An Expat Via AI
I am starting to write a new book / YouTube series on the global expat experience.
So, just for the hell of it, I asked DALLE-E to make a photo of a type of me living in San Miguel de Allende… Kinda… LOL.
Oh, are you thinking of leaving your home country? Here is my take on Moving To Mexico.
22 Advertising Agency Management Lessons
I’ve had deep conversations with hundreds of advertising agency management leaders on how to manage and grow their agencies — full-service, specialists, digital, and PR. I am about to condense these down to 22 core lessons.
I feel the need to have you visit The Big Advertising Resource List. Now or after you read my 22 insights = grow your agency ideas. i include some AI resources that can help you streamline your in and outbound content and BIG ideas.
I’ve been working in the advertising, digital, and Internet startup worlds since the end of the Mad Men era. My global and regional clients and new business wins include J&J, Intel, Nabisco, Northwest Airlines, and Nike. I’ve built websites and digital programs for Microsoft, Nabisco, Honda, LegalZoom and more. I founded, invented, and ran the best-read online news website and invented industry-leading marketing bots.
I’ve made hundreds of business decisions. Some were brilliant and some were “learning experiences.” I’ve decided to share my top 22 business-building and management lessons with you. No, I am not so crazy to think that these will instantly make your advertising agency the next Droga 5. But I do know that most of these lessons represent best practices that, if followed, can help make you more successful. That means being richer and happier.
Quick Advertising Agency Management History
The path that got me here included sixteen years at Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising Worldwide as Business Development Director North America, General Manager of the Minneapolis office, European Director in London, and Management Director in New York. I left advertising for seven years to be CEO and founder of two Internet publishing and technology startups. One, NJ.com, was a major online newspaper that was larger than the NYT for a couple of years. Microsoft bought the other company that created technology that allowed people to have meaningful ‘human’ conversations with a computer (pre-SIRI). If you were online in the early 2000s, you might have talked with our SmarterChild bot on instant messaging platforms. Over 20 million people did.
After my digital sojourn, I moved from New York to Oregon in 2002 to buy the advertising agency RalstonGroup. In the ten years that I ran the 2-office agency, we bought the sports marketing agency Citrus, took their name, and added clients like Dr. Martens, Legalzoom, Montana Lottery, Nike’s college and Major League Baseball AOR accounts, university accounts, and the U.N.
I sold Citrus in 20013 and write about that sale and the other buys and sells I’ve done, plus how to add value to your agency in the PDF book you can get by signing up for my newsletter or just ask me via email – firstname.lastname@example.org.
By the way, I now run an agency consultation business. Hopefully, that’s why you are here on my website. I help agencies find their positioning sweet spot and build action-oriented business development plans that create significant market differentiation and make the agencies Unignorable. My experience as a consultant and the opportunity to look under the hood of many agencies has confirmed that the following ideas can help add value to most, if not all, agencies.
22 Lessons (OK, Advice)
I offer my advertising agency management thinking as advice. There are many types of agencies and not every pearl of wisdom will work for every agency. However, there are some basics that I think you should listen to and modify accordingly. I know this because I have done planning with two-person agencies up to the holding company level.
OK – GO
Have a two-year agency business plan. You’d be surprised how many agencies do not have even a basic business plan – like knowing how they make money. My agency’s plan helped us grow the agency’s valuation through an acquisition, open a second office, pitch and add Nike AOR business (which helped us gain even more desirable clients) and develop a focused; high-energy; 24/7 new business program based on direct marketing and social media. —- Note to the 45+ crowd. The plan also acted as a framework to begin to position the agency for an eventual sale.
Create an agency brand positioning that differentiates your agency from the other 4,000 agencies out there. I know, I know, you’ve heard this one before. But, having a viable agency brand positioning is critical. More importantly, have a powerful & unignorable brand positioning — in reality, it’s really a sales proposition. One that actively attracts and stimulates interest from the right new clients. Here is the most critical thing I learned in my own agency’s positioning development process: Just trying to find yet another new way to say “digital” or “full-service” agency isn’t good enough. It’s really difficult for any agency to find a brand new way to enunciate the same old and generally non-competitive pitch like “full-service.” Some potential clients might want full-service but find a way to say it with style. Note I have a great example from a London agency that runs global Fortune 500 campaigns out of one office.
Maybe you should go even further. Given the rapid pace of change in our industry, it might be time to think through some agency of the future scenarios and business models that will more effectively get you to a truly distinctive and compelling sales proposition that lasts more than six months. Double-digit growth areas like mobile or video marketing might be smart places to start.
You are a business first. Control all costs. This sounds obvious, but it is critical in an increasingly low-margin service business like advertising. My metric was that every dollar I paid to someone else was a dollar I couldn’t hand to my kids.
Stare at your financial numbers – often. We, advertising people, are visual types so Citrus used dashboards as a graphical agency management tool. We had detailed monthly financial dashboards tied to our P&L, balance sheet, accounts receivables, and owner compensation (this one tended to focus our business decisions.) We also used a real-time agency SWOT assessment for all major agency decisions like mergers and acquisitions, go-no on RFPs and to help manage existing accounts and staff.
Be concerned if any single client accounts for more than 25% of your revenues. When we added two Nike AOR assignments, I got nervous in addition to elated and accelerated our new business outreach to add other accounts. Give me a shout and I’ll tell you how we added Harrah’s Casinos during that effort.
Learn how to say no to clients and prospects who want too much free or low-cost brainpower. Your brains, ideas, and pixels are all you have to sell. Charge like a lawyer or even SEO specialists that charge like lawyers. It is time for our industry to exhibit some self-control. If you have to give too much away for free, it might be time to examine the value of what you are selling and the mindset of your client or prospect.
Also, say no to the wrong RFPs and pitches.
Think about an alternative to the notion that brainpower and creativity are all you have to sell. Take some of that brainpower to find out how to create a product or service of your own that can easily be replicated and sold over and over. Create or buy some Intellectual Property. This can be done and does not require scientists from SpaceX. Think like a “start-up,” and hey, “let’s build some IP” can sound like an obvious panacea. However, there is gold in them thar hills that do not require moon landings. There are agencies teaming up with brewers to create new craft beer brands, agencies moving into valuable yet fast and cheap research and agencies like Wieden+Kennedy and RGA becoming start-up incubators. I asked W+K why they are doing this. The answer… they are investing their brains and experience to make more money in a world that Mad Men couldn’t have conceived. If you need seed money for a new venture, try crowdfunding.
Think big like the kid down the street. I bet your team could build one of the more effective Kickstarter sites.
Hire only exceptional people – that’s what Google does so why not you? Do not rush to fill an open position. You will pay in the long run. You can train people but you cannot increase their IQ. Once on the team, make sure to keep all employees are firmly in the loop via scheduled agency meetings and email agency updates. It takes more than a foosball table to build a business-building culture. CEOs need to talk it up. I have always subscribed to Tom Peter’s management concept of MBWA. Look it up.
Reward only your best employees. You don’t owe anyone anything. There is no question that an exceptional employee is as valuable as two marginal people. Does this sound harsh? This approach beats not having investment capital for growth or having to go out of business because you were a bit too magnanimous.
Miscast or problem employees should be dealt with earlier than later. Gary Vaynerchuk has fired the “wrong” hires within their first two weeks.
Grow your digital assets faster. Bring on more technologists (FTE or freelance) to leapfrog even early adopter digital agencies. Pick a growth area. It’s not too late to become the smartest TikTok agency (no one is yet.) Not even the big boys have TikTok figured out. However, it may be too late to be known as the best “social media agency” given the vast sea of social experts. One more digital point, and I know that you know this — digital agencies have a higher multiple than full-service agencies. If you want to sell in the next three years, you best add MORE valuable digital skill sets.
Please provide exceptional client service. All AE’s must know how to think like a client in order to anticipate client needs and address any potential issues before they materialize and metastasize. Consider sending your AE’s to an AE class where they learn advertising agency management, customer care, how to intelligently upsell clients, how to retain clients, and how to charm. The worst call I could ever imagine is a client telling me that our account service sucked. It’s just too easy to fix. Fixing creativity is much harder.
Process rules. Create an agency work process that is dedicated to profitability. Manage your scope of work promises. Then stick with it. The ever-elastic creative process must be tamed. Agencies that do not manage scope of work die. If you need a work process template ask me and I’ll shoot you one. [Read more…] about Advertising Agency Management 101
Get This Right – Your Advertising Agency Process Delivers Profit
Warning: While not as sexy as a new TikTok marketing plan, this in-depth 3,500-word post is all about creating and running a killer advertising agency process that will help your agency make, here it comes, more money. Process, as in managing and controlling your time, costs, and being efficient will deliver greater profits — and much happier clients and staff.
Process, having a process, is one of the key elements of my business development and client management consultancy. I get into the weeds on this every day with my clients. You cannot be efficient and a money-making machine if you do not have a clear path – a plan that you repeat for each client and every element of your agency sales plan.
By the way, if this post is too long for your online perusal, I’ll send you a PDF version. Just email me at email@example.com
Process = Big $$$$
A bit of background. When I worked at Saatchi & Saatchi one of the accounts I ran was Northwest Airlines. At that time, a time when airlines spent big bucks, their media budget was $60 million per year. At the standard 15% commission, we generated $9 million in agency revenues. $9 million! Ah, the good old days. Days when an agency minted bucks even if some of our processes were a bit wanky.
This isn’t the case anymore.
Today, process: the art and science of managing client relations, agency staff, expenditures, and time, is critical to profitability.
A Wonderful Advertising Agency Process Plan = $$$$$
I have a Texas advertising agency client that isn’t anywhere near as profitable as it should be. Their problem isn’t having the right clients or clients that want great work, or clients that spend money. Their problem is not having the right workflow process to ensure that these clients are profitable.
And, worse, because the agency appears to be always overworked, they don’t have the time or energy to run a smart and consistent new business program. A 24/7 program.
I built this client process plan for them and thought, why not share it? To protect the innocent, this full-service ad agency has been renamed… Wonderful Advertising. I think that these general principles and actions can be applied to any communications agency type.
The Wonderful Agency: Background
Wonderful is an integrated marketing communications agency based in Dallas. Wonderful describes itself as (from Wonderful’s Twitter profile):
“A full-service advertising and marketing agency blending traditional and non-traditional media with digital services, graphic design, and social media.”
A bit boring, but at least they’ve made a statement.
Wonderful: Management Issues
Wonderful is entering a next-stage business phase where it would like to add larger national clients to its roster. In order to do so, it would like to set up client management systems to improve its workflow efficiency and improve and manage its client relationships, and most importantly… increase agency profitability. The agency must also build a business development system that will help them entice and land the type of clients that they need for agency growth. [Read more…] about Advertising Agency Process and Profitability
Advertising Agency Resource List – Updated Often
The advertising agency resource updated with three new AI tools. I use them.
My Advertising Agency Resource List is curated often to help advertising, digital, design, and PR agencies easily find the inspiration and industry resources that will help y’all build killer agencies and careers.
If I were you, I’d grab a glass of Larkmead Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 (LOL only $150 or a nice craft beer – a bit less expensive) and check out all of these links. I guarantee that at least one of these websites and/or tools will help you or your team grow your agency.
A kudo from David Ogilvy: “I wish I had this advertising resource list when I was in the ad biz. All I had was my brain.”
OK, one more. Go here: Corleone offer.
Three New AI Tools For Marketers and Those Pesky Advertising People (December 2023)
–> LinkedIn Profiles
You want to meet the marketing director of that client that you really, really want. One of the easiest and, yes, revealing angles I’ve used is from my book, “The Levitan Pitch. Buy This Book. Win More Pitches”.
LinkedIn is clearly one of the best client research tools. Sure, you will have scoped out the client team’s LinkedIn profiles. I have another angle that I think can be more revealing than just studying a fact-based profile or how others recommend individual clients.
To gain a deeper, more revealing understanding of the individual client’s personality, motivations, and interests (think hot-buttons) examine how the client herself recommends others. This reverse angle will give you direct insight into how they think and what they value.
Let’s pretend that you are going to pitch KIA and know that a key decision-maker is Kia’s EVP Michael Sprague. Here is an example of this type of reverse engineering that will help you get to know Michael – from the inside out. Below is a LinkedIn recommendation made by Michael for his colleague David Greenberg, who Michael worked with at Mazda. This is Michael talking about David with his personal insights highlighted below:
“David is one of the most passionate and innovative marketers in the business. David’s knowledge and insights into the brand strategy process (vision, segmentation, target customer, positioning, etc…) enabled him to lead a global team in the development of Mazda’s global brand positioning centered around “Zoom-Zoom”. Having worked for David in Japan, I witnessed how he easily adapts to his environment, working cross-functionally and cross-culturally. I highly recommend David.”
By using this reverse engineering, I found at least four revealing personal attributes for Michael based on his recommendation in the voice of his colleague David. We see that Michael values strategic thinking, passion, innovation, and cross-management prowess. This can be powerful learning for how you craft your presentation’s key points to sync with Michael’s own hot buttons.
Check out the AI LinkedIn tool Crystal and its Chrome extension. Crystal delivers a personality assessment of any LinkedIn profile. Insights include a DISC profile, communication preferences, and tips for reaching out to them. The AI finds “personality signals” plus job titles, industry experience, skills, interests.,
–> Fast Videos
I upload a video to OpusClip and it delivers a series of verticle shorts with subtitle and even their assessment of the value of your new short. It is that simple. Give it a go…. now.
HeyGen can do a couple of cool things. Fast. First, it can translate one of your videos and create a lip-synced video in one of six languages. Yes, true. Second, it can create a video series using an avatar created from your own face and voice. Eeery. A bit. (Is eery a word?)
–> Better Writing
I use it every day to fine-tune my writing. Here is what Grammarly says…
Find the words to reach your goals
Instantly generate clear, compelling writing while maintaining your unique voice.
Grammarly has been around for a long time, but the newer generative AI features make it worth revisiting. “Once you post on LinkedIn, ideally you don’t edit the post,” said Acosta. So you want to make sure it’s right the first time. “I use Grammarly to check my posts before they go out, so each one looks good and doesn’t contain any annoying errors.” Especially if you’re tired and you’re scheduling posts in advance, the more eyes you can get on the copy, the better. With all writing online, context matters. Grammarly said its AI writing assistant “understands the context of your communication so you can generate high-quality, relevant content.”
That’s it for today.
A Short But Sweet List of The Best AI Directories For Marketers
We are all a bit (understatement) overwhelmed with the barrage of new AI tools. To help sort this overload, here is a list of what I think are today’s easiest-to-use AI directories for marketers. Note, this is a short list.
Futurepedia – From Google Bard: “This directory is one of the largest and most comprehensive, with over 3,000 AI tools and resources listed. It’s a great place to find AI tools for a variety of tasks, including machine learning, natural language processing, and computer vision.” Just today… 18 new tools. Yikes.
Zain Kahn’s Superhuman – The world’s biggest AI newsletter with 350k+ readers.
Marketing AI Show – THE best AI podcast for marketers.
iLib – AI websites listed by popularity.
Product Hunt – As they say: “Product Hunt surfaces the best new products, every day. It’s a place for product-loving enthusiasts to share and geek out about the latest mobile apps, websites, hardware projects, and tech creations.”
Crunchbase – A comprehensive list of AI startups. Wowzer, this is a hot venture universe. Go find your new marketing agency client here.
GPTE – Just in case you need MORE!