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Beware of the experts

Chip and Gini are experts at growing PR and marketing agencies. But you should take everything that they say with a grain of salt.

No expert has all of the right answers all of the time. Not every piece of advice is a good one for you to take — even if it may work for 99% of other people.

When you’re looking for ideas and perspective, experts can certainly help. But you need to evaluate everything through your own lens. How closely does that person’s experience and outlook reflect your own?

As a general rule, any time you hear some piece of advice that sounds too good to be true (4-hour work week, anyone?) … it probably is. Even in bad advice you can still take away nuggets, but if you think that someone has the silver bullet to solve your challenge or maximize your opportunity, you’re probably going to be disappointed.

So continue listening to the Agency Leadership Podcast to get some wisdom from Chip and Gini. But be prepared to toss it out if it doesn’t make sense for you and your business. And do the same with every piece of expert advice you get anywhere.

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.

And I am Gini Dietrich.

And today we’re going to tell you why you shouldn’t listen to us or any other expert for that matter, right after this.

So if you’re listening to us right now, you should turn the podcast off. Just shut it right off.

Gini Dietrich: Don’t listen to our advice. Don’t listen to anyone’s advice. Experts are terrible. Best practices suck. Let’s just move on.

Chip Griffin: I mean, in fairness, you’ve probably already tuned us out. So, you know, you’re now just right now you’re in that mode where you’re hunting for the stop button on your, your iPhone is you’re doing whatever it is that you’re doing.

So we’ll give you a moment to hit it. No, we are going to talk about expert advice, though, and why so much of it is. Not just bad, but horrendous, terrible, horrible. It’s like that kid’s book. It’s a no good, terrible, horrible, no good something day. I don’t remember exactly. It’s been a long time since my kids were little enough to read that stuff.

Gini Dietrich: Yeah. The best part about this is you’re, I love it when you get on a rant and you’re just, Fired up because it’s very entertaining for me. So let’s, let’s hear it. Chip.

Chip Griffin: I, I cannot tell you how angry I’ve become in recent weeks. And it’s not just because, you know, I’m getting old and cranky and all that kind of stuff.

Those things are true for sure. But it’s, I seem to be seeing more and more of these. Dumb headlines, dumb articles, dumb videos that just give absolutely horrible advice. And the trigger for me was an article in Ad Age where it said, the headline is, the variable has thrown out timesheets and wants your agency to rip them up too.

Now, I, I don’t love time sheets, but I think they’re important. I think this is something that we agree on. We’ve talked in the past about how, if you don’t know how your team is spending their time, you’re going to have a hard time operating profitably and all that. And you can’t price correctly. So I read that headline and I’m like, well, that’s Great.

This is absolute malarkey. But I said, you know what, I’m going to read it because I want to see what their argument is. It’s helpful to know what their argument is. Well, it turns out they’re not really arguing to tear up timesheets, except maybe in the most literal sense. Because in the article, it says, The five step algorithm they use allows shops to add inputs, including the estimated percentage of time allocated to key staffers on the account.

Okay, how do you get that estimated time? Right. Um, timesheets are some form of time tracking. Either that or you just roll some dice and you figure out, okay, I’ve got a six sided die, I’ll roll it. Oh, they spend three hours a day. I’m pretty sure that’s not how they do it, Gini. I’m pretty sure they have some way of estimating time.

Gini Dietrich: Okay. So is the, is the article in some way promoting some new service or software or something?

Chip Griffin: Uh, not that I could tell, no. I mean, I only skimmed it. I was, I was so triggered, you know, and I got to that, that sentence there where it said you put in estimated time.

Gini Dietrich: How do you estimate time without timesheets?

Chip Griffin: Right. I mean, it’s just, it’s, it’s not even a wag if you’re not doing any kind of tracking. And maybe it’s that you’re not, you know, doing lawyer style, you know, six minute increments or whatever. And that’s fine. I don’t advocate that either. I don’t think you need to do that. Right. I would rather see you do timesheets on a, you know, a quarter hour basis every day, but.

Even if you know to it, if you do it periodically so that you, you know, can, can update your estimates or things like that, you got to do something, right? You have to track time somehow. Yes. So that was trigger number one. Trigger number two was I was watching a YouTube video because as, as you and listeners may know, I watch way too many YouTube videos.

Cause I’m, you know, I’m doing research to try to figure out, you know, what the best styles are and all that kind of stuff. And it’s just, it’s interesting to me, but I was watching this, this, this, Interview with an agency advisor who was talking about, uh, he was talking with an agency owner and the agency owner was bragging about the fact that he was personally managing 75 clients.

What? How? So yeah, so here’s the thing. You are not managing 75 clients. There’s no way. You may be the primary point of contact for 75 clients. You cannot manage 75 agency accounts.

Gini Dietrich: You can’t even be the primary contact for 75 accounts.

Chip Griffin: Well, no, I mean, look, if I, if I was going to have just one, uh, conversation with each client every month, which I think is the bare minimum, right?

That’s the bare minimum. I mean, if you’re an agency and you’re not having an actual voice conversation with a client every month, there’s something wrong. Yes. And it probably should be more than monthly for most clients. Yes, but let’s say just once a month. I mean, that means you’ve got to do like five a day.

Yeah Can you imagine how exhausted you would be if you had to do five clients? That doesn’t even leave you time to do the work that you were then talking to the client about So there’s no way it’s just not possible.

Gini Dietrich: In this interview Did they explore that at all or was it just a statement that…

Chip Griffin: no it was a it was a oh, that’s great That’s fantastic.

You’ve you know, you’ve really figured it out No, you haven’t. I mean what I would have loved to have heard is what the churn rate is

Gini Dietrich: Because They would not admit that. I’m sure.

Chip Griffin: Of course not. Of course not. And that means you’re delivering cookie cutter service. I mean, frankly, even when I ran CustomScoop, you know, media monitoring service, software mostly self serve, we didn’t give more than 75 accounts to any individual and they didn’t have to talk to them because they were providing just general support, but we wouldn’t have dreamed of assigning each account manager that many accounts.

You keep paying attention to it.

Gini Dietrich: How many would they have had tops?

Chip Griffin: Uh, 50 to 60 is what we would have had. But again, software, right? So, you know, they have to do some management and some outreach and that kind of stuff, but they don’t have to have the same hands on that you would as an agency. What kind of agency did this person have?

Um, I think it was, I think it was a PPC.

Gini Dietrich: So some of that can be, but you still have to set it up and get it all ready.

Chip Griffin: And so some of it, I mean, so how much attention are you paying in that case? Right. So, I mean, so yes, I mean, you, you, I mean, I have no doubt that what he was saying was, was literally true.

He literally had 75 clients and he didn’t have anybody else working on them, except himself. But that really means that there’s not a whole lot of proactive activity going into those accounts. It’s set it and forget it, you know, maybe you take a quick glance at the charts and make sure that there’s no wacky anomalies, but you’re not doing anything to tune on an ongoing basis and, you know, maybe, maybe the clients are happy enough with those results, but it’s not I, I think we would agree that that’s not a recipe for long-term success with clients because Right.

You have to continue to invest in figuring out, you know, what’s changing, what you need to adapt and that sort of thing, and how to improve.

Gini Dietrich: Yeah. I mean, I was gonna say in my experience, and I don’t have Google AdWord experience, but I definitely can do social media advertising and you have to be in there every day.

Because things change, or you might have a campaign that’s working really well and all of a sudden it isn’t, or suddenly Facebook decides to turn it off, or there’s something happening every single day, so there’s no way, there’s no way one person could handle 75 accounts and do that kind of work.

Chip Griffin: Correct, right. And, and, I mean, Google, you don’t really need to be in, I mean, it’s been a few years since I’ve managed Google AdWords directly myself, but I used to do it on a regular basis and you don’t need to be in there every day. Right. But you do need to be checking in on a regular basis because things do change.

And if you go two months without looking at it, you know, there are going to be developments that you’re going to miss. And so you’re going to end up having wasted money or missed an opportunity or something. So, you know, you do need to be continuing to spend. Time on it and and and more to the point, you know, if you’re if you’re in a position like that then what you’re really just doing is you really just have some sort of a A cookie cutter service that’s being provided.

You’re not really providing added value as an agency per se And maybe that’s a business model. I don’t know. I mean, I’m not sure that that’s Again, something that will succeed over the long term though, but

Gini Dietrich: I even think to your point You know, as an, just say as an account manager, even dealing with having 50 people that you have to manage and understand, and you know, everybody’s going to have their own issues and challenges like that’s a lot, that’s a lot.

Chip Griffin: Right. And look, and here’s the fundamental point. I mean, whether, whether it’s working for this individual and his agency or not is really beside the point, right? Because if it is working for them, you know, that’s the exception rather than the rule. And so my concern and the reason why I went on this rant today was because so many people see the top line.

Tear up timesheets, you know, manage 75 clients with one individual for a week, one of my, my long time pet peeves, you know, uh, all of these things someone hears and they say, Oh, well, that’s great. That’s it. And the problem is people want to hear certain things. Right. Mm-Hmm. . People want to hear that there are shortcuts, that there are easy ways to do things.

Sure. That, that there is some magic formula that they can employ and there are a lot of people out there who are selling those kinds of ideas. For sure. Sometimes they’re selling it for clickbait and then they explain, you know, how it really is, right? I mean, like the four hour work week. There are a lot of good ideas and suggestions in that book.

The title is horrendous. And, and people just read the title of the book. Oh, four hour work week. Cool. I can work four hours. Yep. You can’t you can’t and by the way, Tim Ferriss doesn’t either. Okay. He spends more than four hours a week making media appearances Which is great good for him But it completely defies the logic of a four hour work week, right?

Gini Dietrich: well, and even still like I mean it goes to the The nuance of our society which is get rich fast lose weight You Lose weight quickly. You know, I, Oh, I have an event coming up in a month. I need to lose 75 pounds. We have this mentality that that’s, that that’s, that stuff works. And so when then you apply it to business as well, Oh, you can work 20 hours a week and make 5 million bucks a year when, you know, whatever happens to be, it’s just not the case.

It’s at all. That’s not the case. What is it? The saying is it takes 10 years to have overnight success. Like it’s not, that’s not how it works. You have to actually do the work.

Chip Griffin: Right? And, and look, and this is, you know, we’re talking about some of the high profile, really outlandish examples. But, you know, if you’re looking for advice for your own agency.

Presumably that’s why you’re listening to this podcast, right? That’s what we do. But you have to process what we say and figure out if it, if it makes sense for you, because I can guarantee you that everything that we say on this show, you can find another agency advisor out there who will give you 180 degrees opposite advice, and that doesn’t make us right in them wrong.

There are going to be circumstances where we’re, we’re right and they’re wrong. There are going to be circumstances where it works for you, but not for someone else or vice versa. Right. And so, you know, you, you can’t just take advice blindly. I mean, we talk about how we don’t like RFPs yet. There are agencies out there that do make good money off of RFPs in part, because as we always say, there are exceptions to that rule.

But there are also just, you know, people who have a different approach to it and, and they’ve figured out a way to make it work for them. It’s just not. You know, what our experience tells us is more likely to be effective for most agencies, but you have to listen to us and you have to process it and you have to say, okay, does this apply to me or not?

And as you’re looking for people to take advice from, you have to figure out, you know, do these individuals have the same approach, the same risk tolerance, the same general philosophy as I do, right? You have to find the right match and you have to figure out if that works for you. Specific piece of advice matches what you need in that moment for your own business.

Gini Dietrich: And I would say that yeah, I think you’re right in that moment because it’s There will be moments in your business where it changes. So the advice may not work right now, but it does three years from now or, you know, whatever it happens to be. So I think there’s that too, where as you evolve and you grow and you make mistakes, you learn that there are things that didn’t work.

three years ago or even last year. That would work this year.

Chip Griffin: Right. Right. And you have to think about it in terms of, you know, what, what is the perspective that the person who’s giving the advice is coming from? Right. Is their agency the same size, the same service offering, the same verticals, because the more that changes, the more you have to question if that is the right piece of advice.

Right. So, you know, we were talking about how that, That agency that had 75 clients, I think, might have been in PPC or something like that. If that’s the case, is that what you do? Or are you media relations or content marketing or something else? Well, you know, then, then it may not be nearly as applicable to you.

There may not even be lessons you can draw from it, really. And so you need to look at those kinds of things and really, you know, cast a critical eye on it. Even when it’s our advice, even though we are just absolutely brilliant, compelling individuals that you love to listen to.

Gini Dietrich: I mean, I think that’s very fair.

And there are certainly, you’re right. There are other agency advisors out there that we, you and I generally don’t agree with, but their advice works at certain parts of your agency life. And, and also to your point, There is no way like the, the business, the agency that I have, there’s no way we could have 75 clients period, let alone 75 clients per person.

Right, right. There’s just no way because of the work that we do. Um, so I think that’s, that’s a really valid point. You have to understand where the advice is coming from and if it’s applicable to the agency that you’re building.

Chip Griffin: Right. And you really have to, you have to start with what are you trying to build?

What do you want to accomplish for yourself? Because, I mean, the other challenge, and I think I posted about this on LinkedIn recently, I see too many agency owners who are doing what they think they’re supposed to do. Right. Because an expert like us said something because they heard about it, what another agency owner was doing, because, you know, their uncle who has a law firm said, this is how you run a professional service business, whatever.

And, and so they start. You know, making decisions based on all of these things they’ve heard, and they haven’t really stopped to figure out what do they want. And so if you’re listening to this, you need to know what you want, what are you trying to accomplish, and then figure out how you get there. And you can take bits and pieces of advice from a lot of different people.

And if you do that, You’re more likely to have success than if you just, you know, buy someone’s program that says follow these seven steps and you’ll become a millionaire.

Gini Dietrich: You know, it’s funny because in the Spin Sucks community, maybe two weeks ago there was a conversation about, um, employees versus contractors.

And you know, this, this woman is right now is a solopreneur and she’s trying to decide, do I bring on a con because her biggest challenge is she has all this heavy strategic, Work that needs to be done, but it doesn’t have anybody on the team to be able to hand that off to. So that she can continue to grow the business.

And she said, you know, do I bring on a contractor for that? Do I bring in an employee? I can’t really afford an employee at that level. So there was, it was an interesting conversation and people that had different experiences, like one person has built a virtual agency that only uses contractors and another one lives in California and she’s only hired employees.

And so having the conversation where you can see the pros and cons of each, I think is really valuable. And as you’re listening to experts, you can build those pros and cons lists for yourself to say, okay, well, here’s what makes sense for this, this, and this, but it doesn’t make sense for this, this, and this.

And you start to build that for yourself to figure out what will work for your agency.

Chip Griffin: Yeah, exactly. And, and I, I think the more, I mean, you obviously have to be careful that you don’t overwhelm yourself with so many different perspectives and data points, right. That you can easily end up with, you know, analysis paralysis at that point.

But, but you, it is helpful to listen to these things, but you also have to say to yourself, okay, you know, why are they saying what they’re saying? So in that particular conversation, I recall there was one individual who’s basically like never, ever hire a contractor. Well, it turned out that individual had gone through a nasty audit that hadn’t turned out well.

And so, you know, if you’re in that situation, if you’ve been burned by something, you’re going to have a much stronger reaction than someone who maybe has had a different experience. For sure. And so, It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t listen to that because in this particular case, audits are a real meaningful risk these days for any, any business with contractors, but particularly agencies.

And so it’s worth looking at, it’s worth considering, but you also need to look at other sides, other perspectives from people who may be, you know, didn’t have a bad experience. And so they’re not coming at it, you know, from a very negative point of view.

Gini Dietrich: Right. Yeah. I think that’s exactly right. It’s just collecting as much information as you can.

And I think the Over analysis is a good one because I did that in the beginning of my business where I was trying to figure out, you know, what, what does a leader look like? Should I be leading? Should I be managing? You know, what does it look like at a startup at the startup phase? What does it look like?

5 years in? I joined a Vistage group and I would sit in these Vistage meetings. And easily the other members were 20 years or older than me and their businesses were mature. And I remember comparing myself to them. And I, I really got down in the dumps on myself because I was constantly trying to keep up with them constantly.

And I finally had to say to my Vistage chair, this is not good for me personally. And it was when I left the Vistage group that I started to excel because I didn’t have all of that information coming at me. Constantly and me trying to keep up with business owners that had been in business for 20 or 30 years longer

Chip Griffin: than right and and You know when you’re trying to compare yourself against a business that’s that’s that old Old, established, whatever word you want to use, the way that they need to operate is different, right?

I was, I was having this conversation with someone who had a technology based business and recently, and I was talking about how it’s, it’s, it’s very different five years in versus in the first few months, because you don’t have clients and agencies can pivot a little bit more easily than technology companies.

But I remember when I had CustomScoop, you know, Five or 10 years into the business, if I were starting from scratch, I would have built it in a whole different way, but it was hard to make giant changes because you had an established customer base, right? And so you can’t just completely swing the pendulum if you’ve got existing clients that you have to serve.

And so you need to figure out how do you, how do you make those evolutions? And so that’s different for a business that’s been established versus one that’s younger. Risk tolerance is different, right? Because you’re in different places in your life. And so you will find as an agency owner that your risk tolerance will vary from, you know, maybe year to year, but certainly five year period to five year period.

And that’s fine. And you should make different decisions based on, you know, what your current situation is. And what you’re thinking about what the future holds, so, but you need to put all these things together. And if you just make decisions based on headlines or based on this super simple advice, or just do this, you know, and those are those are the things that I guess work me the most sort of the folks who have absolutes, you know, absolute 100 percent advice, and they make it seem like it’s easy because it is not.

Running a business is not easy. It’s not easy. And if you start to think that it’s easy or that you can make it easy, that’s when you start making really bad decisions.

Gini Dietrich: Yeah, I think that’s right. And I think the, the idea that you can work 20 hours a week and Make a zillion dollars a year and you can only work four hours a week, or you can build a four hour weekend or whatever, four day weekend, or whatever it happens to be.

Sure. You might be able to do some of those things, but you also have to work extraordinarily hard at it.

Chip Griffin: Yeah, absolutely. And, and, and I’ve seen a significant increase in the last few months of agency owners coming to me saying, you know, I’d really like to be able to get down to 20 to 25 hours a week of work.

And also at the same time, you know, I want to increase my profits. I would love to do that too. Right. And, and maybe you can. There are certainly agencies that do it, and I have been through periods in some of my own businesses where I was able to to really coast and still make a ton of money, and you will have those periods.

They’re not necessarily sustainable over the long term, because if you’re taking yourself out of a lot of that, that means you’re missing opportunities, right? So you may be able to keep all of the trains running on time. At a reduced workload, the question is, can you continue to explore and grow and find, you know, where those new pockets of revenue are?

I think that’s a lot more difficult to do on just a few hours of week. And so you need to be very careful when you listen to that kind of thing, or when you have that kind of motivation to figure out what am I giving up for it? Sure. Because nothing in life is free. And so if I, if I decide I’m going to invest less time in the business and more time in, you know, hobbies or family or whatever, that’s a fine decision.

But you have to know what you’re potentially giving up. And just because you heard one or two people can do it doesn’t mean that you can do it too. Maybe you can, but cast a critical eye. Right.

Gini Dietrich: And I would venture to guess exactly what you said about Tim Ferriss, where it’s, You may not be quote unquote working in the business, but you’re working on the business in some fashion.

You’re doing media appearances, you’re doing speaking engagements, you’re writing a book, you’re creating, you’re creating a new product, you know, something like that. So you may not be working in the business, or you’re only working in the business 20 hours a week, but the rest of the time you’re spent on or whatever it happens to be.

Very rarely do you find that people are like, yep, I’m only working 20 hours a week and I’m going to go. Drink wine and eat bonbons. Like that just doesn’t

Chip Griffin: happen. Right. And, and honestly, part of the problem is people who come to me and say that, I think the more I dig into it, it’s that they’re just not happy with what they’re doing.

For sure. Absolutely. And so, so then you really just need to do more of a rethink, right? Because I work a lot of hours a week. Technically, if you call it work, I love what I do. Right. Right. So there are aspects of watching videos is work.

Gini Dietrich: Technically. But you love doing that.

Chip Griffin: Yeah, I love doing. I mean, technically, what we’re doing right now is work, right?

I love doing this, right? I mean, if my voice wouldn’t give out, I would just sit all day and just pontificate, right? So this is not work for me, right? Right. I love this. Yeah. And and so, you know, perhaps it’s not that you need to find less hours to work, but you need to find better things to do With your work time.

And so, you know, that may be maybe you write a new job description for yourself as the agency owner and you try to figure out how do I get to that job? The one that I would like to have. And you know, does that mean that you delegate things or you make sacrifices somewhere else? So those kinds of maybe it means that you get rid of your agency.

You go work for somebody else because your job description is really not even being an agency owner. That’s okay, too. That’s totally okay. That’s I mean, it’s absolutely fine. Figure out what you want to do. And I think anybody who hasn’t given thought over the last year to what they really want to do with their professional life, their personal life, I think most people have.

Right? I mean, I think most people have given that at least some thought. Give it some more thought. Figure it out. Turn your business into what you want. If you’re happy running your business, you’re not going to be worried about cutting back five hours a week of the time that you spend on it.

Gini Dietrich: It’s absolutely true.

And if, and if you’re passionate about the work that you’re doing, I mean, I was working a crap ton of hours last year, but I was doing work that was extraordinarily fulfilling. So, I mean, and now I’m, I don’t have that client anymore because we, I hired and we, they hired internally and we transitioned it.

Um, so I’m not working 90 hours a week anymore. And I kind of feel like, like. Like, you know, so there’s that sense of loss as well. So I think if you’re really passionate about the work that you’re doing, it doesn’t matter.

Chip Griffin: Right. And no expert can tell you what you want, right? Or what you should do. And, and so that again, that doesn’t matter whether it’s one of us or if it’s someone else that you’re listening to or some video you watch or an article you read in Ad Age or Ad Week.

You know, you really have to look inside yourself and figure out what that is. Now, I’m not a life coach. I don’t pretend to be a life coach. I don’t want to spend time trying to, you know, people figure out, you know, what their role in life is. But I will ask my clients very specific questions to figure out what they want from their business.

Right. Because if you can’t figure that out, you don’t even know who to start to listen to, you don’t have a prism through which you can make a judgment as to whether this is advice that will work for you or not. So start there, be critical about the advice that you’re getting, don’t believe these clickbaity headlines, book titles, all that kind of stuff, and really make rational decisions based on the information you’re taking in.

Gini Dietrich: And please let the children go back to school.

Chip Griffin: And yes, please let the children get Oh, look, the hamster’s come back. For those of you listening in audio land, you will not see the hamster dancing around on Gini’s head. On that disgusting note, we’re going to call this episode to a close. So, I’m Chip Griffin.

Gini Dietrich: And 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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