May 16, 2014

What’s Most Important to Agencies?

People vs Product
I’m taking a risk by questioning the advertising agency model. Who am I to challenge something that’s been around since before I was born? But I’m going for it anyway.

It’s time to change the creative agency and put people first.

When I started in the agency world, fresh out of school, things were done a certain way. Creative had one-hour brainstorms in order to come up with an idea, our department protected its integrity by fighting with client services; and if the client didn’t like an idea, well…they didn’t know what was good for them, did they? Processes were in place, and it ran like a well-oiled machine. That’s just the way it was and the way it’s always been.

The problem is that it’s still that way. Evolution hasn’t taken effect within the creative walls.

What if a computer never changed? Or cell phones? Or the way we shop? Thankfully, they have, and they are still changing, along with the way we advertise. But if the way we speak to our consumer has changed, why do we employ the same internal techniques we did 10 years ago?

I got into the advertising business, partly because I wasn’t super smart, but because I loved to draw and I loved people. And—this is a people business. My father had been in management for years and once told me that he made a point of saying “Good morning” to everyone on the way in, and “Thanks for your help today” on the way out. It helped engage him with the people he worked with beyond the task at hand. At the time, it seemed odd and inefficient to me. Why waste your time listening about someone’s day when you could be getting stuff done? 

But having matured (I think) over the years, it makes sense. Profits don’t produce profits; people produce profits. Sure, it’s our job to create relationships between clients and consumers, but just as important is cultivating relationships among the people within our own agency. While the products and services are important, remember that sustainable profitability depends on the quality of relationships between the people behind the scenes.

This is not rocket science. And if we apply some general people skills to our business, agencies and their brands alike will see a surge in profitability and attitude.  

Listen and learn about your coworkers.

You would be surprised at the higher quality of work that comes from taking the extra time to understand employees as people and what makes them tick. This world of “two-way conversations between a brand and a consumer” should apply at agencies, too.  Understand the differences between people and their individual needs. Some are inspired alone; others by brainstorming with a large group of people.  Learn the value your coworkers bring and celebrate it.  Getting to the finish line with a group is always more fulfilling than getting there alone.

Know when to push and when to give.

Just like a relationship, you need to give and take in order to have a healthy energy exchange. Know when it is important to hold your ground, but also understand that there is long-term value in letting some stuff give.

Don’t micro-manage.

Although sometimes more difficult upfront to release control to your team, it will pay in dividends in the long run. A mentor of mine once drew a chart that illustrates the immediate return of micromanaging. As you’ll see below, when a manager limits their team’s personal growth—as well as burdening themselves with more work—the return plateaus.
Time vs Results

Why does it matter?

I always say “Do what you love and you’ll find a way to make money at it.” I believe the same goes for a digital advertising agency. If you create a work environment where employees say, “I can’t wait to go to work,” profits—whether cash or general emotional fulfillment—will follow. Healthy culture leads to better thinking. So as we all move, shape, and shift, we should try to model ourselves less after product and more after humans.