Quit Your Damn Lying

I can’t even believe I’m saying this. Quit your damn lying. You know who you are – the driven, talented creatives and strategists who offer up to a client – “sure, we'll get that to you today” – and you haven’t checked to see if there is anyone available to get that revision done, and it’s just a quick fix anyway, and you’ll just go to the designer and sit over their shoulder while they ‘knock it out.’

For only $25.95 you can get this shirt from Zazzle to wear to client meetings. 

For only $25.95 you can get this shirt from Zazzle to wear to client meetings. 

Or perhaps you go into a client meeting with absolutely no idea how much that awesome creative will cost to produce and say, “sure, we can do that for ten-dollars apiece” – because you’re too arrogant to accept the fact that the client had a ten-dollars-apiece budget, but they should never do anything that cheap because it – in your opinion – doesn’t fit the “brand.” Then you get to do it all over again, and you wasted a big chunk of time chasing your dream to get in CA.

Give me a break. It makes everyone look like idiots. You are not a hero for giving your client something on a RUSH, especially when they didn’t even ask for it right away. You are certainly not a hero for presenting something to a client they cannot – or will not – pay for.

Get the client excited for amazing and fast, then give them mediocrity.

I have seen this happen repeatedly in agencies and marketing departments. There is no excuse for lying… except for the fact that the individuals who lie have no spine, no ability to be creative on a budget, no idea how to work with a client, do not care about the agency as a business, and actually think they know better than everyone else.

Those people are not talented, driven, creative or strategic.

Those people cost your agency tons – in time, money and reputation.

Those people have tiny. little. balls.


Efficiency In An Agency

I just read Ad Contrarian’s blog about the move to data over value in an agency. About how the big holding companies are sucking the life out of agencies and the amazing creatives who put in the hours to do great things that sell ordinary things in simple but extraordinary ways.

It got me thinking.

What do I do? I preach being efficient. But definitely not at the cost of great creative.

That got me thinking of something else.

Where do inefficiencies lie?

Bottom line, an agency that creates value for its client must make just a little profit so they can keep the doors open … and … afford a few of the perks that nurture an inspirational work environment.

Yes, I know inspiration comes from the work, and even more so from inspirational creative leaders. The environment comes from both of those. It’s often called culture. And no, culture isn’t a foosball table or Beer Fridays.

It’s that place you love to go every day. It’s the people you love to work with.

My efficiencies lie in ensuring everyone has what they need – when they need it.

Access to information like – where is the copy? When are we presenting to a client?

Shepherding so creative energy isn’t wasted on figuring out what’s next. Basic schedules. Basic budgets. Managed for you. The Creative.

Efficiency is flexible (and never confuse that with Agile). Knowing what’s next is invaluable. Ensuring an agency runs smoothly. That’s efficiency.

Great creative can be done well in an organized environment.

Cheap money is keeping the big holding companies afloat. They can afford 180 days to get paid.

Another bubble.

Break Your Projects Into Smaller Steps

I break my projects into steps – such as comp, layout, layout revision, and final. And those steps include client approvals in between. I never just count on overall project hours to carry me through the life of a project. Why? Well, you can burn through too many hours at the beginning of a project (been there) and you’re left with either asking for more money (been there too), making cuts to the project or taking a hit on the profit (ugh! been there too!). 

Profit is good. We stay in business when we make more than we spend. A good project manager is aware of everything going on and how it affects the bottom line. They don’t get a lot of love, but they always have an eye on the trifecta of projects: scope, schedule, budget.

We all love going back to the client to tell them it’s going to be late; that they’re asking for more than we agreed to (you did provide a brief didn’t you?); or we need more money to make awesome happen – right?

Therefore, red flags arise quickly when tracking projects broken down incrementally. Any slippage is easy to see, and moreover, you know what caused it. That allows you to learn. Wow.

Getting a handle on how much time (therefore how many dollars) each step in a project should take gives a project manager a better handle on burn rate and provides each employee with expectations.

Oh yes, we set expectations with clients too.

By the way, say thank you to your project manager. They have your back.

Gun Control

Why would I ever write anything about gun control? Because this is about not understanding your customer or listening to them.

                          Oh shoot!

                          Oh shoot!

I read a tweet by Laurie Ruettimann that made me laugh so hard I almost fell off my chair.  She was in Target and overheard someone asking a question. Here’s the tweet:

OH at Target: "Do you sell staple guns?" "No, we don't sell guns."

Now, I know for a fact that Target does have staple guns. At least they sell them on their website. So I imagine they carry them in their stores as well. And probably the ammo for them. Like staples.

This is a case of someone not listening – only hearing the word gun, and giving an immediate answer to their perception of what was said.

Target just lost out on a sale. Because their staff is either uninformed of what a staple gun is, or they listen to every fifth word.

How many other sales do they lose because their staff Does Not Listen? They’ll never know. Because as my father-in-law used to say, “Profits hide a multitude of sins.” As long as they're making bank, they don't have to worry about a lost sale here or there.

So, how many times have you come up with the wrong answer because you weren’t listening? Failure to pay attention can kill a sale, an agreement, a smooth project or just a pleasant conversation quicker than you can say Stanley Sharp Shooter.

And you thought this post was about the Second Amendment and things that go bang.

Poor Planning? Your Client Should Fire You.

It makes me crazy when I read things like this – the other day, I found this piece on Digitaria’s blog: When Good Ideas Get Expensive.

For the life of me, I cannot understand why the presented scenario was a surprise to the author. There were so many red flags it was like watching a horror movie…don’t open that door…!

A quick synopsis: The client wants a solution to solve their business challenges, the agency comes up with an awesome, integrated idea, the client loves it…

They start working on the project, THEN they find out that there are problems – here’s the list:
Talent ‘costs a fortune’
Animation is held up to find and hire a specialist
Image licensing is ‘outrageous’
Differences with SEO agency on an app for mobile

What? That list should have been fleshed-out before presentation…

So, the solutions were to be ‘transparent’:
Be honest with your client when you pitch the idea, like ‘budget uncertainties’
Renegotiate budget/timeline or scope
Admit mistakes and have a ‘worst case scenario’ in your back pocket

Okay, transparency = we didn’t actually figure out how we were going to get this done, but please give us more time/money to create awesome.

Sorry guys, but the issues in this scenario should have been researched well before the pitch and presented not as ‘budget uncertainties’. At all.

If you don’t know how you’re going to build your awesome solution to your client’s business challenge, then it’s time to learn your job.

And then, the solutions to the issues were abysmal. Transparency aside, it’s more than honesty – it’s about doing your homework and being realistic.

You should never, ever present a starry-eyed approach to a solution without hard data. And renegotiating budget, scope or timeline after commencing production is asking your client to be okay with to your lack of planning and research.

You have to learn how to provide accurate costs upfront because ‘budget uncertainties’ can (and will) completely undo the effectiveness and beauty of a ‘solution’. Further they can put your agency (and your vendors) at a significant loss – especially when you decide to ‘eat’ those costs because the awesomeness cannot be compromised.

And that worst case scenario? Your client fires you for your inability to deliver on a promise.

yes you should do estimates

I know another exciting topic, but there are a lot of very valid reasons for doing estimates. Like ensuring profitability through exercising just a little control.

How much does it cost to do the most mundane projects in your agency? I’m guessing you don’t know. Oh, it just takes too much time to do an estimate; it’s part of the client budget; it’s just a quick revision. Sorry, I just don’t buy it. But you always estimate big projects – right?

What percentage of your overall employee hours are spent on mundane projects? Maintenance consumes a lot of hours. You need to know where all those hours go. Every day.

I’m a proponent of the estimating process – which includes breaking a project down to tasks and allocating time to each because it:
– sets expectations
– ensures you remember all the steps that should be included
– gives you numbers to measure against
– data to track actuals against estimates in real time (requires diligent timesheets – do not whine)
– provides historical data that gives you a quick way to answer “how much time does X take / cost?”
– and solid data for reviewing the year, client or project type

Once you get in the habit, it’s actually easy and fast. Templates make it quick and there are plenty of software tools out there to tie-in everything – from estimates, to task allocation, time sheets and all that wonderful follow-up data you can actually see – in real time.

And just a little side-note: remind your colleagues to pay attention to the budgeted hours. Think about it. Budgeting hours is like setting a deadline. If your colleagues are going to be late on a project they should alert you. Likewise, if they need more hours they should let you know.

Right away.

Those alerts are the first indicators that your estimate is working. You could have under-estimated, there could have been unexpected problems, or an individual just wants to spend more time. Address those issues sooner rather than later and quickly revise your estimate, if needed.

When you have those discussions up-front, you can determine a solution and make sure the cost is covered.

Who likes surprises at billing time?

do your timesheets

Time = Money. Who wants to read this? No one, I’m sure. That’s because no one likes to do timesheets.

Let me tell you why you should care. Because you want to make money. Money keeps the agency open – and sharing it makes everyone happy to be there.

One of the ways to make money is to know who is spending it and what they’re spending it on. That comes down to ‘billable hours’ and tracking those hours. Accurately.

Professionals track time. Lawyers do, doctors do (yep, short or long office visits bill differently), and your plumber starts tracking time when he leaves his last job to come to your house and fix your leaky faucet. You are a professional and you should be paid for what you put into a project.

Require all your creative, account and production staff to do timesheets. Every day. No exceptions. I would have partners track time as well - because their time is valuable.

To make that process easy for accounting, and reduce whining from staff, get a centralized system for entering time. There are a lot of terrific systems out there, easy to access, and they pull everything together. Let me know if you need help.

A few suggestions:

-          Every job should have a job number (understanding how different projects accrue time is enlightening)
-          Every time an employee touches a job, they should post time to the job
-          All time must be accurate – not what is estimated, not eight hours because that’s all you ‘work’ in a day – what you actually put in on that job
-          Time entered – at the very least – before staff leaves for the day (it’s even better if they track it as they go
-          Commitment from management to not fold to whining

So you've been profitable? Profits hide a multitude of sins. It’s all great until one day – you’re not profitable and you don’t know why.

Tracking time will give you the foundation to see how many hours are spent on different types of projects, which clients require more hours, and individuals who spend an inordinate amount of time without good reason. (This reveals issues ranging from lack of training to poorly-managed clients.)

Your clients are fee? Is that fee covering the actual hours you’re putting in on that client? Are you over-servicing? Are your clients asking for more value? Or perhaps a reduction in fee? Showing them how much you have put into their projects provides solid evidence when you’re in a review.

Starting the New Year, make the big decision to get ahead. Track time, and then compare it to your estimates.

Oh, you don’t do estimates? You should. We’ll talk about that later.