Reboot your agency using the AIM-GET Framework

Position your PR or marketing agency for renewed success in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis

The Covid-19 crisis brought considerable disruption to most PR and marketing agencies, but now is the time to start thinking about the future.

The AIM-GET Framework can help agency owners get their businesses back on track and positioned for renewed success.

In this webinar, Chip Griffin explains the principles of the AIM-GET Framework that he created, accompanied by practical action steps you should be taking today.



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

Great, well, it looks like everybody is able to hear me. So we’ll go ahead and get started. So we stay on time. Anyone who knows me knows that I am a stickler for staying on schedule. And we’ll get started here with a few housekeeping items. So anyone who is coming in a little bit after the top of the hour, we’ll still have a chance to catch up before we get into the full substance. But this of course, is the reboot agency using the aim get framework webinar. And from a housekeeping standpoint, there’s a q&a function and

At the bottom of your screen, and you can use that to submit questions. I’ll take those and answer them at the end of the presentation. The recording and the deck will both be made available afterwards. So all of you who have registered will get a copy of that. So you don’t need to take detailed notes, although certainly you can feel free to do so. If you have questions after the webinar, or even during it, feel free to shoot me an email to Chip at agency leadership calm, and I’ll respond to them after the webinar. If you feel inclined to tweet or otherwise use social networks, I’d encourage you to use the agency leadership hashtag. And of course, you can find out more information about the ame get framework and all sorts of other things at agency And so with that, let’s roll into the real substance of today’s webinar. And it starts with the plans for 2020. If yours look anything like mine, they look kind of like this bin of shredded paper. It’s not exactly the way that I had planned things in December. I’m sure it’s the same for you. And the

agency community in particular is feeling a lot of strains and stresses. And so I’ve been trying to do as many things as I can over the past few weeks to help share some information that may help folks get on track or to deal with the changes that are taking place in their business. And you sort of think about it in terms of the the blue screen of death that we used to see all the time on Windows computers, fortunately, doesn’t happen quite as often as it used to, but we still do see it. In fact, I got one myself. Last week, I’m not sure if that was an omen. But in any case, these blue screens of death moments are moments where we really have to take stock of our businesses. And at this point, every single agency should be taking time to step back and review its business review how everything is being done, top to bottom, and that doesn’t discriminate against you whether you’ve lost 20% of your business 50% of your business, or you’ve actually gained because perhaps you’re in crisis communication

or dealing with one of the fields that has a lot of excess work going on. Regardless of what it is you need to take the time to step back and look at your operations, look at your strategy, and figure out what adjustments that you need to make. In the end get framework is really the tool that I use when I’m working with agencies to try to figure out the best way to move forward. So now is an ideal time to take that or another framework and try to figure out what it is that you should be doing differently.

So the end, get framer, what is it? And in its simplest terms, I know there’s a lot of folks out there who talk about a formula, you know, if you just do this, you build a funnel and you’ll have a successful agency or you you follow these seven steps. I’m a big believer that every agency is different and it’s different because every agency owner is looking for something a little bit different. Their specialties are a little bit different. Their markets are different. But what is the same is the framework that you can use to make your decisions about both your strategy

And your tactics. And the aim get framework is really designed to accomplish that. And to give you the steps, the questions the thought process that you need to take. And if you think about it, the it actually just worked out conveniently, it’s why I was putting a lot of the things I was doing with agency owners into different buckets. And it turned out that it worked pretty nicely to have the framework split into two different halves, the aim portion and the get portion. And the aim piece is sort of what it sounds like. It’s the it’s the vision, it’s the strategy, it’s setting out in big broad brushstrokes, what it is that you’re going to do and how you’re going to do it. And then the get is the day to day, it’s the it’s what you’re doing to service your clients to build your revenue to create a team that is as effective as possible. And so if you think about it in those terms, it helps you really start to do your planning more effectively. The aim portion is something that you would do when you’re doing strategic planning. So probably on an annual basis, you would take a look at it, you would certainly take a look at

If you’re doing a three or five year plan, but you’d also take a look at it when something is disruptive in the marketplace, guess what we’re seeing a lot of disruption right now, perfect time to take a look at the ame portion of the framework. The get portion is really designed to focus more on your day to day activity. So you’re constantly evolving it and tweaking it. And we’ll talk a little bit more about the different components that go into each of these halves, and how it comes together to build a successful agency.

The six core elements are ambition, identity, and management. That’s the aim portion. And then growth, execution and talent on the more day to day side. And so those are the components that we’re going to walk through. And I’m not going to walk through in this presentation, the nitty gritty of everything that’s involved, I’m really focusing on it for the things that you should be looking at now, given the current environment, given the changes that you want to be looking at to make to your business, or the at least considering for your business. So that’s really going to

Be the focus over the next 20 or 25 minutes as I walk through each of these components and what you should be thinking about.

I think it’s really vital that you start with your ambition, your goals, what is it that you personally, as an agency owner, or an agency leader are looking to accomplish? And when I work with agencies, one of the biggest problems that I see is that the agency business itself is separated from the owners goals and ambition. And so that’s really why we start there in the framework, you really need to understand what are you trying to build? Are you trying to build something that you want to sell in three or four or five years? Are you trying to build something? Are you just trying to maximize as much cash in your pocket as you can? Are you trying to build something where you’re trying to create a lifestyle agency, where it gives you the flexibility to do the things that you want to do personally or with your family, gives you the ability to take vacations and maybe take some time off in the summer, all these different things, whatever it is that you want to accomplish, what you want to get out of it? Are the things

To go into ambition, and so that’s where we’re going to get started. And really, even if you’ve just gone through this exercise in the last few months, now’s a good time to take stock. A lot of us have had a chance to spend some time over the past few weeks as we’ve been cooped up in our homes, trying to figure out how is this changing what we want to do what we want to accomplish. And that could be in financial terms, it could be in terms of the kind of work we’re doing, the people we’re serving. And so when we think about it, the checklist of items that I think you should be looking at from an ambition standpoint, right now, obviously need to start with compensation, you need to know how much it is that you need to be making out of your business. And if you need to make adjustments to your cost structure or those kinds of things, or if you have to really make aggressive business development targets to hit your basic compensation needs. You need to start there because at the end of the day, we all need to be making sure that we’re taking care of ourselves and our families. But beyond that, how is this impacting how much time you want to spend on

The business, maybe you came into this whole crisis as a 24, seven operator, someone who didn’t take vacations who was just all into the business. And you know, maybe this is giving you a different perspective and you want to try to achieve a little bit more balance could be the other way around, you know, maybe this has now given you a renewed passion for figuring out how to grow your business, maybe you’d become a little complacent in recent years, because the economy was booming. A lot of agencies were doing particularly well. You know, maybe now you’re you’re making some adjustments to your thought process there. What about your satisfaction? Are you enjoying the kind of work you’re doing? Are you enjoying the industries that you’re serving, the type of work that your agency does what you’re doing personally, as an owner, that’s absolutely part of the mixing. You need to understand what it is that you want to do. Are you someone who wants to be the Rainmaker growing the business, or are you someone who wants to be spending time doing client service, and ultimately, a lot of folks came to the agency world as an owner accidentally maybe during a

a time like this, you were out of work and so you decided to take on some freelance work and it just mushroomed and spiraled from there and all of a sudden, you had a booming agency with employees and all that, but you never really went through the thought process. Take the time now to go through that thought process and think about what it is that you actually want to be doing personally and what you want to achieve out of your business. And then finally, you need to think about your exit what is it that you want to do when it’s time to retire or when you can retire or stop working or whatever you want to describe it as, and I like to talk about it with my clients as the the work optional date. So you know, when is it that you can sort of shift into that mode where work isn’t the primary thing that’s driving you and you need to think about what it is that you’re trying to build? Because at the end of the day, if you’re not building to exit, then you may want to be taking in more of your profits today. If you are looking to exit you may need to balance that out a little bit and focus more on on growing your

We’re all enterprise. So worth considering those kinds of things. So that’s what I think goes into your recheck of your ambition at this point in time.

The next piece of the M get framework is AI for identity. And so that’s your positioning that is talking about, as I like to call it, the journalistic questions about your business. And it’s the model that I like to walk through with clients, where we look at who is it that you’re serving? And I mean, who in terms of what types of clients, what size of clients, what industries? And also what are the titles of the people that you’re targeting within those organizations? Do you work with CEOs, CMOS, CEOs of startups? Do you work with, you know, directors of media relations? Who is it that that is your, your core client, and what are the key industries that you’re targeting? And some of you may be listening and you may be targeting industries right now that have gone up in smoke, at least for the time being, maybe you’re considering repositioning, that’s all

worth looking at as part of your identity checklist right now, you need to think about the services that you’re offering. How is that changing? Do you need to make some adjustments to the services that you’re offering? Maybe you’re focused exclusively on media relations, or exclusively on web development, or what have you, maybe you need to have more of a mix. Maybe you’re spread too thin. And so now you’re going through some contraction, you’re gonna have to make some prioritization decisions about the services that you’re offering based on the talent that you have available. Where are you servicing your clients, it’s very easy now to throw a broad net and say I service clients anywhere but. And in the old days, of course, it was exactly the opposite. Everybody served someone in their local market because you wanted to be able to drive and have face to face meetings, with face to face meetings aren’t really all that important. Today, we’re all communicating as I am right now via a webcam and it’s becoming much more normal or usual for people to do that. And I think as we come out of this crisis, there’s going to be more of that. So geographic boundaries don’t matter.

quite as much, but they still do matter. If nothing else, for timezones, for example, language and cultural barriers, so understanding where your clients are and who it is that you want to serve from that standpoint matters. You want to think about the when of what it is that you’re providing, and, and when in terms of project based, so one time work versus ongoing or retainer work. And a lot of folks came into this thinking that retainer work was the answer. And of course, retainer work has dried up just as much as project work for a lot of agencies right now. So it’s worth stepping back and concern, what is the best mix and how do you achieve the levels of profitability you want? How do you showcase the abilities of your agency the best? So think about that in terms of positioning, think about the how, what unique processes do you have? What special expertise do you have? What What is it about the way in which you deliver services that helps to set you apart? And how might you make adjustments right now for instance,

Do you want to productize some of your services so that you have an entry point for clients that’s a little bit simpler and easier to understand. Or that’s maybe more focused on helping them get through this scenario right now, as opposed to, perhaps the broader strategic plans that you had been working on. I know in my own business, that’s something that I’m having to make adjustments to, because I was focused largely on long term on site strategic projects for clients. And now it’s really much more focused on getting them through the crisis and, and thinking about how to reposition. And then finally, why why do clients hire you? What is it about you that sets you apart? And I, you know, I don’t really like to think in terms so much of differentiation because at the end of the day, there are a lot of folks who are providing similar services. But what is it about you and your agency that tends to attract business? Is it your style is the owner is it the way that your team operates with people perhaps the way they communicate?

Is it that you do have some special expertise, maybe in your own background, you have some particular expertise in an industry that sets you apart. And so people go to you for that. So understanding the why people buy you matters. So that’s the identity piece. And then finally, from the big picture, 30,000 foot view, we need to look at the management side. And when I talk about management, management is really about not so much the day to day management. It’s about looking at the the way that your organization is structured. It’s looking at your ownership structure. Are you a solo owner, or do you have partners? And right now, a lot of agencies are thinking about just a couple of small agencies come together. Maybe the power of having two co owners is more than being separate, is it you know, maybe you’ve got an employee who you really want to keep, but you can’t continue to pay them at the level you’ve been paying them at. So you think

about, okay, maybe I bring them on as an equity partner in the business instead. So they’re, I’m keeping them in they have a higher upside, but at least in the short term, they’ll feel a pinch, because we can’t we just don’t have the money coming in the door to fund that compensation. Those are the kinds of things that you want to be thinking about from an ownership structure at this point in time. You want to think about your location, obviously, I know some of you are looking at the attendee list are remote agencies already. Some of you have offices, obviously, most of us are not in our offices, which means that we have team members who are working remotely. How is that going to change? How do you want that to change? I think that’s something that a lot of businesses are looking at right now. Certainly some employees love working from home, but I’m not one of those folks who believes that remote is here to stay as the primary way that agencies work because I think there are a lot of employees who like to go into the office. They like the social aspect of it. Maybe they’re more junior workers and they don’t have a good area to work from home. Folks are making their way

Through it now, but I’m doing plenty of calls with people who are working out of a bathroom, for example, that’s not an ideal structure. So those folks probably, at least in the near term aren’t going to be as interested in working remotely, once they can go back to the office. So think about that. How do you change the way your office is organized? How do you How does it change your square footage needs, all of that goes into the management component, the big picture thinking about where your team is located,

the structure of your agency and by structure, I mean,

the basics of how you’re incorporated where you’re incorporated those kinds of things. And so that matters, in part, because that’s going to dictate some of your available options when it comes to the next item, which is resourcing and by resourcing. I’m primarily talking about the mix of freelancers, independent contractors, versus in house staff, and that’s something that a lot of people have been looking at

In recent years, obviously, it’s something that there’s a lot of tension about it certainly gives you as an agency leader, much more flexibility to be working with contractors. The downside is that you don’t have people that you can experiment with and tap into as much beyond the specific client projects that you have been working on, because you’re less inclined, in most cases, to pay a contractor to take a risk, whereas an employee, you’ve already bought their hours, you’ll tend to do that. But the other tension that you have, from a resourcing perspective, are the rules that some jurisdictions are putting into place. California was already tough on independent contractors. Then in January, they brought on a B five, which made it even tougher to have contractors, so you know, how you’re structured, where you’re located can matter about whether or not you can tap into some of that if you’re a California based agency, you’re going to have a lot more challenges using independent contractors, and folks in other places, you may have no choice but to go the employee route and maybe how

Have a little bit less of the elasticity. Even if you’re outside of that, I think this whole economic crisis that we’re going through is going to cause jurisdictions to take an even closer look at how they allow independent contractors and employees to be treated the same or differently. So understand that there’s a lot going on from a management standpoint that you need to be thinking about and considering how it factors into your overall planning and decision making. So that brings us to a conclusion of the 30,000 foot view and now, now we start with those big picture things out of the way we start digging into the things that are going to be evolving even more rapidly. I think you’ll find that a lot of what you look at on the ame side of the equation won’t be all that different from say December when you may last gone through this process to think about your strategic plan. There are going to be some changes, but where you see the real change is going to be on the get side and it starts with growth. Growth is of course the foundation of any successful business you have to be generating revenue. Agencies are always churning clients.

Never have 100% retention, you’re always going to have some degree of turnover from year to year. Obviously, you don’t want too much, but you have to be out there finding new business. And so you need to be going through your checklist of things that you want to be looking at right now, for adjustments that you want to make to your growth program. You need to think about how the work that you did on the identity side may be changing how you’re targeting. But maybe they’re even if you’ve kept your identity the same after you’ve gone through that portion of the EM get exercise, you still want to make some tweaks to your target markets to your who you’re reaching out to now, you know, maybe you put some of your industry targets on the back burner and focus on others who are maybe more open to hearing from you. And one of the biggest mistakes that I’m seeing agencies make right now is they’re pulling back completely. They’re saying nobody really wants to hear a sales pitch. Nobody wants to be digging into these questions right now. They want to just sort of survive. Well guess what on the the PR and marketing side of the

equation, we’re there to help them get through this. We are helping them to communicate. But more importantly, even if you’re in an industry that’s being hard hit by what’s going on right now, you need marketing support in order to help grow your business and get out of this. If you turn off all of your communications and marketing programs, you’re never going to dig out of this hole. So even if you’re hurting badly, there are some needs that you’re going to have to have met. And it may be that that agencies can help you get through some of that, as an agency yourself, you need to be thinking about how do you reposition yourself? What tactics are you pitching from the standpoint of what you’re offering to your clients? But what tactics are you using to reach them? Right now, I would encourage you to be even more helpful than usual. And I’m a huge believer in using helpfulness as a business development strategy. You need to be out there and talking to people. You need to have as many conversations as possible. But right now, people are so much more willing to have that conversation with you. They’re they’re gonna open up to you

More than they ever have before I can tell you the agency owners I’m talking to in the last two or three weeks are sharing things with me in first conversations that they might not have shared with me two or three months ago, even its people are just feeling vulnerable and they’re willing to reach out and ask for help. Same for you, you’re going to have those prospects that are going to be willing to share a lot more, you’ll learn so much to have those conversations and shift to that fully helpful mode and much less. On the sales side, the sales will come if you’re being helpful. tone, you need to really be thinking about the tone. And we’ve seen a lot of tone deaf marketing messaging. A lot of folks in the agency community have been critical of organizations for what they’ve said, but agencies can be just as guilty of us. So be careful about how you’re messaging, your things. You want to be reaching out to people and being helpful but don’t go in saying look, you know, we know you’re screwed. So, you know, we’re here to rescue you. Okay, that’s, that’s a little bit too aggressive. That’s not really coming across as helpful as sort of taking a punch in

saying, Okay, now I’ll give you a band aid. So, you know, think about the tone that you’re using, think about the timing, think about whether, you know, perhaps geographically, it may make more sense to work to reach out to certain targets, more so than others, depending upon what’s going on in their geographic places. You know, if you’re, you know, reaching out to prospects in Italy, for example, it’s improving now, but you know, two or three weeks ago would have probably been a miserable time to be reaching out to your Italian contacts, at least for actual business conversations. If it’s simply a, hey, just want to check in and see how you’re doing. That’s great too. And I certainly encourage that sort of behavior because we all do need to find ways to look out for each other. And then finally, I want to talk about temptation. And during these times, when there’s a lot of business challenges going on, there is a temptation to take whatever business you can get. And certainly I think you need to be more flexible today than you have been in the past. I think you need to be

Open to taking on different kinds of opportunities than you might have taken on before. But you don’t want to sacrifice all of your values and principles. You don’t want to just say, Look, I’ll take on any kind of rubbish project as long as it pays the bills, because those things will perhaps help you in the short term, I would question that, but there’s certainly going to hurt you in the long term. So open up be a little bit more accepting of the kinds of work the kinds of projects you might take on. But be careful how far you go with that, because you could ultimately end up doing more damage to your business than you expect.

Next up is execution. And this is the the core of any agency business, it’s doing client service for the folks that have trusted their time and money with you in order to achieve results. And so when you’re talking about working with clients right now, it’s

things are changed, they’re different and so you need to have a good handle on it.

How your clients are perceiving things you need to be in close and constant communication with your clients to understand exactly what it is that is

keeping them up at night, you need to understand, you know what the real financial picture is for that organization. So make sure that you as an owner are really taking charge of this. And so you need to make sure even if you’ve got numbers on your team who are doing most of the day to day contact, you need to renew your personal conversations with the clients so that you can really understand much more precisely what it is that they’re doing, you’ll have a better indication as to how it’s going to impact your work you’re going to have a better understanding of when they say we want to pause something is really a pause or is it really that they’re walking away and just trying to you know, tell the truth slowly let you down a little bit more easily.

And you need to be really creative right now. And I don’t mean really creative you need to come up with you know, pretty pictures or you know, flowery words.

What I’m talking about from a creativity standpoint is you need to think about how do you help your clients solve the problems that they have? How do you work through the challenges that they’re having now in perhaps not just a linear way. So, for example, a lot of folks are having trouble because in person events have been canceled. And a lot of organizations rely very heavily on in person events for marketing activities, or for thought leadership, or perhaps you’re working with an organization that is generating revenue directly from putting on events. You need to think about how you deal with that. And most folks are just immediately saying, Well, how do I put on a really cool virtual event to replace it? Well, that may be the right idea, but it may be that you need to find a different solution. really dig deep and find out what the challenge is that the prospect or the client has tried to figure out how you can give them a strategy

An approach and a plan that will help them achieve those goals but perhaps may not be what they were originally thinking. You’re going to have clients, I know a lot of my clients are having clients come to them and say we’re going to pause because not because we don’t have budget, but because we don’t feel like this is the right time to be engaging in communications or marketing activity. Don’t necessarily just say, Sure, you know, instead sit there and say, Okay, well, you know, what is it that I could do differently? Are there tactics that you could use to reach your target audience, that still makes sense, even within the current environment. So really tap into that creativity.

Now on to the sort of the, the more mundane, but really super important in these cash crunch times, collections and cost controls.

collections. You got to be human, you got to realize that a lot of your clients are having financial hardships and are going to have a difficult time paying. And you do want to try to find ways to extend terms or be accommodated

To the extent that you can be, but you can’t suspend collections entirely, you need to be working diligently to get the money that you’re owed. And to understand for those who are slow to pay, you know, what is their timing, frankly, you’re gonna have a very difficult time you know, suing a client in the best of times to get to the pay, you’re gonna have even more trouble doing that now. So really collections is about how do you control those payments in the coming to you as quickly as possible. The first thing you need to do is stay on top of it, don’t let it lapse, if someone is late paying, call them up and say, Hey, you know what, you know what’s going on? What’s the timing here? I know you’re you’re having challenges. And you also need to be careful because there are some clients who are doing just fine right now. But we’ll take advantage of the environment to slow down payments to, to come to you and seek reductions in their fees, those sorts of things. And so you’re gonna really have to make some judgments as to, you know, who really needs the help and who is simply trying to get a better

deal because of the the environment. And it’s, you know, that doesn’t necessarily make them bad people. I know a lot of people think that way. But ultimately, you know, everybody is trying to get as much out of the budgets as they can they want flexibility. And so you’re going to have some folks who do come to you, and push you to extend terms or reduce fees, you’re in need to make some of those calls as to what actually makes sense. And do make sure that it makes sense for your business don’t become a bank, for a fortune 500 organization that just doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. Cost controls, obviously, if you haven’t done it already, you need to be reviewing every single expense that you have. Take a look at all the software subscriptions that you have, figure out if you can dispense with any of them, figure out you know, what, if you need to pare back further than you already have done, you know, what are your next steps and I think it’s really helpful to have a plan that says okay, you know, if I drop to this revenue level, I need to knock out you know, these contractors, these employees

Are these other expenses, you really need to have a feel for that, because it all goes into the mix trying to figure out, you know how it is that you can get your cash flow to the place that it needs to be. And I would just say, you know, be very careful about debt. There are a lot of folks out there right now talking about taking on debt, lines of credit, those kinds of things to get through, I strongly encourage you to avoid as much debt as possible. So when you’re thinking about cash flow, think about it more in terms of how you collect more and how you control your costs, not you know, how do you tap you know, more streams of debt that will just come back to haunt you later.

Finally, as we approach the, the talent side of things,

we all talk about how agencies are all about the people and just about every agency owner, that I have a conversation with when I say you know what differentiates you what makes you stand out, they almost always say our people get the best people and the reality is always

A lot of us think we have the best people, there are a lot of really good people out there. The real question is how do you get the most out of the talent that you do have? And so the M get process really is focused on? How do you look at your team? And how do you maximize their effectiveness on behalf of your clients or therefore on behalf of the business. And right now, the tout pieces that the piece that’s hurting the most you’ve got, they’re concerned about the business, they’re concerned about their families, they’re concerned about the overall the economy. So your people are really worried. And so you need to communicate and over communicate and then communicate some more. You need to make sure that you’re having one on one meetings with all of your team members right now, on at least a weekly basis, all of your direct reports. You should do that in the best of times, but you really need to double down and do it right now. And I’m talking, no agenda, or no fixed agenda, one on one meetings where the team member has an opportunity to ask questions or express their concerns.

You need to be transparent at this point in time, and you need to be just open with your team and say, This is what I know, this is what I don’t know. And there are a lot of things that we don’t know. I mean, none of us really knows what’s you know what the future holds. But you need to explain what you do know as far as what’s already happened with your client base, what you think might happen, and how it’s going to impact things. Because the the size of your team is something that there’s no doubt that you’re evaluating whether you’re a solo, and you’re just looking at your independent contractors that you may be using or you’re a 50 or 100 person agency, you need to be looking at the size of your team and figuring out what is the right size, given the changes that have taken taken place. In the environment. Most of you have lost revenue to some degree or another. That means most of you should be looking at some sort of reduction in headcount. It sucks, it’s terrible. I get it. You want to be human, you want to be helpful. The government is trying to encourage us to

do that here in the United States and in other places, by having programs that encourage businesses to hold on to team members. And while I laud the the overall effort, you need to also think about what’s right structurally for your business. What is the right size of your team? What’s the right compensation of your team? composition of your team, rather, you need to be thinking about those things really, really carefully. And you don’t want to put yourself in a position where you wait too long to make any necessary reductions.

You do need to think about how all of this is playing into morale. Your team members know when you’re losing clients, they hear about it. They’re the ones doing the client work, they know they’re no longer doing that client work.

They’re seeing any changes that you may be making as far as compensation to the team or reductions in size. You need to be really focused on how do you help them with the morale part of that is the communication side of things. And part of it is just you know, being really blunt.

And if you need to make staff reductions, try to do it all at once. That works much better than a few here, a few there. So really be thoughtful about how you’re dealing with your team members, because you need to get as much goodwill from them today as possible, because there are some rocky roads ahead. And it’s not going to be a quick, you know, a quick fix, even after the social distancing, and other things are lessened or relieved a little bit. And then finally, think about the training piece, you know, particularly if you’ve got team members who are less utilized right now, because you’re you have had some reductions, but you don’t feel like you need to necessarily remove the headcount just yet, or, you know, perhaps through the identity process that you’ve gone through, you’ve thought about some changes that you want to make. As far as the services you’re offering or the positioning that you have, you may need to do some additional staff training. So think about that right now. When you’re thinking about your talent checklist in the end gets

scenario, it’s it’s a good time to make sure that you’re upskilling your team and giving them the tools that they need to succeed going forward.

So with that, we’ve taken a look now at the

key elements of the the M get process, the 30,000 foot aim part and the day to day get part. And I think if you go through the checklist of items that I’ve looked at here, and you think about your business and where it’s headed over the next three 612 18 months, obviously, there’s a lot of guesswork in there. But there’s a lot in this framework that I think will help you to navigate it a little bit more successful a little bit more rationally and, and start to give you that sense of direction that we all need right now because it’s tough. Being in firefighting mode is tough showing up every day and just you know, looking for the smoke trying to figure out if there’s a fire and tamping it out, you really want to start thinking about, okay, how do we rebuild the house? How do we reboot the business? So hopefully this has been helpful.

We’ll shift over to questions here. Certainly, as I said, use the q&a box to submit any questions that you may have. And if you think of things after this, feel free to just drop me an email, I’m happy to answer it. And for anyone who’s listening, I’m also happy to hop on the phone, give you a free hour of consulting time just to talk through whatever challenges you may be having. I think it’s really important as a an agency community that we’re all coming together and helping each other. I know a lot of agency owners are doing this for each other. And I’m trying to do it for as many agency owners as I can myself, so don’t hesitate to take me up on that if I can be of any help, or if I can make any introductions or connection with people. So chip at agency leadership, comm is the easiest way to get me. So with that, I’m going to grab a sip of water and then I’m going to open the question box to see what we have for questions.


Let’s see, I lost.

I lost all but one of my clients. Any advice on how to recover? Okay, well, that’s a, that is certainly a challenging one.

You know, if you’ve lost that much business part of it depends on how much business that you had to begin with. You need to be trying to figure out, obviously, as we walked through the the end get process, there’s a lot of things going in there that will help you figure out what adjustments you need to you need to make to your cost structure. But I think it’s, it’s really an opportunity to sit there and say, Okay, if I were starting fresh today, because essentially, if you’re down to one client, you are, how would you do it differently? And I think that’s something that’s, it’s daunting, but it can be very exciting for a lot of people who have that entrepreneurial bent. So if you have that bent, and, you know, even if you’re not in the position of the questioner who is dropped that far, you know, being able to take advantage of this as an opportunity to say what does the agency have 2021 2020

To look like, how do I want to do things differently than I did when I started, it’s an opportunity to become much more intentional with your agency, particularly if you were an accidental agency owner to begin with. So, you know, I tend to be a glass half full type of person, for anyone who knows me, you know that. And so I think if you can take advantage of this opportunity to sit there and say, okay, all this disruption that’s going on? How can I take advantage of it, and it’s really, I’ve talked a lot in the last few weeks about the importance of figuring out how to take advantage without taking advantage. You don’t ever want to capitalize on someone else’s grief or trouble. But you do want to try to figure out how you can be the person who helps them find the path forward, and if you can help them and it helps you in the process. You know, that’s a great way to end the day.

Let’s see here. So next one,

is when do you think things will get back to

Normal? Well, if I knew that I would probably be standing up on the White House podium giving briefings right now, but I unfortunate I don’t know that I guess, you know, best guess is that sometime over the summer things will ease up a bit. I think that, you know, part of the thing that we’ll see is that folks are going to find ways around a lot of the current challenges. So it’s going to be you know, right now we are in a disordered

destruction of the economy. And we need to move to a more ordered chaos, if you will. And I think that

all of us will find ways to do it. We’re, I see this every week. There’s an improvement amongst agency owners that I’m talking to, you know, the first week of the shutdown for most people three or four weeks ago, people walked around with the shell shock look, that thousand Yard Stare that you hear about. And I think that you know, people have gradually begun to

Try to find ways to muddle through. And I think the more time that passes, folks are going to come up with creative ways for addressing some of the challenges. It certainly doesn’t mean that it’s going to be easy. It’s not a lot of you are working at home, you have, perhaps kids at home spouses at home, you know, working in close quarters that you’re not used to your teams are doing that your clients are doing it. It is absolutely challenging. There are some industries, frankly, that are a lot less fortunate than we are in that they don’t even have the opportunity to reinvent themselves. If you work in a retail store, you’re having a very difficult time. You know, at an ownership level, you can look at perhaps doing online ordering, e commerce, delivery, those kinds of things, but as actual workers, really difficult restaurant industry, I have tons of friends there. They’re getting decimated right now. You need to be grateful for what you’ve got and creative in the solutions that you’re coming up with. I think more folks, we’ll we’ll do that. And so I don’t think we’re going to be back to large scale in person events for

quite some time. And you know, I’m not an expert, but my own personal betting and planning is that there will not be any significant in person events for the rest of this year. But I think that gradually pieces of the economy will start coming back and that will be good for agencies, particularly because folks are going to need the communications and marketing help to dig out.

Let’s see, what do I think about the SBA loan programs? So, there’s obviously been a lot of coverage about the stimulus bill that went through Congress a couple trillion dollars here in the United States. There are a couple of different programs, the one that’s received the most attention is the paycheck Protection Program, which is basically where you get two and a half times your average monthly payroll. But in exchange you have to basically promised not to lay off staff. And if you do if you don’t lay off staff and it converts from a loan into a

forgiven loan, or a

Grant, I think that that program can be useful for folks, I think you do need to be careful, there’s a lot of talk about it being free money, but it does come with these strings attached. And it’s, I’m less concerned about the strings and more concerned about the

the effect that that having that Lifeline may may give you a false sense of security. And so I think that if you are taking that money, or there’s another program where you can get up to a $10,000 grant from the SBA, and that has far less strings attached. Obviously, it’s not going to be as substantial if you’re a larger agency. But if you’re an independent contractor or a smaller agency, it certainly can be beneficial to get some funds that way, that you just need to be careful that all this money that you’re using, you’re using it to give yourself runway to make the changes that you need in your business. You don’t want to use it in such a way that it allows you to put off making some of the difficult decisions about the changes that you may need to make to yourself.

team or to your cost structure, those kinds of things. So use it as runway just don’t allow it to be something where it prevents you from making the necessary changes that you know, you have to be making in your business.

Let’s see,

clients are asking for price cuts. How should I respond to that? I think that one may have come in before the before I talked about some of those issues. But But basically, if you’ve got clients, we’re looking for price cuts. I’m not a big fan of taking straight up fee reductions. I like to try to find ways to reduce work. At the same time. The only thing I will say to you is you do need to be mindful of the fact that there is such thing as supply and demand when it comes to pricing. And right now we’re seeing a lot of layoffs from companies from agencies. So there’s a lot more competition for outsourced communications and marketing help right now. So you’re going to have some really talented people who are out of work. They’re now trying to freelance and that means that there is good

gonna be some degree of price pressure that you’re going to need to think about. So

generally speaking, don’t like taking straight up price cuts. But do think about how you might make some adjustments to your packages to your pricing to your minimums to your terms, all those kinds of things to try to to find your way through.

How will this impact m&a activity? This is this is actually one I’ve been getting a lot from clients. So

in the, in the current environment, there’s already been or in the environment before Coronavirus, there was already a lot of consolidation taking place in the agency space, a lot of acquisitions. And we have information about that on the agency leadership website. I did a report on all the PR agency acquisitions last year, and certainly there, that was something it was very active before this, I think you will see a change in the face of that. It’s not going to put a stop to m&a activity by any means. But you know some of the folks who had the deep pockets and were able to

Go and do acquisitions may be pulling back a little bit. At the same time, you’re you have a lot of distressed sales that are either taking place or trying to take place right now I know from my conversations that there are a lot of agencies who are concerned that they won’t be able to make it or their owners are just not interested in in the work that it would take to rebuild to their previous level of success. And so they’re looking to find graceful ways to exit. So I think in the short term, we’ll see a burst in some of those kinds of deals. It really kind of depends on how long this goes on and what it might do as far as the longer term prospects for m&a, but there’s always going to be agencies that are bought and sold. So I guess I wouldn’t worry too much about that focus on on building your business right now. And, and if the right deal comes along, great if you’re one of those larger agencies who’s looking at acquisitions, Be really careful about the distressed sales, they often look really good on paper, but any kind of

acquisition always takes a lot of integration work, and can be really challenging to implement in the best of times, even harder today. So just be mindful of that.

Should I furlough staff or lay them off? Okay. So there’s been particularly it seems like on the advertising side of the equation, there’s been a lot of agencies that have taken the furlough route versus straight up layoffs. There are some folks who are advocating for Lowe’s versus layoffs. Look, I, at the end of the day, someone’s out of work. And there’s depending on your state, or other jurisdiction, there are some technical differences. Most of them have been eliminated by a lot of the rescue packages that are out there, but you really should understand for your own employees. You know what the technical difference may mean for your employees, it tends to impact the employees more than the employer. You know, some folks are doing sort of

A hybrid thing where they’re, they’re paying benefits but, but not salary. Look, there’s a lot of different solutions that you can take here. You need to talk with your own legal and tax advisers to figure out figure out what the right mix is there. If you are going the furlough route, you want to make sure you’re regularly in communication with those furloughed employees. So they understand, you know, what their prospects are, and when you think you might be able to bring them back. But I’ll be honest with you, I think most agencies aren’t going to bounce back really quickly. I think if you’ve taken a 20 or 30% revenue hit, you’re unlikely to make that up. In the course of this year, it’s not impossible, but I think it’s unlikely for most of you, and I think that most agencies will, even once they get back to the revenue levels that they were in February, they’re unlikely to be at the same staffing levels. Because most people coming out of any kind of economic shock as a business owner, you’re going to be more conservative, you’ll be slower, to higher back up to the level

But you were at before. So,

you know, at the end of the day, it’s semantics, you just need to make sure that you’re getting your business structurally right sized, while you’re also working with your team members to be as fair to them as possible. If you are taking the paycheck Protection Program money, a good way to look at that might be to look at it as garden leave for some of your employees. So you continue to keep them on the payroll, but you encourage them to try to figure out what their next step in their career is. And you can soften the blow. If you take the paycheck protection money and you run it out to the end and then you decide it’s time to lay off. First of all, you’ve done a disservice to the employee by not giving them as much notice as you could. And secondly, you’re you’re doing a disservice to yourself, because if you do pay

severance or final benefits packages or any of those kinds of things, your cost is likely to be higher if you wait that long. So really try to think about how you get the staff into the the right place so that you’ve got what you need as a business.

And you’re really trying to help out your team as much as you reasonably can, understanding that you have a duty to the overall business. Because if you, if you go overboard trying to help the employees who are headed out the door, you may end up just harming the ones who are still there by shortening the lifespan of your overall business. So be really, really careful when it comes to staffing, particularly since that’s the largest cost that you have in your business.

Let’s see, would you recommend sole proprietorships or smaller agencies looked to partner with another individual agency to reinvent themselves.

So I think there’s going to be a lot more collaboration between small agencies and independence. It certainly reduces the risk for everybody. I think you’ll see this in particular where someone’s got a particular skill set that you know, perhaps they had to let go from their their paid team and but they still want to be able to offer it in a client facing way. So it may be something where they find a way to partner with another person.

small agency or individual, I think that finding those creative solutions can certainly be helpful. The the asterisk I would give is, is be careful about these because my general experiences a lot of these partnerships don’t bear fruit, but they can often be quite a distraction. So you really need to focus on ones that you think are going to have a much more likely a much greater likelihood of an immediate payoff or a short term payoff. Because there are a lot of options that most of you have right now as far as how to regrow your businesses or reboot your businesses. And so you, you’re better off picking a handful of things that you think are likely to succeed than throwing a bunch of things at the wall and seeing what sticks. So really try to zero in on what you think the best investment of your time and your resources are right now.

Let’s see. What are some recession proof industries I can target

gotten that one a lot lately to

look there. There’s no industry right now that’s not being impacted. And I would say that, that even the agencies that are doing particularly well, right now the the crisis groups, some that are focused on healthcare and those sorts of things or, or others that are directly impacted by what’s going on folks who are working for government agencies, for example, you know, now is a time when everybody’s going to be experiencing challenges in the next few months. And, you know, certainly there are some industries that have been particularly hammered like the cruise industry, like restaurants, and some of those are going to be fairly slow to come back. But particularly if you’re dealing with bigger players in those markets, there are actually opportunities now that you should be looking at. So it’s, it’s, you know, for example, if you’re in the cruise space, you need to be talking to your clients about how they position themselves to make people feel safe and comfortable and taking a cruise in 2021. I think that’s going to be a huge

challenge and it’s going to come down and communications and marketing, it’s not going to come down to sales, just dialing for dollars and pounding the pavement, you’re, it’s really going to take folks changing the mindset of folks coming out of this, that it’s still a good idea to get on a boat, for your vacation and that it’s going to be safe to do. So. You need to be thinking about those opportunities in the markets that you serve. Even if they’re currently distressed, you may need to make some adjustments, you may need to pivot a little bit and maybe if you’ve dealt primarily with small players in a space that just don’t have the cash right now, maybe you mix it in some larger players that will subsidize some of the work that you’re doing for the small guys and you position yourself you know, for example with with independent restaurant owners to come out stronger on the other side of it. So you know, really be creative and how you’re looking at the spaces but you know, there aren’t. I think if you’re looking to jump into a recession proof industry right now, that’s not likely to be a successful effort.

You’re apart

any advice for how I can get out of an office lease? So, as I said that, you know, there are

decisions that you’re gonna have to make about how you want to structure your business going forward. Part of that is the infrastructure, the office space that you’re using.

It obviously, a lot of you are paying rent right now on offices that you are not using. You need to work with your lawyer and figure out if there’s a way, even if your landlord hasn’t done so proactively in order to not pay for the time that you’re not able to use those offices. Depending on how your leases written. You may have some options there. He may not but it’s worth having the conversation with your lawyer. But frankly, you need to be able to have a conversation with your landlord and talk openly and honestly about the changing needs of your business. I mean, look, they’re not surprised they’re, they’re able to to see what’s going on. They’ve got a lot of pressures. landlords are going to have to be flexible coming out of this because Frank

A lot of businesses are going to fail, a lot of businesses are going to need to reduce their cost structures in order to survive. And if you go to a landlord and say, Look, you know, if we don’t reach an agreement here, I’m just going to have to default on on the lease and you can sue me but good luck. I can tell you that in the past, I’ve had even in good economic times I’ve had, I’ve actually had success in working with landlords to, to get out of existing deals, you know, that they want to do whatever they can to keep you so they’re going to be willing to cut you a deal on your rent, in all likelihood, but you need to have that open and honest conversation with them and try to figure out a solution that meets your needs as well as theirs.

Um, let’s see. I think that

these other questions look like they’re ones that we have already gotten. So I think that will bring this webinar to a close. I appreciate the time, all of you have taken to

Listen, feel free to share this recording with others. If you’re listening to this as a recording, if you’re listening live, you will get the recording and feel free to share it with others. Really, I want to try to help as many agency owners as I can in this difficult period of time. If you do have additional questions, feel free to reach out to me chip at agency leadership comm we’d love to have an email conversation or happy to hop on a zoom call with you and figure out how I can be of help. So thank you again for joining me and good luck and stay safe

Agency Leadership Staff

Agency Leadership Staff

The Agency Leadership Hub provides news and insights for PR and marketing communications agency owners and executives.