‘Burnout is real’: Why successful agencies prioritize time management skills
There is rarely a dull moment in agency and consulting life. Learning to juggle the needs of multiple clients and manage those relationships requires expertise, of course, but also loads of organization and attention to detail while never losing sight of client goals.
Time management is easier said than done and must be ingrained in agency culture, say Duane Brown, agency founder and head of strategy at Take Some Risk Inc. and Katy Lucey, director of paid social at performance agency Tinuiti. Both will be speaking on our agency-focused track of sessions at SMX East in NYC next month and shared how their agencies approach work processes, client communication and avoiding burnout.
How to avoid drowning in tasks
At an agency or consultancy, there are never enough hours in the day. There is always more work to do. Brown and Lucey said prioritization is key to effective time management. It sounds simple, but requires regular assessments of to-do lists, understanding what tasks will have the greatest impact and orchestration.
“If you aren’t able to differentiate between what’s important and time-sensitive and what can be pushed off until later, you’ll drown in tasks,” said Lucey. “You also have to be organized in a way that makes sense for your own personal working style.” If you’re feeling overwhelmed or inefficient, you might need to step back and assess how you work best.
When it comes to time management, Brown said he’s taken two lessons from his time at BBDO, Ogilvy and other large agencies to running his own shop. The first is communicating with clients about prioritization. When a client makes an urgent, time-sensitive request, said Brown, “Ask them which other tasks should be pushed to the next week. If everything is a priority then nothing is a priority.” This will also help you manage expectations.
The second lesson Brown learned was to stay focused on outcomes. If a task isn’t going to get you to the desired outcome, move on. “The goal should never be to tick off items on your to-do list,” said Brown. “The goal should be to reach your business outcomes.”
Using tools effectively
Project management platforms are the primary hubs for managing internal and client projects at both agencies. Brown’s team uses Asana; Lucey’s uses Wrike. Lucey’s firm also uses Slack for both internal and client communication.
But, Brown says, “More tools can actually make things more complicated.” Asana provides a central system for internal communication and project management. Weekly client calls ensure the teams are in sync and working toward the same goals and provide an opportunity to regularly asses how clients are tracking toward their revenue or lead goals.
Rewarding time management skills
Lacey and Brown also noted that incentives for effective time management are baked into the culture of their agencies.
Brown says his agency aims to reward employees for working effectively and productively.
At Tinuiti, account teams can earn more by taking on more work, but to do so they must be able to effectively manage their time and demonstrate they have the capacity to do more. “We work with more junior team members on time management strategies early on to help empower them to grow in a sustainable way,” Lucey added.
What clients should be asking during the proposal phase
Thankfully, many now see the harmful impact grueling work cultures have on agency employees and on client outcomes.
Clients should ask how agency contacts and teams work, how they communicate, what their processes are during the sales phase, said Brown and Lucey. And that includes their approach to balance.
Brown said prospective clients should ask, “Does the team we’ll work with have time to think and not just execute?” That won’t just impact strategy, it will affect the level of task output. “If everyone is working 12-hour days, that is not a good sign. Find out when was the last time everyone had a vacation,” said Brown. “Burnout is real in this industry, and you don’t want a team that is running on fumes.”
Lucey said the same. “Ask about their approach to work-life balance and their time off policies.”
How many clients will your team also be working on? How are teams incentivized to perform at high levels? “We are open about our compensation model as well as the perks we offer,” said Lucey, “We believe it fosters happier employees and helps avoid burnout, which provides clients the best service possible.”
Brown and Lucey will join other agency executives for a day focused on agency operations, capped off by an agency meetup at SMX East on November 13 in New York City. See the agenda here.