The Most Valuable Investment You Can Make in Your Agency Has Nothing to Do With Numbers

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Mike Gallagher
Mike Gallagher




Recently I was talking to a well-respected agency CFO, and I asked what the best investment for an advertising agency might be. In a very manner-of-fact way he said, “Well, it obviously depends on the business, but in general, I think short-term cash supported by longer-term stock investments are the safest strategy.” 

I was aghast! This guy actually gave me an answer that fit his daily mindset, but it had almost no relationship to the service business he and I are both in --- we work in small (by national standards), full-service advertising and public relations agencies.

Ours is not a business that manufactures “stuff”. Those businesses have tangible assets in equipment and stock that might be sold to another business for a profit. Agencies get paid (if they are lucky!) to have enough smart staff members who continually develop wise marketing solutions for clients. No agency has an “investment portfolio” of any significance that doesn’t start and end with talented, hard-working people.

Take away your staff, and look what you have. That’s right -- nothing but monthly bills that continue to come in. 

What I’m preaching here is nothing new. Our business -- and more than a few other service-oriented industries -- relies solely on owners’ abilities to attract and retain great people who need to earn an income and have identified and groomed a talent for helping clients solve marketing challenges.

Sounds easy? If you’ve hired anyone recently, then you know it's not. 

I’m convinced that there are plenty of smart folks out there, but let’s be honest, they have more options than ever. If you allow your firm to develop a “bad reputation,” it makes the uphill battle to attract the right talent even more difficult. The good news is that if you create and maintain a good image for your company, those talented people will want to be on your team.  

The heart of my message is this: Without a good staff, you may as well prepare to close the business. 

Here are my rules for keeping current employees comfortable and happy in an effort to continue to grow and recruit other talented individuals :

1) Be honest. Don’t pretend to share the news (good and bad).

2) Keep your door open. Make sure all staff can speak with you or at least make an appointment to have a conversation.

3) Say “thank you” … a lot. And mean it.

4) Pay your staff as well as you are able. If you have a great year, share the wealth with those who helped secure the profits.

5) Hire smart financial people. They are “talented” too and will play a valuable role in your agency’s survival and growth.

6) Search out clients your staff will love to work for and who value the agency’s contributions.

7) Take a break from work, and share time with all of your staff.

8) Ask for staff input. “I’m thinking of … . What do you think?”

9) Don’t let staff who are not contributing to the company overstay their welcome. It’s not fair to the rest of your hard-working employees.

And after all is said and done, know that you will lose some good employees. Don’t beat yourself up, but do watch for trends. The PR department has undergone a complete staff turnover in the past year. Why? We’ve lost every B2B opportunity we pitched this year. Why?

If you follow most of the steps noted above and apply your other good instincts, you will grow your staff, retain the best of the best, and find that more smart people are knocking on your front door.


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