What I’ve learned so far
Most of what you’re about to read is from the “do-as-I-say-not-as-I do” school of higher learning. And even then, take this “wisdom” with a healthy serving of salt. There are no hard-and-fast rules in advertising or in running an agency. In Ghostbusters, Bill Murray told Sigourney Weaver that he had a “rule” against sleeping with anyone possessed by a demon. But when she then turned on the high-voltage sex appeal, he decided it was “more of a guideline than a rule.”
Herewith, some guidelines.
I. For long-term happiness, enable short-term successes.
We work in advertising. We expect to see the fruits of our labor out in the real world within a few months, weeks or days of their creation. If we had patience, we’d be architects. No matter how successful he or she has been, every person with a long career in this business has gone through painful stretches of a year or more in which nothing was produced. Those infertile periods lead to frustration, personal uncertainty and a lack of trust. Creative companies need the room to fail occasionally, but failure is exhausting and debilitating when it’s not buffered by successes.
One job of agency management is to maximize the opportunities for success for every employee. Creative people need to produce appreciated and applauded work. People charged with new business success need wins. Strategists need to see their plans effecting change. Managers and producers, team leaders and department heads need to see real results from their initiatives. And everyone—administrators, assistants, finance managers, operations people, receptionists, everyone–needs to feel that he or she is playing a part in the team’s success.
What does this mean day to day for the heads of the agency? It means finding relief for the people with the thankless jobs—the copywriter on the account that has a new direction every week, the account person who deals with the especially difficult client, the project manager on the project that can’t be managed, the planner who’s partnered with a not-very-good creative team.
Sometimes that relief means the top people at the agency need to get deeply involved with the problem client or account. Sometimes it means recognizing that some employees aren’t up to their jobs. (More on that later.) Sometimes it means moving people into new positions—even if it makes everyone involved a little uncomfortable. Sometimes it means creating or finding or investing in projects that have a high likelihood of meaningful success, even if the success isn’t financial success.
Everyone needs an occasional win.