Like it or not, our clients expect us to be ahead of the curve. They’re counting on us to keep learning and evolving our services to keep up with the constant motion that our industry (and culture) is experiencing. How are you and your agency doing that? An interesting way to assess if your agency is staying current is to evaluate your offerings. Ask yourself these questions: What product/package or service are we offering clients today that we didn’t offer a year ago? How have we refined/improved some of the products/packages and services that we did offer a year ago? Have we evaluated them to make sure they’re still on point? Where has our knowledge base increased in terms of audience, sales, technology, or marketing trends? If we got called to provide a speaker for a conference called “Where marketing is going” who would we send and what would they say? Who in our shop is learning something new and how are they transferring that knowledge to the rest of the team? What’s next in terms of my own learning (topic, method of learning, etc.) I’m hoping your answers pleased you. If you struggled to answer some of these questions or don’t like the answers, then maybe it’s time to examine your agency’s commitment to lifelong learning. How are you communicating to your team that you expect them to keep growing and learning? How are you supporting that effort, not just financially, but also in terms of setting the example, teaching what you know/learn, celebrating people’s growth, etc. One of the aspects of our business that I love the most is that we get to keep learning. We need to know so much about our [...]
In case you haven’t heard, you are supposed to be a thought leader and your clients are as well. Thought leadership goes by many names — authority, expertise, having a niche, being an expert, etc. But at the end of the day it’s all about having a depth of expertise and sharing it so that others can learn and identify you as a subject matter expert. That’s, unfortunately, the part that many agencies miss the mark. Our content is generic and impersonal. Sure — we’re telling people why they should care about the latest Pantone color of the year or five ways to maximize something vital — but it’s not specifically about our unique expertise and it doesn’t give the reader a sense of who you are as a leader or a person. If I ask you to think of people that create content that you actually look forward to reading and find value in, my guess is that it’s most often going to be a person (as opposed to a company) and someone who has earned the right to be seen as an expert. Good news — that’s you! You have spent decades honing your craft and earning the right to be respected for what you know. Your content should reflect that. I wrote an article for Spin Sucks on how marketers get thought leadership wrong and what we can do about it. I absolutely know for a fact that this needs to be a significant strategy in your biz dev efforts. I have seen it work many times for agencies big and small. I’d love to see how you could increase genuine connection, open the door to new relationships, and carve out a [...]
Last week’s newsletter about many agency owners needing a break and using the summer lull to replenish yourself so you’re ready to push seemed to strike a nerve. I heard back from many of you that you’re pretty sure I am spying on you through the window or have bugged your office. (I promise — neither!) Here’s the sad part of all of that. Most of you won’t get away. You believe you can’t leave or the sky will fall. For every one of you that will book the flight, rent the cabin, or plan the spa day — there will be far more of you who just keep gutting it out and getting more worn down each day. The biggest roadblock that is preventing you from replenishing yourself is you. This isn’t about the money. You don’t have to spend a dime to re-charge. Take a week off and take your kids to the local pool, museums, and parks. Sleep late, read a trashy novel and binge watch something. Go visit your parents and let them spoil you rotten. Whatever it takes — just give yourself a breather. I really want to challenge your belief that the agency cannot survive without you for a few days. Your team will rise to the occasion. Your clients will understand that you can’t work 365 days a year. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve finally convinced an agency owner to take some time away and after they return, they’re so proud of their crew and how they tackled whatever came their way. Not only do you need the respite, but your employees need to know you have confidence in their abilities. Hand them the [...]
Navigating ambiguity is a primary concern for any leader. When the world is changing around us at an unprecedented rate, even the best leaders may struggle to set priorities, communicate clearly, and drive the vision. Nothing splinters clarity like the urgency of our recent global pandemic, and when ambiguity goes unchecked for many months, trust in leadership will crater. In this uncertain climate, it has never been more important for businesses to build trust. Without a clear plan, employees get confused, lose productivity, and feel less committed to the company and to their morals. In the absence of clear expectations, trust between leaders and team members inevitably breaks down. Leadership teams that don’t achieve alignment may end up executing entirely disconnected visions. This leads to more ambiguity, loss of trust, and a never-ending downward spiral. Trust is the antidote to uncertainty. An explicit focus on building trust is the only way to successfully lead through ambiguity. Here are four ways to tackle ambiguity by actively building trust: Share “the Why” So often on a demanding project, communication is the first thing on the chopping block, sacrificed to the demands of speed and deadlines. Urgency serves as justification for not taking time to communicate critical information. One of the first to go tends to be “the why.” In other words, why are you making one choice over another? Why are you taking one person off of the project and leaving the team to pick up slack, for example? When people don’t understand the rationale behind their leader’s actions, trust goes out the window. In the absence of a clear explanation, people will always gravitate toward the most negative possible interpretation. Not only will trust go down, [...]
We’re about to round second base on the year and kick off towards home plate. Does the idea of pushing yourself to accelerate and notching it up a gear seems daunting right now? Are you tired? You’ve been pushing hard since mid-January and my guess is that your tank is about out of gas. Before you round that bend, you might need to re-fuel. Not sure if you’re running on fumes? Look for these signs: It’s tougher to get excited about new work, email inquiries, or even awesome client results. Your attention span is shrinking. Every shiny object, squirrel, and Netflix series is calling your name. You’re not walking the agency as much (if you're back in the office) — when you get in, you isolate yourself and hunker down in your office. You’re having a hard time getting revved up to chase new opportunities. You aren’t as productive. Just getting through your must do list is a bit of a struggle. Many of you will misinterpret these signs as indicators of age, waning interest, or perhaps that it’s time to hang up your cleats. For 99% of you, that’s just not the case. It just means you’re tired and need to recharge. Agency owners are not so great at that, so you need to be intentional about it. Here’s how to get the energy you need to round the bend and finish strong. Plan a getaway to someplace that will fill you up. Based on budget, family responsibilities, health issues or other factors — this is going to be very unique to you. But every single one of you has the capacity to get away for a few days, unplug and reboot. Your agency [...]
When we think back on those first few years of owning an agency, somehow the tough parts get muted. We remember the late-night pizza strategy sessions and the euphoria of signing that first big deal. But somehow we forget being one mistake or choice away from having to call it quits. That period of discomfort — though some of it was genuinely painful — helped us transform a mere idea into a real, living thing that served real, living people. Yes, we made mistakes in those early days, but we also took creative leaps into the dark, solved problems every day, and instilled happiness in others. In doing so, we changed the world just a little bit. That is the power of discomfort. We took those leaps of faith because we had everything to lose if we played it safe. The risk seemed like the least risky choice of all. I wrote about the need to get comfortable with discomfort for Smart Insights. What are you doing to stay uncomfortable? How do you help your team get comfortable with the discomfort? I’d love to hear your thoughts. This was originally published in the weekly AMI newsletter. To subscribe, click here.
When it comes to succession planning, many agency owners think about the eventual closing or sale of their agency. Truth be told, most of you are not really prepping for that day as early or in as detailed a way as you should. You greatly reduce your options when you don’t have a long-range succession plan in place. But sometimes, there is no long-range scenario. Most agency owners have no plan in place for a sudden change — the proverbial hit by the bus scenario. I know it’s not pleasant to think about, but you owe it to your family, your employees, and your clients to have a plan in place. If something unexpected happens to you — your family and team are not going to be in a mental or emotional place to make good decisions. They will be rightfully dealing with the loss. Do not add to their burden by leaving things up in the air. I recorded a video on this topic (I am adding new videos every week on LinkedIn — are we connected there?) that I want to make sure you watch. I know the topic is morbid — but you owe it to those you love, work with, and work for to have a contingency plan in place. I know you get a lot of information coming to you — but please don’t ignore this topic just because you don’t want to think about it. This is far too big a burden to pass onto those you love. Working out the details is going to take you the better part of a year, so set a goal of having this handled by the end of 2021. Do it for [...]
No one is excited to have a difficult conversation with a key team member. But you choosing to avoid that conversation (I initially wrote your inability to have that conversation but we know it’s not really inability) because it’s uncomfortable can cost your agency so much. In today’s super snug employee recruitment/retention environment — you think you’re tiptoeing around that challenging situation or employee, but the truth is, you’re afraid. Giving in to that fear can cost you some of your best employees, your reputation as an honest (remember those values you preach or have hanging in the agency’s conference room) leader and clients. Leaders who fail to address bad behavior tacitly endorse such behavior to other workers. If one person gets away with late starts or low-key insubordination, your team will emulate the behavior (or think less of the manager who allows it). This is a skill that every agency owner needs to embrace and improve. Entrepreneur Magazine asked me to write about the risks of not being good at the difficult conversations and I did a solocast on the topic with what I hope are some helpful tips. If this is an area of growth for you, please check out the article and the solocast. But beyond that — commit to making this a focus for you in the coming months. This should also be a high priority skill for anyone in your shop who manages other employees. You all have to get better at this. The risks are too great to ignore the consequences of letting this slide. This was originally published in the weekly AMI newsletter. To subscribe, click here.
I get asked some variation of this question every single day. Successful, profitable agency owners ask it. Agency owners that are struggling with having their work commoditized ask it. What they’re really asking me is “what are agencies selling that is profitable” but of course the answer is much more complicated than that. The answer is some agencies are making money selling everything from print ads, brochures, Google Adwords, strategic planning, package design, branding, and everything in between. Other agencies are fighting to hold their head above water, selling the same list of services. It’s not as simple as knowing that clients are hungry to buy crisis communications plans (which they are, btw) and beating the streets with that offer. If your agency is bloated with too many people or your ability to accurately estimate and track a project’s profitability in real time is non-existent, it doesn’t matter what you sell. But, let’s assume you have the right people in the right seats and you have systems in place to make sure you get paid what the project is worth. (Both criteria are topics for another conversation down the road). Now — what’s the short answer to that complicated question? What agencies seem to be able to sell for a premium price these days (in no particular order): Amazon ads and product placement on Amazon Employee recruiting campaigns Direct mail campaigns with a digital overlay Video (ideation, creation, publishing) A paid social media strategy Research and all of the tactics that are borne from those new insights What I think agencies should be selling more of and earning a premium price: The creation and management of a true content strategy where the brand thinks of [...]
I’m guessing when you read that headline, you snorted, rolled your eyes, or made a “duh” expression. I know you converse with your employees but do you actually have meaningful conversations? Here’s what I observe in most agencies. You greet employees as you see them during the day You have “as you run by them in the hallway” conversations which are 50% social and 50% functional in which you drop little bombs (updates, facts, commentary) on work in progress You have info passing email conversations But most of you are not setting aside time to actually dig in. Here’s what can and should happen on a regular basis: You’re teaching as you explain decisions and reactions to client requests, changes, strategies You’re learning where they’d like to invest their time in terms of learning something new and adding more value You’re giving them an opportunity to give you a heads up on potential client and team issues You’re coaching them through new challenges they’re facing You’re celebrating their growth, their wins, and their best attempts All of this can be accomplished in a 20 minute one-on-one meeting with your direct reports. Every employee should have one at least twice a month, if not more often. This is a meeting that the employee owns. There are huge benefits to you, the owner or leader of the agency as well. Fewer interruptions throughout the week (they’ll learn to save it for their one-on-one) Employees that are fired up to keep learning and understand that it’s part of their job An early warning when trouble is brewing Better employee retention (they want more of your time and attention) A much more accurate sense of what’s going on in [...]