Episode 29:

When Google wants to explain innovation and marketing to the top brands in the world, they bring Mitch Joel to the Googleplex in Mountain View, California. Marketing Magazine dubbed him the “Rock Star of Digital Marketing” and called him, “one of North America’s leading digital visionaries.” Mitch Joel is President of Mirum – a global digital marketing agency operating in 20 countries with over 2500 employees (although he prefers the title, Media Hacker). He has been named one of the top 100 online marketers in the world and was awarded the highly prestigious Canada’s Top 40 Under 40.

 

What you’ll learn about in this episode:

  • Mirum’s unique structure
  • Generalists vs specialists: the philosophical and financial reasons agencies should specialize instead of generalizing
  • How to figure out if a client is a good fit for your agency
  • Mad Men vs Math Men: how to blend creative and data
  • Why it’s more important than ever to stay hungry and keep learning everything you can
  • Do your homework: how to balance learning time with time spent on client work
  • “Algorhythm”: Mitch’s upcoming book
  • Tools Mitch uses for consistent learning

 

The Golden Nugget:

“Think about every day as day one. There’s always more to do.” – @mitchjoel Click To Tweet

Click to tweet: Mitch Joel shares the inside knowledge needed to run an agency on Build a Better Agency!

 

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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 Build a Better Agency where we 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 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. As you know, this weekly podcast is all about helping you be smarter about the way you approach business so that your agency can serve clients better, be more profitable for you and hopefully along the way, be more fun. So I think you are really going to enjoy this week’s guest. So when Google wants to explain innovation and marketing to top brands of the world, they call Mitch Joel to Googleplex in Mountain View, California and have him do it for them.

Marketing Magazine has called him the rock star of digital marketing, and one of North America’s leading digital visionaries. Mitch Joel is the president of Mirum, which is a global digital marketing agency operating in 20 countries with over 2,500 employees. We’ll have him explain a little bit about the structure of that as well because I think you’ll find that fascinating.

He also is an author of many books. I suspect many of you have read. Six Pixels of Separation or Ctrl Alt Delete. He’s got a new book coming out, which we will ask him about as well. So Mitch, welcome to the podcast. Thanks for joining us.

Mitch Joel:

Drew, thank you for having me.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, it’s great having you. So give everybody a little bit of understanding about how your agency is structured because it seems like each office, if you will, or maybe by country, I was trying to sort of figure that out is sort of run almost independently, but that you guys are all interwoven together. So tell us a little bit about that structure.

Mitch Joel:

Well, I have to walk it back a little bit, so there’s some clarity around what it is because Mirum as a brand and entity is still so super new. It’s only been about a year. There was a bunch… I’ll tell you our story and you’ll see how it ladders up into Mirum, but we started a digital marketing agency called Twist Image in 2000. And I say we, because we’re four business partners. We built this agency to become one of the largest digital marketing agencies independent in Canada. About a hundred plus people. Offices in Montreal and Toronto.

And when I say national, it’s because in Canada we have two languages, French and English. So it was fully operational in both languages, which was really unique at the time. And we grew that for about, I’d say about two years ago. At that point, we got acquired by WPP, largest holding network in the world for marketing communications. And the way WPP works is you don’t really report into WPP directly.

You choose one of the larger corporations that have grown within the WPP network. So you would report in through maybe the Young and Rubicam, Y&R angle. You might do the Ogilvy one. You might do the JWT, Walter Thompson one. We definitely had a champion within the J. Walter Thompson Corporation in terms of their chief financial officer. Good strong relationship, was a real great sponsor and thinker and enjoyed conversations with us.

We went in that direction. Part of the reason we wanted to be acquired was because we really wanted to grow. We wanted to add in different products and services scale more beyond the borders of Canada and just North America. And that was one of the promises is of being a part of one of these larger networks.

And what it turned out had been happening tangentially is that the J. Walter Thompson Corporation had been acquiring shops like us, but geographically different throughout the years. Shops like Digitaria, Activeark, CASA, XM, all, all of these shops all over the world. So we had decided together as a unit to bring all of these shops together under a new banner called Mirum. All of us changed our name. All of us became a part of a new corporation beneath the J. Walter Thompson Corporation. So now J. Walter Thompson Corporation owns Mirum and it owns JWT the advertising agency that people know because it’s one of the oldest ones in the world.

Drew McLellan:

Yep.

Mitch Joel:

Go on?

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, I’m just agreeing with you. Yep. They’re big and well-known.

Mitch Joel:

And the structure really is, what I love about it is it’s we call it a village model where you’re absolutely right. Every office can operate independently because that’s how they were created by entrepreneurs like you and I, and running their own offices. But where the value is, is actually how we have this global leadership structure and how we work together. So we’re able to pitch and win global clients and have a massive global reach, because as you said, it’s 25 plus countries, 48 plus offices around the world. And it also allows us to work very, very local.

I think when you look at the dynamics of what we call today, a digital agency, that is really extremely powerful. So suddenly we’re able to work across the national brands that we’ve always worked on when we were Twist Image and that was Mirum in Canada. I can and have one North American business can run out of our offices here and bolt on geographic offices or teams as needed, and then I can scale up and do global. What’s interesting about global is I can work on global brands, literally stuff and platforms that roll out globally. Or I can also work with global brands locally because we have a knowledge specifically for us up here in Canada.

So it really did allow us to have the scale and size that we wanted while still being able to be entrepreneurial because we’re owned now versus being the entrepreneurs when you’re running your business.

Drew McLellan:

So day in and day out, you now run… Your village is how big?

Mitch Joel:

Well, it’s a big village. We’re still responsible because of where we’re at in the contract from our acquisition of making sure that the offices we have Montreal, Toronto offices are successful as they can be, but they really can’t be as successful as everybody wants to be without the components of the North American global avenues of it.

Drew McLellan:

Sure.

Mitch Joel:

My personal role hasn’t changed at all. I have a title president, which is very sweet and nice, but the truth is I still do what I always did, which is I go out, I speak, I write, I write books, I blog, I podcast, I network, I connect with people, and I try to create some energy around what it is we’re trying to do. Before I did that obviously to add value to what was Twist Image, and now I’m just doing it with Mirum, and it’s super challenging because it’s a big entity, but it’s still so new. People have no idea what it is. So it’s a fascinating challenge. And that’s the work that I personally do day in and day out.

Drew McLellan:

You have the job that many agency presidents sort of covet, which is the Rainmaker job. You’re out creating thought leadership and you are speaking and creating content in a plethora of ways. And the listeners need to make sure that they go to the show notes and track down all the different things. Your podcast is, I think one of the best podcasts out there. So they certainly need to be listening to that. But back in the day when you started the agency, was that always your role or were you more day to day involved in client business at some point?

Mitch Joel:

No, for sure. Day one, it’s what do you need? You need a business card, you need a logo, you need a… You’re trying to stop eating peanut butter sandwiches is what you’re trying to do. You’re trying to stop being in debt. You’re trying to stop all of the reasons why you started a business and try to grow it. They’re very, very real and they’re financially driven. They’re success-driven in terms of work and output. They’re client-driven with what you want to do.

So early days of the agency, Twist Image and we were three or four people. It was all about not just hunting the work, but it was about doing it. And then there was times where I was doing copywriting and positioning and all that sort of stuff that, for sure had a passion for and an interest in because I wanted us to be successful and I wanted our clients to be successful.

But early days I also realized I didn’t want to be the traveling salesman. I didn’t want to be the person driving down the highway, pulling into every single major corporation and saying, “Do you need a website? Do you know what digital is?” So I felt I knew I had this exhaust valve of blogging, and writing, and publishing because my previous world before that many iterations before that was working as a writer journalist and I actually even published magazines pre-internet.

So I always had that ability to want to communicate and build a brand off of real content versus just positioning and portfolio. I think that that was the big thing. And it sort of seems obvious to talk about now in 2016, but if you go back to 2002, this idea of building an agency off, not just off of the portfolio and the clients that you have was seen as very, very different. They actually taught… And positioning, right? It was just sort of like just your brand tag and whatever.

But this real sort of depth of content was not something that everybody was doing at all, and I think your really was part of the rocket fuel at the time for Twist Image, and I do think that it continues to be to this day something that is acknowledged by people like you and others, this platform of Six Pixels of Separation, which is the name of the blog podcast first book, but it’s the container for our content and how we think about continues to be, I think, a very valuable asset.

Drew McLellan:

Absolutely. So I think a lot of agency owners aspire to get out of the trenches of the work and do the thought leadership development that you were doing. Was that a conscious decision on your part and how did you make it possible for you to step out of that, as you say, traveling salesman role and the day to day serving client role so that you were free to do the very important, bigger picture work that you do today.

Mitch Joel:

When you say it like that, it sounds like there was this sort of mechanical, tactical, plotted strategy. And you’re saying it is if that’s what I wanted to do. I’m not sure that any of that is actually true. I think that while I love to write and I love to create, it was a journey. It wasn’t a sort of tactical because they really focused on this. I think that it became a factor of circumstance where it started working and I had to suddenly become comfortable with that role and position.

I don’t think I was there 100% in terms of what we wanted it to do. And then it was also just based off of the team I was surrounded with. I was surrounded by amazing business partners and amazing players on our team that were just better at things than I was.

I think sometimes you assume a role, and I think sometimes you go after a role. I think in this case, I very much assumed a role that worked. It was unique because once you start getting paid to speak and paid to write and you see revenue, and this revenue is offsetting, what is typically an investment of business development, which is very significant to the service based level and the agency based level, it was very unique to us like, “Oh, we’re making all of this money speaking and writing and putting thought leadership out there.”

And it’s offsetting what we’re paying to invest to potentially win the clients. So it became sort of based unto itself. And again, you fast forward now 15 years later, I’m sort of in a position where I don’t know what else to do.

Drew McLellan:

Right, right. Yeah. So one of the things that you talk about is the whole idea of agencies and the notion of generalists versus specialists. Talk a little bit about your philosophy around that concept.

Mitch Joel:

Well, generalists and specialists, it sort of falls into two areas and one is financial and I think one is philosophical. So let’s start off with philosophy. The philosophy of a generalist versus a specialist in the agency world to me is you have a lot of businesses right now that say we want a fully integrated solution. So what they’re doing is they’re going to their traditional ad agency or network. Of course the ad agency networks do everything. They’re so great at everything. And that’s what they’re selling.

In the US, it hasn’t worked as well as it has in Canada. In Canada, it’s been extremely successful for these fully integrated solutions and it boggles my mind because if you speak to the best of the best in the states, and what I mean by the best of the best are the real pro search consultants, the people who really get BD, what they’re talking about at business development level is they’re talking about agencies of record. How do we help this brand and surround them with the best people and teams so they can get the best results?

It’s a bit of a reverse in Canada where brands are doing fully integrated pitches that have a huge digital component, but I can’t pitch against because I don’t have the other mass skills or portfolio to win properly against it. So it’s a bit of a precarious situation concerning how small North America is, but it’s there. The philosophy part of it is I always say to people, if you suddenly were going out for a jog and you blew out your knee, would you want to go see your general practitioner or do you want to go see the person in your city who just works on these knees and does it for all the professional sports teams and just does this all the time?

To me, the answer is pretty obvious. I want to go to that specialist and I want to get in as soon as possible. I think that’s the value of what a real specialist agency can do. And I think that’s the value of what Mirum brings to the table. On the financial side, because I’m sure in terms of this conversation, it’s people who are building a business, trying to figure out what the value of the business is. They might want to sell it. They might just want to better understand the value.

What I’ve learned in the process of both being acquired and just generally being what I call an agency nerd, like I’m fascinated with this stuff. I’m fascinated with holding companies. I’m fascinated with companies that acquire agencies and build teams inside. And I’m fascinated with consulting firms like Accenture, Deloitte that are building out these multi-billion dollar digital components to them is there’s a fact. And the fact is, is that if you are looking at all at an exit strategy for your agency and you want it to be acquired, I do say that the metric of which acquisition should be gauged is by who does it the best.

And in our industry right now, it is still the holding companies. It is your WPPs, your publicists, your IPGs, et cetera, et cetera, your Dentsu’s down the list. I know not because I did this, but because it’s a fact that a fully integrated or general agency gets a much lower multiple than a specialist. A digital agency.

So had I made the choice six or seven years ago to say, “Wow, I see this whole fully integrated things really taking off in Canada and I should sell TV commercials and I should sell promotional items, and I should do experiential that whether we decided to be sold or just was a matter of circumstance, my multiple would’ve been significantly less.” And by staying focused on that specialty of digital, not just because digital is hot, but it is, it does. It demands a better multiple.

It’s true of anything, not just digital, but that sort of specialist world. So for me, based off of who I was and what I wanted to accomplish and people say, “Did you want a big shop? Did you want a small shop?” I mean, it was ultimately a small shop in terms of what it is. It’s public. It’s on ad. When we were acquired, it was a That’s a $15 million a year shop.

We very much were focused on staying specialists because that, to us was creating a unique set of value. And it was value both in the philosophical side that I explained and the financial side as well, which again, for us was important. We wanted to run a fiscally responsible business that was moving at the pace of which these holding companies or other potential acquirers benchmark against.

Not because we were looking to be acquired because we weren’t. But because if that’s what the best of the best is looking at, we should benchmark ourselves in the same way. And for us it was. It was the two things they look at. Right? It was growth. Year-on-year growth, net growth and it was margins. And that’s a reality and it was specialty too.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. I think it’s a conundrum for a lot of agencies sort of trying to sort that out. A lot of agencies that were very traditional and generalists are now competing against specialists. And as you say, especially in the states, that’s really a challenge for them. So I think it’s going to continue to be something that agency owners need to wrestle with and probably think both short term and long term in terms of why am I doing this and at the end of the day, what do I want to get out of it? And that will help them think through the structure that they need to have.

Hey, one of the things that you guys have done a really spectacular job in over the course of your agency’s history is aligning with great clients and then keeping them for a really long time, which I know is tied to the good work that you do, but in the client procurement process, because I think agencies need to get… I think agencies beg for work rather than being as choosy as clients are choosy. How do you fair it out if somebody is going to be a good client? What do you look for when you and your team are prospecting that tells you, “Yep, these guys would be a good fit for us. We can serve them well, and they will appreciate the work that we do.”

Mitch Joel:

So this is a greater conversation, Drew. And in terms of the client fit, we actually look to see if the client actually hits the requirements of what our real positioning is. So let me talk a little bit about my positioning and if I wonder too much, you want to draw me back to this, stop me and tell me.

Drew McLellan:

Sounds good.

Mitch Joel:

When we started the company in 2000… It was started in 2000. I joined 2002. At the time, it was my two business partners and one employee. So a super small closet like office. What we did say is we want to work with large national or multinational brands. We started there. So some of the… I mean, literally the day I walked in, we actually won this innovation award at the sort of local big interactive awards for a thing we had done for Bombardier for their Ski-Doos because they had this thing featured in the James Bond movie at the time, and we did this virtual, 3D game thing. It was very, very, very new tech on the web back then. And it won the big innovation awards.

I thought this is a good first day at the office, take home an award like that. But it really did set the pace for the types of clients we wanted to work with. So we were always looking to work with our national, multinational brands. As the years progressed, we felt the commoditization of our industry. We felt the competition, everything else. And we thought, okay, what are we going to tell people? We have a better creative. We have better technology. We have better strategy.

It’s one thing to say that. I think we do have that and we believe that. But the truth also is that you’re taking people from other agencies. As other agency, people are coming here. What does that mean? If they came from another agency, they weren’t good there? Of course, they were good. They’re good people. But it showed me that there was a commoditization happening in terms of creativity, technology, and strategy.

So we started saying, so what is it? Why would somebody come to us as Mirum? And we realized that it was yes, large national, multinational brands because for 10 years, those are the types of businesses we always wanted to work on., but there was something else. We honed it all around this idea that we called the big delta, and the big delta for us is our ability to work with these large national, multinational brands that are typically very, very complex and have a lot of internal things because that’s what large and multinational has and our ability to take them from where they’re nascent in components of digital or all of digital to it being a powerhouse within the organization.

So that became the positioning. And then that positioning becomes the filter by which we know if we’re going to work with a client that’s going to be good for us. So a startup would come to us and say, “I got this amazing idea,” and this and that. We’d look at it and go look, you’re not a large or multinational brand. There is no big delta here because you weren’t anywhere before and now you need to go somewhere.

Because of your structure and want to be nimble work side by side, it’s not because it’s larger and not multinational. We work with client service teams and these client service teams cost money. And not that it’s a waste of money, it’s just, they work with other marketing managers and marketing directors to build these programs.

So it’s just structurally, we can tell in early days what it is, also because of the nature of that when a client comes to us and we say things like, “Well, what’s your budget?” “Well, my budget is, what’s it going to cost?” And you start getting to these weird conversations where we know that budget and having an understanding of your budget is actually a very, very good indicator as to the level of sophistication and our ability to be a good partner to them.

I’m not holding them to that budget, I just want to know rails. And if they have no idea or the sky is the limit, what do you guys think? I can tell that there’s a lack of sophistication in terms of working with an agency like us. So our filter because of that is unique and it’s troubling. It’s unique in the sense of, it allows us to really focus and work on that. It’s troubling because budgets like that and opportunities like that aren’t like, give me a 20K project. Let me build and build and build on that. It’s harder for us to do that.

We do that. We do a lot of that still, but it’s harder versus have a mandate, and we want to see if you guys are the ones for that mandate, which we do better with, I think.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. What you’re professing is exactly what I am always preaching and asking agency owners to do, which is to have a little swagger about your work and be really clear and confident about what you deliver to clients and then build out what… It sounds like you’ve done this, what I call the sweet spot client filter, which is here’s the criteria that makes somebody a great client. And if they don’t hit, at least 80% or better of those criteria, we need to just walk away rather than waste our time chasing after our client who at the end of the day, even if we win the business isn’t going to be good for our business.

Mitch Joel:

Yeah. I mean, the only thing that I would… I think there’s another filter on that because you it’s a bit of a platitude, Drew. I’m not demeaning what you say. It’s a bit of a platitude because at the end of the day, you’re hungry and you need revenue.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. You still got to pay rent. Right, yep.

Mitch Joel:

Right. So I’m always like, “Listen, all things being unequal and you’re running this business and it’s hard, two metrics. Manage your growth. Make sure you’re growing eight, 10, five. Minimum 5% every year net and watch those margins, and get those margins up to a nice sweet spot. Typically for me I like to tell people, well, over 20% because if 9, 10, 11, 12% is the network sort of standard. And I don’t know if it is anymore. I’m not sure. Being double, triple, that is pretty good people. You can’t make margins like that. Trust me.

No one is going to say it publicly, but they are there. There are margins like that and it’s not because you’re manipulating the client, it’s just the nature of being a specialized business with a very, very good quality product. And then that it does. It commands those types of, I think, better margins. So I think you’re right, but none of my positioning in big delta works unless I can get margins.

Drew McLellan:

Absolutely. At AMI, what we talk about is always shooting for at least a 20% profit margin. But also recognizing that I think all consultants in this case that would be the role that I am serving talk ideal world, and that you have to also have real world implications. So I think you shoot for what you shoot for, but sometimes you have to make compromises to make sure you can pay the rent and all that. I don’t disagree with that. But if you don’t have any standards and you don’t have any sort of metrics by which you push yourself to get better and to work with clients who are really going to serve your business, then you become beholden to those clients rather than it being in partnership.

I don’t do disagree with you. I think the real world always forces us sometimes to compromise, but I think you have to have some rules of engagement to begin with otherwise you’re going to lose the game every time, right?

Mitch Joel:

Yeah. Just it’s a harder slog when you’re in the early phases or struggling phase. So when you start breaking out of that gap of year-on-year margins and growth, and everyone has their troubling years. It’s a service-based industry. It’s not easy. We’re victims of the market. We’re victims of clients changing needs. It’s a tough business. I’m not here to make it sound like SMK. This is a tough, tough business like any other business. Your choices change, and that aspiration is normal. I’m sort of demonstrating more of a perfect world scenario here, which very rarely exists.

Drew McLellan:

Yep. Agreed. One of the things that you write about a lot and talk about a lot is the whole evolution of the word creative and big creative and big idea. One of the blog posts that you wrote that I loved was the whole idea about mad men versus math men. Talk to us a little bit about sort of your viewpoint on that whole changing landscape.

Mitch Joel:

Yeah. I’m not an advertising guy. I’m a marketing guy, and advertising to me has fundamentally been the 800 pound gorilla in the marketing sphere of getting a message out there. But I think that what digital did and continues to do is to change that paradigm. I think where marketing becomes more about marketing and advertising becomes back to what it was a subset of that. It’s hard for people to think of because the real output of marketing, I think in most people’s brain is either the brand or the ads that the brand pushes out into the world.

Because I’m not an ad guy, and because I started blogging and podcasting and getting into digital so early and being so influenced by people like Seth Goden and Tom Peters, and The Cluetrain Manifesto, my excitement over marketing was in the fact that suddenly you really can’t have real interactions between real human beings.

And if you’re going to go down that avenue and believe that that is true and that is a sort of direction, I think it is to this day, you then have to understand that you can’t just do the model of before of here’s the big idea and here’s how the big idea works on TV and the newspapers and radio and billboards and on the internet. And that is what was happening. And by the way, I still believe it’s continuing what’s happening. In fact, I see it almost more than ever, even on places now like Facebook and Snapchat, which blows my mind.

I want to invert that and I want people to go, “Yeah, we have a brand platform. We’re going to take this brand platform though and adjust it and make each channel have its own, quote-unquote, big idea.” So there’s not one big idea that’s rolled across, but rather multiple big ideas within each platform to make it all work and it ties up to a brand that’s cohesive.

So the example that I use is we did work for many years and to continue to work with. One of our big clients is TD, the bank. And up here in Canada, the TD ads were these two grumpy old men. And the whole story is they’re all curmudgeonly, but when they realize that TD has later hours and all this stuff, it’s like, “Oh, TD, it’s great.” A lot of it had to do with comfort. And the whole comfort idea was brought out and press in this big brand and is green. And the colors that they used. It was this big comfy chair and it was comfort. I was like, “Well, yeah, two grumpy old men and a comfy couch, that’s going to play well on the internet.”

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Mitch Joel:

It just didn’t work. But if you could do platforms that revolved around comfort and creating more comfort, you can win. So some of the creative may have had the chair sort of zip in on the banner at the end or whatever it might be, the actual execution was more in the realm of just making sure you’re still playing in the world of comfort. So it was multiple ideas, big ideas that all connected pieces well. Again, that’s more of the connection model, which I like very much. And again, that’s just my own personal opinion.

The math part, the madmen versus math men was just more about me having a visceral reaction to this idea that either you’re super creative or you’re super data driven and they don’t work together. And obviously, since I wrote that blog post, which was a while back, I think that that ideology has become more pervasive in agencies where they do understand that it’s not just about the data, because it’s what you can do to take that data and turn it into real actionable insights, as my friend, Avinash Kaushik at Google would say.

And it’s not just about having a great idea and having a gut or test group say yes, because you can take that great idea, plop it on YouTube and just see right away whether or not it’s going to work or not against the other creative. And that’s something Google did with their own brand and ads prior to launching campaigns. So I think that, it was just more about how do those two worlds come together.

I don’t think it’s about data centricity and I don’t think it’s about ideation overall. I think that there’s a very happy medium and the agencies that can bring that to a client even in this crazy day and age are the ones that win.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, I think so too. I do think it’s better, but I still think a lot of agencies struggle with it though. So I think it’s still-

Mitch Joel:

It’s hard.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, it’s very difficult. Agreed. How do you infuse into your team? You and I have been in the business for a while and I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that the pace of change and how much more we have to learn as marketing people is not less, it’s more. I’m studying and learning more today than I ever did when I was a young pop in agency life. How do you infuse that hunger to learn? And how do you encourage shared learning inside your shop? How how does that happen? Because I’m assuming with the work that you guys do, that’s a mandate you have to be always learning.

Mitch Joel:

I think it’s part of the culture. It’s part of who we are. It’s part of what we do. I’d love to know how many people within the organization read the blog and listen to the podcast every week, but it’s there for them. And I think it’s a misnomer to think that, “Oh, that’s public. It’s not for us. I don’t agree.” I think it’s available for everybody and I think it’s as much internal as it is external. The fact that it’s published doesn’t make it non-proprietary or non-valuable to anybody. I love to test what I’m doing on the road in terms of speaking with the teams here. So they typically get previews of a lot of that content.

Being a part of WPP and JWT, you get access to a lot of really interesting training opportunities and things you can take part in. The tools are baked into what we do for people to share ideas and talk about ideas. And I can click on my email now or hop onto a slack channel and see all this stuff being shared all the time. I think it’s just a part of who we are. The tagline for Mirum is never lose your sense of wonder.

It would be very disingenuous of us to tell clients at the same time, we’re not living and breathing this. I think that people do well in our organization are the ones who have a very similar approach to their lives as mine which is I’m an infovore. I’m just constantly looking for information.

Now, all that being said, Drew, I feel exactly the same way you do. I don’t know if it’s my age. I don’t know if it’s post acquisition, but I feel more than ever in our industry, super overwhelmed. I go to inbound, the HubSpot event and I’ll see 20,000 people there.

In my brain, I’m going, this industry was 400 people at best, a couple years ago. And all of these people are doing amazing things for amazing brands or amazing startups. And they have all this technology. Again, just from the tech side of our business, ad tech. There’s ad tech. There’s marketing tech. There’s marketing automation. There’s machine learning. There’s the physicalness of this technology whether you want to go as extremist drones and virtual reality back to wearables and connected homes.

All of these things impact marketers. So even when I say them, my anxiety starts rising because I realize that what I used to know about the space, how do you just take a brand and make it work online? Is, is. It’s antiquated. I mean, I often joke on my blog. I don’t tell people I’m joking, but I’ll talk about traditional online advertising. Email banners, searches, traditional online advertising at this point. Because it’s been well over a decade and this stuff is there and it’s it’s baked in.

It’s not like I found keywords on Google that don’t have a… I mean Google has got its own massive sales force. They know exactly what they should be charging for a keyword. So it is. It’s hard and I just think that again, to quote the tagline of the agency, you just got to never lose your sense of wonder and always come to work and say, “What more can I learn? What more can I do?”

It’s amazing to me that even if you don’t have the resources that I have and you’re listening to this going, “I don’t have that.” What does it cost to join Skillshare or Lynda.com, which is now owned by LinkedIn. I think now if you do a premium account on LinkedIn, you get free access to Lynda.com. I mean, just that, every lunch you could take a course on something, it’s amazing.

So it’s not even about what we have or how we do it or how… Anybody now can do it. I mean, Google news alerts, you want to learn about a topic, I’m very interested right now. I’m doing a whole new presentation on virtual reality and augmented reality for businesses and whether or not it’s too early, what’s going to look like, what is it?

Even just doing a Google alerts on VR and augmented reality, which again, a very old school way of thinking. I’m sure most of the agencies listening have more sophisticated listening tools. It’s amazing in a couple days how much information and free webinars and white papers and videos on YouTube you can take in. And I’m not saying you’re going to become an expert in that. You got to do more than just watch, but the ability to do it is very much there. I think it’s cultural.

I think part of our culture is there are people to learn from, there are people to talk to, and there’s a lot of content assets that are both public and private that are available to everybody.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. I think as you said, it’s overwhelming how much information we have at our fingertips that we can access. I think what a lot of agencies struggle with is the… And this gets back to our real world versus ideal world conversation, but everybody wants their employees to be learning all the time and to have that sense of wonder, but they also want to make sure they’re billable and they get the client work done.

I think a lot of agencies struggle with how to weave that learning and that curiosity into a day that is already overburdened with client work and all of that. How do you encourage your people to carve out the time to do it?

Mitch Joel:

It’s a fair question. The only story that I have, and by the way, it’s a very hard question to answer because I’m the boss and it’s sort of like the expectation of the boss and the leader that they’re doing this, and it’s very hard to force and demand. But the story that I tell people, and I say, “Forget that I am a president. Forget that I started my own business. I’m not even a boss anymore, I’m an employee now.”

But put all that aside, and the story that I tell people is the story that I was told by Jeffrey Gitomer. Very well-known guy, wrote The Sales Bible, Little Red Book of Selling and a bunch of books like that. A person that I love, admire, respecting, is an amazing guy. I spent some time with him and we were talking about that like learning and putting in the hours and how hard it is and how stressed out we all are, et cetera, et cetera.

He said he was recalling that his father would come home from work when he was a young boy. Again, this is very generational, but imagine back then, and Jeffrey is older than I am. I don’t know how old you are, Drew, but he is a different generation than I am. This was a very different generation. His father’s generation, they came home, put in a hard day, took off the shoes. You can imagine the whole bathrobe, with the pipe, and the dog, and the newspaper paper and the wife giving the husband their meal, and the husband sitting down in his captain’s chair that nobody else sat but dad.

But he said, I remember I’d be doing my homework on the floor or whatever, and I’d look back and I’d see my dad have his meal look at the newspaper. He had a pen and paper always there, taking notes, taking notes. And when he got older, he’d say, “Dad, what are you doing?” And his dad said, “I’m doing my homework.” Doing his homework. He was thinking about people he had to call, thinking about the meetings he was going to have tomorrow, thinking about things that he saw. Actually, he wasn’t the owner, he was an employee.

It’s hard in a Netflix binge watching world to tell people that you got to do your homework. And even calling it homework can be off-putting in the nature of what that is. But when I didn’t have a company… And I’ve been telling this story a lot lately, because it wasn’t that long ago when I was living in a very small three and a half apartment and I could hardly make rent and I was working for people and I didn’t feel that I was getting by.

My friends all were getting their first homes and kids and cars, and I was trying to figure out what I was going to do. I was doing my homework. And whether I was an employer or not. Back then I was guiding my life with very much the same rigor that I do today. It didn’t change. So is that just because it’s me and it’s Mitch and you were always driven and that’s why you are where you are today? I don’t know. But I don’t know how many people really do homework and I understand it because there are days when I go home and I just want to play a little game of bowling on my iPhone or watch Netflix and Daredevil season two or whatever it is. But I don’t beat myself up for it because I know in general, I’m spending a lot of time doing homework, and I think homework is important.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, I do too. II think a lot of agency owners struggle with how to you infuse that into their staff? Because you’re right. Once you’re the boss, then it feels like a mandate. But I also think there’s something to be said about people who are sort of naturally wired or are willing to rewire themselves to do that. One of the things, when I teach some AE boot camps and one of the things I talk to the account execs about is continued lifelong learning is something yes you can and should expect from your agency to support and help you do, but it’s also your responsibility and some of it happens on your own time.

Mitch Joel:

Yeah. And it’s funny. I mean, I usually build my presentations in a very different way than I am right now where I’m doing this new one on augmented reality and virtual reality for brands and businesses. I sat down with our head of HR and I said, “I want to present this to the team.” And she was like, “Oh, they’re going to love this. This is great. When do you want to do it?” And in my brain I was like, “Well, I don’t want to take away from their lunch, because it’s their lunch and they deserve it.” It’s this weird thing.

That’s why I say, as a leader… I don’t want to call myself an owner anymore. I default to that because it’s been so ingrained to me for over a decade. But as a leader, I’m also like, “Okay. So I don’t want to impede on their lunch. It’s not fair. Do I want take the whole staff away from a billable hour or 2:00 in the afternoon? Do I want to break them away. They might be in flow. Even for me, it becomes this awkward like I don’t even know when to do it. Let’s do it at 8:00 in the morning. I don’t want to force people to come to work early. It’s very hard. We live in a very different world where I think, again, in another generation it was TFB, with that sense.

Drew McLellan:

Right. Yep.

Mitch Joel:

Too bad. It is what it is and someone has spoken and you will. So I don’t know. I struggle with that too because I do. I want them to learn. I want them to be as billable as possible. Is that a conflicting philosophy that I want you to be as good as possible, but I want you to focused on being billable? I don’t know. I don’t know if it’s conflicting. I don’t know if it’s my own wrong way of looking at it. It’s hard to tell.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Well, I think you share that sort of struggle with many, many other agency leaders, I think. I think it’s tough for all of us to try and figure out how to find the balance and to model and encourage the learning that has to happen because of the world that we live in. But also being very pragmatic from a business sense. So I think for most agencies it is about making a commitment to a time and a place, whatever that may be. And culturally, it’s probably different for every agency.

But trying to figure out a way to model it and then teach it so that people go out and do some of it on their own time to try and find the balance.

Mitch Joel:

Super tough. And again, there’s some people who just are like moths to a flame and they can’t get enough. Then there are others who are like why is he putting this burden on me?

Drew McLellan:

Right. It’s 5:30 and I want to be home with my kids or whatever. Yeah. Tell us a little bit about your next book.

Mitch Joel:

That’s a great question. It’s also a generational thing. Sometimes people are like, “Don’t put the title out there because then you’re feeling the pressure to write it.” My ideology has always been put the title out there because then if someone tries to write a book with the same title, you’re like, “Hey, come on. Look, do a search.” I time stamped this bad boy. So recently, I put out the title which will be called Algorythm, which is A-L-G-O-R-H-Y-T-H-M. I think I spelled that right which is a play of the word algorithm, but has the more musical rhythm word to replace the traditional computer word.

I mean, look, candidly, Six Pixels of Separation, Ctrl Alt Delete, I’ve taken technical terms with cultural relevance and that’s how I’ve built my titles over the years. I’m continuing that with algorithm. The real crux of it right now as I’m working out the content on the road because I do like 50 to 60 public presentations a year, it’s really about how brands look at business transformation as this massive endeavor that’s going to change everything.

But if you flip to see what consumers are doing, their adoption of very nuanced technologies that change the way they actually buy and engage with brands has been very subtle and nuanced. It’s just this sort of minor changes that create these big massive effects, but ultimately are very small nuanced. And understanding what some of those small nuanced changes are might help you as a business leader in your transformation to not look at it like we’re trying to swallow the whole elephant at once. I’m trying not to be too ambiguous, but it still is because I haven’t really nailed it yet.

So I have the examples. I think it’s a great keynote. It’s been getting amazing reviews from both clients and associations as I do it. I think the meat is there. I just don’t feel yet the idea of the book being 100% ready. So I jokingly tell people that I’ll walk into my business partner’s office and tell them, “Hey, I’m writing my book.” And they’ll be like, “Well, let’s look at the timing.” And I’m like, “Hey, the water broke. The baby is coming. This isn’t time to talk.”

I start talking about whether or not we should have had sex or whether or not I’m pregnant and it’s not their fault. It’s the way that I operate. I’m just not at the point where the water has broke and I’m like, “This is it.” It does come. It does happen. I don’t hold myself to strict guidelines of book publication because I create so much content that I feel like it’s not like, “Well, what happened to Mitch Joel, right?”

Drew McLellan:

It’s not like you went silent. Right?

Mitch Joel:

Yeah. And it used to be that way. I’d sit and wait with bated breath when the next Seth Goden book was going to come out and then he started blogging and I was like, “Oh, this is great.” So now when he writes a book, I’m like, “Ah, I could spend more time with him.” I think that that’s the paradigm shift and it’s so… Book is important. Love to write books. I do consider myself a writer at my core. It’ll happen when it happens. I’m not putting any pressure on it.

Drew McLellan:

So in terms of the book’s content, can you give us an example that you’ve used in some of your presentations that sort of creates for us the understanding of, “Ah, I get what this book is going to talk about”?

Mitch Joel:

Sure. So a nuanced change would be Snapchat. So we all look at Snapchat and go, “Oh, it’s this massive thing. It’s exploding, a huge valuation. They said no to $3 billion from Facebook in 2012. What’s going on here?” I look at Snapchat, and if you look back on my blog on Six Pixels of Separation, you’ll see in 2012 or ’11, I wrote a blog post called The Impermanent Internet. What I found most interesting about Snapchat is that the interactions between people is very replicative of what happens in our everyday life.

We don’t shoot selfies all the time and take pictures and post things. We have these conversations with people and they go away. It’s not part of this archive that is googleable, searchable, and findable. So for me, it was really fascinating that, “Wow, Snapchat is very much more aligned with how we are in our day to day communications than anything else I’ve seen before. So why this is interesting is because as a digital agency, I would go to brands back in the day and say, “You need to be on these channels. You need a website. You need to be in social because if someone Googles or searches for you or asks for you in social media, if you don’t have that platform, Google is like an elephant that never forgets.”

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Mitch Joel:

That first page of search results, those results from people saying good, bad, neutral is the brand impression. Suddenly you have this platform where people can communicate and connect in a very private way that is then gone once it’s over. And what’s interesting about that is it’s created a new type of nuanced way that consumers can connect. And now, if you look at the pervasiveness of private messaging apps, which is bigger than social right now in this day and age, it was a very salient point.

But I don’t know how many brands have stopped to say, “Wow, that’s true.” There’s this impermanent internet that’s really important to us. And the other internet that we’ve been pushing for about 20 years now that changes how consumers connect with brand that’s very nuanced. But, again, because we look at Snapchat, it’s the excitement and the coolness of it, not what and how it changed consumer behavior.

Drew McLellan:

Right. What does it mean? I’m curious how you as an agency leader, how do you keep up and learn? Are there certain tools or tricks that you employ to stay plugged in? I’m sure you’re constantly looking for content, you’re creating a lot of content. So obviously there’s new ideas coming into your head all the time that you’re mashing around and then sort of making relevant to the folks that you talk to. What’s, your methodology for doing that and managing the sense of being overwhelmed.

Mitch Joel:

I don’t know if I do well, and I know if there’s a method to the madness. There’s a lot of physical note taking. There’s a lot of saving to pocket. There’s a lot of talking to people. There’s a lot of creating. I think the best way that I sum it up is in three buckets. One is I read a ton and by reading, I am learning. Two is I produce. I produce because I write and I produce because I have conversations, whether it’s one like this where being interviewed or whether I’m flipping the tables and interviewing somebody for my podcast.

When I’m producing content, I’m not reading and researching, I’m writing and teaching. So that creates another way in which I learn. And then the third output is it blends together with speaking and client work where just being on the ground with the people who are doing it, whether I’m speaking or whether the client is telling and dictating or partnering, there’s another component there where you pick up stuff.

And again, I don’t think it’s ambiguous. I actually think that’s a very detailed answer to your question. But if someone were listening to this, they want to know like, “Well, what type of notebook or what type of software and what’s your tagging system?” And to be honest, I don’t know that I’ve cracked then that or I’ve solved it. It’s a bloody mess as I’m sure it is for everyone else.

For me, it’s more about all these ideas happen during the day. At the end of the day, what’s the one thing that’s the exhaust valve. It should be a blog. It should be someone I have context, I want to podcast with them. It’s something I learned in this conversation. That part I can’t explain. I don’t know what it is.

Drew McLellan:

Well, but I think it’s about being intentional. Right? So the tools are the tools and they’ll be new tools and different tools, but it is about your intent, and it’s a daily intent that allows you to keep learning, I think.

Mitch Joel:

Yeah. I don’t look at my email and go, “Ooh, I don’t… There’s a lot of emails here.” I look at my email and go, “There’s got to be something interesting in here, I hope.” I just come at it from a different… I don’t dread any of that stuff. It’s almost like my lifeline to the rest of the world. And the other thing is you have to remember I come from a world that didn’t have the internet and I come from a world that where I loved media, especially magazines and newspapers. I really did love them.

I don’t take for granted any day the fact that there’s streams of information coming to me from all these different sources, all over the world and individuals. Even something as like medium. I don’t take for granted that every day that published button, whether it’s a tweet, whether it’s a Facebook post and whether it’s a blog post or a podcast. Then maybe that’s to my detriment because I just won’t tweet and put anything out there and be like, “Yo, what’s up?” It’s not my style. I’m very intentional as you said about that content, because I respect the fact that I come from I’m from a world where if I wanted to publish an article, I got told no nine times out of 10.

Drew McLellan:

Right. It had to be good.

Mitch Joel:

Not good. Somebody else had to say, “I’m interested,” which was terrifying and hard. Now, someone says no, I just go, “Okay, copy paste. On to my blog. Published. Let’s see if you’re right or wrong.”

Drew McLellan:

Right. Yeah, it’s a fascinating world we live in. Hey, I could continue this for a long time, but I want to be mindful of both your time and the listener’s time. So I want to wrap this up. So one last quick question, then I want to get your contact information so folks can track you down in all the various places that you live out on the internet. But if you were starting your agency over today, is there one thing you would do different?

Mitch Joel:

I mean, I think there is like tactically. When did we bring this service in or when did we do that? But philosophically no. No, there really isn’t. I say this with a lot of… Not because I did so great. I mean, it’s questionable. I say this out of reference for what we managed to accomplish as partners and as a team that I think we did what we had to do in the market we were given. I think that we’re on a journey to try and amp that up, which is really complex. And also the reason I’m hesitating is because it’s almost being posed in this wave, you’ve done it. And I feel like it’s just begun.

I have no desire to not be here or just finish up. I just feel like we’re just, just getting started. And for every moment where I’m given the accolades of being successful or a guy who’s done it, I have that internal imposter syndrome person, “You know what, they don’t understand how I really feel.” I feel like it’s still… Again, to steal a term from Jeff Bezos and it’s a word that I look at. It’s a phrase I look at every day. He’ll always say it’s day one. And I always try and think about it from that perspective. It’s day one. There’s a lot more to do. So, no, because I feel like we haven’t done what we need to do yet.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. It’s interesting. My agency, we celebrated our 20th anniversary in 2015 and somebody-

Mitch Joel:

Congratulations.

Drew McLellan:

Thanks. And somebody said something about that and I said, “Yep. You know what? I’m pretty confident that it’s working.” But I feel like you do that day is a new day. And if you’re not constantly reinventing and learning and evolving, we don’t get a lot of grace in that anymore and I think the world-

Mitch Joel:

No.

Drew McLellan:

… is asking us to move very quickly and as agency owners, we have to be, not only up for that challenge, but excited about it. Otherwise it’s so exhausting. I can’t imagine you could sustain it.

Mitch Joel:

And longevity means nothing.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Mitch Joel:

Your anchor client calls you today and says, “We’re done.”

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Mitch Joel:

We just did a review and we scored great. Yeah, well we changed the marketing professional. Something changed. So we also live in a world where we’re at the mercy of that, and I’ve made peace with it, but I live in fear of it. I think that that’s what keeps the edge and keeps you hungry to try and do more.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, I agree. So if listeners want to track you down and want to learn more about your work and follow all of the different ways that you talk about our world of marketing and agency life, what’s the best place for them to start to find you?

Mitch Joel:

So we’ll go from simple to more complex. Google Mitch Joel. I’m thankfully the only one there. So you’ll find it. Just in terms of really just driving a simple way, mitchjoel.com will take you to the Mirum podcast. And then if you’re interested in Mirum, it’s M-I-R-U-Magency.com and you can whole lot more about the sort of global work we’re doing. But just google Mitch Joel. It’s pretty easy.

Drew McLellan:

Awesome. Thank you so much for your time and thanks for your candor and sharing as much as you did. I know the listeners are going to take a lot from it and we’ll apply it. And I suspect you’ll see a huge uptick I’m hoping in folks that are tracking you down. Although I suspect a lot of my listeners are already Mitch Joel fans. So thank you very much for your time.

Mitch Joel:

Well, thank you, Drew and thanks for the work you’re doing. I mean, I love the fact that people like you are creating content like this for people like us, because I could never have imagined that happening several years ago. So thanks for the work you’re doing.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. It’s a beautiful world. Isn’t it?

Mitch Joel:

It is.

Drew McLellan:

It’s a great time to be in our business. That’s for sure.

Mitch Joel:

I agree.

Drew McLellan:

Thank you very much. Listeners, this wraps up another episode. Hopefully, you have subscribed so you don’t miss one. But if not, go and do that now. And remember that we are here to help. So if I can be helpful to you, I’m easy to track down. Just go to agencymanagementinstitute.com and reach out, and I will be there. Talk to you soon and I will be back with you next week with another guest to help you build a better agency.

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 midsize 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 as possible here on Build a Better Agency.