December 29, 2011

Make it Happen in ’12

Filed under: Career Advice,Leadership — Joe Grant @ 10:55 am

Ask a group what it takes to succeed in advertising and you’ll get dozens of different answers. Here’s my take … based on many years working with successful ad people in growing agencies around the country.

Read – If you don’t continually feast on new ideas, you’ll produce only flat and predictable solutions, especially now as we’re nearly overrun with new technology and media options. Suggestions: The Wall Street Journal, Fast Company, Inc., Wired, and the many blogs, feeds, and tweets on every subject. It wouldn’t hurt to consult some of the classic leadership ideas of Peter Drucker or Jim Collins, either. It’s never been easier to stay au courant these days with Kindles and iPads. Every top ad guy I know reads voraciously.

Write – It’s a must for senior positions, and like tennis or golf, you can always learn to do it better. Get a coach, a teacher, a friend to critique your work – memos, plans, letters – and push yourself to improve. Don’t know how many times I’ve heard, “She’d be great for that job but can’t write a memo or plan to save her life. Let’s get someone else.” Clear compelling writing is imperative for success.

Present – Can you command a room? Just like writing, if you don’t present well you won’t make it up the ladder. Slay the butterflies by plunging into a local improv troupe to build your confidence and technique. Toastmasters is still around, it’s free, and it works, too.

Think – Strategically, that is. Everyone believes they can write a strategic plan but few even know what it is. Google “strategic planning” and you’ll drown in definitions and templates. Learn to think and write strategically or you’ll be stuck doing the little stuff for a long time.

Ask – Be curious, learn, and you’ll grow. Be inquisitive about everything and you’ll never be bored. Or boring.

Proactivate – Ours is a talent business – you need to stand out. But it takes extra work and often longer hours to separate yourself from the pack, so get used to it. Showing up just 9 to 5 and thinking “they owe me a better job” will keep you a back-marker.

Create – Progress is the product of innovation and innovation doesn’t happen unless you try new things – that’s creativity. An agency should be a Petri dish of

creative experimentation in all areas. If you’re the person who comes up with new ideas you’ll achieve more success than people who wait for things to happen to them.

Invest – When making decisions about your career, having money gives you freedom. Don’t kid yourself thinking that you’ll start saving or investing when you make bigger bucks. That’s stupid. It’s not how much you make but how diligent you are putting some of it where it will grow. And though you may be decades from even thinking about retirement, this is exactly the time to max 401k contributions and get smart about stocks. There are no pensions in advertising anymore.

Relax – A few pops after work or a quick puff on something may momentarily loosen those knots in your gut but over time that will quicksand you. Find someone who carries a lot of responsibility with ease and ask them how they deal with the pressure. Stress is a killer, but believe me there are keys you can discover to prevent your nerves from eating you alive.

The Main Thing -The real key to success is getting the important things done, not just minutiae. Anything less than a conscious commitment to the important is an unconscious commitment to the unimportant, author Stephen Covey says, and doing more things faster won’t replace doing the right things well. So figure out what will have the most impact for improving your work, your life, and your happiness and concentrate on that. You get what you focus on.

OK, enough proselytizing. Try some of the above and see if it helps provide more meaning and challenge – and success – in your career this new year.




  1. Thanks Joe. All good reminders and/or ideas. Happy new year. PS: that one on “commanding a room” is a tall order.

    Comment by Jean Whiddon — January 4, 2012 @ 7:15 pm

  2. Thanks, Jean. Yes, it is tough but if you’re presenting or pitching you MUST be good enough to be in charge when you’re speaking. That means above all preparation and mastery of the subject, but also psyching yourself with large doses of self-confidence. The best trick for me is visualizing the entire meeting in detail before it occurs, playing it out scene by scene as I want it to unfold with special emphasis on how I want the outcome to come about. That will charge you up and help overcome obstacles which, of course, will arise. Many people just hope for a “good meeting.” Not good enough — you need an agenda in your head. Then you’re more likely to be in command … successfully. Joe

    Comment by Joe & Lisa — January 5, 2012 @ 11:56 am

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