June 1, 2010

The Focus of Success

Filed under: 1 — Joe Grant @ 2:38 pm


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Some say success in our business has a lot to do with luck. Or hard work. Or both.

Well here’s my little aphorism for success based on years of seeing ad agencies run by many well-meaning and ambitious types. It’s not a catchy cliché but you’ll find it easy to remember: You get what you focus on.

The agencies we’d call successful — steady growth, an ever-enlarging list of 1st-class clients, a talented and respected staff, moving into better quarters every few years — get that way because they concentrate relentlessly on where they want to go.

They have an unruffled new business push — consistent, strong, and frequent. They believe in ongoing searches for exceptional talent and have a prescient staffing plan to discover stars long before they’re needed. They pour money into training because they understand hiring without a plan to improve performance is an unconscious commitment to the status quo. Their senior team leads — and doesn’t merely press for self-serving departmental agendas. And successful agencies recognize that a lofty vision statement is hollow without ruthless attention to constant improvement.

They focus on where they want to go, not just on today’s emergency client requests. Agency owners who think effective leadership is just managing a punch list of exigencies so the crisis du jour can be resolved by 6 pm are doomed to run at the rear of the pack.

On the other hand, the smart guys understand that targeting significant stuff yields multiple results. Concentrate the management corps on just a handful of essential strategies (handful is dead-on; 5 is exactly the right number of major initiatives to commit to accomplishing in a year) and you’ll arrive at your vision destination on time.

If, that is, you accept no excuses for lack of execution.

Ah, execution. It’s the getting-it-done part that takes persistence and guts. Over the years many agency owners have bent my ear complaining about how inept or intractable their key lieutenants are at accomplishing the important things… and yet they’re unwilling to hold these highly paid subordinates’ feet to the fire. Dumb.

And while I’m preaching here, chew on this for a moment: You’ll get the behavior in your company that you yourself (a) exhibit and (b) tolerate.

By the way, saying “I’m too busy” is just an excuse for perpetuating mediocrity. That’s for people unwilling to commit to what they want.

Sorry, but this always bothers me. I believe a good part of life is about pursuing happiness — dreaming your dreams then making them happen. It’s a big tell when you hear someone say, “If I just had more time.” No, it’s if you had more focus.

Exceptional people running exceptional agencies achieve their goals because, like an annoying puppy chewing on a bone, they persist in getting what they want. It’s tenacity, resolve. And focus.

Sounds a little too simple, huh. That’s exactly the point – it is simple: You get what you focus on.

What could be easier?


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May 3, 2010

Changing Creative Directors

Filed under: 1 — Joe Grant @ 2:30 pm


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ImageA New Yorker cartoon shows several mourners gathered around a casket. The caption: “He tried to change horses in mid-stream.”

Changing creative directors can be like that. At the very least it’s disquieting – current clients might become unglued, the work-in-progress load is always heavy, and how do you know the new CD will be a step up?

Nothing has the potential to change your agency more than changing your CD. Your internal culture will change, your product will change, your prospects will change, and perhaps even your clients will change. Strong creative directors affect the success and profitability of both your clients and your agency which is exactly what you want.

But should you change CDs? Yes, we say, if any of these conditions exist:

Your CD is stale. Many get musty after 5 – 7 years at the same place grinding on the same kind of accounts; 10 years of sterling work at one place is rare indeed. Maybe a CD’s tenure should be measured in dog years.

Creative misses the mark. Not just once in a while but time after time. If your clients say your creative product isn’t edgy enough, is too wooly, or you’re swallowing lots of rewrite and re-design costs then perhaps it’s time for a new creative mount.

You miss your share of new business wins. Nobody homers every swing but if you keep striking out, maybe the creative product is flat. The cliche still applies: good account service keeps an account but great creative wins it.

Your CD’s a prima donna. The big clue here is consistent disregard for others’ feelings, input, or wants. A pigheaded CD can be destructive to the whole agency culture. Watch out for pronoun-itis (“my ad,” “mycreative idea,” “my account”). If a CD runs Creative like a personal kingdom or rides roughshod over complementary departments like Account Service, you’ve got an agency seriously out of balance. Deal-breaker: “I don’t care what the client wants!”

Look, there are too many good people out there (and life’s too short) to be held hostage by a jerk. If you’ve got a problem in Creative, fix it. Some suggestions:

> There’s nothing wrong or immoral about rustling good talent from your competition – sports teams and big corporations do it all the time. Who’s the best nearby and what would it take to get them to join your team?

> If you run ads in the trades or do a web search, remember you’ll likely be hiring the unemployed or disgruntled. Relying on serendipity is a poor way to build a championship agency.

> Headhunters make sense at this level – they’ll weed out pedestrian candidates and job-hoppers and the best searchers present only good potential matches. A search firm should help you avoid hiring a misfit.

What’s a good CD worth? If you haven’t hired one in a while prepare for sticker shock, but remember the good ones get paid well because they have enormous impact on agency profitability. You want a CD who’s doing well where he or she is now so they’ll do equally well at your place. Hey, you tell your clients you’re
worth your fees because you do great work – a good CD will help you deliver on that promise.

Yes, making a change at the top of your Creative Department is a big decision. Get it wrong and you throw your agency into a tailspin, but get it right and it’s like stepping on an escalator going up.

Fact is there’s never a “good” time to change creative horses…because we’re always midstream in this business. But the good news is unlike that New Yorker cartoon, only rarely does anyone die when you switch out a CD.


P.S. We provide confidential and seasoned counsel to agency principals on a variety of management matters including highly sensitive issues like stalled partnerships and ineffective executives. Get in touch to find out more at


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November 21, 2009

Social Media ROI



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We hear it from agency principals all over the country: “What do we do about social media? And how the hell do we measure it?” The answer is, in a way, simple. First, you’ve got to jump in the water and play around. Doesn’t matter where. Doesn’t matter how deep the water is. Just don’t wait for things to settle down or become clear. Get in, get a feel for it. You’ll soon see the needle move.

Here. Sit back for the next 4 fast-moving minutes and drink this in:

My advice to anyone waiting for definitive answers about social media is to quit waiting. It’s cheap and guaranteed to be a great ride.

Thanks to fellow traveler Fred Driver, one of the partners at d.trio in Minneapolis, for bringing this clip to my attention. Eric Qualman put it together and he has more insight to offer at Socialnomics.

October 16, 2009

Real vs. Perceived Value


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Smart, witty, provocative – that’s adman Rory Sutherland, current Vice Chairman at Ogilvy and one of the most entertaining brains you’re likely to meet.

I came across him at TED, the worldwide confab of technology, entertainment, and design leaders which now freely distributes highlights of their conferences on the web at this site. Anytime you want a little juice for your head, go there.

Meantime, sit back for a few minutes and be enthralled by Rory Sutherland’s take on perceived value. It’s a hoot.

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