Episode 227

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We get hired because our clients want to surround themselves with expertise and a depth of knowledge that they don’t have in-house. They know we have to stay current on the trends shaping our business and theirs if we want to remain relevant. But in a rapidly evolving marketplace, it’s challenging to stay ahead of the curve. Rohit Bhargava and his Non-obvious book series has been a go-to resource ever since the first book appears in 2013.

Back in Episode #33, Rohit walked us through his process of curating and tracking trends as a part of his Non-Obvious book series. In this week’s episode, he comes back on the show to tell us which trends from his new book, Non-Obvious Megatrends: How to See What Others Miss and Predict the Future, of particular importance to agencies and their clients.

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: https://www.whitelabeliq.com/ami/

What You Will Learn in this Episode:

  • The biggest trends agency owners and leaders face in 2020
  • Rohit’s journey through the agency realm
  • What makes Rohit’s new book, Non-Obvious Megatrends: How to See What Others Miss and Predict the Future a little different from the rest
  • Critical trends agency owners and leaders should be paying attention to in 2020

The Golden Nugget:

“When you decide to be an entrepreneur and go out on your own, everything becomes your decision.” @rohitbhargava Click To Tweet “Whatever type of agency we’re talking about, we have to find a way to make our clients worthy of attention.” @rohitbhargava Click To Tweet “If we can relay the passion for our personal interests, it will shine through in our work.” @rohitbhargava Click To Tweet “The lines that used to exist between very distinct industries no longer exist.” @rohitbhargava Click To Tweet “We need to think about what we’re being told by key metrics; we need to be smarter about what we’re tracking.” @rohitbhargava Click To Tweet

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Ways to Contact Rohit Bhargava:

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 White Label IQ. Tune in every week for insights on how small to midsize agencies are surviving and thriving in today’s market. We’ll show you how to make more money and keep more of what you make. We want to help you build an agency that is sustainable, scalable, and if you want down the road, sellable. With 25 plus years of experience as both an agency owner and agency consultant, please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.

Drew McLellan:

Hi there, everybody. Drew McLellan here with another episode of Build a Better Agency. I apologize in advance if my voice sounds a little scratchy. I’m coming off of two weeks of workshop teaching. And somehow in the middle of that I got a cold and got this froggy thing going on. So, if I sound a little less like myself, that’s why. Just a little too much strain on the vocal cords, I think. And we were at Disney so on occasion there was yelling and shouting and hooping.

So, I’m super excited about today’s topic. So, one of the challenges for all of us is that we want our clients to look at us as subject matter experts. We want them to invite us into the C-suite, to invite us to sit at the strategy table. We want to be an idea generator for them. We long to be insightful about their business and about business in general. And a lot of that gets more and more challenging in this world that we live in today because everything changes so dang fast. So keeping track of the trends and what really is a trend and what’s a fad. And all of that gets to be really part of our job.

Back in episode 33, I had my friend Rohit Bhargava on the show, and we talked about how he curates and tracks trends for the book series he’s done since 2015 called Non-Obvious. So, he did one in 2015. And then he did a new look at the trends every year through 2019. And then he just came out with the last edition of the book, which is called Non-Obvious Megatrends: How To See What Others Miss and Predict the Future. This book not only looks at the trends that are facing us today, but also goes into a little bit of the teaching, which he did, like I said in episode 33 of how he tracks and curates and connects the dots between trends. So, in a minute, we’re going to chat about his new book, some of the trends that he thinks are super critical for us to be thinking about as agency owners and leaders. And also what he’s got going on in his professional life as he pivots once again. He’s had an interesting career, and so we’re going to talk about that, and we’re going to talk about some of those pivot points.

But a couple reminders before we get to that. Number one, I want to thank all of you for showing up, for listening to the podcast. Remember, we have lots of resources for you. So hopefully, you’re taking advantage of the website. We’ve got webinars on the website that you can watch on demand. We’ve got ebooks there for you. So, please, if you have not been to the website for a while, come check it out and avail yourself of those free resources. Also, want to remind you that every week we give away something from one of our guests. So our guests are often authors or they have courses or they have some other tool or trick or tip or something for you to take advantage of. And many of them are very generous after they’ve been on the show. We ask them if they would like to send us some of their wares, some of their books or whatever it may be, so that we can give them away.

All you have to do to get in the drawing for that is go over to the Agency Management Institute website. So it’s agencymanagementinstitute.com/podcast giveaway. Sorry, you heard Heather in the background. She’s barking at a dog outside. So, welcome to podcast reality right there. So, just go to the giveaway page. Give us your name and your email address. And if you’ve already done it, you don’t need to do it again. You will stay in the drawing until you win one of the giveaways. So don’t miss out on that opportunity. All right, so I don’t want to waste any more time. I know that we are going to end up talking longer than we should because Rohit always has amazing insights that I want to make sure I dive into for you and with you. So without further ado, let’s get into it. So welcome back to the podcast. Glad to have you back.

Rohit Bhargava:

Thank you. I’m thrilled to be chatting with you again. It’s always a good time.

Drew McLellan:

So, I think one of the things that’s interesting about your trajectory is I think a lot of people know you for the books and the trend tracking and all of that. But I think a lot of people don’t know your background in terms of your agency pedigree and stuff. So can you walk folks through, go back to your agency life and then where you pivoted and how you got to where you’re at today?

Rohit Bhargava:

Sure, yeah. My agency life started when I decided that I wanted to head off on an adventure after college and move to Australia without having a job or knowing anyone.

Drew McLellan:

Sure, sure.

Rohit Bhargava:

Yeah, as you do. And I got a job eventually with Leo Burnett in Australia. And that’s where my ad agency time started. And at that time, we were just at Leo’s we were starting a group called iLeo, which was someone’s bright idea to stick all the digital people together with all the direct marketing people and make that one group because they figured emails have open rates and conversions, and direct mail has that too. So, they’re probably okay together.

And so, as you can imagine, I mean, we had some culture shock there, and all the growing pains, but it gave me a great introduction to this new world of the digital group within an ad agency, which was pretty new back in ’99 or 2000 when I started doing it. And so, I stayed with them for several years. I stayed in Australia for five years. And then eventually I moved back to the US. When I moved back to the US, I ended up landing a job at Ogilvy. And it was part of a new group that was called Digital Influence that we basically started at Ogilvy, which in 2004 was doing social media. And if you think about social media in 2004, there was no Twitter, there was no Facebook. So, it was basically just trying to get bloggers to write about you. That was social media.

Drew McLellan:

Wow. It’s so odd to think that was 15 years ago.

Rohit Bhargava:

Yeah. I mean, crazy, right?

Drew McLellan:

Right, yeah.

Rohit Bhargava:

Totally crazy. And so, we had this group, and we were focused on bloggers, and not very many of us knew anything about bloggers. And so, we thought, “Well, we should probably become bloggers ourselves.”

Drew McLellan:

Right. I think that’s when you and I first met.

Rohit Bhargava:

Yeah, probably. We were all early in that blogging world. And it was a pretty small world, so we all knew each other. We had a couple of events that were happening every year, and everybody would go to the same events. And so, we saw each other in person. We had this great community. It was pretty old school, and I really took the blogging because I’ve always been a writer. I’ve been a screenwriter and done those sorts of things in the past. And so, my blog started taking off, and it took about four years of blogging before I landed my first book deal at McGraw Hill, and I was still at Ogilvy. And then I did my second book in 2012, and I was still at Ogilvy at that point. And then after eight years, I finally ended up saying, “I like doing all this speaking stuff. I’ve built a profile for myself. I could probably branch out and leave and do my own thing.” And so that’s what I did in 2014.

Drew McLellan:

Okay. And so, what was the impetus to the first trends book?

Rohit Bhargava:

So, this trends book actually turned into a book from a report. So I started doing this report that was just the most non obvious trends of the year for the future, for the coming year, basically. So I’d release it in December, and it’d be for the next year. And I did it for the first time in 2010 for 2011.

Drew McLellan:

So, again, this was off of your blog, and-

Rohit Bhargava:

Yeah, it was off of the blog, and it really started as a PowerPoint. When I did it, and posted it online, it took off. I mean, it got, I think, two, 300,000 views. And so the following year I’m like, “Well, that worked last year. I should probably just do that again with new trends.” And so, I did the second year. And then in the third year I did it again, and I released an ebook on Amazon only no print. And that took off and became a number one Amazon bestseller. And then I did that again the fourth year, and then the fifth year finally people were asking, “Well, how do we do this for ourselves? How do we start to see these what you call non-obvious ideas, trends? And so, in 2015, I wrote a full length book for the first time and that hit the Wall Street Journal bestseller list, and that really propelled me to be off on my own.

Actually, I started a… Because at that point, I’d done my first two books with big publishers, and I wasn’t thrilled with the results of that I actually started my own publishing company to publish that book. And that publishing company now turned into a pretty big venture on its own. And I run that with my wife, and we’ve got 34 books that we’ve done from other authors now so far. And that’s called Idea Press, and that’s been taking off. That’s been a second business for me.

Drew McLellan:

So, when you built the first PowerPoint, and you were starting to talk about trends, already, you were doing some speaking and things like that, right?

Rohit Bhargava:

Not that much. I was doing some though because at that point I had had a book that came out. And it’s been two years since the book came out. And so, the book really is the thing that got me out on stages. But I mean, remember, I was still working full-time at Ogilvy at that point. So when I was “speaking” basically what that meant was I was being invited to panels. And Ogilvy would let me go because they’re like, “Well, our clients will probably see you there, and they’ll come-”

Drew McLellan:

Sure. It’s biz dev.

Rohit Bhargava:

Yeah, it’s biz dev, totally.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, yeah.

Rohit Bhargava:

And eventually, these events started giving me higher profile stages. And eventually, I started getting keynotes, and at that point they said, “Well, how much do you charge?” And I said I don’t know. How much do you have? That’s where I started realizing being a paid speaker is a thing.

Drew McLellan:

So, for you because now the book that just came out is your what? Fifth version?

Rohit Bhargava:

Yeah, it’s the fifth time it’s been in print, but it’s actually the 10th year of the overall series, and it’s actually the last one as well.

Drew McLellan:

So, how do you define a… First, I want to go back to the last one, but how do you define a non-obvious trend? So, what makes something as opposed to just the trend reports we’re seeing everybody write about? For you, what makes something non-obvious?

Rohit Bhargava:

Yeah, so my definition of a non-obvious trend is that it’s a unique curated observation of the accelerating presence. And I spend a lot of time talking about curation. This idea of pulling all these different pieces together, and finding the meaning from the noise. And I spend a lot of time talking about the accelerating present. Because really when I write about the future, and what I look for is an example, a story, a case, a company, a behavior that I think is going to accelerate over time. And the prediction is, “Hey, this is happening in this small little pocket over here, and it’s going to matter more over time, and you better start paying attention to it.” So, I’m not guessing about flying cars that may or may not happen right now. I’m looking at what’s happening right now, and I’m predicting that it’s going to matter more.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. In your first appearance on this podcast, we talked a lot about your curation process, and all of that. So, let’s go back to the comment you made, which is, and this will be the last because I think that will surprise a lot of people. What made you decide to wrap up the series? Why is this the last book, do you think?

Rohit Bhargava:

Well, I think everybody who’s listening is a marketing person to some degree, or at least both understands the value of that in a brand. And to me, the biggest reason I wanted it to be the last is because I have bigger plans for the brand of Non-Obvious than just this one book. And so, I didn’t want the brand to be defined by this trend book any longer. It’s expanded out to many other elements. So we have a whole guidebook series that we’ve already launched with multiple authors writing guides that are similar to dummies guides. We’ve got an educational series that we’re putting out. I’m going to be having a podcast, which is not an interview podcast. It’s a very different type of podcast that’s coming out later this year. We’ve got a book awards program.

So, we’ve got all of these different legs under this brand of Non-Obvious, and I want to make it something bigger because I feel like there’s a bigger perspective here of the world, which is that I think we need more non-obvious thinkers in the world. I mean, we need people to think for ourselves. We need them to see the unusual. We need them to look at people who don’t agree with them and not just dismiss them in a stupid, and that’s what this brand is really all about.

Drew McLellan:

So, one of the things that I think is interesting about your professional life is multiple times you had a pretty good thing going, and you decided to stop and pivot and do something different. I’m sure Ogilvy was a good gig. I mean, several times you’ve had things where people go, “I wonder why he walked away from that.” And I’m sure people are listening thinking, “Wow, you hit the bestsellers list every year. You’ve got this great speaking career.” So how do you know when it’s time to stop doing something that’s working to do something different or new?

Rohit Bhargava:

It’s not, I don’t know that I have the perfect strategic formula for it. What I do know is that I can feel when I myself am losing passion for something. And ever since I’ve been a kid I have had the same behavioral pattern, which is when I’m passionate about something I do really well. And when I am not, then I basically shut down and I say, “Well, it’s not worth it.” I know that about myself, and I feel like when I try and do something for too long, or when I try and push it too far, then it doesn’t really pay off.

Drew McLellan:

Interesting.

Rohit Bhargava:

And so, I think I’ve maybe just started reacting to that a little bit, and benefited from the fact that when you eventually become an entrepreneur, and when you go out on your own, it becomes your decision. You don’t have to ask anybody. And so, you no longer need to ask someone, and you no longer need permission. I think that’s instead of being a negative thing for me in the sense of, “Oh, my God, I’m off on my own. I don’t know what to…” and be paralyzed by that. I find that actually very empowering.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, you’re right. I think sometimes as agency owners we get so caught up in all the obligations and all the commitments that we forget that we do have that choice.

Rohit Bhargava:

Yeah. I mean, I know the agency world well enough that when I did leave Ogilvy, one of the first things I knew for myself was that I wasn’t going to go off and start my own agency. It wasn’t because I don’t love the agency business. I really do, and I believe in agencies. And I think that some of the most amazing, talented, beautiful people in the soul sense, not in the physical sense that I know work in agencies and still do. I believe deeply in it. But I also knew that I didn’t want to try and do that sort of hustle. I wanted to do a different sort of hustle.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. So, all right. Let’s talk a little bit about the trends that you think in this book, in this version of the book, this edition, that you think are particularly relevant for agency folks to pay attention to?

Rohit Bhargava:

Yeah, I think there’s many. I mean, one of them, which I think will speak directly to perhaps the reason why many of our clients hire agencies in the first place is a trend that I wrote about called attention wealth. And attention wealth is just all about this idea that it is harder to capture attention, which we all know. That’s not a new idea. But the thing that’s been happening, which I’ve really been tracking is this sense of if we are in an information economy, if we’re going to use that phrase to describe where we are, then our attention should be considered wealth, like as an individual. And what that means is I can choose to spend my wealth, and I can choose to give my wealth to those places that deserve it.

And because of that, I think marketing, advertising, PR, digital, whatever form of agency we’re talking about, we have to find a way to help our clients be worthy of the attention instead of trying to just capture it any way we can. And there are many themes that I think this idea of being worthy of the attention reflects. I mean, the growth of content marketing is one, for example. The rise of influencer marketing certainly is another one. I mean, there’s lots of tactical things that have come out of this desire to be worthy of attention. But that’s really what I wanted to try and write about it in this trend, which is what does it take to do that?

Drew McLellan:

And when you think about it, I mean, it’s probably always been true. But now there are so many places for me to spend my attention, that I think you’re right, it’s getting tougher, and tougher. I think brands are finding this, agencies are finding this. So, from your perspective, what are some of the things that have to happen to get someone to spend their attention wealth with a brand, or with us, or one of our clients?

Rohit Bhargava:

One of the things is that we need an identifiable human. Those days when you could talk about the company did this and the company did that without having a hero’s journey, without having some level of story that relates to a person doesn’t work without the person. This is basic storytelling. And many agencies and the storytellers within those agencies, I mean, they know that very well. But it’s easy to forget because we’re always launching new products. We’re always talking about the product features. We’re always getting pushed by the clients to say, “Yeah, but you didn’t talk about that one feature that I really think is going to sell the thing.” And it’s hard to push back on that. Look, I get it. I’ve been in those meetings. I know that it’s hard to push back on that. But when we lose that piece, it becomes less worthy of attention because we’re just not interested.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, that’s critical. You’re right. When we talk about when… At AMI when we talk about how agencies sell we talk about that when you take an authority position, or you are a subject matter expert, then you attract people because you’re helping them, you’re teaching them, you’re helping them be better at their job today rather than selling. But that all comes from a human being. It can’t come from an agency. It has to be the… I don’t know of a company that is an expert in so