A couple of years ago, when we were able to be out and about and travel the world, I went on a photo safari vacation to South Africa with my daughter. We spent the better part of a week in the bush, coming face to face with prides of lions, serene giraffe, wild dogs right after a kill, and even some mating leopards! I was fascinated to watch how our rangers and trackers scanned the dirt for tracks, examined the foliage to look for breaks, and even tested the temperature of dung to determine what animals were nearby and how long ago they had come through. The clues were so subtle that it was amazing when they spotted them. But the rewards that came from that attention to minute detail was the difference between an incredible game drive (or survival in different circumstances) and just a lovely drive in the woods. It made me think about our own business and all of the subtle clues that our clients, prospects, and employees give off. I wonder how many of them we blindly walk by, about to enter into a danger zone we’re not expecting? I think most agency owners are very astute at picking up the signs — unless we’re moving too quickly and are too distracted to be present. Which is pretty much every day. So what are we missing? One of the traits of the tracker and ranger that took me some time to get used to was the speed at which they worked. Slowly. Sometimes painstakingly slowly. As a Type A kind of guy, I was pretty antsy in the beginning. But then I began to understand the method to their madness and [...]
Owning, leading, or even just working in an agency is a fantastic gig. You get to be surrounded by wicked smart, witty, committed teammates, you get to save the day for clients on a regular basis, and let’s face it, the work is fun most days. We are lucky. Damn lucky. But we are also tired. Along with all of those privileges comes the worry of keeping the sales pipeline full, dealing with the human side of your team and clients (which can be both joyful and tragic as we all walk out our lives together), and long, arduous days. (and nights, and weekends....) We work at a pace that is fast and furious, shifting from one client to the next and often working weird and long hours. That is unsustainable without giving yourself some respite. But we’re not so good about giving ourselves that break. It’s not about taking a vacation or a long weekend or just not checking email for 24 hours — it’s about survival. Back when I was a kid in the business (call me 30 or so) I remember one of my mentors saying “this is a young man’s game, Drew. “ And that was before the 24/7 connectivity we have now. I think he was both right and wrong. Our chosen profession does require an incredible amount of energy and passion but that’s not about being young. It’s about recognizing that it’s an endurance sport and we have to train and plan for that. Here’s my challenge to you — when was the last time you didn’t check email for 24 hours? When was the last time you took 5 workdays off (in a row!) and played as hard [...]
I’ve been thinking a lot about origin stories lately. Each of us us a sum of the people and experiences that shaped us early on. It’s that combination of influences that create something unique. I’m a sarcastic, single malt Scotch drinking, Disney lover because of my Dad. I’m a music loving, bear hugging teacher because of my Mom. I’m a voracious reader because of an early teacher, Mrs. Vandiver. All of those (and many other) truths add up to make a one of a kind human being. A person I can’t really deny or hide. It’s just who I am. The more boldly I own that — the more authentic and unique I am to others. That’s true for our agencies as well. When we stop using the generic (full service, integrated agency) language that makes us sound like everyone else and really hone in on what makes us unique — we stand out. Every agency has a well-earned point of view that influences how they work and who they serve best. Unfortunately, many agencies don’t drill down deep enough to discover that point of view or unique position. I wrote a story for Forbes on how an agency can define what makes them different from all of their competitors. What’s keeping you from taking a stand? Why not embrace what your agency is truly all about? This was originally published in the weekly AMI newsletter. To subscribe, click here.
You know those days or that meeting or event where, when it’s over, you think to yourself... “That was so awesome. I love days like today. We totally knocked it out of the park and I feel so energized and pumped. What a great day!” What makes a day that kind of day for you? Are you putting together a new service offering for the agency? Creating a financial dashboard for your leadership team? Tinkering with the code on a new site? Representing your agency by serving on a prominent board? Mentoring some young talent in your shop or are you developing a new brand for a client? Whatever it is, and it’s going to be different for each of you — that’s your zone. That’s the kind of work that fills your bucket and energizes you. And odds are, you don’t get to do it very often. Agency owners have a pretty long list of must-dos. But one of your must-dos should be getting into your zone. Don’t get me wrong — I’m not saying you get to spend all of your days doing client work. There’s plenty of work that only you can do and you have a responsibility to do it. But I do think you need to know what connects you to the business and what makes you fall in love with the business all over again — and be sure you don’t rob yourself of that experience. I’d love it if you’d take some time to identify your own zone. Once you know what it is — figure out how to get a taste of it once or twice a month. Plan for it. Calendar it if you can. Make [...]
Being an agency owner is tough in today’s world. Clients and employees are more fickle and demanding, the margins get tighter as you try to keep everyone happy and well cared for, and the learning curve is steep. I get all of that — both from my own reality as an agency owner and from working with 250 or so of you every year. But, on those days when you want to sell your shop for a nickel or as April 15th approaches and you’re writing the IRS a check for their pound of flesh, I want you to slow down and look at your world from a different perspective. First — I want you to remember all of the ways your agency funds your life. I’m a big fan of doing what I call a Total Compensation Report for our employees at the end of every year. This report adds up ALL of the ways your people get compensated from their salary, costs of benefits, time off, perks, etc. Many of your people have no idea how well they are being paid. The truth is the same for you. You think about the money you take home in a paycheck or dividend but you forget about all the other ways your business provides for you. One the tough days, I think it is a very healthy exercise to add up all the ways your agency pays you, from paycheck to travel to cell phone to all the other perks that come with the business. When you see that number (and for most of you, the salary part is one of the smaller components) — it makes the rough days a little easier. But, it’s [...]
Our business is rife with myths. What clients will and won’t do. Which channels are dead long before they are dead. But the one that I think is most dangerous to your business is that it can’t survive without you. I know too many agency owners and leaders who are afraid to leave the office for more than a day because they are convinced disaster will ensue. I am constantly encouraging agency owners to book the trip to Paris, to go on the African safari, or to take a few days off around their son’s graduation. Don't worry, I follow my own advice. This past Spring Break, despite a huge level of demand, I took the week off. In fairness, I worked a couple hours a day while the kids slept (young adults can be counted on for uninterrupted mornings!) but for the most part — I was “out of the office.” I slept more that week (11.5 hours one day alone!), put more steps on my Fitbit (we averaged 20K a day) and rejuvenated my energy. When I did sit down for those few hours to get something done — I was better, faster, and more efficient. Best of all, my team handled all of the fire drills, drama, and client issues that I thought I had to be around for. If you honestly believe your team can’t handle your absence — then it’s time to start training them to do just that. Here’s a smart way to ease them in. One day a week: Work from home, a coffee shop, or anywhere that you can be productive. Turn off your email notifications and your phone. Turn both on at lunch and at the [...]
I believe agencies need to shift their own (and their clients’) content creation from a cost to a money-making machine. Every agency I know is creating content but few are monetizing it. Honestly — that’s mostly because the content created is generic and lousy (did you write a post about the new Pantone color — if so, I am talking to you!) and any agency could swap out our logo and insert theirs. But... I digress. Agencies need to come to understand that they absolutely have to get serious about their content and in fact — need to be producing what I call cornerstone content. Think meaty, informative content that defines your agency’s point of view and unique way of working. That’s typically: A book the owner authors A podcast A video series A very provocative/prolific blog Primary research you commission/design It needs to be significant enough that it can be sliced and diced throughout the year into bits of micro-content for your agency. Done well, it can absolutely be a game-changer for your agency. Hubspot asked me to write about my experience launching the podcast and how it impacted AMI. You can check it out here. Hopefully, it will light a fire under you to make THIS the year you stop writing generic blog posts and start getting serious about investing in content that can drive money to your door. This was originally published in the weekly AMI newsletter. To subscribe, click here.
When you’ve worked in your own agency for 20+ years, it’s hard to fathom doing something different. And yet, we all have that vague (or not so vague) impression that we’re working and planning for something. Some talk about retiring in the traditional sense. Other agency owners talk about the next chapter — be it teaching, writing a book or going on the speaking tour. Others have aspirations that are a complete 180-degree shift from where they are today. Wineries, B&Bs, and other dreams loom large among my agency owner clients. I’m currently working with several owners who are in the process of thinking through/planning for that transition. Most of them are in their 50s. No — they don’t want out any time soon. But they realize that this is not the sort of thing that should be left to the last minute. I’ve never had an agency owner say, “Gee, I want to sell my agency” and voila in 12 months, they were sipping a Mai Tai on a beach with their buy out money. Ideally, you’d give yourself about a ten-year ramp to go from initial thoughts to closing the deal. And by the way, closing the deal for many of you will simply be to pick a retirement date and lock the door behind you. That requires it’s own plan so don’t think you’re off the planning hook. Other than waiting too long to get started, the biggest mistake I see agency owners make is that they don’t know what that next chapter is going to be. It’s pretty tough to get excited about walking away from your baby if you don’t have something new and exciting to look forward to exploring. [...]
We're getting ready to head into a long holiday weekend. Are you planning on unplugging? Really unplugging? I'm talking about focusing on recharging your battery, investing in your family and friends, and most importantly — doing something that makes you feel like a priority. Don’t worry — I am not giving up AMI and going into the Oprah business. I swear — this is very relevant to my day job. In fact, it may be one of the most important best practices that I preach. Agency owner/leader burn out is one of the biggest threats to the health of your agency. You have to understand your role in the agency. You are the epicenter. Your energy, your focus, and your contributions are what set the course. When you let yourself get too weary, too burdened or too overwhelmed — everyone feels it. They may not be able to articulate what they sense, but it absolutely changes the dynamics in your shop. I just had this conversation with two of our coaching clients — I believe your #1 obligation as an agency leader is to make sure you stay replenished, refreshed and that your head/heart is in a very good place. That does not happen by accident. Is protecting your state of mind a conscious part of your week? None of these things will happen if you don't commit to them, which means putting them on your calendar and paying for them in advance. We all know what happens to an open hour on your calendar. Here are some suggestions: Weekly: (3 measly hours) Take 15 minutes to write in a gratitude journal every day. You'll be stunned at how powerful this is Take an exercise [...]
I don’t know a single agency owner who does not lament over the lack of time. Every one of us faces a daunting To-Do list and there are very few days when you push away from the desk and think “Wow, I covered it all today.” I am not going to promise you a magical solution to wiping out your To-Do list. But I can help you put a serious dent into it. The only way I’ve discovered to be uber-productive is to be ruthless with your mornings. For the last few months, I’ve been conducting an experiment. On the days where I carved out 2-3 hours of uninterrupted work time in the morning, I crushed my list. On the days that I started with calls, meetings, or checking my email — I got significantly less done. Every night, I write down the three biggest things I need to accomplish the next day. I would get up and be working by 7 am and work for 2-3 hours without checking email, voicemail or picking up the phone/texts, etc. On my power mornings (as I’ve come to refer to them) I could usually get at least two of the three accomplished. I have a lot of all-day meetings so on those days, I might only get an hour in. But I’d try to knock out at least one of my must-dos before the meeting started. Now that I know the value of these morning sprints, I am marking off my calendar to protect that time as many days a week as I can. It’s a work in progress but the more I do it, the better my outcomes. The trick is the solitude. No team, no [...]