Assigning and communicating roles for agency team members

Clients often want to know who at the agency does what. It might be because they want to understand the work that they’re getting, but it also might be because they want to go directly to individuals for certain things.

Chip and Gini tackle this important topic in this episode of the Agency Leadership Podcast.

You need to be clear with your team about what their individual roles are so that there isn’t confusion. There needs to be a single person responsible for the completion of each task (even if they need to work with others to accomplish it). 

But how do you handle clients who want this level of detail? It’s fine to communicate the expertise that you have, but be careful about locking yourself in to specific team members doing work for that client. Sometimes the agency’s needs change and as long as you continue to deliver a quality product, it shouldn’t matter to your clients.

Chip and Gini also argue that it is important to have a primary point of contact for each client with your agency so that they aren’t asking for lots of individual items from team members that could get lost in the cracks and not done — or completed but not properly recorded as work done for that client.

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 I’m going to talk about what your role should be on this podcast and what my role should be

Gini Dietrich 

awesome podcasts can’t wait right after this.

Chip Griffin 

So I think we’re going to put you in charge of video editing and all the technical side of things. How does that sound to

Gini Dietrich 

you? Great. No problem.

Chip Griffin 

All right, cool. What should I do?

Gini Dietrich 

Oh, you should do promotion and distribution?

Chip Griffin 

Oh, okay. All right. Sure. Anyway, people don’t really care what our roles are in this podcast. Because really, a it’s not that difficult and be not that interesting. But what, what is interesting is the roles on your agency team. And when you’re working with clients, how do you define the roles of your team? How do you communicate those roles to the client? And how do you set yourself up for success? So we’re going to talk about roles in the client context? In today’s episode?

Gini Dietrich 

Yeah, I think it’s really like anything else, right? It’s setting expectations, it’s communicating correctly, it’s it always makes me laugh, that communicators are not particularly great communicators sometimes. And making sure that your client understands, like, I go to this person for this, or this person for this, otherwise, you get wrapped into the same thing that many of us get wrapped into, which is they come to you for everything. And that should not

Chip Griffin 

happen. Well, and the first thing, you know, like everything else that we talked about on the show is you need to figure out what your role is, right? Because we’re talking to small agencies where the owner is an important piece of the team for everything in some fashion. And so you need to figure out, do you want to be the main client contact on things and you want to be focused on client delivery? Do you prefer to be more behind the scenes and only drop in from time to time instead, you’re going to focus on running the business? And there is no right or wrong answer. I know, some folks will say, Well, you know, if you’re the agency owner, you can’t be spending more than half of your time on client service. And look, I think in an ideal case, that’s probably how it should be. At the same time. If that’s not what you like to do, then you should change that, right? I mean, again, what I always say, why bother owning your own business? If you can’t define your own job, right? It’s not right, that you just look at someone who said, well, as an owner, you should spend 50% on client service 25% on business development 25%, on administering the business, and that’s the way it should be. And if you hate business development, you don’t want to spend two and a half percent of your time on it. 25, right. Maybe you love client service. And so you want to spend three quarters of your time on doing just enough to keep things going. As the owner, however you want to structure it, that’s up to you.

Gini Dietrich 

Yeah, I, I have maybe told this story before. But when I, probably about five years into my agency life, I had a business coach who said to me, and I’d like it was so poignant. At the time, that I remember where we were sitting, you know, like, I remember at all because he said to me, would you rather be really good at growing a business or really good at communications. And when he asked me that, my immediate response was, I want to be a really good company grower, that’s what I want. Like, this is why I’ve started the business. And you know, that’s what I want. But after time, and after reflecting on that, I realized that’s not what I want, I don’t want an agency with 500 employees. And I’m, you know, I don’t get to do the work, because part of the reason I went out on my own is because I love the work. And I wanted to do the work in a way that was meaningful, and measurable for clients. And I can’t do that if I’m running an agency of 500 people. So I think you have to understand what it is that you really want and be really honest with yourself. And it’s okay. If you don’t want to run an agency and build it to 500 people or 50 people or 20 people, that’s fine. Sure. If that’s what you want, right? That’s what you want, do it. But if that’s not what you want, then figure out what it is you want and build the business around that.

Chip Griffin 

Exactly. And if you don’t have that clarity about the role that you want the work that you want to be doing day in and day out, you’re never going to be able to build the agency that you’re looking for, because it has to start with you. I mean, we’ve talked in the past about the importance of focusing on yourself first, from a financial standpoint, need to focus on yourself first, from a what you do standpoint, and so when I talk to an agency owner says that they’re frustrated with you know what, you know, how busy they are, or the type of work that they’re doing every day or you know all that, like, well, then what’s your plan to change it? Right Don’t you know It’s not just go hire some more people, it’s not just, you know, raise your rates or something like that you really have to figure out how you want to spend your time, and then build the rest of the team around that.

Gini Dietrich 

You know, I may have also told the story before, but it’s, I think it’s a really good example of exactly this. So Andy Crestodina, who is here in Chicago, he many people know who he is, because he’s a speaker, and he’s really smart. And he’s a great content marketer. But he and his friend of his started a web firm, many years ago, and they’re co founders. And what they discovered about I would say, probably about five or six years in is that neither one of them wanted to run the business. And he wanted to focus on content marketing, which was not called that back then. But when he you know, that’s what he wanted to be the face of the company and the Chief Marketing Officer for all intensive purposes. And his business partner wanted to develop websites, but they were left with a gap of who runs the business. So they hired a CEO, they, they sat down together, and they said, This is what we’re going to do. And they I think they had to save for a couple of years to be able to do that. And so but they finally got themselves to a point where they were able to hire a CEO, because they knew neither one of them wanted to do that. But they needed somebody to do that. And now they’re, you know, a thriving, growing business. And certainly the CEO is get some equity and all those kinds of things. And you know, they’ve given up some, some ownership because of that, but they’re allowed to do the kinds of things that they are passionate about, and enjoy doing.

Chip Griffin 

Yeah. And what I love about that is they got that clarity around what they wanted their own roles to be right, and then came up with a plan to get there. It’s not you. And as you say, it took some time to do it. It’s not, you don’t just snap your fingers. And all of a sudden, you know, if I would prefer not to do client service, I can’t just snap my fingers and be out of it overnight. It’s a transition process. Great. But if you don’t know, that’s where you’re trying to go, your odds of getting there are really, really small,

Gini Dietrich 

really small. When I decided, you know, when I had this epiphany of my own, I hired a second command. And it took about two years of transition. With current clients, it was easier with with new clients, right, because we could just put her in front of them, and it was fine. But with current clients, it took us about two years to transition me out. And we developed a process and we worked through that process. And you know at it in in some cases, I was a little impatient because I wanted to be going on and doing what I wanted to do it two years is a long time. But in the big scheme of things when I think back on that, and that was almost a decade ago by analogy. So it’s crazy. Two years in the big scheme of things wasn’t a big deal. And now because we crafted that process, it’s easy, right? It’s not. And actually people will pay more to have me in the room, they’ll pay more to have my brain in their strategic sessions, they’ll pay more for those kinds of things. So and that’s because of how we set things up. So it’s, it’s, it’s not something like you said, you can just turn on a light switch and have it done. But it is something that you should be thinking about and plan for so that you can get it done.

Chip Griffin 

Yeah, and it’s incredibly doable, too. And I think there’s this, there’s this real apprehension that a lot of owners have where they think I can’t extract myself from this because the clients are expecting me to be there. In the short term. They’re kind of expecting you to be there, but only because they they relate the work that’s being done to you. Right. If you start to extract yourself from that process, and they continue to get the work, they continue to get the results. They don’t give a rat’s you know, what if you’re showing up, I mean, maybe they like you. And so they’d like to socialize with you once a month, once a quarter, whatever, cool, whatever. I mean, given that, but it’s, it’s not that they are so weird to you doing the work. In fact, there was a there was an agency owner I was working with recently who was very concerned about having other people do writing that the clients, you know, thought that she was doing well, they don’t care if the writing, right, nobody’s it’s not like they’re sitting with you and watching you. Right. So I mean, there are certain things that that you can’t have someone else do transparently, or opaquely, or you know, whatever behind the scenes. We want to use fancy terms. myself. Oh, wait, what is it? Yeah, exactly. Anyway, so, you know, there are certain things that that can only be I mean, if it’s if it’s a brainstorming session, you have to be in the room, you can’t not be in the room. Right? But things like writing, building website, designing graphics, all those different things. You don’t have to be there. They don’t care how it’s actually being done. They’re never gonna see how it’s actually being done. You don’t need to tell them how it’s being done. You just need to give them the results they’re looking for.

Gini Dietrich 

And that’s I so I will say that. Yes. And it’s also a little it also bruises your ego a little bit and I’m willing to admit that because when it when it starts happening, that they call your team that clients call your team And they leave you out entirely. You’re you have this weird thing where you’re like, yes. Finally, why don’t they meet me anymore? Yes. Finally, why don’t they need me anymore? So it’s this you get your ego gets bruised a little bit, I think but you have to understand that that’s what you were working toward. And that was that was hard for me because I would be like, Oh, she called you directly.

Chip Griffin 

Okay. Yeah, maybe I’m weird. But but my ego rescue check clears. So if it keeps if they keep sending money, and they’re not complaining, yeah, he goes happy to go sit on a shelf.

Gini Dietrich 

My I got there eventually. But that like there was a little bit of a transition for me for sure.

Chip Griffin 

I’m good with it. I’m, in fact, one of the one of my favorite things to hear from a client was, you know, we’re actually getting better service now that exes is working with us, you know, because, and they would often then add, you know, quickly? Well, because we know you were really busy. And so you didn’t really have the time and that kind of stuff to bother you about it. Right? Yeah. I mean, however, you know, however, they would couch it? Yeah. Oh, great. I, that’s fantastic. Now, I don’t have to worry about that. Not that I was super worried anyway, because I learned relatively early on in my agency life that you had to let go. Otherwise, you had no possibility to grow and expand, because you’d only be doing all the work yourself. Okay. So we’ve we’ve started with how you need to get clarity around your own role. We started talking about the the clarity around team roles, but I think it’s really important that everybody on a team particular when it comes to a client and their projects, everyone on the team needs to know exactly what their responsibilities are. Yeah, with that, there can be no doubt on your own team who’s doing what because otherwise, that leads to balls being dropped priorities getting missed, etc.

Gini Dietrich 

Yeah, I would agree with that. And I’ve mentioned before that I’m having an interesting experience with a client where I’m serving as their Chief Marketing Officer right now. And what I discovered when I went in there is that they all did everything. Everybody on the marquee did everything. They there was nobody that specialized in every anything. And they were all everybody did email, and everybody did their direct response. And everybody wrote paid social ads. And I was like, No, we can’t, everybody cannot do this. And so I’ve spent the last few months really digging into this is what this person’s core expertise is. So we’re going to focus them on that. And then we’ve been stripping other things away, so and take them moving them to another person. But I think that’s a really typical. I certainly agencies operate in that way too, because you just you need to get the work done. And so you just have people do things, especially when you’re small, right? You all everybody does everything. But I think if you as you grow and mature, you have to get to the point where you say, okay, this person is in charge of content, this person is in charge of social, this person’s in charge of paid social, this person’s in charge of media relations, this person is in charge, you know, whatever it happens to be, there may be some crossover integration, for sure. But that’s your core responsibility. And then when you’re clear about it internally, it’s easier to communicate that to the client.

Chip Griffin 

Yeah, I think you’ve touched on on two things that are really important here. The first is sort of specialization. In other words, figure out from each team member what they’re best at, and try to get them to do more of that, as opposed to, you know, having someone who’s an okay writer, doing writing when you’ve got someone who’s great at it, write? Great, you know, and you should never or not never, you should try to avoid having just one person who has expertise in something so that if someone quits or is sick, or you know, whatever, you’ve got some fallback plan. Yep. But you should, you should know who your who your a team is, for particular tasks that you’re called upon to do with any regularity at all. But the other thing that you said, and I think it’s it’s really critical is who’s in charge? In other words, you can have multiple people who are writing or doing media relations, or those kinds of things, even on the same project. But you need to know who’s in charge. In other words, whose throat to choke, if something goes wrong, right. And then there’s the expression, you have to have a single throat to choke. And the reason why is because if you have more than one person in charge, nobody is. And it’s not because people are intentionally pointing fingers at somebody else to avoid blame. It’s just natural. I mean, you get busy and you just say, Well, you know, I assumed that Ginni had this, so I didn’t do it. Right, right. I mean, if you and I just said, you know, every episode is going to get up each week. And we’ll just, you know, we’ll just kind of figure it out. The odds that every episode went up would be very small. Yep. Because, you know, you’d assume I was doing it, I would assume you were doing it and then all of a sudden, it would be Friday. Don’t be like oh, look, no episode has happened. Which which happens bad enough as it is because you know, I dropped the ball from time to time but in any case, so you need to have that kind of clarity within your team so that you know exactly for every project, who’s in charge, and you know, who’s going to coordinate everything to make sure it gets done.

Gini Dietrich 

Yeah. And I will say, you know, when I was at Fleischmann, it, there was always an account lead. From that perspective, I, when I worked at the ad agency, there was a Director of Client Services, and she had a team. So you can set it up, you know, however you want, but somebody should be the lead. And the client should know who that is. Because otherwise, you’re going to be back into the same thing that we were talking about earlier, where they call you for everything. And in that, then you just get bottlenecked. And nothing gets done. So there shouldn’t be a client lead for every, every client or every project or campaign.

Chip Griffin 

Yeah. And that needs to be very clearly communicated to the client, so that they understand that this person needs to be not just the lead in name only, they also need to be the one who is seen to be running calls Absolutely, is either sending or copied on all important emails, you really need to set this person up. So particularly if this is one where you’re the owner, and you’re trying to transition yourself out of the day to day, which happens, you really need to sort of overdo it in terms of making that person, not just be in charge on paper, but really appearing to be in control and having a handle on everything.

Gini Dietrich 

Yep, yeah, when we, when we were transitioning me from being that person, you know, we spent time were my second in command, and then later other people would go to meetings with me, and just observe, and then we had a transition period where I went to meetings with them and just observe, that is very challenging. By the way, it’s really hard. It’s really, you have to just keep telling yourself, don’t say anything, don’t say anything, and then use the time after the meeting to provide constructive feedback. Also understand that they may do things differently than you. And that’s okay. That doesn’t mean that they’re doing it wrong, or that it can’t, it can’t be okay, like that. So that’s very challenging. And then eventually, you can bring yourself out of it. And clients are very happy with that, like you said earlier, they all they care about is whether or not you’re getting results for them. That’s all they care. They don’t care who’s doing the work.

Chip Griffin 

Right. Yeah. And I would agree to that is that is the hardest thing when you’re transitioning off the owner. You know, particularly if you’re if you’re like me, and you’re never at a loss for an idea, thought, opinion, perspective, whatever, and just like to talk, which you may not have noticed, but I like to talk. Yeah. So it is something that that you really have to discipline yourself on. And and if the client asks you something in those meetings, you have to do your best to try to steer it to one of your team members. Yeah. And and, you know, there are they’ll there will be times where it is appropriate for you to step up and say something, right. I mean, if you see your team member, you’re way off track. And, you know, you can save the whole thing by just dropping in a few words saying, Well, how about we think about this, right? Yeah, there’s, but be judicious with it, and don’t look like you’re cutting the legs out from underneath that team member do it in such a way that it looks like you’re adding to what they’re saying as opposed to completely reversing course.

Gini Dietrich 

Yeah. And I will say that one of my favorite phrases is what do you think? So if a client proposes something to me, I’ll say, Well, Chip, what do you think, and I steer it back to the person who’s in charge. That’s one of my favorite phrases. And it works. It works. It doesn’t make people feel like I’m avoiding it. And it doesn’t make it doesn’t make the client feel like I’m avoiding the question. It doesn’t make the team member feel like I’m cutting them off or under undermining them. It gives them some empowerment. So what do you what do you think it’s, it’s I use it so much, that is become an internal joke. They’re like, Oh, Jenny’s gonna say, What do you think?

Chip Griffin 

Right? Well, and that technique is really helpful for internal meetings, too. Because there’s, if you are the owner of the business, as soon as you’ve stated your opinion, nobody, you do two things, you end up shutting off a lot of potentially useful conversation, because people are like, well, he already thinks this, why am I bothering Right? Or you turn it into an antagonistic thing, where they assume you’ve already made up your mind. And if they feel strongly enough about a different point of view, they’re now going to become a little more, depending on their personality, potentially a little more aggressive about pushing back. So instead of having a constructive conversation, it now becomes one where it just goes to unproductive places. So you should, as the owner, you should be the last to speak on most topics in internal meetings, in particular, client meetings, generally as well, but but certainly on your own internal meetings.

Gini Dietrich 

Yeah. And I will say it works. It works really well in internal meetings. And it works just once in your one to ones like if somebody comes to you with a problem. What I have found is that they are really, when they usually what happens, at least in the beginning is they’ll come to you with a problem, no solution. And our instinct is to give the solution right? That’s, that’s what instinctually we want to do. But if you stop yourself and you say, Well, what do you think? Eventually, what happens is that they come to you with a problem, and a solution. And they’ve already thought it through. And it trains them to do that, and just start thinking that way. So I love that phrase, I think it’s a great phrase.

Chip Griffin 

So I want as we sort of come to a wind up of this, I want to talk a little bit how we communicate those roles to clients. We talked about having clarity over the primary contact, but one of the questions that clients will often ask is, you know, well, you know, who’s who’s going to be doing the writing, who’s going to be doing the media relations, who’s going to be doing the social stuff, and and part of it is, they just want to know, a lot of times though, it’s because they want to just reach out directly to that person. And in their mind, it’s making it simpler and easier. And And certainly, my experience has been, I’ll be interested in yours as well, my experience has been on some larger ones, I’ve been in larger agencies, and you have all sorts of people on both sides, some of that direct connection can actually be helpful, as long as your client lead is still in the loop. I think for most smaller engagements, the kinds of things that most small agencies are doing with the teams are much more manageably sized on both sides. It’s better to work through that primary client content, because it gives you more flexibility on how you deliver the service, how you adapt it over time, and all those kinds of things. And so I generally prefer on smaller things, not to be quite as open with the client about exactly how the sausage is made.

Gini Dietrich 

Yeah, I would agree with that. I have found myself in a situation where we have a client who is like, off the charts smart, and he has phenomenal ideas. But he also has ideas that can’t necessarily be executed, or don’t make strategic sense, right. And what I found is that he was stressing my team out because he knew like, Okay, well so and so’s working on social forming. So I’m going to go to her and I’m going to say we should do this, this and this. And they didn’t feel like they had the power to tell him he’s smoking crack. And I can say to him, you’re smoking crack. And we’re not going to do that. Like that doesn’t make any sense. Or that’s a great idea. Let’s figure out how to execute it. So I had to have a very candid conversation with him and say, Look, you can’t, I am your direct contact, you cannot talk to my team anymore. No more, because it was stressing them out to the level that they weren’t enjoying the work. And they weren’t they they were fearful of losing their jobs over it. And so I just I put the kibosh on it. So I think, on smaller things I agree with, and in instances where the client is like, wow, let’s just talk to everybody.

Chip Griffin 

Right? Yeah, and you absolutely can and should do this in a way that makes it, you know, feel like it’s for good reasons, right? So it’s not just, you know, I don’t want you talking to us. I mean, now, maybe there are some difficult clients, you’re like, I just don’t want you talking to so and so. Right. Talk to me. But but more often, you can say things like, by doing this, it makes sure that we keep them on our internal tracker, and that we’re, you know, we’re making sure that everything’s getting delivered on time. And we’re making sure that if someone is out that we’re still you still got your covered, right. So you you frame it in a way that there’s a benefit to them. Because a lot of times the client will think it’s it’s more advantageous to go to the individual and so that you want them to feel like there’s value in going to this central point of contact. And so if you’re being asked, you know, what role does some so and so have on the team, I would generally do something in much more broad language where I’ll say, Well, Chip usually does the writing on this project. But we have a whole team of people that you know, that supports and helps. So it, it may not always be right. So you really want to set that expectation so that you can move the pieces of your puzzle around as you need to as you get a new client as you’ve got a crisis going somewhere, someone leaves, and you don’t want to have to go to the client every time and say, Hey, your writer has changed, your web person has changed your, you know, your ads person has changed. You want to do it in such a way that it feels much smoother, because we all know that change happens a lot in agency land.

Gini Dietrich 

Yeah. And And yes, that, you know, we’re going through the great resignation right now. So change is happening a lot. And the last thing you want to want the client to think is oh my gosh, their turnover is crazy. And they can’t keep anybody employed.

Chip Griffin 

Right? And a lot of a lot of the listeners here they’re using contractors for stuff to and and so you might have three or four people who are doing it based on who’s available. Yep. And so it’s not that you’ve got turnover but if you had them going directly to them it a might look like turnover and be your actual problem if that person doesn’t have the bandwidth at that time to work right so so so keep it simple and get them to work through a single point of contact as much as possible. It’ll work out much better for you and I know that that sort of runs counter to the the general advice which I say is be pretty transparent, right? This is the is one of those areas where transparency isn’t necessarily your friend or the clients friend? Yeah, I

Gini Dietrich 

think you’re right. They don’t have to know how the sausage is made. Right?

Chip Griffin 

They just know that they’re tasty and on time, right.

Gini Dietrich 

And only with ketchup if you’re in Chicago. No, that’s not true. No ketchup. If you’re just kind of Oh, yeah, I don’t even know I’m a vegetarian. I don’t know how it works was one.

Chip Griffin 

vegetarian sausage. No, no, no,

Gini Dietrich 

it’s it’s like cauliflower pizza. Why

Chip Griffin 

would one sausage? Alright, well, there’s no ketchup on this episode. No, there’s that. But if you’re listening to this, you know, after November, you might be catching up.

Gini Dietrich 

On that note, really, really bad.

Chip Griffin 

Yeah, you’re welcome. With that, I’m Chip Griffin.

Gini Dietrich 

 I’m Gini Dietrich,

Chip Griffin  and it depends.

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