How to be a good agency client

How to be a good agency clientI’ve been working in advertising agencies for almost 30 years now and I’ve had the incredible good fortune to work with some amazing clients over the years. Early in my career, before I had the deciding vote on who we’d serve, I also worked with some real jerks.

For most of us in the marketing world, we serve clients (could be an internal department or external, paying clients) and in most cases, we are also someone else’s client (vendor, strategic partner, agency if you’re client side, etc.) as well.

I thought I’d reflect on my life with clients (and being a client) …and share the best practices so we can all be a better client on the next go around. Have you ever wondered how to be a good agency client?

Talk to us about budget: It’s ridiculous how some clients make their agency jump through hoops to guess at the budget. We can’t help you spend your money in the wisest, most effective way possible if we don’t know the boundaries. If you don’t trust us enough to tell us – fire us.

Say thank you in your own way: One of my all-time favorite clients came over one Christmas week and serenaded us with one of her holiday favorites. What an incredible gift – to share something so personal with such affection and heart. I’ll never forget the experience.

Invite us to the party: We can be so much more helpful if you bring us inside. Let us interact with your c-suite, sales team, and customer service reps and be a part of the very early strategy sessions. We bring a very unique and valuable perspective – we’re informed outsiders. We can see with more clarity and less bias but we also know enough to ask the hard but insightful questions.

Trust us: Our job is to make you a rock star. To help you achieve and surpass your company’s goals. We’re on your side. In theory, you selected us to be your partner because you believe we’re good at our work. So trust us. Don’t let your personal bias or preferences lead you in the wrong direction – when we disagree with you, let us explain, from our experience and expertise, why we disagree and be mindful of your mindset. In the end, it’s your money and we’ll do as you ask, but don’t shortchange our desire to being your best ally.

Pay your bills on time: On the other end of the money — pay your bills on time. Odds are we jumped through hoops to hit your deadlines, and now it’s your turn. Don’t put your agency in the position of being your bank. Remember, they’ve incurred costs on your behalf, so don’t hang them out to dry. Everyone hits a tough spot and when that happens, talk to us about it. But don’t leave us in the dark.

Connect with us: We all want to work with people we like. Don’t hide your humanity. Show us your vacation pictures. Tell us your funny weekend story. Reminisce about the old job or the old boss. We don’t have to be best buddies (although it’s nice when that happens) but it’s human nature to work harder for someone you like. So let us get to know you on a personal level.

Celebrate with us: Marketing is usually a a winding road of obstacles and last minute adjustments, done at breakneck speed and involves a bit of risk. When it all comes together, it’s magical. Take time to celebrate with the entire team. Give kudos to the people who often don’t get the lead the team or enjoy the glory. Rewarding everyone with a special dinner or even a bagel break will fire up the team for the next challenge.

The lion’s share of agency owners and employees chose the profession because they love to use their creativity to help clients.

Letting them know you appreciate their efforts and actually helping them help you means you both get more of what will make you happy and successful.

Want to up your creativity?

idea_lightbulbNo matter what you do for a living, you need to be creative.  Innovative and fresh thinking are always in demand, whether you’re a cop, a plumber, or a marketing pro.

Unfortunately, on the job, we can’t wait for the muses to strike.  We need to be creative on demand because there are clients, deadlines and projects waiting.

Want to up your creativity?

Having a career that demands creativity every day has forced me to find ways to keep that particular saw sharp.  Here are some of my favorites:

Exercise your brain: My goal is to keep my brain cooking at all times, so if I need to call on it, it’s already fired up.  I love brain teasers, word games like Scrabble, games of strategy and even which is like a brain obstacle course.

Simmering: When I’m stuck or every idea I come up with seems tired and overdone, I tuck the challenge in the back of my mind and let it simmer.  I do other things, concentrate on something else entirely and just let my subconscious work out the knots.

Blood, sweat and tears: Okay, skip the blood and tears part.  But sweating really works.  When we move our bodies, all kinds of endorphins are released.  Those magic chemicals put us in the perfect state to create.

Hang out with creative people: This is not only effective, it’s great fun. Actively look for opportunities to talk to creative people about creative things.  Listen to the language they use, the stories they tell and even how they use their body to enhance their tales.  If you live in Central Iowa, you have the perfect opportunity this Thursday.

The Iowa Creativity Summit is Thursday night from 6 – 8:30.  Come hear from David Burkus, the author of The Myths of Creativity: The Truth About How Innovative Companies and People Generate Great Ideas.  Check out the event here.  I promise — you’ll get your creative juices flowing for sure!

If you’re like me, your creativity is a tool you rely on.  Like any tool, it’s my job to keep it in tiptop condition so it is ready when I need it.

So how about you — how do you keep your creativity flowing?



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So you want a career in advertising?

Fired businessman searching for a job isolated on white backgrouI was recently contacted by a college student who asked if he could interview me for one of this classes.  One of the questions he asked is one I get a lot, so I thought I’d share my answer with you here.

If you aspire to be in our business — I hope it helps.  If you’re already in the business — what did I miss?

What advice would you give to anyone who was aspiring to enter the field of advertising?

Yikes… there are lots of things to know but here are some of the biggies.

  • You cannot do it alone so surround yourself with really smart, good-hearted people who you can count on.
  • The day you stop learning is the day you begin to become irrelevant. There is always more to learn.
  • Before anyone will give you their business, they need to know you care about them/their company.
  • When you make a mistake (and you will make a ton) be very quick to call attention to it, own it and work like a dog to fix it. And never forget to say I’m sorry.
  • If you help other people whenever you can, when you need help – there will be someone there to offer it.
  • There’s nothing wrong with making money. Don’t be ashamed to charge what you are worth.
  • Owning your own business means that when times are tough, everyone gets paid but you. So be very smart about not overspending your money and build up a nest egg for those tough times.
  • The smartest person in the room is not the one who knows all the answers. It’s the person who asks the best questions.

When I hire, I don’t worry too much about the degree the person has or things like grade point averages. I can teach them about marketing but I can’t make them honest or hard working.

I look for people who have a passion for helping other people. I hire people who volunteer their time, have a passion for a cause and instead of whining about it – do something about it.

I definitely want good writers, no matter what position they might fill. In today’s business world, with email etc. – everyone needs to be able to communicate clearly and be well spoken, both in face-to-face encounters and in writing.

I also look for someone who gets that our business is not 9-5 and isn’t going to freak out if they have to work late or over a weekend. Our business is very demanding and depending on what’s going on with our clients, we can put in some incredibly long, grueling weeks.

I also want someone who is willing to do “grunt” work. In a small agency, everyone pitches in and does what it takes to get the job done. If I can stuff envelopes or whatever – so can they.

I want someone who is a self-starter, a lifelong learner, a reader, someone who is funny, ethical and someone who resonates with our company’s core beliefs, which are:

  • Passion cannot be ignored.
  • Breakthrough thinking breeds breakthrough creative.
  • The guys in the white hats do win.
  • We take our work seriously. Ourselves, not so much.
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The path is never straight

I receive a lot of mail from readers and many times, they have a question that I can answer here on the blog, so everyone benefit from their initiative.

Victoria writes:  I am so interested in marketing but don’t really understand the best path into the business.  I was just wondering if you could tell me a bit about your story and how you got to where you are today.  

I am currently a sophomore in college and I was wondering if you had any advice or words of wisdom to share. 

I’m happy to share my story but realize that if there is a single truth in our business, it’s that no one’s path is the same and there are many paths that lead to the same place.  Sit back, this might take a bit.

I entered college convinced I was going to be a psychologist.  Late in my sophomore year, my advisor (who was also one of my psych professors) asked me to meet with him.  I’d had him for several classes and we’d gotten to know each other.  When we sat down, he challenged my career choice.   He asked me to consider a single question:  Could I leave my job and my patients at the office?

He told me that to be a successful (and healthy) psychologist, I’d have to be able to listen and guide but not try to help.  I couldn’t, he said, bring home every broken person like they were a stray puppy. After a weekend of soul searching, I realized he was right.  I wouldn’t be able to leave it at the office.  I was too much of a fixer.

So I went back to his office and asked him….”now what?”  He asked me what I loved about psych and why I wanted to be a psychologist.  I said:

  • I love understanding people and why they do what they do
  • I love helping people
  • I love asking questions that get people to think in a fresh way

Then, he said…what else do you love to do and I answered:

  • I love to write
  • I love to read
  • I love to do logic problems and puzzles
  • I love technology and computers (even back then)
  • I love to lead

We talked some more and finally he said, “have you ever considered advertising or marketing?”  I honestly hadn’t.  But from my first copywriting class, I was hooked.  Marketing was the combination of all the things I loved.  I just had never even considered it before.

Lesson One:  Know yourself well enough to do what you love.  That way, no matter how hard it is to get the job or how many hours you need to work — it’s a labor of love.

One of my professors was actually an adjunct professor who also worked at Grey Advertising in Minneapolis.  She asked me if I wanted to do some freelance writing for them.  Of course…I jumped at the chance.  I was petrified.  What if I sucked?  But, I decided I was not willing to let my fear get in the way of the opportunity.

Lesson Two:  Courage is being scared to death and saddling up anyway (thanks John Wayne).  There have been many times in my career when I was petrified.  But sometimes you just have to do it anyway.

So I freelanced quite a bit while I finished school and met a bunch of people in the business.  I was smart enough to know that making contacts would matter when I graduated.   I graduated and got married….and within a month of getting married, my new wife got a job offer from Disney.  In Orlando.  So of course, we moved.

There I was, ready to find a job and I was suddenly living in a city where I didn’t know a soul.  No contacts.  No familiarity with the agency scene.

Lesson Three:  The road rarely zigs in the direction you expect.  You always need to be ready to zag.

So there I am, in Orlando.  I need to find a job.  And no one knew who the heck I was.  I had a great book of real work (thank you Grey!) but I was going to have to do something dramatic to get their attention so I could show it to them.

I had just watched Guys and Dolls and somehow it wove itself into my brain.  Next thing I knew, I was writing a cover letter in “wise guy” language, threatening to have Guido come by and break their legs if they didn’t make time to see “dis kid Drew who could write real pretty.” Believe it or not….I sent it, along with some samples of my work.  I got three interviews.

Lesson Four:  Sometimes you just have to throw caution to the wind.  The art is knowing when.

I showed up for the interviews in my suit and tie and hoped they’d take me seriously after my wise guys cover letter.  Within a week, I had a job offer from Y&R and accepted it.

My job was a whirlwind of learning and new experiences.  But it wasn’t just about being a copy writer.  I never said no.  I was relentless — anything that needed to be done, I did.  I helped collect old receivables, I ran errands, I served as an account person, I did admin tasks.  I wanted us and our clients to be successful and I didn’t mind doing anything that got us closer to that goal.

Lesson Five:  Put your ego aside.  There is no job that’s beneath you.  Your job is to help the team and your clients be successful.  Do that and it will get noticed.

I loved my job in Orlando and the people I worked with so I was devastated when they decided to close the office.  We all got laid off.  By then, the allure of living in Orlando was wearing off.  I wanted to get back to the midwest so that’s where I concentrated my job hunt.

I was offered a huge opportunity at Burson Marsteller in Chicago.  I would have been one of the lead writers on the Tropicana account.  It meant a lot more money. It meant getting back to the midwest.  I turned it down.

It would have also meant that all I did every day was work on the Tropicana account.  And not all of Tropicana.  The Tropicana frozen orange juice team.  10 hours a day.  5 days a week.

Lesson Six: See lesson #1 about knowing what you love.

I loved the variety of working with multiple clients.  I loved being at the strategy table as well as the creative table.  I couldn’t imagine ONLY caring about frozen orange juice.  And I couldn’t imagine not caring about my work.

Within a month, I was offered a job by the same Y&R agency I’d worked for in Orlando.  But this job was in Iowa.  As a Minnesotan, I was a little appalled at the idea of living in Iowa (long time rivalry) but I knew and loved the company so I said yes.

I spent the next several years there….learning more than I can tell you.  I was given a lot of freedom, responsibilities and lots of encouragement to get involved in the community.  I served on boards, was Ad Club president and found a way to influence the agency’s culture and success.

I couldn’t get enough of it.  I worked long and late.  I read everything I could get my hands on.  I asked questions.  I listened.  And I challenged.

I loved earning my clients and co-workers’ trust and then exceeded those expectations.  The relationships mattered a great deal to me and I will always look back at that job/agency as my real education on how to be a good marketing professional.

Lesson Seven:  Sooner or later you will find a job or a boss (or both) that wants you to succeed as much as you do.  Soak up their wisdom, generosity and be ready sometime in your career to be that person for someone else.

I eventually left that company in the biggest mistake of my professional career.  I took a job for money.  And I was miserable.  But from that mistake came the greatest decision of my career.  I launched my own agency (initially with a partner).

I was in my early 30s, ignorant as heck and thought it couldn’t possibly be that hard.

Man, was I wrong.  It’s been the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my professional life.  I’ve made a lot of mistakes.  But it’s also what I am most proud of, career-wise.  I’ve hired some of the most intelligent people I’ve ever known.  We’ve built an agency that does smart, strategic work.  And we’ve built a culture that makes people want to stay (average tenure of my employees is 10+ years).  We donate over $100,000 of services to local charities every year and every one of my teammates serves on community boards.

We make a difference for our clients and our community.

Along the way, I’ve made some incredible friends and I am a very fortunate man.  And it’s not over yet.

Final lesson:  Trust your heart.  Our business is about people and relationships.  Yes, you need to be smart and you need to keep learning but above all that — you need to love the work you do, the people you do it with and the people you do it for.

There you have it Victoria…my path.  Now go out there and carve out your own!  (Here are some practical tips on getting that first job!)

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Do you take yourself seriously?

At McLellan Marketing Group, we live by our core beliefs.  One of them is:

We take our work seriously.  Ourselves… not so much.

Let’s be honest here.  None of us save lives every day.  (Okay, if you actually do… you have my permission to skip this post) Sometimes, I think we need to just get over how important our work is and lighten up.  In front of our clients.  Let them see we have a sense of humor about ourselves.

Why?  Because they’ll actually enjoy working with you more.

Check out these planes from Kulula Airlines.  No doubt their work is serious.  They propel humans 30,000 feet into the sky and have to get them back down safely.  But that doesn’t mean they have to be uptight about everything.  Southwest Airlines has nothing on them!

What do you suppose the flying experience is like?  I’d sure want to try it!

That’s delivering the brand and some word of mouth worthiness at the same time!

Check out these photos… and enjoy your Friday.  Be sure you read the labels.  Some of them are hysterical. (Email subscribers — if you can’t see the pictures, click here to view them.)

Kulula Airlines #1
Kulula Airlines #2
Kulula Airlines #3
Kulula Airlines #4


My thanks to blog reader Amy Roppe for sharing these with me!


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Recognize yourself in this video?

If so, shame on you!  Whether you’re the client or the agency guy — you know better.

While this is obviously over the top, I think we all know that it hits a little close to home.  The work and the audience deserves better.  (Email subscribers – click here to view video.)