Episode 306

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An agency’s success or failure is reliant upon the owner’s leadership skills to a certain extent. There are many elements that ultimately create an agency’s legacy, but the strength of the leadership is one of the cornerstones that holds it all together. Most teams are built with people who have come up and through the agency world, so by the time they step into a leadership role, there’s a risk that they’re doing it the way everyone else has done it. If you want to have a next-level agency, it might be worth the effort to reexamine and sharpen your leadership approach.

Ryan Carey is a ranger-qualified army vet who now heads up White Label IQ, our presenting sponsor here at the podcast. His background and experience have given him unique insights into leadership that allow him to come at agency life with an inspiring perspective.

In this episode of Build a Better Agency, Ryan and I explore military-inspired leadership and how it can benefit agencies. These worlds might seem vastly different but they both share a need for clarity, communication, trust, respectful disagreements, and unflappable dedication to the team. We talk about all of these things, sprinkled with Ryan’s true-life stories from the front lines, with the hope of challenging and improving how you think about leadership.

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.

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • The need to ensure clarity on a client’s definition of success
  • Tips for avoiding micromanaging your leadership
  • The need for clear processes
  • Why it’s important to not get complacent, even when succeeding
  • Absolute vs Participatory Leadership
  • How to respectfully disagree
  • The importance of trust
  • Challenges of splitting-focus
  • Military experience that benefits agency success
“As you continue to develop a project with a client, you’ve got to continue to ensure it’s aligning with where they’re wanting to go because they’re learning too in the whole process.” - Ryan Carey Click To Tweet “In leadership, it’s easy to get into a micromanaging scenario, especially when it’s client-facing.” - Ryan Carey Click To Tweet “I think it’s very easy to become a line item on an expense report and not a benefit to the company.” - Ryan Carey Click To Tweet “The more that you build trust with people, the more that they’re going to be able to say something when it matters.” - Ryan Carey Click To Tweet “People can do amazing things and when you give them leeway and trust, they can take that very far.” - Ryan Carey Click To Tweet

Ways to contact Ryan Carey:

Additional Resources:

Speaker 1:

Welcome to the Agency Management Institute community, where you’ll learn how to grow and scale your business, attract and retain the best talent, make more money and keep more of what you make. The Build a Better Agency podcast presented by White Label IQ, is packed with insights on how small to mid-size agencies survive and thrive in today’s market. Bringing his 25 plus years of experience as both an agency owner and agency consultant, please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.

Drew McLellan:

Hey everybody, Drew McLellan here from Agency Management Institute. Welcome to another episode of Build a Better Agency. As always I am grateful that you carve out the time to hang out with me. I know how busy you are, and so for you to give up this time, I’m just really grateful. Thanks for coming back and thanks for being a great listener, and thank you for the feedback that you send me. I love your emails. I love to hear what you’re thinking. I love to hear which guests really resonated with you. Don’t hesitate to do that as well. Before I tell you about today’s guests, I want to give you a couple quick announcements. First one is, we have a killer workshop coming up in December. It’s called Money Matters. And for two days, all we talk about is, every aspect of money from an agency owners point of view. We talk about agency math. We talk about metrics that give you objective ways to run your shop, so that you know that you’re making good decisions.

We talk about taxes. We talk about proposals and pricing, and we talk about all kinds of different things, all around the idea of helping you make more money and keep more of the money you make. That is a workshop that I have taught, gosh, for over a decade. There has never been a time that I’ve taught that workshop, that somebody has not walked up to me and said, why did I not take this workshop 10 years ago? I wish I had known all of these things that long ago. Don’t be that person, just come hang out with us on December 9th and 10th in beautiful warm Orlando, Florida, again, December 9th and 10th, if you live anywhere north of the Mason Dixie, you know that that means you’re going to have dicey weather, so come on down to Florida with us for a couple of days, and learn all about how you can make more money and keep more of the money you make.

I promise it’s going to be awesome, as always our workshops always come with a money back guarantee. I’ve never had to give money back, but if you need it back, I’m happy to give it to you, if you feel like it wasn’t worth it. No risk, just come on down and learn with us. Second thing I want to remind you is that we give away a free workshop, so you could win the money matters workshop, absolutely free. See it at the workshop. All you have to do is leave us a rating and review on the podcast. Go wherever you download your podcasts, leave a rating and a review for us, and then take a screenshot of it, because I can’t tell from your username, bikermomma42, that you really are X, Y, Z agency owner, from X, Y, Z agency. Take a screenshot of it and email it to me, send it to [email protected]. And we will put you in the drawing for a free workshop.

If you’re out of the states or you don’t want to travel, you can also get a free seat in one of our on demand workshops as well. It’ll take you three minutes. It’s totally worth it. Each workshop is a couple of grand, so why not take advantage of that? All right? All right. Without further ado, let me tell you a little bit about our guest today. I have known this gentleman quite a while, have a great deal of admiration for him as a human being and as an agency leader. He and I were talking and he is, well, let me just tell you a little bit about him. His name is Ryan Carey and he is a ranger qualified army vet who served 10 years in the army before joining Huebner Integrated Marketing in 2018. That year they also launched White Label IQ, which as you know is the presenting sponsor here at the podcast.

Ryan now heads up that company or that division of the marketing agency. He’s just a great guy. While he was in the military, he got his undergrad and his master’s degree in information technology, and he’s an amazing leader. And so we got talking about how he became a great leader and it really became very apparent that he learned a lot of his leadership skills and has a lot of insight from his days in the army. I asked him if he would come on the show and talk about what he learned in the army translates to agency life and how he leads his team today. I think this is going to be fascinating and I’m excited for you to get to meet Ryan and hear his story and hear how he chooses to lead his team and some of the insights that he gained serving as a ranger in the army, and now that’s translating now to his business life.

All right, without further ado, let me introduce you to Ryan and let’s get going. Ryan, welcome to the podcast. Thanks for joining us.

Ryan Carey:

Thanks for having me.

Drew McLellan:

One of the things I find fascinating about you and you and I have known each other for a while now is, most people come to agency life, especially agency ownership because they worked in a bunch of agencies and a lot of people who work in agencies have never worked anywhere, but an agency. But one of the things that I think makes you unique as a leader inside an agency, is that you actually bring a lot of a very different experience to agency life than most of us who grew up in the business do. You’ve spent a lion’s share of your career so far until this stage in the military, right?

Ryan Carey:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yes.

Drew McLellan:

As you and I have talked about before, there are all kinds of lessons that you when you are serving that you now bring into the business setting. And that was really the gist of when I said to you, hey, I want you to come on the podcast. I said, I want to talk about some of the lessons that you learned while you were serving our country and how do those apply to agency life, with the full acknowledgement that we’re talking apples and oranges here, right? We’re talking about life and death situations, and I know you’re going to get into some of that when you start talking about some of the specifics versus agency life, no one dies working at an agency and we don’t save lives. I just want to acknowledge right off the bat that I recognize that I’m asking you to extrapolate things you learned in a very dangerous, serious, you’re trying to keep people alive situation and apply it to a business.

But nonetheless, I think, I know for a fact that you have brought a lot of these lessons back to your shop, and I think it influences the way you lead. I think it influences the way your team follows you. I think that some of the reasons why you’re successful is because you learned these leadership skills under extreme conditions where there was really no margin for error.

Ryan Carey:

Yeah, absolutely. It’s been really a blessing to be able to start, like you said, start with that and then be able to take that into other facets of my career, has been a huge blessing for me specifically. I’m excited to share.

Drew McLellan:

Well, and I have to think that, when things get tense at an agency and people freak out, you have to be like, seriously people, no one’s shooting at us. We’re not worried about landmines. We’re just working on a deadline. Relax.

Ryan Carey:

Yeah. Yeah. Even my wife will sometimes comment on how, for me, when I’m in stressful scenarios now, it’s always basic on, is anybody dying? Okay. Then we can just have fun with whatever we’re doing and get through it and move on. The risks are drastically different.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. That’s for sure. All right. I’m recalling some stories that you’ve told me, and then you sent me some other stories that we thought that would be good. I just wanted to jump in and explore this interesting dichotomy of lessons learned while serving the US versus how you brought them in. Let’s talk a little bit about the insight you had when you were in Afghanistan and you were trying to, if I recall, you were trying to stabilize the region, you’re trying to get consensus and cooperation from, I’m sure a vast number of people with vast different goals and probably motivations, not unlike we get with clients and employees and all of that. Let’s talk a little bit about the lesson that you took away from that setting.

Ryan Carey:

Well, one of the main campaigns, I was deployed in Afghanistan from 2012 and 2013. That’s toward the tail end of, well, is there really an end? That’s a whole nother discussion. But as far as our experience and where we’re at, we’re coming towards the tail end of our involvement, at least in a strategic, overall perspective and with boots on ground in the majority of the area. We were tasked with, the slogan and I can’t even remember if it’s a formal or informal at this point, but the common phrase was Afghan problem, Afghan solution. What that meant was, the Afghan people as they’re going through it, when we leave, we need to generate an environment and generate solutions that are specific to what are feasible to what they do can do.

That was one of the big things that we were responsible to do. There’s all sorts of different ways that I think this applies currently, because we’re going in there, even just trying to establish policing, just security for the people that are in the area. And as we’re going through, we’re working with militia, informally. We’re working with a formal developing a police department, and it looks nothing like I’m here in Fort Collins, it looks nothing like Fort Collins PD at all. They’re not going to be similar in that. And if we took those same concepts from our experiences and exposure in the US to over there, they would just fail. They wouldn’t work. There’s different things there. Nationalism is different because there’s a lot of more tribal people.

Just taking that over into the agency world, one of the things that I was actually, and I was thinking about a specific client and we came to them with PPC, right? We talked to them said, hey, we think this is a good solution. We want to talk about what you want from it, how it’s going to align with things that you’re doing in your business. They gave us some good feet back. We started working on it, and then it was a constant struggle every day, every month, trying to convince them that what we were doing was good, and that they were seeing success. We finally came back to him and said, okay, there’s something going on that you don’t want to do this. Some friction point, you’re not seeing the success that we’re seeing and we’re showing good numbers. Let’s dig into that and let’s figure out a little bit more about what’s going on.

And so out of that conversation, we realized that what they wanted, their success metrics and the thing that solution that they wanted at the end was for their clients to go into a dealership and ask for their brand, on the product that they had. That’s a big shift, PPC can accomplish that a little bit, but there’s other things like influencer marketing, you can just rattle off the list of all these things. Some of which we may be not providing for them or could provide, but we walk them through that to help define the specific success metric that worked for them. Even though PPC were like, okay, lead generation is what you want to do. That’s how we’re going to go forward. That was not in the end how they saw success. It started to fail and crack a little bit until we realigned with them.

Drew McLellan:

Do you think you didn’t have the right conversation on the front end? Again, in your Afghan situation, it was more of, you went in with some assumptions about what would work, because of what works in the US, and probably didn’t have the high level conversations, or maybe as many conversations with the people there to understand what mattered to them, what they were going to respond to, so that you could suggest a solution that they would actually be open to. I guess my question is trying to translate it back to the business, do you think you just didn’t do enough due diligence? I know everybody does some due diligence, but I think it’s so easy to stay on the surface and not really dig down deeper. Right?

Ryan Carey:

Well, even when it’s something that they’re not familiar with. That’s a direct comparison. You got the Afghan people that are not familiar with, one, a national government structured police force government, all those types of amenities down to the way local level. And the same thing with this client, they had not really been in the PPC world. We asked the questions, they answered to their best ability, but it was an education process as we went on, what is this doing? Where are we driving? What are the things, the actual tactics that are then driving that strategy? And then they came back. I think maybe partly, but I think it’s also, it’s a learning curve and as you develop that situation, you got to continue to make sure that it’s aligning with where they’re wanting to go, because they’re learning too in the whole process.

Drew McLellan:

That’s an interesting point, that discovery can’t just happen on the front end, but that it needs to happen throughout the client relationship, because every time we do something for them, everything evolves a little bit and we have to be able to shift with it. Right?

Ryan Carey:

Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah 100%.

Drew McLellan:

And so I’m curious how, because part of this that makes it interesting for me, and when you and I talk is, it’s not only that you bring these skills and knowledge and this experience into the agency, but you’re an agency leader, which means that you’ve got to be teaching your team how to learn this Afghan problem, Afghan solution. How do you translate that as a leader? How do you translate that to your folks?

Ryan Carey:

That’s a great question. I think a little bit of it is giving everybody the runway and the ownership in it. So not only setting them up for success, and as far as just training them in professional development and making sure that they’re up to understanding on what the client’s goals are and things like that, but also then giving them an opportunity to grow into maybe where their weaknesses are. So having the ability to then stretch that a little bit beyond. I think, especially in leadership, you can very easily get into a micro-managing scenario, especially when it’s client facing, you want the client to get your A++ work. You don’t want to leave anything up to chance, because that might mean part of your livelihood. It could be your gorilla client and all of that.

I think it’s definitely a stretch. It definitely is uncomfortable. But giving them the opportunity to do that and setting them up with clear communication, that’s one thing that I think we probably over-communicate in the military, to the extent of red tape and things just being beat into people’s heads in a mundane way. But I’ve taken that and tried to take that for the good aspects of it and overly communicate. Here’s your limits and here’s where I need you to go. And then being able to check along the way too. There’s a great saying that I love, it’s trust, but verify, and I think that’s a great phrase for that.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Agreed. I think one of the other things that when I think about the military, I think about the rigidity and the rules and the boundaries, all of which I’m sure from the military perspective is all about predictability that there’s a reliability to, that everyone’s going to behave a certain way, that everyone is going to march to the same beat and all of that, which again, I totally get. But I have to think that that understanding about routine and ritual and consistency that you learned in the military has shown up at work as well.

Ryan Carey:

Yeah, absolutely. I think of it, because I came in to Huebner Marketing as a business intelligence analyst. It was partly Jim finding a good job for me to do, but it fed a lot into that, with that rigid, the process, the systems and those types of things. That’s what I’ve really focused on and where I’ve seen myself be a big value add, is helping not only just accomplish the things that we’re accomplishing, but doing it in a way that’s repeatable, and the way that if I got hit by a bus tomorrow, somebody could pick it up and do it to the extent that I could. That’s been definitely something, even doing a playbook with different things that we have lined up, things, tasks, projects, a website bill, any of those types of things so that we follow the same rhythm every time.

Drew McLellan:

I know too one of the risks of that is, that it becomes so routine that you become complacent, right?

Ryan Carey:

Yeah. Yeah. There’s one specific story that sticks out from my time in Afghanistan was, so you are constantly going on, we call it going on patrol. What that is, is just going outside of the base. It served a couple of different purposes. One purpose is to just engage with the people. It’s not like you’re just in this high castle and not talking to anyone. You know what’s going on. And then that also then indirectly and directly leads to understanding the different threats that are facing you. You know if a certain town is not feeling comfortable and they’re starting on edge and you notice that. You know that there’s maybe a new threat or something like that. We would go on patrols pretty much daily. And as we do this, we would do them walking or in vehicles and this one particular one we were doing in a vehicle. We would get out of our base and drive to this town and we could then set up and then walk or do whatever else we needed to do or talk to a specific person or whatever the case may be.

There weren’t a whole lot of options as far as to get out of the base. It was close enough to the base, this particular area that we’re like, okay, we’ve done it every day for the past three months, we got it. You can see this area from the base, so there’s high likelihood that everything’s fine. That complacency actually led to them placing, enemy placing an IED, which is an explosive device, a mine in the ground. One of our vehicles ran over it and blew up one of the vehicles. Thankfully no one was hurt in that scenario other than some concussions. A couple of concussions from the vehicle that ran over it. The vehicles are made, which is great, they’re made to withstand those types of blasts and they lose a wheel, lose an axle or whatever. But then it also hurt our pride a little bit, knowing that we got duped by just being complacent.

I think that that’s easily right there, where if you’re doing the same thing over and over again, it’s the, what is it? The definition of insanity, expecting different results [crosstalk 00:20:02]. My wife does a PPC with us and we were discussing this a little bit too. And I think a lot about PPC and reporting within the same mindset, because even if you have good results that you’re delivering to a client, if you’re telling them the same thing, month after month and expecting them to every time be like, oh, wow, that’s amazing, Ryan. I can’t believe we got the same numbers we got last month, then that’s not going to happen. That’s not realistic. And so in that, I think it’s really easy to do it, especially if they are good, you’re like, we’re doing great. You’re still getting 20% awesome leads that you’re closing on and business is good.

And if you’re not helping to be that growth accelerant, and you’re just doing a thing, I think it’s very easy to become a line item on an expense report and not a benefit to the agency or to the company and a growth accelerant. It’s just, maybe we can do without it.

Drew McLellan:

I also think that in the good old days, marketing and advertising was very much more set it and forget it, right? You’d place a TV spot for 13 weeks and it just would run. I think in today’s world that complacency. We have to be predictable in terms of we’re going to deliver results and we’re going to do these things. But part of the predictability has to be that we’re going to keep trying new things and experiment and do that because otherwise we’re complacent and we’re going to deliver either the same or the same but declining results over time. Right?

Ryan Carey:

Yeah. I think even too, with the wide variety of in-house marketing teams and things like that, that feel like they know how to do certain things. If it’s the same, same old, same old, they just start going, yeah, this is nothing. Ryan’s not doing a whole lot for us. I can do exactly what they’re doing. You lose that value.

Drew McLellan:

And again, my guess is that in the military there isn’t a happy medium, you just do what you’re supposed to do. But I think in our world, the understanding that the predictability also means that you’re going to predictably keep elevating the effort and keep finding new ways to solve the problem for clients as opposed to phoning it in.

Ryan Carey:

Yeah. 100%.

Drew McLellan:

I want to ask you about leadership inside the military and the idea of absolute leadership versus what I would call participatory leadership. But first I want to take a quick break, then we’ll come back and we’ll talk about that. I promise I won’t keep you long, but I want to tell you about a workshop that we have coming up. The AE bootcamp is for entry-level folks, anywhere from starting out in their career to maybe four or five years of experience at agencies. It’s going to be September 14th and 15th in Chicago. We talk a lot about the unique role of an AE and how they serve many masters. They serve the agency and the agency owner, they serve the clients and they also have to develop a great relationship with their internal team.

We talk about all of those things. We talk about time management. We talk about growing clients and teach them agency math, so they understand how you do or don’t make money. I promise you, they’re going to come back fired up. They’re going to come back with all kinds of new ideas and tools, and they’re going to come back ready to help you grow the agency. If you want to learn more about the workshop, head over to agencymanagementinstitute.com, and under the, how we help tab, you will find the workshops all listed right there. All right? All right. Let’s get back to the show.

All right. We are back and Ryan and I are talking about how some of his experiences in the military have translated into the way that