lindsay Grinstead:

So whether it’s denial or there just isn’t time and capacity to deal with whatever that is. The status quo is easier, right? It changes what’s hard. So even though they know that there’s X, Y, Z going on, it’s easier to just to keep plotting through and plowing through and putting band-aids on trying to fix things versus taking a pause and a deep breath and being true and truly evaluating the situation at hand.

Drew McClellan:

Well, I think for a lot of agency owners, their work life is pretty much they just run from biggest fire to biggest fire trying to put out fires all day. So on the day that they actually have time to be thoughtful about that, they’re sort of wiped out and it’s hard to sort of gear back up for that sort of big picture thinking without either someone walking you through or a process.

I think it’s always difficult. It’s always easier to prescribe for someone else than it is to look at yourself because the consequences are also different. As you said, when you declare that you are going to only be the agency for pharma meds that work with menopausal women, I’m obviously just making that up, you are walking away from lots of other opportunities, but where agency owners have to get their head around is there’s so much opportunity in that space and you get to be head and shoulders above all of the other options if you declare that that is your area of expertise.

Lindsay Grinstead:

Well, what’s amazing once you define your area of expertise is there’s so many benefits to it. So the first thing, you can now have really focused sales and marketing efforts. You fish where the fish are, so you now know exactly who your target is. You know where they are, what conferences they’re going to, what blogs they read, what podcasts they listen to. So instead of doing this mass marketing campaign or having your sales people kind of scattered all over the place just hoping to find a target, you’re focused.

You can really be targeted in your campaigns. The other thing that’s amazing, and I know it’s… I first didn’t believe this, but you’ll have less competition. There’s less people targeting that specific medicine for menopausal women. That is very specific. So now you are the expert, which the client wants an expert in that. You’ll have less competition. Then you can also potentially even charge more. So if you think about it-

Drew McClellan:

Without a doubt. You could absolutely charge a premium, if you are an expert. It’s the brain surgeon versus general practitioner. Right?

Lindsay Grinstead:

Exactly. I mean, who doesn’t want to be able to have higher revenue with less competition? It’s just getting over that hurdle of this is all we’re going to do. And we might expand our capabilities at some point or we might expand into another line of the healthcare industry or different element of that or something, but having that focus and having the discipline to have that focus. That’s the other thing that I found challenging. I worked with a client recently and we’d honed their message. We were reiterating it to their internal employees. We are helping them communicate it externally. And then an RFP comes. It doesn’t fit in that focus.

Drew McClellan:

It’s a big juicy RFP, right?

Lindsay Grinstead:

Yeah. It’s a good one. Right? It’s a good one. It’s the eternal debate of do we take this even though it’s not in our sweet spot or it’s not where we want to be eventually. But God now we’re leaving potentially X million dollars of revenue on the table. It’s something that I grappled with when I was on the agency side and it’s something I’ve grappled with my clients and I get both sides.

It’s easy for me to say, as a consultant, “Turn down the RFP, stay on your niche. I’m not the agency owner who’s looking at the books thinking, “Man, we could really use that revenue.” So I understand and appreciate the challenges that come with that. But again, I’ll reiterate. I think it’s important to think about what’s the opportunity cost when you go after that RFP. Are you taking resources away from your sales and marketing efforts to develop your niche further? Or are you going to be… If it’s not in your sweet spot, are you going to be tapping people and really kind of stretching people into an area that they’re not experts in.

So in the end, sometimes those projects that seem so great or that their revenue, even though they’re not exactly what you do, they’re a double edged sword for sure.

Drew McClellan:

So I want to talk a little bit about how one finds the discipline to do that, but let’s first take a quick break and then we’ll come right back to that. One of my favorite parts of AMI are our live workshops. I love to teach. I love to spend two days immersed in a topic with either agency leaders, agency owners, or AEs and our AE bootcamps. But most of all, I love sharing what I’ve learned from other agencies from 30 years in the business and all the best practices that we teach.

If you have some interest in those workshops, they range from everything from money matters, which is all about your financial health of your agency to best management practices of agency owners, to new business, to AE boot camps and a plethora of other topics. Go check out the list and the schedule at agencymanagementinstitute.com/livetraining.

Okay, let’s get back to the show. All right. We are back and Lindsay Grinstead and I are talking about the riches and the niches idea of agency models. And that it’s a challenge and that it’s hard to walk away from our opportunities as they’re presented, but that there are obviously huge advantages and you’ve heard me preach these before.

As both Lindsay and I believe, sometimes repetition is a very good thing. So we’re going to tell you about it again. So when you work with a client and you’ve identified what their niche is, how do you help them? What are the tools or the practices or around the discipline of actually honoring? So on the one hand, I think it’s tough to figure out what your niche is. And let’s assume that that hard work has been done, but now you have to actually walk it out. How do agencies successfully do that? What does that look like?

Lindsay Grinstead:

So I hate to start with, I will say it’s not always easy, and I think that there are a lot of decisions and lot of things that you have to weigh when making these decisions. But I think the first thing like we’ve said is communicate it to your employees and then begin to communicate it externally. Have some sort of outbound marketing campaign. When opportunities come in, you’re constantly evaluating. You need to evaluate each opportunity to determine. Is this where we want to be? Is this what we want to be doing? And if not, what are the opportunity cost? What is the cost? What will this cost us? Not just financially, but what does this mean if we decide to go after this opportunity?

But I think it’s just important to continuously be in communication with your team and with your leadership team, with your account team and ensure that you as an agency owner are involved in those decisions because obviously there’s times that your employees don’t necessarily know all of what’s happening behind the scenes. And you might need to go after an opportunity even if it’s not in the niche. I don’t know. I just want to say, I know there’s not like a one size fits all solution because I think it is on a case by case basis.

And the one client I worked with that they decided to go for this RFP, even though they knew it wasn’t in their sweet spot, it was definitely not what they wanted to be. It wasn’t their one year, five-year, 10-year plan. But the revenue was too great to pass up. They spent three weeks heads down, got the RFP out and then didn’