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It’s time for agencies to pivot back to long-term planning

We now know enough that we can look out further on the horizon for growth and opportunities

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In this episode, Chip and Gini discuss why they have shifted their advice to agency leaders from focusing on short-term survival to building a new long-term plan. For the past few months, everyone has been focused on doing what needs to be done to get by, but it’s now clear that the disruption will not be short-lived.

Regardless of how long the health and economic effects linger, we now recognize that the landscape has shifted significantly. In-person events are likely a long way off, workplace structures are likely permanently altered, and businesses are likely to continue to be more cautious with their resources. At the same time, clients realize that they can’t remain in a holding pattern and have begun to become more active. These changes create real opportunities for agencies ready to take the steps needed to plan for the future.

Transcript

The following is a computer-generated transcript. Please listen to the audio to confirm accuracy.

Chip Griffin  

Hello, and welcome to the Agency Leadership Podcast. I’m Chip Griffin,

Gini Dietrich  

and I’m Gini Dietrich.

Chip Griffin  

There’s always sort of a pause after I say I’m Chip Griffin I’m I’m wondering what it is that you do you think that I’m going to overrun and you’re just wait because I know I’ve done that before in recordings but I just, every time I listen back to the recordings and I’m getting ready to publish them, I there’s that slight pause after I say my name.

Gini Dietrich  

It’s because chip, I have to, I have to filter myself to be professional. And I have to remember we were recording so I think filter filter filter, and then I speak

Chip Griffin  

I think that ship has sailed Jenny anyone who has listened to the show, expecting the two of us to be professional all throughout, you probably ever have never heard one of these shows before.

Gini Dietrich  

But you know i do i do begin the recording. By trying to be professional.

Chip Griffin  

That is good. That is good. You do try

Gini Dietrich  

that’s why Filter filter filter.

Chip Griffin  

All right. Well, I took us right off the rails right off the bat before we even could say anything about what we’re going to talk about. And, and it’s, it’s tough because you know, I want to try to do a better job of planning the show. I don’t want to just, you know, wing it and take it day by day. We

Gini Dietrich  

don’t wing it. We had three topics in a row that we plan that you plan. You did, and emailed to me and three in a row. We don’t have anything for next week. But you know, we have time.

Chip Griffin  

I mean, that’s a whole seven days away. I don’t know. That’s totally fine. Yeah, rolling it. But what you did was you just stomped all over my segway, because I was trying to lead into our topic today, which is long term planning. So instead of running with my segway,

Gini Dietrich  

sorry, sorry, I lasted all of three minutes.

Chip Griffin  

Indeed, indeed. But yeah, so if you’ve been listening to the show, you know that we’ve been generally saying you need to focus on survival, try to make short term plans. This was what we said starting back in March, you need to kind of get through and figure it out. But I think both of us have now shifted to advising folks that it’s it’s time to start taking a longer term view. Because we know none of this is going to go away anytime soon. There are a lot of impacts that will stick around. And so now is really the time if you haven’t already to start thinking about how you want to look ahead to the next 12 1824 months, or perhaps even beyond that. So you at least have some direction that you’re rolling in with your team and you’re not just, you know, focused on the next few weeks.

Gini Dietrich  

Yeah, and I would say, right now, as the as we’re recording this, that’s very challenging to do, because in many parts of the country, the schools have not yet decided what they’re going to do Chicago Public Schools here yesterday, just so that they’re not going back in person. Independent private schools have not made that announcement yet. So we’re still trying to figure things out. But I also at the same time read an article in The Atlantic, which I’ll send you the link so that we can include it in the show notes. I think it was the Atlantic. But that talks about how things change, or if they change when there’s a vaccine, and there were two things that stuck out to me. One is that people will still continue to wear masks, especially if they are higher risk. So you know, where other countries do that because of pollution and things like that. We’re going to see that because of infectious diseases here, which is an interesting shift, I think. And the second is that they’re rushing so fast to get a vaccine, that they’re not sure what those longer term implications are going to be. And so there’s all this stuff, and of course, the economy. And you know, we have clients that work in manufacturing, and they’re seeing a big boom right now because they’re having to catch up from having not worked for, you know, several weeks. But they also anticipate that that’s going to start to slide off to depending on what happens in Other countries, what happens in Asia? What happens in, you know what’s going on in the UK right now. So there’s a lot of a lot of global things that are happening, that can affect what we do and how we plan, at the same time, something that we can control, and that’s how we grow our agencies. And that’s what we should be focused on.

Chip Griffin  

Yeah, and I think that you know, there are there are tremendous numbers of unknowns, still, you know, where you’re at, as you think about the vaccine, you have to think about, are we going to get one, when are we going to get one? What’s going to be uptake of that vaccine? Are people really going to be willing to take that shot in the arm? You know, and I think New There’s barely Well, yeah, I mean, exactly. And there’s there’s been so much controversy around everything related to this. It’s been turned into a completely political thing. In fact, speaking of schools, I saw a Gallup survey earlier this week, that showed that I think it was 85% of parents who attend As democrats are concerned about their kids catching COVID, only 25% of Republican parents have the same concern what it is, it is a phenomenal. I’ve never seen anything like this where something from the political realm moves into the medical that deeply. Because that’s huge. And you know, you already we already had sort of the anti Vax groups that were against vaccines, generally, you’ve got this whole thread of conspiracy theorists out there who think that the pandemic is really just a conspiracy to get you to take the vaccine, which is going to do all sorts of other wacky stuff to you. So, you know, even once we get there, under the best of circumstances, I think most people would say it would take many months even after the vaccines available before it’s, you know, enough people are properly inoculated. But if you have a delay in people accepting the vaccine, then that becomes even longer. So either way, bottom line And we’re not health experts. You know, we’re not this isn’t a political show. But at the end of the day, you have to do your planning based on what’s going to happen in the environment around you, in reality is that where we are today is likely where we’re going to be for quite some time, there’s going to be a lot of uncertainty, there’s going to be a lot of disruption, and you need to plan around that, and not hope that it comes to an end.

Gini Dietrich  

Well, and you know, I keep reading. I’ve told you this story before where I said, You know, I get everything done for the day, shut down my computer, you know, get kids bathed and fed and all that kind of stuff. And then I sit down with my phone, and I swipe right and I’m looking at the top stories, and then I’m like, okay, I should read that article. And then I click over and I start to read and I’m like, ah, ah, get mad and I throw my phone. But I have been reading a lot about the economy and what this looks like, especially with the supply chain interruptions, and that it could very well really blow up in the next few months. By the You know, first of October and so when you think about it from that perspective, you have to really and I actually wrote about this today, you have to think about how can we stuff our pipeline full and get paid in advance? Because this stuff could there. And I’m anticipating this is going to be worse than the Great Recession from a business perspective.

Chip Griffin  

I think it’s likely and you know, I think that there, it will be different, as all recessions are there’s there’s differences. Of course, you know, who gets hit how hard they get hit? Yeah. And as we always say, there are also opportunities in it. But you know, what you’ve said about, you know, supply chain and some of those things. I mean, we continue to see difficulty in getting basic things, right. I mean, one of the things, right, that I’ve been doing the last couple of days is trying to get a new laptop because I managed to offload my old MacBook Air. not that old. It’s less than a year old, off on my son who’s headed to college because he needed something beyond the Chromebook that he had been using. And I was happy to get out of Apple land. So Now trying to find a laptop that’s in stock anywhere really is really difficult. I mean, you there’s their laptops available. They’re just not the ones that you want to have. And part of this is because, you know, there’s been some some new releases where there’s some particularly good stuff available. And I’m not going to bore folks who don’t care about the technical details like I do. You know, so a lot of those aren’t available, but even basic laptops are very hard to come by, they’re very slow to get delivered. So, you know, and I’ve seen that in other areas, too, it’s generally been improving. I mean, as I’ve been building my studio here, getting some of the little bits and pieces that I need is easier today, generally than it was in March. But some things still have a very long lead time. And that’s, that does have a trickle down effect on other industries, not just the ones who are using them. So agencies in particular will end up getting hit by these. And so we need to really know your the industries you serve, and how they’re being impacted in and really talk to them to figure out how they’re likely to be impacted. What are they seeing in their own businesses in their own industry.

Gini Dietrich  

Yeah, and, you know, like I said, we do a lot of work in manufacturing. And they’ve seen a big boom right now. But one of the challenges we that they’re also facing is, and this may change with whether or not unemployment benefits continue, but they’re they’re seeing that they can’t fill the jobs. So they’ve had they, you know, they had to furlough and they didn’t have any business because everything came to a halt. And now everybody’s needing to double up because they’ve they have to make up for the weeks that they were off, but they can’t find the labor. They can’t find the help because people are getting these unemployment benefits and which is great. I mean, I think it’s certainly like, like you said, it’s not a this is not a political show. I think it’s great that people have that but they also can’t find people to do the job. So which is so that’s affecting it, too. So yeah, really having. I like to have those business kind of conversations with our clients just to see, like, what is what’s happening and how’s it affecting and can you pay me in advance because money might not be here in two months.

Chip Griffin  

Right, right. What I think this is, this is also a time particularly as agencies and agency owners in particular are looking towards the future and trying to do their own planning. You need to think about how your own outlook has changed. What’s your, you know, what is it that you want to accomplish? I think this is searching that you’ve written about recently. Whoops, let’s see if I can put up

there. Now we’re

on. We’re on the trading floor. Now. Everybody would like to see the control room, you can see how the behind the scenes look here. But you know, so so a lot of agency owners have gone through this and said, Well, you know, that what I thought I wanted six or 12 months ago is not what I still want, personally. And so if your outlook on things has changed, things have changed. And I do encourage folks, you know, don’t don’t make rash decisions right now. It is, we are still in that very much stressed period. And so you know, you don’t want to make giant, irreversible decisions if you can avoid it. But you do want to think about how has it changed and make sure that you’re putting the business to work for you? And so if you want something different, figure out how to bring your agency along to help you get there. And it’s this means looking at as Wayne Gretzky used to say, where’s the puck is going, not where it is. And so you need to be thinking that same way about your business, it’s, you’re not gonna be able to make overnight change, you’re not gonna be able to fix things overnight, you’re not gonna be able to change things overnight. But if you have no idea where you’re trying to go, you’re unlikely to make the right decisions today that will help you get there in a reasonable timeframe.

Gini Dietrich  

And you have no idea what’s going to happen at the end of this year, you know, they keep talking about a second wave is coming. We don’t know if we’re going to be shut down again. I’m seeing we have a client in the UK and there’s a lot of conversation there about doing a six to eight week shutdown again in September and October, which means we’ll follow suit I would imagine. So I

Chip Griffin  

don’t think so. I don’t know I don’t I do not think that the US will do another total shutdown like we had in March. I I think I think anything will be more focused than it was before I have a very difficult time seeing anyone being able to pull off a complete shutdown.

Gini Dietrich  

We’ll see. But the point is, is that you really need to be prospecting now. And you know, we’ve talked about how uncomfortable it can be to prospect right now and, you know, people, but people are still doing business and their RFP still going out. And I’m not a big believer in RFPs. But that does show that there is business to be had. So prospect, talk to, you know, former clients, talk to clients who have put you on pause, see if there’s an opportunity to restart maybe at a lower rate that get get yourself back into the game and get that pipeline full, because you’re going to need it by fourth quarter.

Chip Griffin  

And businesses definitely picking up a four agencies. I mean, just about every agency that I’m talking to now, is seeing an increase in their pipeline, if not an actual increase in their revenue. Now, yeah, those are for But for very, very bad place in some cases, but either way, there is a lot more business taking place over the last month or so. I’ve seen previously and so it’s there. It’s it’s often different than the kind of work that was being done before the kind of windows that agencies we’re having it is more short term and results focused and less, you know, sort of the the big picture type stuff, but that’s fine, that there’s a lot of money to be had there. And so you just need to figure out how to tailor your offer to what your target market needs today. And if you can deliver that people are going to pay for it.

Gini Dietrich  

Yeah, absolutely. And they they keep saying this, but they will pay in advance. So you know, I have lots of clients who say, Well, you know, I’m not comfortable asking for money up front. I’m like, the best time to negotiate that is when you’re negotiating the contract, just put it as part of the contract. And they don’t I’ve never had a client say no, the only time I’ve ever had somebody knows we were working with a fortune five company. And they just said we can’t because of our Procurement Office. So we created an opportunity where we, we submitted the invoices in May, and we were paid in July. So we didn’t even start the work until July. You know, there was stuff that we did that they could put on a credit card because it was below the minimum. And so we did some of that stuff. But the actual work, we said, we submitted the invoices in May, and we got paid in July. And that’s when we started. So we were still we still made may do with with being able to do that. So ask for money up front. That’s one of the most important things I think you can do. Because as we all know, cash is king. Yeah, and

Chip Griffin  

if you if you’re doing a project where you’re getting paid in chunks, back when I used to do a lot of web development work for clients, you know, we typically would break it up into two or three payments, make sure that in addition to milestones, you’re also putting in date triggers because you know, those are things that can Slide particularly now, because you know, businesses are changing their own strategies. And so that may slow down some of the work that you’re doing. And so you want to make sure that you’re not getting paid simply when they accept a thing, or if they’ve, you know, they have to give you some feedback on to get to the next step or whatever, make sure that you’re saying, upon completion of this milestone or this certain date, that’s smart, you know, whichever, whichever comes first. Because you really want to make sure that you’re protecting yourself because I’m talking with a couple of agencies right now they’re having challenges because of that, because they they are simply milestone based payments. And for a variety of reasons those businesses have have not been able to move the ball forward as quickly as they needed to, to help the agency get the job done.

Gini Dietrich  

Yeah, that’s a really good point. And especially with what kind of work because we all know websites don’t launch on time because of the content, not because of the web does design and development.

Chip Griffin  

I know that that’s a topic that you really like to talk about. But we won’t, we won’t go further on that one, because this is a family show. So, you know, I think the other thing that folks need to think about when they’re doing strategic planning right now is that you need to create the conditions for success. You need to work to influence the things that you can do right now, you don’t have the level of control that you may have had before or felt you had before. That’s okay. You need you need to let go of the notion that you’re going to be able to have those really fixed milestones in your own planning, because it is going to change based on what the environment is like whether you can go back to the office, whether your clients can go back to the office, what the supply chain is, what the economy is, what the politics is, because while we don’t want to talk about politics, we do have an election coming up in the US, that’s going to cause a lot of activity, shall we say? And that is going to spill over into the business community whether we want it to or not, and regardless of the outcome, It’s going to have an impact. And so you need to be thinking about that in terms of, you know, what are the different options that might happen politically? And how, how am I going to be affected? And how are my industry is going to be affected by that? Because it is that’s critical to your strategic planning over the next year or two.

Gini Dietrich  

And I would say school too, because even if you are if kids are going back in person full time, which it sounds like many will not do that but even if they do, what happens if somebody tests positive and they you know, you they have to shut everything down for two weeks while they disinfect it like all of that kind of stuff is disruptive to the to the work that we’re doing into the our ability to grow agencies and for people to focus like you and I got got on to this recording the first thing and you said, How are you doing and I just put my head on my desk like this is a lot and some days are great and some days are a little more needy.

Chip Griffin  

Yeah, well, so and that’s and that’s It’s okay and that but that should be part of your planning too, you need to make sure that absolutely

Gini Dietrich 

needs to be are taking time

Chip Griffin  

to recharge, and, you know, re energize yourself because this is a marathon, not a sprint, it is something where, you know, we do need to be thinking about, you know, how, how do we continue on, and because it’s very difficult to do the kinds of vacations that most of us are used to or want to have. A lot of us just aren’t taking time off. And I’ve always been terrible about that. So yeah, not a good example. But, but I know there are a lot of people, employees, owners, all that who are not taking time because, well, what’s the point I you know, there’s, I can’t do anything. So I might as well work. Yeah. And and that that worked. When this looked like it was going to be potentially a shorter term thing where we’d get back to, quote unquote, normal within a few months, it is now clear that is not going to happen. And so you need to be thinking about, you know, if I’m looking at this as a long term Play, how does that impact? You know, the health and welfare of myself and my team? And how do I make sure that I’m encouraging my team to take time off? How do I make sure that just because we’re working at home, you know, we’re not just interrupting each other 24 seven, because, well, I know exactly where they are right now, they didn’t go anywhere. So, but that needs to be part of your planning process. And if you, particularly if you were not a virtual agency to begin with, if you had an office, I’m seeing a lot of those agencies having a difficult time making the adjustment to the longer term, because as I think we’ve talked about before, people made a lot of exceptions. And were very forgiving in the early stages, but now you have to find that new way of working. And so, you know, that’s going to require some adaptations. And the reality is, I don’t think people are going to be back in their offices on a regular basis in most places for a long time.

Gini Dietrich  

A long time, if ever

Chip Griffin  

Yeah, I mean, what Google announced I think, June of Next year is Yeah, earliest that they will be happy by. I mean, yeah, that’s a year from now, folks. Yeah. If Google has done that, I would expect to see the other big tech companies do that that will then spill over into other spaces as well. So you need to be thinking about that. Where’s what does that mean for you? What does that mean for your clients? events? I mean, if you are dependent upon events, if your clients are dependent upon events, you need to rethink that strategy entirely. Because while I know there are some events that are still technically on the calendar for later this year, ain’t gonna happen. Not happening, not happening. They’re not not gonna happen. Oh, George HW Bush. Man gonna happen. Dana Carvey would have said that on but anyway. Right? I digress. So, you need to think about Okay, well, so if that’s how I’ve typically gotten my clients by going to industry events, or if I’ve generally helped clients, who are events focused on their own business, how do I rethink that This is an opportunity to think really creatively about how you might do that. And nobody has really nailed the virtual event thing. There are all sorts of different ideas. I just saw Microsoft Teams has come out with a new thing where they make it look like everybody’s cameras and audience member, I assume they like my screen screen out the interesting front of graphics of seats, so that so that you’re if you’re looking at it, you can actually see sort of an auditorium of real faces. Interesting. I haven’t tried it. I don’t know if it’s, you know, laughable or if it’s interesting or what, or you know, how feasible it is technologically may require too much firepower for a lot of folks who knows? You know, there are, there are a lot of people trying a lot of different things. And so you need to be exploring and learning and figuring out how you can, you know, come up with something new and fresh or take advantage of something that someone else has already done.

Gini Dietrich  

Yeah, and I would also look at I mean, Google is a great example of that because I went some subsequent articles after they made an announcement. We talked about How now people can move from the Silicon Valley, which is extraordinarily expensive and most people can’t afford to live there. Now they’re looking at now that I don’t have an office to go to and I don’t have to commute Can I move to Montana or Wyoming or, you know, wherever it happens to be and not, you know, and still be able to do my job. And I think you’re going to see a lot of that mass exodus from the big centers where people are going into office buildings, because they’re not doing that anymore. And how does that affect your team?

Chip Griffin  

Yeah, and not even just big centers. I mean, I’ve been talking with an agency owner who is looking to make a geographic move. It’s from, you know, one small to mid market to another small to mid market. It’s not, it’s not getting out of a city. It’s just, you know, that that she and her family feel like this is that’s where they want to live. Yeah. And so, I mean,

Gini Dietrich  

you’re gonna be anywhere.

Chip Griffin  

Yeah, a lot of people are realizing that, that in this, this new world, there is a lot more mobility possible. And so, so you you You may be thinking about it yourself as an owner, but certainly, your employees may be thinking about that you need to think about how that fits in. And the other piece strategically, I mean, we always talk about agencies being a collection of talent, you need to think about what your talent needs to look like, in 612 1824 months, you know, start, you know, we’ve all been focused the last few months on, you know, preserving jobs and, you know, doing everything we can to kind of, you know, be fair to everybody and all that. And we still want to be fair, and you know, all that. But we also need to be thinking about what should our teams look like, a year from now? What, what do we need if we’ve, if we’ve seen a big change in our business model? If we’ve seen a big change in physically where we’re operating, you know, what, what changes do we want to make to that team because again, this is about where that puck is going to be. You can start to make those plans now, doesn’t mean you have to make actual changes yet, but if you know, you know, this is I need this role or I don’t need this role. You can start mapping it out and figuring out how to get From here to there, while treating your employees fairly, and while also doing what’s right for the business.

Gini Dietrich  

Yeah, I mean, there’s certainly a lot to consider the the external incidences we’ve always had to consider, but I think there’s a lot more now. And we’re certainly still in the middle of a massive, stressful situation. Like I said, Some days are better than others. And we all like we all joke about what day is it? I have no idea what day it is. The homeless guy down the street the other day said Happy Wednesday, and I was like, just

I don’t know if it is. So there’s, there’s a lot going on.

Chip Griffin  

I just I just know that I always look forward to Thursday because it’s when I get to talk to you, Jenny. So that’s just a highlight of my week. Since since apparently nausea is now setting in we will draw this episode to a close and it does seem like the small native is also

Gini Dietrich  

He says yes.

Chip Griffin  

And unless you would like to be a guest host, it’s probably best that we draw this one to a close. So with that, I’m Chip Griffin,

Gini Dietrich  

and I’m Gini Dietrich,

Chip Griffin  

and it depends

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