Connect & Learn From Like-Minded Professionals
Being a successful manager, leader, or business owner requires wearing a variety of hats and understanding all aspects of your business. It's impossible for one person to grasp so much without working tirelessly around the clock. Thankfully, having a professional network to consult with helps generate quicker solutions to business problems and in turn, faster growth.
Recently, our CEO Stacy Jones sat down with an agency owner who experienced first hand the benefits of being involved in a professional network, so much so that he is now the CEO of that organization! In this blog, Hollywood Branded learns how to bring your business to the next level from one of the most knowledgable and experienced individuals currently helping mid-sized agencies prosper, Drew McLellan.
A Little More About Drew
Drew has worked in advertising for 30+ years and started his agency in 1995 that he runs to this day, McLellan Marketing Group. In addition, he's also the head of Agency Management Institute (AMI), making him the only active agency owner who is also running an agency network.
AMI serves small to mid-sized agencies so they can increase their AGI, attract better clients and employees, and ultimately let the agency owner actually enjoy the perks of agency ownership. To achieve this, it offers public workshops, peer networks, private coaching, a podcast (Build A Better Agency) and much more!
Drew often appears in publications like Entrepreneur Magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Agency Post, AdAge, CNN, BusinessWeek, and many others. The Wall Street Journal calls him “one of 10 bloggers every entrepreneur should read.”
Interview Transcript Highlights
Question: What I'd love to start off is having you share a little bit more about your background and what got you into agency ownership, and also what got you into being this awesome power of leading hundreds of agency owners down this path of figuring out how to run their agencies better.
Answer: Sure. I've worked at agencies my whole professional career. I actually started freelancing for Gray Advertising in Minneapolis when I was still in college up at the University of Minnesota. That's really been my only employer ever since.
I've worked in super big agencies like Y&R, I've worked in small agencies, and when I was about 30 years old, I was working at a place that was not a very good fit. I was the perfect combination of arrogant and ignorant. I had no idea what it meant to run an agency, but I was very much a, "How hard could it be?" So stepped out, and then realized very quickly, "Oh, crap, this is hard."
Along the way, very early in the agency's life and will be 25 years old in 2020, so knock on wood, it seems to be working. But anyway, early on in the agency and in my tenure as an agency owner, I found this organization that understood that agency owners are usually accidental business owners. They're great at whatever they do for clients, but not so great at the business side of the business.
So I became an avid member, completely changed the way I ran my business, and fast forward 10 years, the guy who ran that organization said, "You know what Drew? I think you're the guy." And I said, "I don't know what you're talking about." He said, "I think you're the guy to buy my consultancy and take it to the next level." And long story short, at first, I was like, "I don't really need two risky businesses. I'm good."
But for a lot of reasons, we worked it out, we spent about a year negotiating the deal, and AMI was born out of what he had started. So now today, I get to help 250 or so agency owners figure out how to do it better. The reason I'm able to do that is because if there's been a mistake made in running an agency, I've done it, and I've seen my other peers do it. And I learned something new every day, and I just try and bring all of that to bear in our content and in our workshops and wherever I am, if I'm speaking from a stage, in a podcast. Anything we do, my whole goal is to help agency owners do it better.
Question: When you're working with agencies, and I know you work one on one as well as doing the AMI group settings. What are some of the most common mistakes that seem to pop up? And I'm pretty sure I've made every last one of them, and pretty much every other agency owner has also made them, even if they haven't realize they've made them yet. But what are some of those mistakes?
Answer: Well, I think first, understanding that if you're an agency owner today, and especially if you survived the recession, what that means is you're doing a lot of things write. So often my work is not about wholesale change. It's about adjustments and tweaking and going from a seven to a nine in terms of either effectiveness or profitability to whatever it is.
As we think about these mistakes, I don't want your listeners to go, "Oh my God, I should just start selling shoes at Payless." We're doing a good job, but oftentimes where we shortchange the agency is when we shortchange ourselves. A lot of times, we make these huge sacrifices to keep the agency alive. We will go without paychecks for months. We will lend money into the business. We will do all these things rather than run the business by the numbers.
So that's mistake number one. If you are an agency owner that is asking yourself and your family to do without to keep the agency afloat, then what that means is you're not running the business by the numbers. You don't understand agency math, which most agency owners don't understand, because we didn't go to college to learn that stuff. In fact, we went to college and got into agency business to avoid math. And then we found ourselves as owners and we're like, "Crap, what is a P&L and why do I care?" So I think that's the biggest mistake is that we don't run our business by the numbers. We run it by the gut. And while that is great for building culture and that is great for building loyalty with our clients, what it is not great for is our bank account.
Question: Can you chat a little bit about how agencies need to maybe make themselves their own client, and spend some time focused on themselves?
Answer: Yeah. So long before we called it content, I have been a believer of this. Long before I owned AMI when I was just running my own agency, I understood very early on that what I call selling with authority. What that means is, I define an authority position or a thought leadership position that I can own, and I sell by giving away how smart I am about the world. And I share. I ask myself the same question whether I'm doing stuff for the agency or AMI. "Is this piece of content I'm about to share going to help my prospect be better at their job today?" Regardless of if they hire me ever, will this thing I'm sharing help them be better at their job? If the answer is yes, then I hit publish. And if the answer is no, it's sales-y or it's kind of fluff or whatever, then I don't, right?
I think the statistic is 70 or 75% today for most agencies. By the time you know that there's a prospect out there, by the time you get an RFP on your desk, by the time you get a phone call or an e-mail, that buyer is 70 to 75% through the buying process. They have spent so much time already consuming whatever it is you put out. If you're putting Facebook posts about your company party, they're getting a sense about your culture. If you're putting out a podcast that demonstrates that you are a subject matter expert in marketing dental practices and everything you talk about is around that, then they understand very quickly that you have an expertise in that. What happens when you produce that kind of content, and I know you see this all the time in your business. What it does is, it is like a lightning rod attracting people directly to you, and they can self select whether or not they're a good fit.
So what it does is a couple things. Number one, it puts people on your radar screen that you had no idea were out there, and it puts you on their radar screen. Number two, it pre-sells, because you're demonstrating over and over again that you already know your stuff long before you know that you are basically being considered. And then what it does is it shortens the sales cycle, because ... I got an e-mail last week from an agency owner, and she said, "We're having some trouble and would love to make a phone call. I would like to schedule a phone call. I think we might want to hire you." So two days later, we had a phone call. And long story short, she'd already told her leadership team that they were hiring us. I didn't know that, right? So I'm talking to her and I'm asking questions and she's like, "I don't think I'm being really clear. I've already told my team we're hiring you. I've already made the buying decision. I just want to know what we should do together." Who doesn't want that sales cycle, right?
We have that same experience on the agency side as well because we are producing this content. And the idea of, "I can't give it away because my competitors will see it." Stop it. "I can't give it away because I'm the only one who knows this thing." Seriously, stop it. Just be helpful and just ... And I will have agency owners say, "Well if I tell them all this, they'll do it themselves." Yep, some people will, but odds are the ones who are going to do it themselves didn't have the budget to hire you anyway. But understanding how it's done and wanting to do it yourself are two completely different things. And having the ... If that were true, all of us would cook at home every day, right? But we don't. I can go and find the recipe for fill in the blank, but sometimes I just want to go to a restaurant and have someone else do it, because I think they're better at it for whatever reason. Same is true for us.
Number two, and I think you do this perhaps more masterfully than anyone else I've ever seen, you can create one piece of content and then turn in into five or ten different things. It really is just about having a process. As you said, I record a podcast. And out of that podcast, I'm going to get a blog post. I'm going to get three videos. I'm going to get two infographics. I'm going to get a quote card. I'm going to get a ... fill in the blank. But once you have that defined and you sort of have articulated to your team, "I'm going to give you this audio file or this video file. Do these seven things with it," it's really not as time consuming as we think. We do it for clients all the time.
There's no one on the planet who is better suited to be someone who sells with authority than an agency. We have all of the equipment, we have all of the people, we have all of the skills, we have all of the tools. If a dentist or an insurance agent or a mechanic can do it, oh my God. We can do it. And yet, we just don't very often, which is a huge advantage to the agencies that do. But it drives me insane when I hear agencies cold calling prospects or walking an exhibit floor without having authority. if I today, now, and I'm sure for you too because I've been doing this for a while. If I go to a conference and I introduce myself, people will go, "Oh, Build a Better Agency podcast," right? There's ... They may not know very much about me, they may not know very much about AMI, but there's some connective tissue that they understand that I'm someone in the space that maybe has something to teach them or share.
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