Friday, January 25, 2013

Intentions of Gratitude on the Big 40

Just a quick post on how grateful I am to have been given so many gifts over my now 40 years. From my family to my friends to the amazing professional opportunities I've experienced, I truly have no complaints. What I hope, more than anything, to do better moving forward is to be more aware of grateful for what's right in front of me that I've taken for granted. 

In our business, as much as any other, nothing is given to us tomorrow. I'd challenge you to take in what's in front of you today, be grateful for the opportunity and make the most of it. It may result in a new business win, a promotion, helping someone else get promoted...who knows. But if you don't see what's in front of you, it might not be there tomorrow. 

Here's an amazing film from Louie Schwartzberg at a TED conference on the concept of Gratitude. Truly worth ten minutes of your time. 

Sunday, December 16, 2012

What is Agency Culture?

One of the most rewarding things I get to do in our business is to counsel friends and colleagues on their career. When asking them to give an assessment of their current agency, I frequently hear about their shop "not having any culture." And while I know what it is they are trying to say, there's a misconception that needs to be cleared up...

EVERY agency (or company for that matter) has a culture. It's just a matter of people not liking what they see their agency's culture to be.

Perhaps this only makes sense for me, but I view culture simply as the intangibles that remain when you take the work away. Think about it. What bonds exist between you, your agency and your coworkers. What do you have in common? Is there a genuine like and respect for one another? Is there a belief in something greater? What values do you share? Does your company's leadership and their actions align with those values? 

Answer those questions and you begin to see what kind of a culture you really have. Usually, you'll see themes appear as opposites:
-Trust and distrust
-Genuine and inauthentic
-Sweatshop or 9-5
-Idealistic or pragmatic
-In it to simply make money or to do great things that, as a result, make money
-Creatively-driven or client-dictated
-Hierarchical or flat
-Instinctive or empirical
-Thrift or investment
-Structured or chaotic
-Formal or casual

What you'll find from any agency is a combination of these themes that collectively start to define an organization's culture. THEN, add in the work (both the clients and what you deliver for them) and you can start to see how your agency's values affect how you approach your work, and whether you think the work benefits or suffers because of your culture. I'm not saying the work doesn't help feed culture, but the concept of work isn't, in an of itself, culture. 

I'm also not here to espouse any particular collection of values that define a culture. That's for each individual to decide. What I hope is that this will help my readers be able to better observe what's driving and defining their company's culture and how their values align.

It's a critical exercise for anyone's career happiness. 

Would love to hear your thoughts. 

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Moving from "Where's My App?" to "What's My App?"

Most of us have had one of those moments when a panicked client calls frantically about having just left a meeting with their CEO during which they were asked why they have yet to launch an app and how soon can they get one up and running. It can be a maddening question that has driven many a Client Leader to respond in a manner they would later regret. Here's how I'd suggest you process the question.

First, you can't let yourself off the hook. Having to answer this question could entirely be you and your agency's fault. If you have yet to articulate the need (or lack thereof) for an app and how it would serve your client's customers, shame on you. That's simply a lack of vision and leadership. But it's not necessarily a lost cause... 

If you find yourself in this position, try responding by asking "If we were to make an app, what would it do? What does your brand have to offer of value? Why would someone want to visit your app more than once? How are you making your customer's life better/easier/more enjoyable by what you provide?”

Those questions apply to something much more than what type of app you want to build. They are guides to fundamentally understanding your client's utility to their customers. And that's an entirely different filter than most of us are used to asking, but it should always be near the top of the discovery list. Understand that, and the role an app could play will present itself quickly thereafter. 

After working through this process and learning your lesson, be sure you and your teams keep the answers to these questions part of your team's religion around the brand. Make them as intuitive and rote as any product attribute. I can't begin to tell you how much your status as thought leader will improve. 

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The cost of NOT making good hires

"For BuzzFeed, 2012 was all about hiring great people and having conviction that when you hire great people, despite the cost, great things will happen."
I thought this was a nice quote from Jonah Peretti, founder of BuzzFeed in this week's Fast Company. Here's the flip side...what's the potential cost to your agency if you don't hire great account people? If you are in it simply to plug holes and keep the train moving, you are essentially paying to maintain status quo. Keep things as they are. What a short-sighted approach to building your team.

Not only are you setting a bad example for the rest of your team in terms of your hiring qualifications, you aren't fostering a healthy, competitive environment where team members see the level of talent increasing and are motivated to elevate their game. The benefit is that all of the work continues to get better. Just as threatening to your organization is the risk you take in not bringing the best talent you can find to deliver the best work for your clients. And I don't care how secure your relationship is, loyalty in today's agency world is as pragmatically good as yesterday's performance.

So you tell me, what's more costly to your organization...a few thousand dollars more for a clear upgrade on your team or that horrible client call that your scope is being cut and sent elsewhere because  you weren't raising your team's game?

Great, enduring agencies seem to consistently understand the former pretty damn well.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Been away for quite a while

Wow, talk about out of sight, out of mind. If the key to any great blog is fresh, thought-provoking content, I'm not sure I'd even qualify for an F. But perhaps this long silence has served me well, as it's coincided with some fairly significant professional events in my life. Allow me to explain...

I was laid off in February of this year from my previous employer for reasons completely out of my control. I'll be honest. It hurt. A lot. I was doing what I was charged to do...building the Client Service talent base, developing leaders, managing several pieces of business. I was really happy and in no way wanted to leave. Funny how I didn't heed the advice I've given so many about the perils of this industry and to never get too comfy in one place knowing what may lie around the corner. 

To be clear, I don't hold any ill will towards my previous shop. They were forced to make some tough decisions and I've been in the same position they were. Never easy and I know I was valued. I'm grateful for the opportunity they gave me after I left to take my time and make sure my next step would be the right one instead of jumping on the first train I saw. Fortune would be on my side over the next few months.

First and foremost, I was able to spend time with my family, joining the kids for more activities, picking them up from school, visiting practices...actually getting to be present in their lives outside of a 30 minute window in the morning and a two hour period of chaos in the evening. Just as important, I spent a lot of time with my amazing wife, having some of those long talks we never seemed to find the time for, taking a few trips and gaining an even greater sense of appreciation for the daily challenge she faces in a job more important than any ad gig I could ever have. 

On the job searching side, here's where the value of having a great mentor couldn't have been more critical. During a lunch with a mentor, I was having one of those exasperated moments. There were a few opportunities on the table, but each of them presented a certain level of risk. Unsure of what the right direction for me was, she asked me to list 3-5 things I wanted my next job to be about, regardless of where in particular I'd be working. After listing them out, she looked at me and said "What if I were to say you could come work for me and all of those things would be your responsibility?" 

The months from that moment on have been an absolute blast. I'm now leading Client Service at Integer's Dallas office, working with phenomenal teams, helping a great mix of clients and working for a great leader and mentor I trust. Funny, because I've never been busier, my responsibilities have never been greater, but damn if I'm not having more fun in this business than I ever have. 

Here's to a rejuvenated outlook on this business and to more content coming from me about leadership, inspiration, and to making Client Leadership every bit the critical part of this industry's future it should be. 

Friday, February 24, 2012

Why This Should Scare the $@!& out of Ad Agencies

While almost being physically forced to sit down and watch the Grammys with my family a couple of weeks ago, a couple of things occurred to me. One, Adele is a badass. Two, I was blown away by Chipotle spot. After re-watching the spot and noting its several million views on YouTube, I had trouble figuring out what agency did the concept work for the spot. After reading this New York Times article, I exhaled loudly out of concern for our industry.

First, the work should be roundly applauded. From the concept, to the animated execution, the extended format, and, of course, the mesmerizing mashup of Willie Nelson's covering Coldplay, I think it's an absolute masterpiece. A spot that could easily get to Cannes and win a plethora of Lions. Thing is, this was done directly between the company's CEO, CMO and a director they sourced in England. No agency involvement at any level. In fact, Chipotle doesn't have an agency.

While I acknowledge what's clearly a great marketing brain trust residing at Chipotle HQ, I also worry other marketers will get the feeling they don't need agencies to help them come up with brilliant ways to connect with their customers. Chipotle has a rare combination of knowing who they are, what they value and how to communicate it in a compelling way. Most companies don't have those boxes checked. Unfortunately, you won't find many companies willing to own up to this fact, and more are going it alone or (just as bad) force-feeding poor direction to agencies they see as executors instead of creators.

There may be many misconceptions about the Mad Men-ish, Halcyon Days of advertising, but there was one truth we in our business all nostalgically people were the best in the world at telling stories that sold.

It's up to us, my agency brethren. We need to commit ourselves and our agencies every day to learning to tell better stories, to have insight and the guts to tell companies what their real problems are, to have the vision to solve those problems differently and to cultivate the kind of talent to bring those solutions to life in a more compelling way, be it a spot, a blog, an app, a tweet or a billboard.

If not, we'll see a talent exodus from agencies to clients and will thus continue to be frustrated trying to figure out which agency created that incredible (gasp!) in-house spot.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Why Digital Talent Doesn’t Want To Work At Your Company | Fast Company

Finally getting around to commenting on a Fast Company article I read in November.

Ask any "traditional" agency executive their number one talent concern. I'll wager 9 out of 10 responses will be not just the lack of digital talent, but the extended problem of their current staff missing the opportunity to learn from the digital talent they fail to recruit.

It would be naive to think any agency whose roots aren't in digital can suddenly turn their roster over with digital experts. The talent pool isn't large enough (especially in certain geographies), they are (justifiably) more expensive and none of us can afford to lose the valuable institutional client, category and industry knowledge our current teams have.

I would hope 99% of us have crossed that threshold of coming to the realization that all of us, regardless of expertise, clientele or philosophy must embrace the implications and potential of the digital environment.

That box being checked, you need to sell your agency vision to digital recruits. For an agency owner or leader, it's an exercise in humility. You need to convey a vision that only can be realized with with the help of those who specialize in an area you appreciate but don't understand.

But showing their impact on your business is only half the battle. You need to find commonalities between your agency's culture and the needs of today's digital talent (see the below link). If your agency already hits these notes, it should be an easier transition. If not, you've got a larger set of problems.

Start from there, and you'll see a much better hit rate in your recruiting efforts.

Once again, Fast Company rules.

Why Digital Talent Doesn’t Want To Work At Your Company | Fast Company: