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Are you getting lost in the wrong stuff as an agency owner?

In this episode, Chip and Gini explore some of the things that PR and marketing agency owners focus on that probably aren’t worth the time.

For example, do you fret over fractional days off taken by employees or trading out paid holidays when a new one gets widespread recognition?

Getting lost in the weeds — especially the wrong ones — can really hold back your agency’s growth and negatively impact employee retention, so Chip and Gini offer some advice on how to combat the urge when it arises.

Key takeaways

  • Gini Dietrich: “What bothers me is that it doesn’t cost you anything to give people an extra day off. It doesn’t cost you anything to have summer hours.”
  • Chip Griffin: “If you have less productivity because their morale is lower, it doesn’t make any sense.”
  • Gini Dietrich: “Clients are people too, and they like to have summer Friday afternoons off as well.”
  • Chip Griffin: “Fundamentally, if you don’t trust your team to be responsible about these things, then you have a much larger problem than how much time they’re taking off.”


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

Chip Griffin: Hello and welcome to another episode of the Agency Leadership Podcast. I’m Chip Griffin.

Gini Dietrich: And I’m Gini Dietrich.

Chip Griffin: And Gini, I think that that typewriter behind you is not quite in the right place. I think we’re gonna need to move it just a half an inch to the, maybe not even half inch, quarter of an inch to the left.

Do you think you can do that for me?

Gini Dietrich: Sure, why not?

Chip Griffin: Right, right after this.

Oh, actually, I, I think the typewriter’s in a good place. I, I like it.

Gini Dietrich: I just moved it.

Chip Griffin: It is a nice touch to have it.

Gini Dietrich: You told me to move it. I did.

Chip Griffin: Well, maybe you shouldn’t always listen to me and, and frankly, why would you start now?

Gini Dietrich: Fair. That’s a good point.

Chip Griffin: And, and for those of you in audio land, you, you get a sneak peek at the puppy from, there’s a new puppy.

Gini Dietrich: There’s a new puppy! He’s so cute!

Chip Griffin: So if you hear, if you hear yapping, it’s me. If you hear barking, it’s the puppy.

Gini Dietrich: It’s the new puppy.

Chip Griffin: So, but that’s not what we’re gonna talk about today. We’re going to talk about getting lost in the wrong details. Yes. Which is something that a lot of agency owners, and not just owners, frankly, leaders have a tendency to do from time to time.

Yep. And this exhibits itself in many different ways. It can be what I think is an unhealthy obsession with utilization rates that many agency owners have. Not that utilization rates aren’t important. But fixating on them too much can be a problem. And this actually came about because of a conversation that we were having about some folks trying to figure out how to handle vacation time and holidays and all of these kinds of things.

Given that it seems that there are new holidays emerging, or not necessarily new holidays, that holidays are being more commonly recognized by more businesses. And so agency owners are having to review their own list of holidays that they may have in their handbook and decide what they’re gonna allow.

And so does that mean we have to trade it off for something else, or can we just give it, and how does that, how does that impact our summer Fridays and our week off between Christmas and New Years and, you know, all of these different things. And, and I’ve seen this. A lot over the years. I mean, I, I remember there was one job early in my career that I was leaving where the HR department wanted to have a conversation with me about an excess of a half a day that I took on my honeymoon before I left for a new job.

And so they were gonna, they were gonna dock my final paycheck until my supervisor stepped in and said, that is the dumbest thing I have ever heard of. So, yeah, I understand. I mean, some people fixate on these things. And you know, I mean that’s, it’s one of the reasons why I don’t love HR departments because they tend to really fixate on these kinds of things.

But if you’re an agency owner, you don’t need to. You need to focus on the big picture and you need to figure out how to take your agency forward.

Gini Dietrich: Well, and the thing that bothers me about this kind of stuff is it doesn’t cost you anything to give people an extra day off. It doesn’t cost you anything to have summer hours.

It doesn’t cost you anything to give people a week between Christmas and New Year’s. Doesn’t cost you anything. Like the work still gets done, you’re still billing your clients, you’re still like, it all still comes to fruition. It, it doesn’t cost you anything extra. So the idea that you would say, okay, well now that businesses are recognizing Juneteenth, we should trade that for, I don’t know, Indigenous People’s Day.

Like whatever it happens to be. No, just give people the extra day off because it’s going to allow you to create more loyalty and engagement versus giving them something and taking it away. Like that’s just, people don’t appreciate that. They don’t appreciate it. But if you say, Hey, we’re gonna add this extra holiday, people are like, oh my gosh.

That’s fantastic. Thank you. It’s ok to do that.

Chip Griffin: Yeah, and, and I mean, to me this is, this is sort of the, the equivalent of when employees are clock watchers and they sit there at their desk and they look up at the clock to see when it becomes five o’clock. And I, I had one of those employees in one of my businesses at one point, and she literally would sit there and stare at the clock on the wall for the final five minutes of the day until it hit, hit five o’clock so that she could walk out the door.

So she would have her coat ready and she’d be ready to, to power down her computer right there at, at five o’clock on the dot. Drove me nuts. But that’s the same thing that you’re doing as an agency owner if you are worrying obsessively about these kinds of things. And, and look, I mean, I, I get it. I get the concern and, you know, you do need to be thoughtful about it.

And, and you do need to understand how it impacts your work schedules. And so if you’re going to give another holiday, You don’t need to take an another one away, but you do need to figure out if there are clients, for example, that don’t observe that, how does that, how are you going to, to handle that? Are you gonna communicate with them that it’s straight up your closed and you can’t help them?

Or are you gonna have someone on call? Same thing you would do with Summer Fridays. In fact, I had this conversation with an agency owner just in the last couple of days who were thinking about doing Summer Fridays, and we talked about the pros and cons of doing it and, and also how you can manage that with clients who may be working on Fridays. And so their expectations may be different. And so you need to understand how to handle that. These are, you just need to work through them. You don’t need to sit there and be like, oh no, we gave you that extra holiday here, so we’re gonna, we’re gonna take something away from you somewhere else.

It’s childish behavior.

Gini Dietrich: Let’s be real. Clients. They’re people too, and they like to have summer afternoons off as well. Summer Friday afternoons off as well. So I promise you. No one’s going to miss you. Now if something happens and there’s a crisis or there’s a big event coming up or something like that, then for sure you have to to be on call or be available.

But like every one of our clients has Summer Fridays, every single one of ’em, so it’s not a big deal to give to your team as well.

Chip Griffin: Right, and, and you, you really need to understand how some of these decisions do impact employee morale, because you may be able to get them to have their butt in their seat for a few extra hours a week or for that extra day out of the year that for the holiday that you don’t give.

But if you have less productivity because their morale is lower, it doesn’t make any sense. Right. And I’ll admit, I, I mean, earlier on in my ownership career, I, I tended to be more of the, well, you know, if we’re gonna give this, then, you know, that means something else. And, and I, I softened up on that and I, I remember my dad owned a law firm when I was younger, and, and he used to give employees the choice each year between either the day after Thanksgiving or the day after Christmas.

When I owned my own business. I thought that was dumb. Like that just doesn’t make any sense. But, but it, but in his case, it, it did because the courts, I believe were open the day after Thanksgiving.

Gini Dietrich: Oh, interesting. All right.

Chip Griffin: And so, so, you know, most of the, the law firms, at least in the area, observed the court schedule.

Yeah, sure. So, so I, I mean, there was at least a rationale for it as I recall it. As good as my memory may be from 40 years ago. But nevertheless, you know, these are the kinds of things where you, you need to be careful not to, to go down that path. You know, I, I remember one time telling an employee who asked if they would get Columbus Day off.

I said, well, I’ll give Columbus day off when we get to take St. Patrick’s day off as well. You know, being, being the good Irish American that I am. I mean, obviously a, a dumb answer. And, and in retrospect, we should have just well, frankly, given both off, or really you need the day after St. Patrick’s Day off, I think more than St. Patrick’s Day.

Gini Dietrich: Correct. And I also think you need the day after the Super Bowl off as well.

Chip Griffin: Yes. I do know some businesses who do that actually. So. Do you? I do, yeah.

Gini Dietrich: I actually, after this year, I was like, that’s actually a really good idea to do that.

Chip Griffin: Yeah. At least for East Coast businesses, west Coast businesses doesn’t make us much sense.

Cause it’s a lot earlier. So. Yeah. So unless your own team is in it, you’re fine.

Gini Dietrich: This also reminds me of the conversation and certainly it’s lessened since the pandemic, but you know, 2018 and 2019 when people would say, oh, we could never go remote. I have to see people and what if they don’t do their jobs and how are they not, how are they gonna be productive?

And I think what – for the most part, what we have proven in the last three years is that actually people can be productive and they’re grownups and they’re there to do their job, and they actually wanna do their job, and they wanna do a good job at it. So they’re not gonna screw you just because they’re sitting at a desk in their home versus a desk in your office.

It’s the same thing. Create, to your point, create better morale and loyalty because you’re giving them something extra that they’re not expecting versus saying, oh, well, gosh. I mean, I had a, I had a job at an agency where every morning you wa you had to walk in through the front lobby and when you walked in, the receptionist would look your name up on a clipboard and write down, literally write down what time you walked in.

8:31. 8:38, she wrote it down every day and I was always late, always, because we always stayed late. We were there until 9 or 10 o’clock at night, but guess what? The receptionist was not there writing down what time you left. Right? She was only there writing down what time you got in, and it just used to infuriate me because I was putting in the hours and more tahn.

But because I wasn’t there by 8:30, I got in trouble. I got in trouble all the time.

Chip Griffin: Yeah. That’s ridiculous. It it is, it is utterly silly. And I, I, I had a boss who used to call the office at 7:01 AM every morning to make sure that someone was actually answering the phones at that point. Oh. And I thought that was just bonkers.

Like, why are you, that’s bonkers. Why are you doing that? Right. There’s absolutely no reason to do that.

Gini Dietrich: There’s no reason for that. There’s no reason because you have hired grownups to do a job. And as long as they know what the job is, for the most part, the majority of people are going to do that, and then some.

So who cares if you give them an extra day off or they don’t come in at 6:30 or they are not logged in by 8:40 or whatever it happens to be. Like, who cares? Let them do their job. If they’re not doing their job and they’re not being productive, that’s a different conversation, but it has nothing to do with you tracking you know how much time they’ve had off. And I mean, like, we didn’t even track PTO. If you need the time off, take the time off. Is your work done? Great. Take it off.

Chip Griffin: Right? Yeah. That, that, that has always been my mindset because I thought this, you know, this obsession with tracking vacation days down to the, and, and I know some agencies that will track it by, you know, hours off like, so you can take a quarter day, you can take two hours, like really?

Really, why are we doing this?

Gini Dietrich: And who wants the paperwork? That’s such a pain in the neck.

Chip Griffin: Exactly. For no reason. It takes way too much effort, way too much effort to do that kind of thing. And, and fundamentally, if you don’t trust your team, To be responsible about these things, then you have a much larger problem than how much time they’re taking off.

And so you need to, to have that trust in the team, you either need to figure out how to trust them, or if you fundamentally can’t, then you need different people that you can trust. Right, right. Because it, it’s, it is a waste of everybody’s time and effort and energy. Yes. To be drilling into to those kinds of things that just fundamentally do not matter.

Yes. But I, but I do wanna go back to something you said earlier because I, I, I think that, that, while the pandemic did ease the perception on remote work and a lot more agencies and other businesses embraced it, I do see a, a little bit of a, a bounce back on that. I have to too. Yeah. In, in, in the last six months or so.

Yep. Yep. And a movement towards people thinking, well, Is this really a good idea? Should we really be having remote teams? Can I and, and I’ve had the exact conversation with agency owners saying, Hey, I don’t really know what they’re up to all day. And somehow they think that’s going to be different if they’re in the office.

But I remember office life and I remember plenty of people sitting at their computer playing solitaire and doing other pointless things. Yes. Because, you know, the boss may not have been able to see their screen, but coworkers could. Yeah. So the fact that they were in the office didn’t mean that they were working.

Correct, and, and so I think that we need to be careful that we don’t allow some of the progress that’s been made in the last three years in this area to evaporate. Now, it doesn’t mean that you should just throw away all oversight of remote workers altogether. I mean, you do need to have oversight. Yes.

But it doesn’t need to be where are they and what are they doing? At every moment. It should be focused on are they doing the things that they are assigned to do? That’s right. If they’re completing the tasks that they are assigned and they’re doing them well, and they’re doing them on time, who cares how they’re doing it?

And I’ve had this conversation with agency owners said, well, but you know, but what if it takes them less time? Well, hopefully you’re doing time tracking and so you figure out that you can give them more work to do, more to do. You know, it, it’s, and look, I mean, I had remote workers in the past that I didn’t do a good job of, of tracking and understanding how they were spending their time.

And so I, I mean, I could have certainly thrown more work their way if I was doing a better job as a manager, but that’s on me. It’s not on them.

Gini Dietrich: Right. That’s right. That’s exactly right.

Chip Griffin: And so I shouldn’t be turning it around and saying, well, you know, because I didn’t manage them effectively, they need to be in the office.

It doesn’t work. Cause that’s the only way I can manage them.

Gini Dietrich: Right. That’s right. And saying it doesn’t work. So you’re right. There has, I have also seen a bounce back and there’s been a lot, a lot, a lot, a lot of articles written about how remote work is dying and it doesn’t work and blah, blah blah, which is baloney.

And I think the issue in most cases is that we’re trying to apply an in-office culture to a hybrid or a remote culture versus changing the way that we manage. So to your point, it still needs oversight. You still have to track time, you still have to do some things to ensure it, but like, I don’t care if you go to Target at lunchtime because it, it’s less crowded and you can run in and get what you need and come out versus doing it on Saturday.

I don’t, I don’t care. Is your work done? Have you delivered it on time? Is it good? Okay, great. Do what you need to do. I don’t, I just don’t care. And I think that that… it takes a long time for people to get to that attitude before they realize. I mean, it’s the same thing for me. I, I kind of like my flexibility.

I like that I get to work out in the middle of the day. I like that I can pick up my kids from school. Like I like that and I want people to have the same flexibility as long as they get their work done. I don’t, don’t care.

Chip Griffin: Right. And, and, and this is not to say that remote work is correct for every agency and every employee.

Sure. Right there, there are absolutely agencies that, that function better in person because that’s just the culture of the team that they’ve developed. Sure. And that’s why, cause I know plenty of employees who don’t really want to work remote. Yep. Absolutely. Yes. And, and so there is a place for it. But I think that if, if the reason why you’re not choosing to have a remote team, Is because you are afraid that you can’t tell what they’re up to and, and that they will be taking advantage of you.

And so you need to micromanage their time from a distance. That’s the wrong reason for not having a remote team. And anytime you get, you get down to that level of minutia. With the way that you manage your team, whether that’s days off or what they’re doing remotely or any of these other things we’ve talked about, that’s where you have a real problem and that’s where you, you’re not being strategic in how you’re running the business.

You’re not being thoughtful about the levers that you really do have to pull to make a difference in your agency’s performance. And it, you just get out of the weeds on these kinds of things. It is not helpful to be there.

Gini Dietrich: It’s not, and you really, you’re putting your thumb on morale and smudging it out.

People don’t wanna work that way. People want to be trusted to do their jobs and they want to do good work. So if they can be trusted and they, and they’re doing good work, they’re going to perform every single time. Every time.

Chip Griffin: Yep. And, and I, I think a good test for you, if, if you’re sitting there and you’re wondering, am I, am I, am I focused on the wrong things?

Ask yourself if it’s, you know, if it’s giving off Juneteenth and not taking away another holiday, ask yourself, what, what’s the worst thing that happens if I do that? Right. What’s, what’s the worst thing that could happen if, if I let them have both days off? It’s, it’s not very bad, right? I mean, I mean, worst case scenario, absolute worst case scenario, and I think it’s unlikely.

Worst case scenario is you’ve lost eight hours of productivity from each team member. The reality is that most times that productivity just gets made up from somewhere else. Yes. It’s like when when you take a vacation and you come back and you have a pile of work on your desk, you end up having to work harder for the week that you’ve come back from vacation, and usually you worked harder for the week going into vacation to clear stuff off your plate so that you would, in your own mind, not have to come back to so much.

In your own mind.

But when you do that, You’ve basically just taken away much of the lost productivity of that week off. Now whether that’s good or bad is irrelevant. The fact is that that productivity has not been lost at the same rate that you believe that it has been. And so you need to focus again on what’s actually happening.

Are you hitting your client deadlines? Are you doing the work at the level it is expected? If you’re doing all of those things, who cares if someone goes to Target at lunch or has an extra holiday off or whatever? It just makes no sense. It’s the same thing, you know, agencies where they make people come in, you know, let’s say, I dunno what day, July 4th is this year?

So Tuesday. Tuesday, okay. So, so not a great, but like when, when July 4th is on a Wednesday, that makes for a brutal week, right? Because it’s a brutal, because then like, were you gonna make someone come in for one day on the front of the back end? Right? I. I’ve never done that. I always just said, you know, I’m just gonna suck it up and Okay, you get three days off for it.I mean.

Gini Dietrich: But even with it being on Tuesday, same thing. Are you gonna make people come in on Monday?

Chip Griffin: Oh no, I take Tuesday off. I sort of take for granted that nobody’s that dumb, but maybe I’m wrong. But I, I guess, I guess that that really, that really is a, that is a bad assumption on my part and I, I’m certain that there are agencies where people will have to come in on July 3rd, don’t make people work on July 3rd.

That is so, so dumb. That is, to me, that is a freebie. That is a yes. Hey, I know we don’t generally have July 3rd off. We just take the, but you know what? Because of where it falls this year, I’m gonna give it to you. Yep. Alright. I mean, just. Say, I mean, that’s what I always did with the day after Thanksgiving.

Right? You know? Yes. Unless I had someone who was working on some retail oriented campaign where you had to be around, and I, I did work on those in the course of my career where you had to be there the day after Thanksgiving because it was a big day for the client. Fine. Most of us are not doing that on a regular basis, and so just say, Hey, look, we’re giving this one off.

Right. Same thing with New Year’s. If New Year’s falls on a Tuesday, give the Monday off. It’s a freebie. Yes, it’s an easy one. Yes, because your clients aren’t gonna be calling you anyway.

Gini Dietrich: Nobody’s working. That’s right.

Chip Griffin: And if nobody’s working, why are you torturing your team? By making them do it? All you’re doing is taking a whack at your own team’s morale for no good reason other than some spreadsheet of yours told you that that’s not what I should do. I, I, that’s, I’ve lost hours of productivity. It’s the same thing with utilization rates and why I hate utilization rates. Because, because too many people sit there and say, my target utilization rate’s 85% and we’re only at 81%. Who cares? Yeah. Now if your utilization rate is 18%, right.

Okay, well that’s probably a problem. A problem, but you’ve got a bigger issue. Again, the issue is not in the individual percentages. The issue is in what is overall happening. And so focus on that. Do not get into the weeds. Sorry, I’m a little exercised here.

Gini Dietrich: Would, would you like anything else on your soapbox?

Chip Griffin: No, I’ll, I will step down off my soapbox. Hand, hand the microphone back to you.

Gini Dietrich: I actually agree with you, so amen.

Chip Griffin: Well, I guess on that note, keep my blood pressure down. We will draw this episode to the Agency Leadership Podcast to a close. I’m Chip Griffin.

Gini Dietrich: I’m Gini Dietrich,

Chip Griffin: and it depends.

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The Hosts

Chip Griffin is the founder of the Small Agency Growth Alliance (SAGA) where he helps PR & marketing agency owners build the businesses that they want to own. He brings more than two decades of experience as an agency executive and entrepreneur to share the wisdom of his success and lessons of his failures. Follow him on Twitter at @ChipGriffin.


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, the lead blogger at Spin Sucks, and the host of Spin Sucks the podcast. She also is co-author of Marketing in the Round and co-host of Inside PR. Follow her on Twitter at @GiniDietrich.

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