The History of Agencies, Authority Marketing, and Overused Words with AMI’s Drew McLellan

Episode 28 of The Verblio Show

To say that Drew McLellan knows about authority is an understatement—he is a 30 year veteran of the marketing industry and not only helps hundreds of other agency owners as the head of the Agency Management Institute, but continues to walk the talk as the CEO of his own agency as well. He is also one of the most respected authors, bloggers, and speakers in the business.

In this episode, he and Steve talk about what authority is and why it matters for agencies, as well as how agencies’ roles have shifted throughout history. They also cover content strategies, copywriting, and the worst advice agency owners are getting today.


Name: Drew McLellan

What he does: Owner of the Agency Management Institute, where he offers training and consulting for agency owners nationwide. Drew has also owned and run the McLellan Marketing Group agency since 1995, and is a noted speaker, author, and host of the Build a Better Agency podcast.

Find Drew on the web: AMI | Drew McLellan | LinkedIn | Twitter

Get smart: “When you combine niche and point of view, there are going to be very few companies who look just like you.”

Top Tips from This Episode

Authority = niche + point of view

Drew’s latest book dives deep on what authority is and how to establish it, and he breaks down the two main components with Steve. What constitutes a niche? “Everyone immediately assumes it’s an industry, which it doesn’t have to be,” Drew says. A niche could also be a specific audience, a specific problem you solve for your clients, or a deliverable. At AMI, for example, Drew works with small to midsized, independent agencies—that’s his niche.

Point of view, meanwhile, “is the overlay that you put on top of your niche.”

“My point of view,” he says, is that “agency owners are accidental business owners. They’re really great at the client facing side, but they don’t actually know how to run the business of their business and they need help with that.” By putting those two together—niche and point of view—you’ve defined exactly who you serve and how you serve them.

Choose your channel wisely

“Most of us are better at talking or writing,” Drew says. As you begin establishing authority, pick whether you’ll be reaching your audience through keynote speeches, written blogs, or any other channel—and don’t think that being a thought leader means you have to write a book.

If you’re more comfortable speaking, a podcast can be your medium. “When you think about a weekly podcast, that’s 52 hours of content. That is a cornerstone piece of content,” Drew says. “Not any episode by itself, but the collection of a year’s worth of podcasts is absolutely cornerstone.” Why does the medium matter? “Because you’re not an authority on something for a day. You’re going to be doing this for a long time.”

Stop saying “unprecedented”

What is the most overused word in marketing right now? “Unprecedented,” Drew says, without hesitation. “Lazy copywriters use it more often than they should.”

Instead, figure out what the “unprecedented” situation actually means for your audience. Call out the emotion, rather than the buzzword. “We are lonely and isolated and scared and frustrated,” Drew says. “And there are a lot of emotions that a writer can play with right now because everybody’s emotions are so raw and on the surface.”

Episode Highlights

How starting out as a copywriter taught him to see the big picture

“As a copywriter, if you don’t understand the big picture, if you don’t understand where we’re trying to get to, and the brand—there’s just so many elements that a good copywriter has to take into account as they sit down to craft whatever it is they’re making. It allowed me very quickly to learn how to be that big picture thinker, to think about strategy and brand and audience and messaging—all the things that today are really what drives marketing.”

The illustrious history of soap operas

“Back in the day, agencies made their money by buying media…. And oftentimes they were actually having to create audiences to talk to about their client’s product or service. There was an agency named Benton & Bowles in New York and their largest client was Procter & Gamble. And they couldn’t find media channels to help Procter & Gamble talk to housewives, so they created the radio version of soap operas. So, the agency was the creator of three of the four most popular soap operas in the world, including As the World Turns. Then, when television came along, Benton & Bowles—the advertising agency—was creating television soap operas.

Again, keep in mind the reason they were doing this was to create an audience so they could show diaper commercials and cleaning product commercials to the women at that time, for the most part, watching those commercials.”

Ignore everybody who isn’t your audience

How do you establish authority as a specialist? “By creating content that demonstrates over and over and over again how helpful you can be to that specific audience. And you sort of ignore everybody else.

So you’re not doing a blog post on the Pantone Color of the Year or some other generic marketing trend that every other agency on the planet is writing about. You’re writing about, you know, the buying cycle of the big box stores when you sell nails and screws, right? So, 95% of the planet is like, ‘I don’t want to read this.’ But the 5% of the planet that does want to read it, really wants to read it.”

Content isn’t just for the top of the funnel

“You use your cornerstone content to introduce you to people who’ve never heard of you before. But then you’re creating more intimate content that they have to keep stepping closer and closer to you—into the sales funnel—to get access to it.

…Somebody reads something that you wrote or they saw you speak at an event, and then they text you their email address to get the deck. And now you’re sending them information and if you keep being helpful and then all of a sudden you say, ‘Well, you know what? We’re doing a webinar.’ Well, now they’ve stepped in a little closer, right? Now they’re actually interacting with you on a screen.

And then at the webinar you’re saying, ‘Well, you know we’re actually holding a live event.’ And they go, ‘Oh my gosh, I could be one of 30 people in the room with this expert who I’m learning so much from.’ And they step even closer. And in the live event, you say, ‘You know what? We have room for three or four more clients,’ and they go, ‘Okay, I, I want that.’ Right?

Because every time I talk to you, you’re teaching me something new that I can apply to my business right now. Why wouldn’t I want a better, deeper relationship with that person?”

Don’t dance around the point

“One of the things that a great writer does is they go right for the pain point. They just hit it. They do it respectfully and with taste, but they don’t tap dance around it. They just call it out for what it is, because then the audience goes, ‘Oh my God, you totally get me. Okay. Now I’m gonna lean in ’cause you’ve proven that you understand where my head and heart is at, so now I’m gonna hear what you wanna say.’”

Keep walking the talk

“I still own my own agency. That was really important to me. There are a lot of agency consultants out there that used to own an agency or used to run an agency, but they never owned the agency. But agency life is changing so fast that the advice I would have given five years ago, I don’t give anymore. I’m not sure would know that if I wasn’t still doing it.”

The worst advice he hears agency owners getting?

“‘Don’t do time sheets.’

…If you don’t have time sheets and you don’t know how people are spending their day, how in the world do you know if your pricing is right, if your estimates are right, if you’re staffed properly, if you have room for another staffer, if you’re overstaffed? You can’t know any of that without daily time sheets. …It is sort of the nucleus of critical data for every other metric that we look at as agency owners.”

Top quotes


 [2:01] “When we say books, most of us still picture a book that you hold in your hand. And the reality is, it’s just long form content, right? …People do consume books, they just consume them differently.”

[12:15] “When you think about an expert or an authority, they are constantly giving away what they know, and that the implication is they know so much that it’s okay for them to give it away because they got a whole bunch more that they can share.”

[15:13] “When you combine niche and point of view, there are going to be very few companies—whether it’s an agency or you’re a direct provider—there are gonna be very few companies who look just like you.”

[17:40] “What an authority does, is they teach, and in our world today, content is the way most people are teaching.”

[23:55] “Whether you like it or not, the authority inside your business, whether you’re an agency or not, really does need to be somebody who can’t pick up that authority and go someplace else. It has to be an owner. ”

 [33:00] “When we use buzzwords, I think people just ignore us.”

Learn More

Check out Drew’s latest book, Sell with Authority, for more on how to position your agency as an authority in your field.

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