May 8, 2012

The Answer to Agency Training

Filed under: Career Advice,Leadership,Operations,Staying Fresh — Joe Grant @ 3:55 pm

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Brian Tracy, the well known sales trainer and author, wrote a piece a while ago, and he’s so right about this: “No matter what your job you’ve gone as far as you can with what you now know. Any progress you make from this moment onward will require that you learn and practice something new.”

But how?

Earl Nightingale hosted a popular syndicated radio program many years ago and founded the training company Nightingale-Conant. One of his aphorisms was just one hour a day of study is all it takes to get to the top.

Are you kidding me? Who has that kind of time!

But it gets worse. Nightingale actually claimed that 1 hour per day of study will put you at the top of your field within three years, in 5 years you’ll be a national authority, and in 7 years, you can be one of the best people in the world at what you do.

If he’s only half right, that’s pretty astounding.

I believe the heart of his message is valid. To get beyond what you already know,you’ve got to learn all you can about our business, particularly the “softer” skills like personal relationships, persuasion, and thinking-around-corners. Those kinds of skills which you probably didn’t study in school are what make people in the advertising and marketing arena successful, right?

The fact is you’re just not going to get much schooling of any kind in most agencies today. And with the speed of change, you can’t afford to wait for the company you work for to invest in you. To get ahead you’ve got to go get smart on your own.

Think about it: you don’t actually work for anybody anyway – you’re self-employed. No matter what level you’re at, you’re working for your own advancement, to better your life and your family’s.

So let’s get crazy for a moment. What would happen to your career if you made a decision today to invest, let’s say, 2% of your annual income back into yourself, for your own personal and professional development? It makes no sense to be cheap about your education — you’re investing in yourself!

Look at your clients. They’re constantly evolving new and improved products to be more competitive and grab more market share. Why not do the same? Nightingale claims if you do you’ll probably never have to worry about money again.

And here’s something that may strike you as over the top, but it’s worth considering. Brian Tracy says that if you read only one skill-improvement book a month, that will put you into the top 1% of income earners. If you read one hour per day in your field, that will translate into about one book per week. One book per week is 50 books a year and that’s 500 books over ten years.

If you did that I have no doubt you’ll be one of the best educated, smartest, most capable and highest paid people in our business. Regular reading will transform your life completely; it has for many others, including me. And it could’t be easier these days with Kindle and iPads.

Here’s a way to put this idea into practice.

Ask the successful people around you for their best book recommendations.Whatever advice they give you, immediately go out and buy or download those books and commit to reading for one half-hour every morning before you start work (that way you’ll eliminate the excuse of being too tired to read in the evening).

Sounds impossible, right? Yet many people spend hours in a health club “working out” and do nothing to improve their biggest asset, their heads.

I guess that’s OK if you don’t mind being stuck right where you are for a long, long time.

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March 7, 2011

Defrag Your Personal Hard Drive

Filed under: Career Advice,Creativity,Staying Fresh — Joe Grant @ 6:32 pm


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So…deep in your heart you’re a little concerned you’re working too hard, that your outlook and style is coarsening, and achieving meaning from your work gets more elusive every year.

You’re not alone. When we coach executive talent avoiding burnout comes up a lot, with both emerging leaders and 50+-somethings pushing for legacy and worth.

After many years as a business therapist, I’m convinced what keeps people creative and helps them prevent getting stale is scheduling plenty of personal time to focus on “un-business” and recharge. Yes, it can – it must – be done, even in our crazy business.

Let’s go for a low-hanging analogy. We’re bipedal computers getting sticky and slow trying to handle too many open programs. Our hard drives sluggishly strain to jump from sector to sector, churning away valiantly but always behind the curve.

Or how about high performance athletes? They know that to be competitive they must rest between heats and meets. But us, well, we treat ourselves like machines revving our engines at high speed for weeks, months, and sometimes years with little down time. Until something breaks.

Perhaps you know someone who brags about not having been on a vacation for several years. Well. . . that’s just dumb. It’s not that you “deserve” it, it’s that you need time away. Otherwise you’ll soon resent your work, your company, and what it’s all slowly doing to your health and your family relationships. Not to mention your sanity.

The truth is the longer you’re in our business with its unrelenting deadlines and sudden zigs and zags, the more you’ve got to make time to catch your breath.

Creative people know this. The reason so many good ideas come while singing in the shower or commuting in is that those are “down times” when your brain is not racing quite so fast to process multiple inputs. Good ideas bubbling to the top are easier to see when the surface is not roiled.

If you examine the lives of people who made great contributions, especially in their later years, you’ll see they understood that full speed ahead was not when they had breakthrough moments. It was when they lay quietly at anchor – remember Archimedes in his bath?

And here’s an irony. You know the line about give the busy man the work and he’ll get it done? It’s true. The more you do the more you can do, but there’s a twist you may not realize.

You’ll get more satisfaction out of your job if you tackle something challenging and stimulating outside your job. Something meaty. Especially if it’s a long-buried desire to realize a wish you first had in childhood.

Some examples: maybe you always wanted to play the piano, learn to fly, make outstanding pasta sauces, speed read, paint, restore an old car, build something out of wood that wouldn’t fall down when you leaned against it…I don’t know. What’s important is that it’s something you’ve always wanted to do and it challenges you.

You know people like this, right? Folks who run demanding companies but still make time to indulge themselves in things they enjoy and grow from. Effective people know that parallel challenges make them better in all dimensions and they’re not afraid to stretch for things which may at first appear slightly beyond their reach.

We take ourselves and “success” entirely too seriously. To stay engaged and vigorous, learn to take a breather and challenge yourself with something that has deeper personal meaning than just speeding up your personal assembly line to get more widgets out the door.

Remember, you have more than just “high” and “off” on that switch of yours. Try some different settings.


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January 10, 2011

8 Ways to Fortify Your Accounts

Filed under: Client/Agency Relations,New Business,Staying Fresh — Joe Grant @ 6:00 pm


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oddanimals160 1. Internal account reviews – unless you commit to a measurable process for ongoing improvement, account teams will default to nothing more than enclaves of apathy. Account by account, herd everyone who works on the business into a room and walk through financial performance, market dynamics, client internal politics, growth opportunities, and agency soft spots, (see How Quarterly Reviews Make a Difference). Craft a 90-day action plan then do it all over again 3 months later. Accounts left unmanaged – “un-led” describes it better – eventually disappear.

2. What’s the plan? – seat-of-the-pants clients who hurl last minute projects at you which they’ve known about for months need to be roped into a plan before everybody goes nuts. Your mission: hold an annual planning retreat with every major client (or maybe do it every 6 months). Go offsite and spend a day planning TOGETHER what you’ll do and how you’ll work for the rest of the year. By the way, you pick up the tab – it’s the cheapest way we know to keep an account for at least another year.

3. Capabilities presentations – a lot has changed since this time last year – the client’s people and yours, market dynamics, competition, your competencies. Host a meeting to get your client current on your new capabilities – talented new staffers, new services and departments, enhanced capacity – and you’ll reinforce their decision to hire (and keep) you. Remember, it’s entirely possible that at this very moment your competitors are prepping a similar song-and-dance to woo your very clients to greener grass. The first rule of client retention is Never, ever take an account for granted.

4. Know your clients better – Plan now to attend some trade shows, visit outlying factories or stores in other markets, or put people through a client’s instruction program (“Put ’em behind the grill,” we used to say in the fast food business). Do it on your nickel; it will be a statement. Clients don’t expect you to know everything about their business, but they want you to know more.

5. Reset the bar – Proactivity is at least 50% of keeping a client. Challenge the account and creative folks to generate one big spanking fresh idea for each client every quarter. All that high priced talent you’re warehousing ought to be able to come up with four sparkling ideas a year the client wasn’t anticipating. I’m talking big stuff here. It’s what they expect – unsolicited solutions and opportunities.

6. Fix the inside stuff – straighten out the sloppy or ineffective things in your own house that hinder your ability to deliver timely and flawless execution. If a recalcitrant internal department is road-blocking or you’re burdened with balky infrastructure, fix it. Because should the gods smile and you land all that projected new business, those internal snafus will really gum up the works when your agency machine gets larger.

7. Switch creative teams – people get stale working on the same stuff. Stir things up by assigning creative Team A to do a project for Team B’s clients. Sure, they won’t know all the peculiar little never-dos, but that’s exactly what you want – fresh thinking. You’ll reinvigorate the creative gang, give the account people practice in delivering lucid strategic briefs to an unfamiliar audience, and generate something fresh for your clients.

8. Revisit promises – when you pitched your brains out getting Client X, you made commitments and promises, written and unwritten. Ah, romance! But like any romance, promises uttered in the heat of the moment often fade. Dig out and revisit the presentation. Recommit to deliver the things you said you’d do – sort of like renewing marriage vows. Promises left unfulfilled undermine trust.

Now get out there and try some of these. They work, guys.


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September 23, 2010

Cork the Whine

Filed under: Career Advice,Client/Agency Relations,Leadership,Staying Fresh — Joe Grant @ 12:01 pm


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It’s 1:30 and you breeze out the agency door bellowing, “I’m off to see those dumbass s.o.b.s again.”

Ah, the much anticipated client meeting! When you arrive a half hour later to do business with them, what do you think happens to all that bad karma?

Our business is simple: agencies have relationships with clients to help them sell stuff. If you have a bad attitude about your clients, things just aren’t going to go smoothly.

But they’re jerks, you say? Well, OK. Here’s some straight-ahead advice.

First of all, clients are your customers, for crisakes! Didn’t you once beg these guys to become a client, promising them your first-born and swearing you’d practically live at their place? Just think about that for a moment. It’s really all you need to know. Clients are your customers.

But if you harbor dark thoughts about what scoundrels these clients be you’ll not only infect your colleagues and extinguish their passion for working on this account, you’ll also plant an adverse message in your own subconscious mind, telling it you just don’t care. When you don’t care – even though you swear you’re a pro – you dam the ability to generate good ideas, deplete your energy, and imperceptibly arrest your skyward career. Not good.

Now if you’re an agency principal you have bigger issues. I’ve seen presidents bad mouth clients, post ridiculing emails and cartoons, and get up in front of Monday morning status meetings to publicly (but of course behind their backs) insult and drag down the very people they’d present a multimillion dollar campaign to that afternoon. Does this make sense? It certainly isn’t what anyone would call professional.

Look, clients are rarely bad people. They’re just ordinary folks much like you who find themselves having to work for a living and probably doing all they can to survive capricious management and pay their bills. They’re your clients, your customers. Don’t let your attitude cripple your ability to do business with them.

When you’ve got challenging clients, here’s a simple trick for getting beyond yourself by doing something for yourself. Yes, that’s a tortuous sentence but stick with me here.

Give them a gift, if you will, of a little something extra – something they weren’t expecting or didn’t ask for. But do it without any expectation of being appreciated. Maybe they will thank you; then again maybe they won’t. Thanks is beside the point here. You don’t give a gift to get thanks – you do it because it’s a good unselfish thing to do.

You might ask, why do something nice for someone who won’t appreciate it? Simple answer (and herein lies the magic): because it’s YOUR opportunity to behave one notch up on the scale of human beingness. You do it because it’s a small act of polishing your own self. In a way, I suppose, that makes it selfish but a good kind of selfish.

Clients have good and bad days; some clients are more difficult to deal with than others. Your job is to maintain yourself on a personal high road, not to get drawn to their level. The really successful account people we know seamlessly maintain their professional mien.

In the end it’s about the choices you make. You can choose to snarl and moan about what a lousy client they are, come home at night and kick the dog, take comfort in an extra scotch or two…

Or you can simply say it is what it is. And then concentrate on bringing your best game no matter the circumstances.


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April 5, 2010

How to Keep Accounts Fresh

Filed under: Career Advice,Client/Agency Relations,New Business,Staying Fresh — Joe Grant @ 1:53 pm


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ImagePretty exciting when you begin to pursue a new client, isn’t it. The thrill of the chase! You lie awake rhapsodizing about how great it will be, you woo them with dinners and surprises, no effort is too much to show your commitment. Ah, romance!

But as in any romance, things can easily get boring. The agency morphs into “account waiters” dozing by the phone for the client to call in an order. This year’s media plan is a duplicate of last year’s; the creative is tired. Your best people somehow migrate to the more exciting businesses which only compounds the problem. What happened to all those stimulating initial meetings? Not to mention the promises made in the pitch.

It’s not unusual. Every account of every size at every agency goes through similar troughs. But smart agencies do all they can to rejuvenate waning accounts. Such as:

Capabilities Presentations – A lot has probably changed since you started working together. So at least once a year invite the client over to remind them of your abilities and competence. Include a summary of the work you’ve done and critique it. Perhaps you have new people, or they do, or new services to offer. Ask the client for a little song and dance about themselves, too – including market trends, new products in the pipeline, and organizational changes. Just getting ready for this meeting will be energizing and everyone will be pumped in the afterglow.

Freshening Exercises – Get some different points of view by asking staffers who don’t work on the account to review it. Have them each write a 1-page suggestion plan to improve things. Or hold a brainstorm session, again with people not normally assigned to the business, to solve problems and look for opportunities. Ours is a creative business and good ideas about a client’s business aren’t just the province of the daily team. Open it up so you generate contributions from everyone.

Switch Teams – Why not? Nowhere is it written that you can’t occasionally change personnel on an account, though you’ve got to make sure there’s continuity and the client doesn’t feel like s/he’s starting from scratch. Big agencies do this all the time to keep things fresh. After all, for the client it’s like getting a new agency without the added aggravation and cost. And you get to keep the client.

Sound Retreat – Go offsite with your client and refocus on the important things. Maybe you host a strategic planning session for the coming year or just take time away from the office to take stock; you can make this part of your review protocol. Craft a collaborative mission statement for you and the client, tackle issues there never seems to be time for during the daily crunch, and perhaps make time to just relax and bond – an occasion to have fun again. And that’s why you got into this business in the first place, right? To have fun, damnit.

Put your head to it and you’ll think of lots of way to bring the romance back to your accounts. Do the unexpected, the little things, the pleasant surprises (good ones, of course).

In our work helping agencies reach their potential, time and again the same handful of issues holds agencies back from what they might become, or worse, sinks them all together.

Here’s a powerful question to ask: What would you want if you were the client?


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March 26, 2010

Sound Retweet

Filed under: Staying Fresh — Joe Grant @ 11:24 am
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social-media-geniuses-cartoon-twoonsI’m quitting Twitter.

For more than a year I’ve been preaching the wonders of Twitterdom to agency folks and others. But today I’m facing up to it: Twitter just doesn’t work for me.

I dove into Twitter a year ago January when it became obvious that Tweeting was the new cool thing (God forbid I’d miss that!). I started squirting out choppy 140-character opinions on advertising minutiae and even some personal stuff that would have been interesting only to my mom. And she’s not around any more.

Google Reader and RSS feeds sent a firehoseful of data, blogs, and arcania to wade through so there’d be oceans of material to pluck from. Tweeting turned into re-tweeting. Then it was re-tweeting the re-tweets. The opening page on my Pre, iTouch, and PC was Tweetdeck, and tweets were scheduled weeks in advance. Connected and committed was I.

But now I’m weary with always trying to think of something to share which might remotely interest others. Frankly, my thought balloons just aren’t that damn interesting. Even to me. And why should they be? As my wife reminded me bluntly, “Face it, you’re not Ashton Kutcher.”

She’s got that right – his Twitter count is over a million and mine is stuck around 100. Guess that says it all.

The truth is I get zero personal payback from blurting my take on mundane stuff to strangers. And that’s the crux. My tweeting does little for me and probably even less for others. There’s a crude metaphor for this kind of behavior, but we’ll leave it unsaid.

So, no more @grantvertising tweets. And for our family and personal pals, no more @joelisaramblin tweets either. This blog, however – the one you’re reading now – will continue as will Ramblin’ On about our travel adventures in the Rock Star bus.

But for now it’s Good Night, ‘Tweet Prince.


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February 23, 2010

Building Wings

Filed under: Career Advice,Staying Fresh — Joe Grant @ 12:39 pm


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1192218Maybe you’ve read Linchpin by Seth Godin. I haven’t yet, but a friend tells me it’s about having passion in your job. And that’s the real secret to success, as we’ve all heard before.

But with a nuance. It’s not having passion on your job – it’s having a job you’re passionate about.

That means being crazy nuts about what you do, waking up eager to get to work quickly, wishing your vacation were over sooner so you can return to something you love doing.

The problem is obvious. You might be working at something you have no passion about whatsoever. You might hate it. I knew a guy once who got physically ill every day before going to work because it bothered him so much. He was doing violence to his soul.

The answer – and I’m talking here about THE answer to a lot of things about happiness, and fulfillment, and satisfaction – is to find something you’re passionate about.

Yes, I know – you’ve got a sort of OK job, you’re paid what you don’t think any one else will pay you, it’s the worst possible time to go looking. . . the whole idea scares you.

But you owe it to yourself. To your soul. Deep down you probably know it.

Author Ray Bradbury said this, and maybe it will resonate: First you jump off the cliff and you build wings on the way down.

Believe it or not it works every time.


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November 5, 2009

Account Dog-paddling


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29828810.DogPaddleIt’s fun watching kids learn to swim. They quickly master the dog-paddle and thrash mightily in water above their heads to stay, we hope, safely afloat. Lots of splashing and churning, little arms and legs whirling like propellers, trying not to sink or gulp the yucky water.

Lots of accounts are run like that. Try to keep your head above water and hope you’ll reach the other side of the pool before your arms fall off. I call it account dog-paddling.

Our client survey work (learn more at Why You Should Audit Your Clients) proves this is a big issue for clients. “Proactivity,” or more precisely lack of same, is the number one frustration clients have. And it’s usually the primary reason clients shop for a new agency.

Ah, yes – proactivity. It means observing what’s going on, seeing that things can be improved or enhanced, and – pay attention here – taking the initiative and being accountable for getting it done.

Here are 6 things you can do to stimulate proactivity either individually or as an agency team:

1. Inside Account Reviews – This is an internal work-out session to take a candid look at how each piece of business on your roster can be improved. It goes like this. Gather everyone who works on Account X (do it for all accounts) every 3 months for a gloves-off meeting to discuss the financials, client marketing
issues, how you’re handling the account, and challenges and opportunities. Imperative: candor (and no finger-pointing!). Here’s a complete how-to on the process of Quarterly Account Reviews.

2. Meta-thinking – Real progress is made only when people are dissatisfied with commonplace results. Establish attainable objectives for account leadership, of course, but then exceed them. Rewards and incentives should be granted not just for hitting the marks, but going above and beyond. This way of thinking is what separates champions from also-rans. Never be satisfied doing only what’s expected.

3. Long Term Expectations – Agencies that successfully keep and grow accounts focus on what clients need not just today, but 12 to 24 months from now. That’s how you build lifetime value for your services. Have you asked your clients what their needs will be over the next 2 years so you’re building bench
strength and competencies now? Again, see Why You Should Audit Your Clients.

4. Cross Pollination – Get your best people working with the weakest teams. Stagnant accounts can dramatically accelerate when stronger people get involved and the less experienced learn from them. There’s your training program! We wrote a piece a while back about training that puts the onus where it belongs – on the trainees – called The Answer to Training.

5. Everybody’s Creative – Coming up with fresh ideas is not the sole province of the “creative” department. It’s everybody’s business when you work in a company chartered to develop sticky ideas. So inspire people to think around corners. Publicly applaud innovators at every level and fuel more creativity by rewarding new
thinking wherever you see it. What in your agency can’t be improved with more creative thinking?

6. Give To Get – Agencies these days are so fearful of a skidding bottom line that they dismiss one of the best business-building tools available: giving something away for free as an investment in future business. Hey, it’s not imprudent; in fact the opposite is true. Example: the restaurant manager who gifts a free dessert as a special thank-you or to amend for poor service creates a lifetime customer for the cost of a piece of pie. Don’t be afraid to be generous with your clients – it pays off in the long haul.

Proactivity is a way of thinking, a mindset based on believing there’s always more or better you can do, that the same old way, just because it’s comfortable, isn’t the best.

Or put another way, if you don’t learn to go from dog-paddling to freestyle you’ll never make it to the other side of the pool.

Not to mention how tired your arms and legs will get.

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.

August 18, 2009

Smell the Gardenias


John is a good friend who owns a successful ad agency in the San Francisco Bay Area. At lunch recently we were talking about feeling trapped by the very thing you create – your company, your lifestyle, the crazy pace of advertising – and he shared an experience we can all learn from.

He told me he used to get in the office most mornings before 7. But now he’s not as religious about being the first one in. 9:30, 10:00. . . what’s the difference?

Of course nobody’s going to fire him for coming in later because he’s the Boss-Man, right? But you might be surprised how tough it can be exercising the privilege of rank.

For most it’s a see-saw of guilt and indulgence: one day you hate the damn place and say screw it, I’m leaving early or not coming in at all tomorrow. . . And the next you can’t get enough and find yourself working around the clock and loving it.

The problem is those tapes in your head. Gotta be busy, work at least as hard as anyone else, can’t leave when others are frantically rowing the galley ship like in Ben Hur. Those old tapes, by the way, were laid down by parents and teachers who believed that “hard” work was the only way to sanctify your life and succeed. What about “smart” work?

Over the years I’ve known hundreds of men and women who ran their own ad shops. And none of them should have any reason to feel guilty about coming in a bit later, taking Fridays off, or clocking fewer than 40 or 50 hours a week.

Because it’s not about having “earned” it. Or about what’s “fair” in anybody else’s mind.

No, it’s about taking your life to a place (I call this leading your life) so you CAN take the time you want to do other things besides just going to the office every day; it’s about being smart enough to realize you don’t have to make an appearance 6-plus days a week; it’s hiring and nurturing good people to do the things that once only you could do. Now that’s “smart” work.

And don’t tell me you don’t have people you trust enough to do things right. You either haven’t taught them well or you’ve got the wrong people. Fix it!

Well back to my pal John. Lately he’s been giving himself the pleasure of enjoying a second cup of coffee on his terrace with his wife instead of being first to the office.

He’s learned to put the drama of running an ad agency in abeyance every few mornings so they can sit enjoying the view, sometimes chatting a bit, sometimes just being quiet near each other.

One morning his wife noticed a gardenia blossom in full bloom nearby. She gently harvested it and sat there with it at her nose, drinking in the fragrance. She handed it to John to do the same – to take a moment to absorb a gift of the universe which, like so many other seemingly small things in a hectic life, are often overlooked. They linger for a while. . . You get the picture.

More often now John comes in a little later. He’s learned not to offer excuses to his staff –  if he wants to leave during the day, he just leaves. Most probably think he’s off to another meeting.

I think John’s one of the smartest people I know in the business, don’t you?

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