March 26, 2010

Sound Retweet

Filed under: Staying Fresh — Joe Grant @ 11:24 am
Tags: , ,


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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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March 9, 2010

Science of Motivation


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One of the striking things about the ad agency business is that we claim to be a “creative” enterprise but rarely demonstrate real innovation in running our businesses.

In fact, some of the agencies we’ve counseled over the years are the most un-creative places you can imagine, with moribund management showing little understanding of what makes people tick.

If you own or operate an ad agency – or want to some day – take a few minutes to watch this startling clip from a recent TED Conference (Technology, Entertainment, Design) presentation by Dan Pink as he sorts out the puzzle of employee motivation. You think incentive pay programs work? Maybe you should think again.

This one’s worth every minute of your time.

Thanks to Cortney Cahill, Brand Coach at Kelliher Samets Volk in Burlington VT for bringing this to my attention. By the way, if you’re not familiar with TED check it out here: TED Ideas Worth Spreading.


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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 1, 2009

Why You Should Audit Your Clients

An unabashed pitch for a Client Perception Study


Do you wish you could read your clients’ minds to know what they really think about your agency? Do you know how they feel about your creative product, or if that new hire you just made is working out? Do you know for sure if they’re thinking of putting the account up for review? Or what if you knew just what it would take to get more or maybe all of their business?

Agency principals who have the answers to these and similar questions are the ones presiding over growing, thriving agencies. Because ignorance is not bliss.

Grant Consulting is about making your agency work the way you want it to. We’ve perfected a proprietary process to get straight answers to tough questions from your clients that you can use to keep them happy, grow their accounts, and lead to new and more profitable business.

We call it the Client Perception Studyand we’ve been doing it for agencies around the country since ’92. In every case those agencies are now larger and more profitable than ever, even considering the economic rough patch we’ve just been through. In several instances we’ve actually saved accounts that were about to go out the door.

With our Study, everything is account-specific; there are no meaningless generalities. This is not a one-size-fits-all “survey” clients have to fill out. There’s no, “Responsiveness decreased from 4.7 to 4.6.”  What the hell does that tell you?

Instead, with the Client Perception Study:

· You’ll know who at your clients thinks what about your agency so you can fix specific problems and         perceptions

· You’ll signal to clients your commitment to on-going improvement

· You’ll have a tangible way to enhance value and justify cost because you’ll be managing for results not just effort

· You can use the results – many agencies do – as the key tool for staff performance reviews

Think of it this way: how many clients can you afford to lose? For probably less than you spend on client travel and entertainment, you can find out exactly how to manage your accounts for maximum profit and longevity.

To find out more – what it costs, what you’ll receive, how it’s customized on a client-by-client basis, etc. –  call Joe Grant at 239/394-8220 to chat about your particular situation. No obligation whatsoever.

By the way, we’re happy to put you directly in touch with other agency principals who use our Client Perception Study to grow their revenue and profits. Call 239/394-8220 and we’ll give you the scoop.


PS. How’s your new business these days – not winning all the new accounts you think you should? Our Lost Prospect Reports and recommendations can pinpoint problems and give you the information you need to get back on the winning track. Ask us about it.


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September 10, 2009

The Biggest Mistake Agency CEOs Make


Well, after spending my entire adult life in the agency business and the last 16+ years consulting exclusively with agency principals, I’ve come to a conclusion about the single biggest mistake agency CEOs make.

It’s this: You won’t win the race unless you field the best horse you can.

Obvious, for sure, but think about it. In agency new business pitches, if you have the best people, you win; in Creative, if you have the best people, you win; in Account Service, if you have the best, you keep on winning. Have the best in your agency or on the track and you win. It’s as simple as that.

But it’s also why so many agencies fail to finish in the money. What holds agencies back more than anything else is bad hiring.

Not hiring ‘mistakes,’ BAD HIRING.

Though this appears to be a blinding glimpse of the obvious, I’d argue it isn’t so to agency CEOs and owners who often nudge hiring decisions downward to department heads with less-seasoned judgment, or to HR directors with little more training than they’re a ‘people person’ who demonstrates an uncanny ability to remember birthdays. CEOs, especially as an agency grows, too often abdicate their single most critical responsibility affecting the agency’s character and success: hiring the best.

Not so at an agency I know hovering around $50 million where the CEO will not sign off on a hire until he personally has taken the candidate to lunch or dinner. Why a meal? Because there he can’t escape what he knows can be an uncomfortable and often banal conversation wherein he can learn, often painfully, a lot about the candidate. He’s written off many $100 dinners that halted a hire at the 11th hour and claims it’s the best money he spends.

Sure, it can be awkward engaging in mindless chit-chat with someone up for a back office slot, but you’re a good judge of values and character – will this person deliver sound judgment affecting hundreds of thousands of dollars of agency income? Will he or she forge lasting deep relations centered on trust and honesty – both in and outside the agency?

You know, community theaters spend more time auditioning amateur actors for roles they’ll play for only a few weekends than most agencies do discovering if they’re getting just the right person. Too often it’s enough merely to “fill the position” when you should be putting the aspirant through as tough a grilling session as you’d give the ‘dude’ wanting to marry your daughter. Because it’s at least as important.

Hey, and if money’s in the way, veto those budget line items like buying new computers. More sophisticated equipment in the hands of the less skilled will only make your agency look inadequate faster. Instead, invest and then reinvest in the one thing that will always move you ahead: the best people you can get.

This is a great time to scout and enlist new talent. There’s more available (and affordable) cream out there than there’s been in a long while.

You can’t name anything that has more impact on your agency’s run for the roses than making your foremost priority hiring the very best.


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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?

August 5, 2009

True New Business Debacles

Filed under: New Business — Joe Grant @ 7:00 am
Tags: , ,


Tale #1 – Agency A answers an RFP for a $7 million account right up its alley. The decision was made in an instant: go for it! They work day and night and basically halt all other new business activity – getting this plum is too important and besides, if they win it their problems are over.

Outcome: You probably know how this story ends. The final selection was put off several months. . . then one day the phone rings. “It was a really tough decision, it was so close. . . but we’re awarding the business to the other guys.” Too bad.

Really too bad because Agency A did virtually no other new business work from February until July, nearly half a year. They put just one big egg in their basket. . .and it didn’t hatch.

Tale # 2 – Agency B wins the MegaBiz account, its largest ever, located in a city 850 miles away. Happy days are here again! Except it’s a little like the snake that swallowed a pig – it takes a long time to digest and almost kills the snake.

“But that’s OK, we’re going to make tons of money on MegaBiz.” They hire some high-ticket staffers, open a satellite office, reorganize the agency – ain’t this fun? Overcome by hubris, the agency purposely stops all new business activity for most of the year: “Because we just can’t handle winning another big account right now.”

Outcome: Oops. MegaBiz income dribbles in at 15% of projection (it’s a long story but, among other things, because they didn’t dig deep enough upfront they weren’t dealing at the top of the food chain –  never even met the true decision-maker until after they landed the account). The agency reacts (correctly) by dumping a dozen people and shuttering the satellite office. But, cash reserves are down to zero, morale sucks, and the whole time not a lick of significant new business work gets done.

The moral to these stories? The biggest and costliest mistakes you’re likely to make are in those first blushing moments when you pick up the scent of a new piece of business. When the phone call or RFP comes in agencies have been known to go dumb like a gawky teenage boy asked by a pretty girl to dance.

All I’m saying is think each opportunity through, thoroughly. And never EVER stop working every single day on new business.

July 8, 2009

Sounds Like a Plan

NOTE: We Tweet almost daily with insights and links of interest to ad agency people. Click “Follow Me on Twitter” in the column on the right.


Almost every phone call I get from agency chiefs these days centers on how they’re just barely keeping their heads above water. Most say they’ll be happy to make it through ‘09 breaking even; almost all have suffered severe AGI shrinkage and deep staff and operating cuts.

Agency principals tell me they’re treading water until things get better next year. So no big decisions now, only the most essential hiring going on – it’s all wait & see.

Well, I’m a little concerned about how these CEOs talk. It’s like they’re paralyzed, waiting for things to go back the way they were. To return to normal.

If you’re in a holding pattern either as a company or on a personal level, you’re kidding yourself. Instead you should be dreaming and planning for what you want your future to be. . and taking the steps to realize it, i.e. to bring those dreams into reality.

Because now is the perfect time – while there’s a lull in the battle – to figure out what you’ll need to do to excel in your next episode. Go on a planning retreat, visit some other agencies to see how they’re doing, put the actionable elements of an operating plan together. But don’t sit on your hands!

I hear ya’: you say there’s no flippin’ way you can possibly plan because who can know with any certainty what tomorrow (or next year) will bring.

If you think our business is tough, how about the unpredictability of war. General Eisenhower is credited with orchestrating the largest and most complex movement of humans and materiel in history when he organized the D-Day invasion of Europe in World War Two. A few days later, a reporter commented, “General, you must have had one hell of a plan.”

“It wasn’t the plan that worked; it was the planning,” Eisenhower said. Meaning that walking through all the possible scenarios – what might work, what might fail, what had to be taken into account – was what made the mission successful.

Don’t believe it’s foolish to plan because of how uncertain things appear at the moment. There isn’t a firehouse anywhere where they don’t drill and prepare daily even though there’s no way whatsoever to predict where or how ferocious the next blaze will be.

Remember that what draws us forward are our dreams. . . and then creating plans to make them a reality.

And there’s never an excuse not to dream, is there.


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June 30, 2009

The Secret New Business Formula

Filed under: New Business — Joe Grant @ 8:21 pm
Tags: ,


Can’t tell you how many times agency people have asked, “We’ve got to get another account in here, fast – what’s the secret to new business?”

Well, I could write a book on that one (and maybe someday will). Of course there’s no one silver bullet answer. But after doing scores of interviews on behalf of agencies whose new business pitches netted a second place finish, I can state with impunity that in the end it boils down to just one word.


Yup, prospects who pick someone else will tell us after some probing that the “fit” was simply better with the winning agency. “We felt better with the other guys. They were more our kind of people. There was a connection.”

OK, so it’s a little like love, huh. There’s either a spark. . . or there isn’t. We all understand that; you can’t force chemistry in personal relationships. And that after all is what agency/client connections are like, at least in the pitching phase: a romance.

Yet well-meaning agencies trying to craft a compelling story about themselves will assault prospects with dry data, case histories, and boring PowerPoints jammed with unreadable charts and tables – often delivered by uninspiring noodleheads. Where’s the romance, where’s the zing?

I don’t care what the RFP guidelines say, you MUST make personal connections with as many decision makers or influencers on the client selection team as possible, long before the final presentation. Know who has a stake in the agency choice, who’ll be at the presentation(s). . . and start to “work ‘em” immediately and often.

Call and ask to visit to get their personal take on what they want their new agency to do, why the previous one failed, what their biggest point of pain is so you can make sure to specifically address it. Learn about their careers, their interests, their kids. Find out where the pressure’s coming from, what’s standing in the way of their departmental and personal success. In short, get to know them as people – become their friend.

Why? Because it’s easier to do business with a friend, that’s why. When you walk into that presentation room on the Big Day you want to look around the table at people you know, people you already have a solid relationship with. You want to address them as individuals – as human beings with their own unique issues and vulnerabilities. Which of course you will subtly address and solve with warmth and humor in such a way that they will want to work with you, their buddies, more than anyone else.

A couple of years ago I addressed a large group of designers and advertising-types meeting in Phoenix where there was another speaker who suggested that clients were no different than ailing patients going to a medical specialist – the doctor’s job was to fix the problem (prescribe meds, replace a knee, whatever) and not waste his/her time building a “relationship.” Just fix it. Like going to Midas to get a new muffler slapped on, I guess.

I couldn’t disagree more. No matter what turn-down reason the lost prospect gives you for choosing someone else, it comes down to chemistry, romance, and maybe even pheromones. You know there’s always a lot unspoken when the lady says, “Gee, can’t go out tonight – got to wash my hair.”

Chemistry is what makes the sale in our business. So here’s a question:

How romantic was the last big pitch you lost?

By the way (if you’ll permit a little pitch of our own here) we’d be happy to interview your “lost prospects” if you haven’t had many new business wins lately. Just send an email to and I’ll fill you in on how it works.


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June 18, 2009

Difficult Bosses


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NOTE: We Tweet almost daily with insights and links of interest to ad agency folk. Click “Follow Me on Twitter” in the column on the right.

mean_boss_73212333 Bosses. Job satisfaction surveys say the #1 reason people stay or leave a job is the kind of boss they have. That’s even more important than salary.

So I was thinking yesterday about some of the bosses I’ve had or worked with. They all – every one of them – wanted to do a good job. But there were some who sabotaged themselves and their agency’s success, usually with a runaway ego or blinding pride.

There was the guy who absolutely refused to change what he knew were destructive behaviors. So a group of us, taking our families’ futures directly into our hands, staged an intervention to help him realize how he was hurting the agency and everyone in it. I’m not talking about a he’s-drinking-his-lunch intervention (he shunned alcohol; too bad, it might have helped!). No, his problem was extreme moodiness, swings from hyper-micromanagement to total apathy, temper tantrums (full-scale: throwing things, screaming, threatening to fire everybody on the spot). He refused professional counseling and last I heard he’s still limping along with a just a small staff. The rest of us left years ago.

There was another agency CEO who demanded every single communication be passed under his nose for approval. Talk about no empowerment! Work was always in queue for approval; things were constantly jammed up and late. Anything that mentioned money or implied the agency would be obligated in any way was subject to his OK or veto. He trusted nobody.

One more example: an agency CEO whose habit is to always reject all projects with “not good enough.” Many are plenty good enough of course, but she believes people are intrinsically lazy and never give their best unless they’re scourged like Roman slaves rowing a galleon.

For the record, I’ve worked with and for some really wonderful bosses, too – who understood that the work is best when people are positively motivated, happy, and can grow daily in competence and confidence.

What should you do if you’re in a tough spot? First, learn all you can from the situation. Keep your head held high and do your best to contribute and grow without sacrificing your dignity or doing damage to your soul.

But remember also that life is too short to work for a card-carrying jerk. Never let your fear of finding another job, even in these times, imperil your sanity or your health. You are not an indentured servant.

So what does a good boss do? Get some ideas by reading Style Matters: How to Behave When You’re The Boss on our website.

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