Episode 72

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Susan Baier began her career as a brand manager for companies like Dial and Conoco-Philips. She also worked agency side and within client companies in their research departments, honing her skills as a research professional.

Recognizing that primary research was often too expensive for small to mid-sized agencies, she launched Audience Audit, where she conducts quantitative attitudinal audience segmented research. She helps her agency clients develop marketing strategy for their clients based on customer insights. They find it much easier to develop messaging, strategic plans, and business development plans with real data that helps them understand how customers who look (demographically) the same behave in very different ways and what motives those choices and behaviors.

Over the past few years, AMI and Audience Audit have partnered together for studies on how business owners find agencies, their attitudes towards working with agencies, and more.

 

 

What you’ll learn about in this episode:

  • Our 2016 Agency Workforce Report
  • What made our 2016 research different from other research projects we’ve done in the past
  • How we crunched our data
  • The three types of agency employees that we found in our research: agency advocates, prosperity partners, and “millennial mindset” (and why the majority of millennials don’t fall in the “millennial mindset” group)
  • What your agency can do to have less “millennial mindset” employees than average
  • Why the opportunity to learn and grow is the most important thing to all employees (especially millennials)
  • How to give your employees ways to learn and grow that don’t break the bank
  • Why your employees have to be willing to come back from training and events ready to teach the rest of your agency
  • Why treating your employees fairly does not mean treating them equally
  • Why making agency advocates happy is easy (and how to cultivate them into the agency leaders of tomorrow)
  • Why you have to help prosperity partners develop their own brand
  • Why you should avoid using the word millennials

 

The Golden Nugget:

“Agencies need to think about employee attitude, not employee age.” – @susanbaier Click To Tweet

 

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

Announcer:

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. We’re excited to be with you today and to have my guest, actually a repeat guest, Susan Baier, of Audience Audit is with us.

As many of you know, Susan and I embark on a research project every year on behalf of Audience Audit and AMI, and we also have another partner in that that we’ll talk about in a second. But our goal for the first couple of years that we did the research is we spent time talking to CMOs, asking them about their relationships with agencies.

And as we were approaching the 2016 research, we decided that one of the pain points that we’re hearing agency owners talk about over, and over, and over again are the challenges around some of the employee issues, and especially around their millennial employees. And so we embarked on a very aggressive study. We ended up getting almost 1000 respondents, employees of agencies, and we’ll talk a little bit about who they are, and what they look like in a minute.

But first, let me just welcome Susan to the podcast. Susan, welcome back.

Susan Baier:

Thank you, Drew. It’s always a pleasure to be talking with you.

Drew McLellan:

Always a pleasure to talk to you, as well. All right. So this was a kind of a different study for us. It was a little more introspective than it was the first tour.

Susan Baier:

Yeah. I mean, that’s one of my favorite things about it, actually. I think we’d done some good work looking at sort of how agency clients make the decisions that they make with regard to agencies, but as you said, as both you and I talked to agencies throughout the year, this other issue would come up. And because of some of the partnerships that we have that enabled us to get access to folks, we were able to actually sort of turn the magnifying glass on ourselves, on agencies, and what’s going on inside them and their employees, which I just found fascinating.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. So let’s talk about our partners. Let’s make sure we give them proper credit. We certainly reached out to the AMI agencies and asked them to pass it on to their employees, and lots of them generously did that. But we also had some other partners in the mix.

Susan Baier:

Yeah. We did. One of them is Research Now, which is an international provider of panel respondents and research resources. We’ve worked with them before, on last year’s study as well, and they were able to get us access to full-time agency employees across the country. And then our other partner in this one, our media partner, was HubSpot, who also sent invitations to the survey to their employee partners and attendees for their national inbound conference, and got us a lot of other, again, full-time agency employees in a wide age range, which we’ll talk about. But that was great.

So between your resources through AMI and your agency relationships, and what we were able to access through those two terrific organizations, we ended up with a really robust study.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. So almost 1000 respondents, right?

Susan Baier:

Yeah. I think it was about 950, finally, when we cleaned the data and everything. So, yeah. That was great. I mean, and all full-time agency folks, all different sizes of agencies, all different ages of respondents, people who’d been working at agencies for different lengths of time, some of whom, this was their first agency job, and others who had had many agency jobs. So, really, just a good group, a very engaged group. We got a lot of really good information out of this one.

Drew McLellan:

And for the folks who are listening, who may not be familiar with the kind of research you do, do you want to explain a little bit about the methodology of how we… When I say, “We,” I mean you. I want to be really clear about that… how we crunched the data and came up with the results that we did.

Susan Baier:

Yeah. So our research is a little different than that that a lot of folks may have experience with, not in how it’s developed, really. We do online survey research. It’s anonymous, and ask folks a bunch of questions, right, pretty standard sort of survey approach. But-

Drew McLellan:

It was about 15 minutes worth of questions, right?

Susan Baier:

It was about 15 minutes. That’s right. But we believe that, and have seen evidence that folks make decisions, not based on sort of the typical things people look at, like, “How old are you,” or “How big is your agency,” or those kind of measures, but really, sort of their attitudes about things, or what are driving the decisions that they make and how they feel about situations that they’re in.

And that’s called, attitudinal segmentation. So that’s a particular analytical approach, based on how we build the survey and the kinds of questions we ask. We then can crunch that data and look at how folks are grouped, not by how old they are, or how tall they are, or how much money they make, or their gender, but by how they feel about things.

And as a result of that kind of analysis, we often see really different patterns among groups of folks in terms of how they approach problems that they’re trying to solve, the kinds of things that they are interested in and that they think would help them, et cetera. And that was how we approached this study, as well, because it’s revealed some really interesting things in the past for our work together, as well as the work we do with clients and agencies.

And sure enough, we saw some very interesting things this time around when we applied that same approach.

Drew McLellan:

So, one of the things that the research afforded us, because we had such a large number of respondents, it allowed us to slice and dice the data in a lot of ways. And while we didn’t tell anybody what our sort of underlying goal was, which was we really wanted to see if millennials were different from other agency employees, and how their attitudes and beliefs were different, because they’re showing up at work differently, and that’s what we’re hearing from agency owners.

But we were also able to slice and dice it in lots of other ways, and one of the ways I want to talk about later is, how AMI agencies showed up a little differently than non-AMI agencies, because that was fascinating.

Susan Baier:

Yep. Yep. Absolutely.

Drew McLellan:

But when we really sliced and diced the data, what we found is that there are three very distinct groups of agency employees that are living and breathing inside of all of your shops, and that they had very distinct and different and really quite, in some cases, polarizing attitudes about work, and about the workplace, and about their value at the workplace.

So let’s talk a little bit about how this segment shaped up, and what we know about those three segments.

Susan Baier:

Okay. Perfect. Well, as you said, one approach to this work that is kind of unique for us is, we don’t decide ahead of time what we think these attitudinal buckets are going to be, right? What’s going to define these groups, and how many there are, and then just stick people in them based on what they say. We really don’t know until we do the analysis how many groups we’re going to have, and what’s going to define them. It’s all organic, based on how people respond to the questions we ask them.

So when we crunched the data on this study, it revealed three very different, very distinctive groups within this population of full-time agency employees of all ages. About 55% of them were millennials, meaning 35 or under, and 45% were older than that. So we had a really nice distribution of ages.

Drew McLellan:

And by the way, we also divided the millennials by older millennials and younger millennials, and we’ll talk about that down the road, too, right?

Susan Baier:

Yep. Yep. Absolutely. So in terms of the attitudes, as you said, we found three different groups, and we named them based on sort of the characteristics that we saw associated with them when we took a deep-dive in looked at sort of what was defining these populations.

The first group, which ended up being 37% of our total respondent group, we call agency advocates. Do you want to talk about each one of these sort of individually as we go along?

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Let’s do that.

Susan Baier:

Okay. So, agency advocates are sort of the employees that we all want, right, as an agency owner. These folks love their job. They love working in the agency they’re working in. They feel respected and valued at work. They feel like their compensation is good. They feel like their employers are focused on keeping them happy and very importantly, as we’ll talk about shortly, really feel that their job provides a lot of opportunities for them to learn important skills.

So these folks really love what they’re doing and really value the agency they’re at for sort of providing those things like compensation, and appreciation, and respect, and opportunities to learn, and don’t appear to put a lot more demands on the agency than that. They’re very satisfied and certainly good advocates for the agency that they’re working in.

Drew McLellan:

Okay. What was the second group?

Susan Baier:

So the second group we call, prosperity partners. These folks have a really interesting perspective. I found this group particularly fascinating, Drew, because they really see a shared responsibility between their agency employer and themselves in making each other successful. So we sort of understand… We’ve probably all worked with people who sit there and think that their employer owes them everything, and these folks aren’t like that. They really believe that they have a responsibility to make their agency successful, and their agency has a responsibility to help them build their own acumen, their own expertise, their own reputation and brand, and that the collaboration of the two together is really where it’s at.

So these folks work hard and put in their side of the bargain, and expect their employers to do the same, and that’s from allowing them some visibility, being active in the local community that they work in, building their network, the employer providing opportunities for folks to socialize and have fun, and learn, and so it’s a really interesting group. That’s the second group. We call them, prosperity partners.

And then, the third group-

Drew McLellan:

Hang on a second. So again, just a reminder for those of you who aren’t as familiar with research, I want to make sure you understand that there’s no age distinction in these groups. There are people from every age group in the first two groups that we talked about. So there are millennials who showed up as agency advocates, there are millennials… So it’s not age-dependent and it-

Susan Baier:

No. And it’s not an artificial construct where we said, “Let’s put equal numbers of all age groups in each of these buckets.” It’s just how it shakes out, and as you know, and we’ve seen before in the work we’ve done together, those kind of characteristics often don’t fall into these sharply-delineated attitudinal groups. In our previous research, we saw large companies and small companies fall into the same sort of attitudinal groups, and we see the same thing here with a really interesting distribution of age across all of these segments.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. And now the third group, by its name you might think is all about the millennials, but we’re going to clarify that for you in a second.

Susan Baier:

Yeah. So we call this group, millennial mindset in quotes, and that name is based on sort of what I think we all have come to carry around with us in terms of generalizations about this age group, right? These days, if somebody says, “Oh, they’re a millennial,” I think we all, unfortunately… That brings to mind a set of expectations, or set of beliefs about this group.

Drew McLellan:

And we don’t say it like, “Oh, they’re millennial. That is awesome.” We say it with sort of a, “Oh. Yeah. They’re a millennial.” Right.

Susan Baier:

Unfortunately. Yeah. Unfortunately not. So this group of people in this particular segment that we’re calling, millennial mindset, have some very interesting perspectives and characteristics.

A couple of them are around the difference between younger workers and older workers. So these folks believe that younger workers are better at managing their time than older workers are, that they understand today’s marketing environment much better than older people do, and that they deserve more responsibility at work than they are typically given. They believe that younger workers are typically undervalued, right, so that that is a sort of baseline level of expectation that they have.

They also carry this interesting perspective on a couple of fronts, that work is really something that they have to do until they can do something else. Whether that’s like owning their own business someday, or just doing things that need money for them to enjoy doing, whether it’s travel, or whatever, that work is sort of just a necessary evil in those regards.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. It’s a means to an end. The end is not about their career, as a general rule.

Susan Baier:

Right. The fascinating thing about this, when you look at this group in particular, is that these are attitudes that I think most of us would look at and go, “Oh, yeah. That’s the young people. That’s the millennials in that group.”

But what we found is that a majority, 59% of the millennial respondents in our study, are not in this segment. They are in one of the other two segments. They are agency advocates or prosperity partners, not in this millennial mindset. And 20% of the older employees in our study are in this group. So, this sort of millennial mindset, quote-unquote, segment, like the others includes folks of all ages, and the majority of our millennials aren’t in this group, and 20% of our non-millennials are, so that was fascinating to me.

Drew McLellan:

So the good news to those of you who own agencies are, there are good millennials out there, and there are millennials who have the attitudes, and the behaviors, and the motivation that you want in all your employees. The bad news is, there is a millennial mindset in your shop, and assuming that your shop… Again, we have big enough numbers that we can say that it would be unlikely that a shop of even three, four, five, six people wouldn’t have at least one or two millennial mindset employees in it.

The challenging thing is, you can’t recognize them by their age, so you’re going to have to start looking deeper into behaviors, and attitudes, and language, and how they show up at work, and recognize that the 53-year-old that is causing you to pull your hair out because they just don’t really seem to want to put in the extra mile, or go above and beyond, or learn new skills, that’s your millennial mindset right there. They don’t look like a millennial, but they’re sure behaving like the stereotype that we have assigned that work.

Susan Baier:

Yep. I think you’re right in that statistically, the likelihood is that you’ve got all of these going in your shop. But one of the interesting things we did see, is that there are some groups of agencies that appear to be better at not having millennial mindset employees.

So for example, when we look at the participants who work in your AMI agencies, which is a large group in the study, large enough to sort of break down as an independent group, 22% of the respondents from AMI agencies are in this millennial mindset. They probably don’t realize it, but that’s where the analysis stuck them, right, compared to 36% of respondents in non-AMI agencies.

So who knows whether it’s a cause-and-effect thing, but certainly, as we’re going to talk about a little bit later, I think there are things you could do in your agency to minimize the presence of that particular group, which is, I think, one you would want to, right-

Drew McLellan:

Yes.

Susan Baier:

… and maximize the presence of the other two, which have tremendous potential, I think, as great employees for your agency.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. I think one of the reasons why the AMI folks have fewer of the millennial mindset is, hopefully, they’re following a lot of the best practices we teach around hiring and interviewing, and also not tolerating mediocre employees, or employees who really aren’t there heart and soul, for very long. And that’s one of the things that I harp on all the time is that small agencies, and when I say small, I’m talking 150 people or less… Small agencies cannot afford mediocre employees. They just can’t.

Susan Baier:

Yep. No. I think you’re completely right. I think the wrinkle that our study can add for agencies, even those who are pretty good at spotting these attitudes and avoiding people who have them, is this revelation that it’s not just the millennial age group that has this problem.

So I think that there are probably lots of cases where folks are very wary, very aware of these opinions, these perspectives and attitudes, and very determined and practiced at avoiding them, but may only really be sort of targeting that effort against applicants in a particular age group, because they’re assuming that it’s only those applicants that are really the risky ones from the standpoint of these perspectives.

And what this research shows so clearly is, in fact, the majority of folks in that age group aren’t going to be in this segment, statistically, and that there’s a sizable chunk, 20% of folks older than that who are. So I think the research really reveals that yes, we need to watch out for these attitudes and learn how to uncover them and avoid them in potential candidates, but that we need to not limit that effort to folks within a certain age group.

Because all it’s going to do is, first of all, preclude us from discovering whether that exists in somebody older because we don’t ask the right questions, and also as we’ve talked about extensively through this research, Drew, paint all of our millennial candidates and employees with a negative brush that simply doesn’t apply to them.

Drew McLellan:

Right. It’s not fair. Right.

Susan Baier:

It’s not fair.

Drew McLellan:

And you’re losing out on potentially great employees by this. In general, it’s the old, you know what you get when you assume. So if you assume an older candidate is not of the millennial mindset, or if you assume a millennial automatically has the millennial mindset, in both cases, if you walk into an interview with that bias, it may skew you to either hiring somebody you shouldn’t hire, or not hiring somebody who could be a great candidate.

And on the flip side, I think it also is, as you continue to evaluate and put together growth plans for your existing employees, being able to identify which one of these categories these employees are in, and I want to dig into this more in terms of how you invest in them differently based on how you, in essence, categorize them.

But before we do that, I want to talk about one of the things that the study, again, 15 minutes worth of questions, so it wasn’t just about this millennial mindset or the lack thereof, but we talked a lot about sort of what they value about working in an agency, how long they want to stay at an agency, and all those sort of things.

And there was one thing that I think is critical for all of you to hear, that is without a doubt the most universal finding we found. It did not matter which of the segments an agency employee fell in, there was one thing that for all of them was absolutely paramount to them having a good work experience. And that was when we asked them what they valued most, in terms of how you reward them, and what made their work rewarding. Across every segment, the number one answer, by a pretty sizeable number, and Susan, I know you have the numbers handy. But by a pretty sizeable number, was that they want to continue to be given learning and growing opportunities. That was number one for all of them by a pretty large margin.

Susan Baier:

Yeah. I mean, we saw this manifest in a couple of places. One of the main questions we asked was, “How important are this whole list of things when you considered whether to take a job at your current agency?” The job you have, how important were all of these things?

And as you point out, one of the striking findings in the responses to this particular question was that opportunities to learn and improve my skills was far and away the most important across all age groups and all segments. We had stuff on the list like, my salary, a flexible work schedule, vacation and time off, whether my agency is prestigious, or a fun place to work, whether I have got health insurance, all of these things. And universally, opportunities to learn and improve my skills were rated the highest.

And we’re not talking like this was marginally better. When we look at the percentage of respondents who said that this was extremely important, on a scale of not-at-all-important to extremely-important, and the percentage of respondents who gave this that extremely important rating, it was over 70% of the respondents that said that particular thing, opportunities to learn and improve my skills, was extremely important.

For example, flexible work schedule, 42%, compared to 71% for the learning opportunities. Health insurance, 31%. So, we see big differentials on this particular thing, and as you pointed out, to the extent that there are differences in this between millennials and non-millennials, first of all, its importance relative to everything else is consistent. But both groups said this was way more important than anything else on the list, and millennials even more so. For millennials, this is just strikingly even more so important.

So that was one place we saw this. And then when we asked them later in the survey, what their employer could best do for them, like if your employer could do one thing for them, this is what came up consistently, overall, more than anything else, is help me learn, help me develop, help me improve my skills, help me grow. Give me opportunities to do that.

So a very powerful finding, and it’s always interesting… I do segmentation research, so I look a lot at the differences between groups, and it’s always striking in the context of those differences to see something that is so universally valued, across all different permutations. So that was a really striking finding.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. And I want to make sure that as we’re talking about that, that all of you are thinking about this learning and growing in the broadest context. It doesn’t necessarily mean paying for their masters program. It doesn’t necessarily mean sending them to a conference every month. Although those are lovely and I’m sure they would welcome them, I want you to think broader than that, and I think it starts with the relationship that they have with their direct supervisor.

You all know, and I’ve done podcasts on it, I am a huge proponent of the one-on-one meetings, and if you haven’t listened to that podcast, or you haven’t downloaded that form that I think you should be using with your folks, please do that. We’ll put a link to it in the show notes.

But on that form, the very first thing, and remember, the employee owns that meeting, but the very first thing on that form that they fill out every week, or every time they have the meeting, if you do them every other week is, “Here’s my growth