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Inside the Small Agency Idea Lab: Thoughts from SAIL 2017


I recently had the opportunity to speak at the Small Agency Idea Lab (SAIL) conference in Orlando. It was a conference made up of about 50 different advertising agencies from around the country. I have been attending different seminars and conferences with this organization for about 15 years now, but this was the first time I was asked to be a presenter.

Our friends at Second Wind, which hosts the event, had read a recent e-communication that we sent out explaining our emotion tracking software for video projects. If you follow us at all here at ABC, you have already heard about this ad nauseum because, quite frankly, we are pretty stoked about it. So, I won’t bore you with the details of my presentation today but if you want to find out more just click here.

Standing in front of the audience, I could not help to think about how far ABC and I have come.

My initial start in the industry was focused on photography and design. Eventually, ABC became a full-service agency. Then in 2005, I took over the company and built that company into what it is now. We’ve doubled in staff and tripled our profits over the past 10 years or so. And ABC is poised to do some great things over the next couple of years.

I believe that implementing new technology such as emotion tracking and truly understanding our clients’ marketing goals are at the heart of our growth. It’s not just about buying into the newest tech, but also about knowing how to use that tech in a way that helps the client.

Should I repeat that? It’s about using the tech in a way that helps the client.

Sorry, I just really get pissed when I see other agencies jumping on fleeting marketing fads and shoving their stupid ideas down their client’s throat.

OK, that was a tangent. So, the real purpose of this post is to tell you what I took away from the conference so you can understand a little of what we are doing in our industry to better help our clients.

Marketing automation whether you like it or not!

Look, I am a creative. So, I hate things like spreadsheets and words like “automation” scare the shit out of me. To me it sounds like a robot and I never want to create cookie-cutter creative for anyone.

However, this automation stuff has finally grown into something really cool. Remember what I said: Not all tech is for everyone, so this works great for some and maybe pieces of it work for others.

Basically, with all of the data we can now collect from consumers (and, yes, believe that Big Brother is watching), we can create a truly custom line of communications to every intended target. I can put current clients in one basket, potential clients in another, and even identify intenders and put them in a basket.

Don’t even get me going on behavioral tracking and how we can narrow these baskets down even further. But, that’s where the automation comes in.

You can immediately identify your target and get them information on exactly what they are looking for. Different sales tactics, different incentives – whatever it may be. If you’re not familiar, there is a lot of different automation software out there, but as someone in the conference said the software in the hands of someone who doesn’t understand marketing is useless.

Agencies have assets?

I have always asked one question whenever I am sitting down in a room trying to determine a budget for a client: What is the idea worth?

Ours isn’t the only agency that struggles with this. Sure, we have task rates, day rates, consulting fees and all of that, but is a great idea only worth the time it takes to come up with it? Really? So, what’s the idea worth?

So, there are many agencies out there that have come up with great processes that they have just woven into their business model. But, many others recognize the value of processes that most people cannot accomplish in the creative realm. They have been smart enough to use that intellectual property as a revenue source. Kudos to them as I haven’t figured that one out yet.

Cool profit sharing.

If you’re reading this post and you are the business owner, you just cringed at that headline, right? It’s hard to attract new talent and maintain these damn millennials.

At this conference, I learned a great new way to incentivize employees through a profit-sharing program that is legit. The details could take up an entire article, but I challenge you to consider sitting down this year and figuring out some ways to develop a program that not only rewards your employees, but also incentivizes them to work harder and think more creatively.

I don’t have all the details down either, but would be glad to share what I know if you buy me a cup of coffee. Just be comforted that there actually is a way to do this.

I lost my gorilla!

There is always talk not only in the advertising industry, but in many industries about the gorilla client. If you don’t have one now, you either did or will. That’s the client that makes up for 40 percent or even more of your billable hours.

Now, we all know that every business guru will tell you this is a bad idea and I agree. However, who am I to tell my wonderful client that I really don’t want any more of their money, especially if we’re doing kickass creative work that they are willing to pay for?

This whole notion smacks in the face of the contradicting comments from the same business guru that says walk the halls, mine current clients for more business, yada yada. Now, what I can tell you is the thought of or the harsh reality of actually losing your biggest client makes you think different.

I have been very fortunate that I have not had this happen, however I have had many scares. I have heard many stories – some that end well and others that do not. My best advice: Act like you are always about to lose that client. This keeps you hungry and constantly hustling.

One of the best parts of these conferences is just sitting in a room full of people that do what you do and realizing that everyone else is as messed up and dealing with the same shit you are. I’m looking forward to next year.

About The Author

Travis arrived at ABC back in 1995, when photography was his main creative outlet. That passion evolved over the next decade as Travis began thinking beyond imagery and pitching his broader ideas and strategies to clients. It was the birth of the idea-based marketing philosophy: Getting to know the client inside out, learning about the successes and failures, then spinning that into an idea that could build a better outcome. That’s the cornerstone he’s built his creative-first agency on since buying the place in 2005. ABC has grown exponentially since then both in terms of people and clients. Local, regional, national, banking, destinations, nonprofits: Travis has greatly expanded services over the years to accommodate them all. He’s also assembled a talented team. Just like them, he’s greeted each morning by a simple reminder etched on the wall: “Create Cool Sh!t Today!” He’s proud to run the kind of agency that does.