If you’re a PR or marketing agency leader, you have likely had someone ask to “pick your brain” recently.

These requests can seem like a burden. After all, someone wants to get a bit of your time for free. And agencies are used to selling their time.

This topic recently came up in the Spin Sucks Community, and it inspired Chip to write an article encouraging agency leaders to say “yes” to “pick your brain” requests.

Since this topic struck a nerve with many agency owners and executives, it seemed like a good subject for Chip and Gini to take up on the podcast. So they did.

Transcript

CHIP:
Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Agency Leadership podcast. I’m Chip Griffin…

GINI:
And I’m Gini Dietrich…

CHIP:
and we are here today to talk about picking your brain.

GINI:
Pick my brain.

CHIP:
Maybe not your brain, you the listener. I mean, maybe we do want to, but you know, we’d have to see, I guess first, but we’re going to talk generally about picking people’s brains, you know, and particularly as an agency owner leader, when someone asks to pick your brain, how should you respond? And it comes from a particular question in the Spin Sucks Community, which we’ll get to in just a moment. But first, I would like to encourage our listeners, and I haven’t done this in a while, if you haven’t had a chance to go over to iTunes to leave a rating and review for the podcast, we’d really appreciate it, whether you like it or not, just go ahead and give it the score and a couple of comments. And of course, if you’ve got feedback, feel free to share it with us directly as well, because we’re always looking for ways to improve this show. Not that it really needs improvement, Gini, I think

we just have this thing nailed.

GINI:
Of course we do every week. Yes. There’s never a challenge with the sound or anything. Yeah, we have it.

CHIP:
Exactly, exactly. So in any case, let’s go from there to the topic itself. And Gini, why don’t you share the question that came up in the Spin Sucks Community?

GINI:
Sure. So this question came up last week. And it was a there was a lot of conversation about it. So the question was, how do you handle “I want to pick your brain” requests. My response to this has evolved over the years, and I’m still trying out different approaches. That’s why I’d love to know how you handle it and what has worked well for you? Do you take people up on it, only offer a short call, charge for a consult, or something else?

CHIP:
And it did lead to some lively conversation in the community. And, and I felt motivated enough by all of that discussion, to actually to write out a blog post on it. I had actually written one, gosh, probably about a decade ago. This is a this is a topic that tends to circulate on social media periodically, it seems like, you know, every 6 or 12 months, so at least in the circle of friends that I have on Twitter, or someone you know, complains about not being paid for their time when someone asked for coffee, or that sort of thing. And people start jumping in and saying absolutely, you need to say no, and I tend to take the contrarian view, which is that you should say yes, and that should be your default answer when someone asks to pick your brain, because I think there’s a lot of value to be had from it. And I can explain more in a moment. But that’s, that’s sort of where I come from. And so to set the table Gini, what’s your, you know, what’s your general reaction when that question comes up?

GINI:
Well, I,

we, this is going to go to our – I’m laughing because it’s going to go to our slogan – It depends. And I definitely am on the “it depends” side of things, because, you know, for sure, there are situations where I just don’t have time. And, you know, there have been times in the past where I’ve said, Yeah, I’m happy to have coffee with you, or meet you for lunch, or whatever happens to be, but it’s, you know, it’s going to be seven or eight weeks from now. Because just because of how busy I was at the time, and if they’re willing to wait, then I think, yeah, I mean, that’s the least you can do is, is help them out. But if they’re not willing to wait, then it’s not that important. So I think there it definitely depends.

I also, before we get into it, and I think you have some really great advice on this…But I think there’s something to be said for the person asking to pick your brain because I’ve had people say, Gosh, can I, I really could use your help, can I pick your brain and then they want me to travel out to the suburbs, you know, and spend two hours in the car to get to them. No, like, if you want to pick my brain make it as easy for me as possible to say Yes.

CHIP:
Right. And I think that’s, that’s a good place to sort of start with the conversation and I’ll sort of make my overall case for it in a moment. But, but I do think there need to be ground rules, even when you say yes, and I think, you know, some of those ground rules are, if someone is asking you for the meeting, then it needs to be convenient to you and to your schedule. So, you know, that means that it should be close to your office, if you decide to have you know, coffee, I would say generally for “pick your brain”, I generally won’t do a lunch or drinks or dinner or anything like that for “pick your brain” unless it’s somebody who’s, you know, already a connection of mine. You know, most of the time that people raise this, it’s not, you know, for a pre-existing relationship, it’s usually, you know, someone making a new connection, or a very loose connection that you have, trying to upgrade it, you know, that sort of thing. But either way, it needs to be convenient. So, if you’re busy for a couple of weeks, and you need to schedule it, you know, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 weeks out doesn’t matter, absolutely do that. And you’re right. If people won’t wait for it, then they’re probably, you know, looking for some sort of, you know, easy answer quick when, you know, not the kind of thing that that’s really a true exchange of information, which is what I view pick your brain meeting says, as turning into ideally.

GINI:
Yeah, for sure. And, and certainly there are times I think – I can think of some situations in my own experience, where people have asked for some help. And it’s been because they’re weighing, you know, two or three different job options, and they want to get an outside perspective, or they’re considering leaving their current position, and want to get a perspective. And in those cases, you know, if it’s a quick phone call, and we can have that conversation, I’m happy to help when stuff with stuff like that. But that I think, then it becomes having that kind of information for the person who you’re who you’re asking to pick their brain, you’re giving them that kind of information, they could easily say, and it’s easy for me to say, Oh, you know, what I can I can slot you in for 20 minutes, let’s just have a conversation, we don’t have to actually get together and go through that whole rigmarole like, let me help you from that perspective. So there are certainly situations where it doesn’t have to be a coffee, and it doesn’t have to be in person. And it doesn’t necessarily need to wait, you know, weeks either.

CHIP:
Right. Yeah, and I, you know, my position is, if this is, if this is someone you don’t have an existing relationship with, I would encourage you to steer it towards a call anyway. You know, I, at least for me, I prefer not to get, quote unquote, trapped in person, if you will, on a first meeting, you know, and, and so you can have that call. And if it if it blossoms into something where you see some mutual value, you can always, you know, schedule a coffee or lunch or something like that after that. But, you know, my encouragement would be for people to steer these, you know, towards being a call initially, unless there’s, you know, some sort of extenuating circumstance of some sort, you know, whether it’s, you know, you may not know that person, but it’s a really good connection of yours, who’s recommended that you talk, I mean, there’s all sorts of different permutations of it. And you just have to use your own judgment. But, you know, the particularly because I think that if you’re, if you take a look at how much time you actually spend on pick your brain meetings, and you try to figure out, okay, you know, what’s, what is the value that I can extract from it, that’s, and that’s what I argue in the article that I’ve written about this, you know, that’s where you can really shift your thinking about pick your brain and how you can realize that, you know, it’s not so much just someone stealing from you, if you will, it’s actually broadening your network, broadening your information base, and hopefully returning more than what the time is that you’re investing into it.

GINI:
And I think there’s something to be said for, you know, you said at the beginning of this, that it feels like we have this conversation every 6 or 12 months. And we do because I think we we all tend to feel a little inundated by it. And I certainly have have been there. And I will, I’m sure will be there in the future as well. But you get to the point where you’re like, gosh, I can’t get anything done, because so many people are asking to pick my brains. Do I need to charge for these consultations? So I think that that’s part of the reason that it keeps coming up is people do feel a little inundated, and we sell time for a living, right? So you can’t add more time to your day, you can’t duplicate time. So when you’re giving your time away, you have to really think about it strategically, does this make sense?

CHIP:
Right. Absolutely. And, you know, it doesn’t mean there may not be occasions where, you know, I would even encourage you to say no to a particular request. But you know, my view is that if you default to Yes, you will come out ahead in the end. And, you know, while we were applying this primarily for this conversation, to pick your brain meetings, I would, I would expand it to sort of what I would call purposeless networking opportunities, right. So, you know, you’ve got people in your network, maybe you don’t see or talk to them all that often. And so if you’ve got an opportunity to take advantage of that, I always encourage people to, I always try to take advantage of them myself, because you just never know what’s going to come out of them. I mean, the one of the perfect examples of this is this podcast is the result of just such a lunch.

GINI:
Right! You’re absolutely right.

CHIP:
I happened to be in Chicago, I had no particular point. But I said, you know, hey, Gini, you free we haven’t talked in, you know, a couple years in person or whatever. And, and we were able to get together and just by happenstance, this podcast came together out of that. And so you just don’t know what value you might get out of what on the surface looks to be purposeless and just sort of a general catch up, or just a general pick your brain. So the more of those serendipitous experiences that you can have, the more you’ll start seeing the value and taking those meetings.

GINI:
And I think there are other two valuable pieces to this, which were not in your blog posts, but I think are important as well. And one is karma. I mean, good karma not, not former employer, CARMA, but karma in terms of, you know, putting good out into the world and helping other people. I think there’s something to be said for that coming back to you tenfold, which whether or not you believe in that it actually does happen. And the other piece is, shoot, I lost my train of thought there was a second piece Um,

CHIP:
well, that’s okay. While you’re thinking about that, I’ll I’ll point out that you apparently fell asleep before you got to the last sentence of my article,

because because the last sentence says that it can create some good carma for you along the way, so….

GINI:
Oh, it does! And as hokey as it sounds, paying it forward does have benefits and can create some good karma for you along the way. Yes. Okay. Sorry. Fair.

No, no problem. No problem. It’s, it’s, it’s good to know that you really appreciate my writing, Gini.

Well, now I have to figure out what my second one was and if it’s in here.

Um, I don’t remember what it was. Man. And I’m sure it’ll come back to me.

CHIP:
Yeah, I mean, look, I think it while you’re thinking about that, I’ll sort of address a couple of the other things that I want people to be thinking about when these meeting opportunities come up. And part of that is that as an agency owner executive, you’re typically out there trying to meet new people trying to build your network in order to generate new business, right? If you’re at a senior level at an agency, part of your responsibility almost certainly is generating new business of some sort. So if you take a look at, you know, what your hourly rate is, how much time you’re spending on these pick your brain meetings, particularly if you’re able to condense them into phone calls or coffees near your office, so you’re not, you know, you’re not going outlandishly broad with it. My guess is that if you took that and said, okay, you know, I can have say, 10 of these pick your brain meetings a month. And that’s just a randomly selected number, because it makes the math easy. And, you know, if you if you then take a look at that, and blended, okay, maybe six calls, four meetings, okay, so that’s if I’ve got an hourly rate, of 250 bucks. That’s about $1750. And I do all the math for you in the article. So you put a link in the post about this podcast, so that those of you want to see it in front of you, you can see it, but that would mean that you had an annual cost of your pick your brain meetings of $21,000. Wow, that sounds like a ton of money until you say, Okay, well, you know, if out of those 120 meetings, right, hopefully, with 120 different people, because if someone’s picking your brain all the time, that is just, you know, stealing your time that’s getting free advice. So if you talk to 120 new people a year, are you going to generate $21,000 or more in profitable new business? I sure hope so. Yeah, sure. Yeah. So, so yeah. So when you when you start basically, you get one $2500 a month retainer, and you know, you’re all set. And chances are, if you have 120 meetings with 120 different people who actually want your advice. So therefore, even if they’re not directly a qualified client, they probably know another one, you know, you just you’ve expanded your network enough that it makes it worthwhile to do it, even if you look at it in the pure dollars and cents way, which is how most people reject them, right? Because they said, you know, I’ve, I’ve wasted an hour that I could have billed for $250. My argument is, if you look at the math, you probably actually coming out ahead in these meetings. Now, that doesn’t mean every meeting is going to produce revenue. Okay, so there are going to be busts. There are going to be horrible meetings, there are going to be meetings where you’re sitting there and saying why am I talking to this person?

Unknown
What a freakin waste of time.

CHIP:
Right? Exactly. Yeah, but it happens. Yep. Right. But, but, but why not take advantage of that. And why not find those opportunities to make some money, extra money for your agency, and hopefully yourself along the way.

GINI:
And not only that, but many of us work from home, and I’m as introverted as they come. So I would rather just stay behind my computer screen and not talk to people. But there’s some value in getting out. And having in-person conversations with people, there just is huge value in it. Because you have conversations where you sort of bounce ideas and you have this in your your blog post too but the brainstorming piece of it, that you bounce ideas off of one another that you wouldn’t necessarily do on the phone or on a video chat. Because you have 30 minutes of allotted time. And, you know, I think there’s some some something to be said for getting out and actually talking to people and having conversations that may or may not result in anything, but could you know, get you a podcast partner co-host or it could get you a guest blog post, or it could get could conjure up some content ideas, or there’s a lot of ancillary benefits to actually having conversations with human beings as well.

CHIP:
Right. And throughout these meetings, there’s the huge potential for market research, which I think is something that, you know, we all ought to be thinking about, you know, how can we learn more about what the marketplace is actually looking for, when it comes to the services that we’re providing? How can we figure out what the challenges are that are really motivating people today? And so by having these, pick your brain type meetings, typically the questions you’re going to get, or how do I solve this problem? Or, you know, what’s the direction of this, you know, here’s, here’s what’s bothering me, these are all incredibly valuable data points. But if you then go beyond those questions, and you ask your own follow up questions, you know,

well, tell me how many sales a month that you’re making, you know, what are you doing now, for your earned media? How much are you spending on Facebook ads? You know, these are all questions that as part of that conversation, because they’ve come to you, they’ll probably answer, much more willingly than if you call them up and said, Hey, can you just tell me what your budget is for marketing? Can you tell me what your annual revenues are, right? But if someone’s coming to you asking for help, they tend to be pretty open. And so you start to build your knowledge of the marketplace. And, you know, maybe they’re using a competing agency, or someone who overlaps you on the Venn diagram, somehow, you can learn more about those things. There’s just so much you can learn from these meetings, if you go into them. And you think, Okay, this is, this is an experience that’s going to enrich me, not necessarily by directly putting money in my pocket, but by giving me information, by giving me ideas, getting my creative juices flowing, expanding my network, it really it, it will change the way that you look at these requests, because I don’t know, it just, it really fires me up. Every time I see this debate take place, and people immediately jump in and say, Oh, yes, you need to protect your time, you can’t waste your time… No! You should look at this as an opportunity. Again, doesn’t mean there aren’t times to say no, but there’s so much value that you can get out of these meetings if you treat them right.

GINI:
Yeah, and I think I mean, certainly, it depends on the situation, and whether or not it’s somebody who continues to do that to you, you know. And one of the things that just irks me to no end is when a friend will email me introducing me to somebody else without having a conversation with me ahead of time. Hey, I’d like to introduce you to so and so. And here’s why. But instead, that email comes through, and then you feel stuck. Like, I don’t know who this person is. I don’t know why you’re introducing them to me. I don’t know what they want. Thank you for thinking of me – at the same time, like, Can you give me a heads up? So I think there are situations where, yeah, you do have to say no, and I think what somebody said in the comments was, you know, when you say yes to something, you’re saying no to something else. So you also have to think about those kinds of things. You know, if you’re saying yes to a pick your brain meeting, and that means that you can’t meet with a client, probably have to change that around. But I don’t think that saying no to all pick your brain meetings or really saying yes, to all of them makes sense.

CHIP:
Yeah, I mean, I guess what I would say is, that, to me, it’s, it’s more about, you know, when you schedule it, going back to the point we talked about earlier in the show. So, you know, I would, I would say that you should rarely say no, unless it just is clearly a bad fit. You know, someone you know, is coming to me asking for, you know, advice on martial arts or something like that, you know, I’ll immediately send them to Christopher Penn for that. Yeah, yeah, exactly. Exactly. And, and, you know, then, then, you know, they can hash it out. And, but, but to your point, I would email Chris first and say, Hey, you know, just, you know, are you okay if I make this introduction? Because you’re absolutely right. I mean, you know, people who sort of

come out from left field with the, oh, you know, you two should talk. Ah, you know, the only exception I would say is, you know, if you’re referring if you’re making an introduction, and it’s someone who’s looking to buy the service that your friend is selling right, they’re never going to say no to that. In those cases, I may not bother with a heads up, you know, if someone comes to me and says, you know, hey, I’m looking for a media monitoring service. Oh, okay. Well, then talk to the folks at Carma and I’ll just copy the person over there, and good, fine. Yeah. Easy enough. But if it’s, if it’s more just sort of making, you know, setting up another kind of pick your brain meeting, then then you absolutely touch base first, because someone may say, Oh, no, that’s, you know, we’re, we’re already working with a competitor of theirs, I don’t want to tell them that, you know, whatever. I mean, there’s all sorts of different reasons why someone might want to, to not have that introduction made. So do them the courtesy. 99% of the time, they’ll say yes. But, you know, take advantage of that heads-up for that 1%, when it would cause a real problem for them.

GINI:
Yes. And the very last, if you’re the person picking the brain, say thank you, send a nice note through the snail mail, send a nice email. Just say thank you. Because that’s not I mean, especially if there’s not something that eventually came out of it in the wash for you. And you were truly just giving your time and being helpful. Just it’s, it’s a very simple Golden Rule thing, just say thank you.

CHIP:
And if I can turn the clock back a little bit, the first thing you should do is be on time.

GINI:
Yes! That’s true. Yes.

CHIP:
And this is this is from painful, hard won experience. I am shocked shocked by the number of people who ask to pick my brain who show up late to the phone call, late to the coffee, occasionally just don’t show at all, which is something that I’ve experienced more with, and I hate to say it, with younger people, recent college graduates I’ve seen this with and, and in part, it’s because, you know, I’ve seen situations where they’re perhaps in another meeting, and they can’t figure out how to extract themselves, right? Which I understand when you’re young, and you’re and you’re, you know, it can be challenging. But, you know, an important life skill is to figure out very early on how to, if not extract yourself, at least say, hey, I need to let my next appointment know that I’m running late, which, by the way, will usually help tighten up that first meeting. Right? Because most people want you to be respectful of other people’s time. But at the very least, give a heads up. I mean, I had one situation this was probably seven or eight years ago, I had agreed to meet with a recent college graduate and he just never showed. And so the next day, he reached out and said, Oh, sorry, I wasn’t able to make it. I was at my internship and I was asked to do something. And and I’m like, you couldn’t text? Email? Call me on the phone, something?

GINI:
Carrier pigeon?

CHIP:
and and he asked to reschedule. I said, No, thank you.

GINI:
Yeah, no, sorry.

CHIP:
I’d love to help you. But, you know, you can’t do that to me, and then expect me to reschedule. You know, so, there are, you know, there are, I think very important things and it’s, it’s important that we all realize that, you know, whatever level we’re at, because, you know, I asked to pick people’s brains still on a regular basis, you know, and so, you, you know, it’s incumbent upon me, even at this stage in my career, to be thoughtful about it, make sure that, you know, I’m not scheduling that, for example, right after a client meeting that may run long or something like that. So that, you know, I’m being proactive, and thinking about how to make sure that I’m being timely. And then, of course, that that follow up is the, you know, the icing on the cake, in your way of really acknowledging that that person has, has done a favor for you. You know, these are all I think, valuable things, I think, at the end of the day, if you, if you really sit down and think carefully about it, you’ll find that you’re getting a huge amount of value out of pick your brain meetings, or at least far more value than you thought, hopefully, before this conversation before, we’ve you know, perhaps shared a new way of thinking about it for you that you hadn’t considered before.

GINI:
Well, and I really love how you break it down, right? The financials, that I mean, I’m a big financial person anyway, but I love how you break the financials down, and you make it really conservative, let’s say that you, you know, convert 1.2% of your meetings, right? I mean, to your point, if that’s $2500 a month, over two years, you’ve made back your investment in time times three. So I love that. It’s a really nice way of thinking about it.

CHIP:
Yeah, and I try to, you know, I’m a big data guy, you know, not as, not as big as Christopher Penn. But, you know, I,

GINI:
Nobody’s as big as Christopher.

CHIP:
No. I do believe in the power of data. And I, I particularly like using it when it can help flip someone’s point of view, right? Because if I come out and just say, look, you know, you’ll get a lot of value out of it, it’ll feel good, you’ll, you know, you’ll be able to expand your network and sort of speak in general terms, I don’t think it hits home quite as well. So that’s probably a useful lesson for people generally, I think, if you’re able to, to paint a picture with numbers, give facts, you know, really do something beyond just making a rhetorical argument, but really, you know, delving into the evidence, that’s where I think people will realize, Oh, you know, this, this is something I should look at differently. Because, as you say, that the numbers that I used in the, the article, I think were incredibly conservative. And if you have 120 meetings over the course of the year with new people who are asking for your expertise, and you cannot turn that into at least a single $2500 a month retainer, or, you know, whatever it is for your business that, you know, works out to the right numbers, you’re doing something wrong, right? I mean, that’s, you know, if you were doing that on outbound sales, you wouldn’t be happy. So imagine when people are coming to you with their problems.

GINI:
Right. That’s like not converting any inbound leads. That’s bad,

CHIP:
Right. And, and it’s, and again, it doesn’t even count who they may introduce you to, because my experiences that that when someone picks my brain, they often will tell someone else about it. And so it often leads to another meeting. And so, you know, if you do this well, you’ll end up having a lot of meetings, you’ll have to manage your schedule. And that’s fine, because most people will wait a few weeks to talk to you, if they really see value in having that conversation. So don’t be afraid to push it off if you need to schedule it when it works for you. But at the end of the day, you are going to get value out of these meetings if you do them well.

GINI:
Amen. So I think the general consensus is say yes, to pick my brain meetings.

CHIP:
Absolutely. And say, yes, listening to the Agency Leadership podcast, But you know, I’m nothing, if not corny, and hokey and all that. So we appreciate you listening to the end of this podcast. Hopefully, you’re still paying attention. Unlike my co-host who apparently stops paying attention at the end of my articles.

GINI:
Not not at the end – at the very very end.

CHIP:
On that note, that brings to an end this episode of the Agency Leadership podcast. I’m Chip Griffin

GINI:
and I’m Gini Dietrich

CHIP:
and it depends.

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