10 Tips to Build Your Agency’s Next Wave of Leadership

Coach and PlayersAs Paul Roetzer (@paulroetzer) pens in The Marketing Agency Blueprint, model marketing agencies develop top talent and successful leaders from within. “When all else is equal … it is talent that cannot be replicated.”

Young, savvy marketers have big opportunities to excel in modern firms. It’s up to these young professionals to take the initiative. But, it’s up to agency leadership to continually set the bar, provide development opportunities, and mold this next generation into a smart, powerful wave of talent.

For successful client campaigns and agency health, account managers must be responsible for growing support teams of younger professionals. The following list provides 10 tips to put into action at your firm.

1. Know your Team

What are young pros interests, in terms of specific clients, professional development, and industry skills? What do they enjoy doing outside work hours?

Account teams become like family. After all—during the workweek, you spend close to 45 hours together at the office. Even if you think you know your team, make sure everyone is taking the initiative to ask and not assume.  Learning about each other upfront shows that 1.) you’re human, and 2.) you care about helping one another advance skills in specific interest areas.

2. Activate Knowledge-Share Opportunities

Are you learning from young pros daily, and do you enable the opportunity for them to step up and share with others? At PR 20/20, we use Yammer for internal knowledge share and collaboration, giving new and seasoned professionals the opportunity to continually learn from each other.

Young professionals bring different perspectives and the latest skills to the table. Reverse seminars are a way to learn from younger professionals, and provide internal speaking and presentation practice.

3. Commit to Quality; Hold to the Highest Standards

Ultimately, you’ve advanced your career by paying attention to the details. Clients count on your agency’s “marketing expertise” to include correct grammar, creativity, development skills, presentation quality, strategic guidance and more.

Setting this bar high for your team and demanding the best quality work keeps clients happy, shows young pros what “client-ready work” really looks like, and maintains the reputation of the agency.

Expecting quality work now ensures that your next wave of agency leadership will maintain that level of quality in the years to come.

Bonus Tip: When a younger pro excels here and has delivered high-quality work, let your client know. We deliver all work as a “team effort,” but if it’s a natural fit in the conversation—especially as you work on positioning your next account manager in the eyes of the client—mention the success by name.

4. Commit to Timely Feedback

If you are serious about high-quality work, you’re going to have to put in the hours to review and develop young professionals’ skillsets—from writing and consultative emails, to strategy. I recommend not clearing an item out of your inbox until it’s been added to your to-do list, or until you’ve touched base with that consultant on next steps with clear deadlines.

This may mean taking an initial look to decide if a project is on track, and giving that feedback right away to save review time later.

5. Provide Quality, and Continual Feedback

It’s not enough to edit a document, send straight to the client, and tell someone, “Nice job—I reworked a few sections then delivered to the client and they liked it.” It’s also not OK for a young pro to receive poor marks for skills during a professional review and be surprised by it.

Continual feedback, including discussions, tracked changes, and even resources to advance skills, need to be part of the norm for your team. Ask young pros to edit your work too to get a grasp of the type of feedback you can expect once they’re leading the charge.

6. Train to Think, Not Only Execute

As your team works on specific projects, make sure they know how they fit into the bigger picture. For example, how does blog post XYZ relate to overall brand messaging, an upcoming trade show, future nurturing campaigns, and fuel dynamic web content, search and social? What are competitors saying about the topic, and how does my client differentiate?

Big questions like this show the purpose of smaller tasks, and put big-picture thinking into practice. Harvard Business Review’s How Smart Leaders Translate Strategy into Execution is a good read for more on the topic.

As young pros take on more client strategies, set them up for success by providing all needed resources, including your time for questions along the way. When reviewing strategic drafts, offer suggestions, ask questions that inspire deeper strategy, and remember to review with an open mind—you did not write this, and that’s OK.

7. Copy Young Pros on Emails

Although it may seem trivial, make an effort to copy others on your emails. You’re not doing it to fill their inboxes or be annoying, you’re doing it to show clients that you value your team’s input and commitment to the project. If you show that you want them involved, clients pick up on that and in-turn, trust the team as a whole. This makes it much easier to transition accounts as well.

8. Involve Young Leaders in Special Projects

By involve, I really mean give them the reigns. Is there a topic that pro loves? Let them write an ebook, coordinate speaking opportunities, and showcase project management and delivery skills from start through finish. See how they involve others, or whether they know enough to reach out when guidance is needed.

When done well, projects like this can instill young pros with confidence in their own skills, and in your entire team’s perception of that teammate’s abilities.

9. Give Public Praise, Private Critiques

It almost goes without saying: encourage leadership with praise and measured results. When something isn’t quite right, show respect for your team with a private conversation on why it missed the mark.

10. Let Professionals Set Pace and Direct their Roadmaps

Rather than meeting a rigid set of requirements for advancements, encourage everyone on your team to map their own path.

Remember, as a current leader it’s your job to align individual skills and the team for success. Rather than micro-managing people to fit a certain mold in your head, let them show you their initiative, spirit and drive—and provide an environment that fosters intrinsically motivated leadership.

What’s helped you become an agency leader, and how are you paying it forward?

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