Some thoughts on living and dying.

Category: What I’ve learned so far

What I’ve Learned So Far III


Discard things that aren’t working.  Sometimes discard things that are.

Don’t spend another minute on the strategic or creative idea that’s getting compromised.  Have the guts to tell the client to kill the campaign that isn’t working.  Let the committee that isn’t meeting die.  Change the management structure sometimes just for the sake of change. (Creative companies need a revolutionary spirit.)

Make the nonstarters learning experiences—and move on.  Agencies spend too much time tending to ideas that are mortally wounded.

Also, take the time to take a look at the work that is approved.  Is it still right?  Is it still worth doing?  Just because something’s approved doesn’t mean it’s brilliant.

What I’ve Learned So Far II: Have Fun.

I can’t believe my good fortune:  I do work I love with people I love.  Everyone should have that opportunity.

My friends know that I avoid parties whenever possible, but even I know victories should be celebrated.  Staff meetings should be entertaining.  We’ll do better work and we’ll do it more enthusiastically if we do it with friends.  According to David Brooks, “Research over the past thirty years makes it clear that what the inner mind really wants is connection. Joining a group that meets just once a month produces the same increase in happiness as doubling your income.”

It’s the responsibility of agency management to make those monthly social/business meetings happen.  It’s the responsibility of every person at the agency to bring joy to work at least four days a week.  (We all have bad days.)

By the way, make the fun visible to the people around you.  Friends tease each other in affectionate, public ways.  That kind of banter can reduce tension for everyone  (One note:  don’t leave anyone out.  The etiquette for teasing women is still a little different than for teasing men, but don’t ignore the woman in the room just because she’s not as ripe a target as, say, Earl Cox or me.  There’s a bias that accrues from making the men always the center of attention.)

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.


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