Conducive Environment Officers.
Job description for an alternative CEO.
There are two types of people in advertising - creators and CEOs.
It is the job of creators to do Great Work.
And it is the job of the rest of us to cultivate environments which are conducive to the conception, gestation and delivery of Great Work.
The rest of us are CEOs - Conducive Environment Officers.
Here is a job description for this alternative CEO.
- Make sure that you like your Client (the brand, the business) and find things to like about your clients (the people). It is possible, to a degree, to fake this with super-slick servicing, structured proactivity, and the odd dinner. But there is no substitute for your heart being in it. They can tell. Of course they can. And it makes a big difference to the trust they place in you. The trick, and it can be tricky, is to do the liking whilst maintaining the outside perspective and ability to challenge that, other than Great Work, is the main purpose of an agency.
- Deal as high up the client food chain as you possibly can, ideally Conducive Environment Officer to Chief Executive Officer, CEO to CEO. The authority to say yes to Great Work, and the self confidence to approve Great Work without tinkering is usually in direct proportion to seniority. Resist your senior client’s laudable but dangerous inclination to delegate creative decision making.
- Make sure that your client and your agency have a shared vision for Great Work. What is its purpose? How should it work? How will we both know it when we see it? This is absolutely not about a convenient, ostensibly sensible, but dangerously expedient creative evaluation checklist. For checklist read formula. And for formula read creative Kryptonite. If a CEO does this vision job properly, Great Work should sell itself. The idea of selling work to an implicitly unwilling client audience should be anathema to a good CEO. Selling work is not the pinnacle of account director achievement. It is the desperate last resort of someone who hasn’t done the groundwork.
- Make sure the brief is as good as at can be. Remember that the brief is a means to an end and no more than that, a solid foundation for Great Work. It is tempting to put the brief on a pedestal, but aiming to write a great brief is a misguided ambition. A brief is only great if it begets Great Work. So focus on writing a purposeful brief that simply shares and frames a commercial problem in terms that get the creative juices flowing.
- Make the agency believe that every brief from your client is an opportunity to do Great Work. If the agency believes that your client is in the market for Great Work, things happen to make Great Work more likely. The right teams are allocated to work on it.They are given adequate time. The resource is protected.
- Make sure that internal quality control is totally aligned with the shared vision for Great Work that you have agreed with the client. Spend time with the Creative Director before the brief goes in. He or she will be giving daily guidance the teams working on it. He or she will be seeing ideas before you. You want the right nascent ideas to be nurtured for the right reasons. And you don’t want potentially Great Work to be strangled at birth, unseen by you, for the wrong reasons. Spend time with every agency stakeholder who will have a say, big or small, in what ideas eventually get presented to your client. Lobby on behalf of Great Work before it is even a twinkle in the creative team’s eye.
- You should be a welcome contributor to the creative development process. The most significant work of an effective CEO is done after the brief and the briefing - nudging, redirecting, stimulating, inspiring. But you can only do that work if the creators invite you in. For this to happen they need to trust you. They need to trust that you can make their work better. They need to trust that you can make Great Work happen when they come up with it. And they need to trust that you will never take any credit, even and especially when you deserve it. A good CEO avoids credit like the plague, knowing that in the long run this is the best strategy for getting it.
- Don’t ever leave the agency with work that you believe to be less than Great. Whatever pain is necessary to avoid being a hapless messenger, take it. Agency pain is always less severe than client pain, as long as your motive is better work rather than an easier life, and it doesn’t scar so badly. Heated disagreement with colleagues is far preferable to disappointing a client. If you don’t believe in the work you can’t be a CEO.
- Be a good friend and be faithful to your client. It is easy and expedient to let the agency blame the client when work is denied the opportunity to achieve Greatness. Even if that blame is justified, and it often isn’t (see poor groundwork comment in 3. above), it serves no useful purpose to allow it to happen. Quite the opposite. It is relationship cancer. To a large degree Great Work is a confidence trick. Great Work becomes less likely when the agency loses confidence in the client. A good CEO will not let this happen.
- Deserve and preserve your trusted adviser status. Understand and be seen to understand the commercial imperatives that keep your clients awake at night. Only describe work as Great if it solves these problems in original, elegant ways. Never bullshit. Strive to head agency failings off at the pass, but always admit to them if they occur. Be a good listener and ensure that your agency acts like one too. Accepting that your client has a point when they do buys you the right to tell them straight when they don’t.
This is clearly not a job description for a single person. Great Work and the conducive environments that lead to it are a team effort. In the best agencies everyone, and I mean everyone, is a CEO.
Welcome to the C-suite.
He wrote a letter to BBH staff on the occasion of the agency’s thirtieth birthday, in which he proclaimed that “It’s all about the work”.
Reading that letter again was what prompted this post.
I started my advertising career at BBH back in 1988 and spent five intensely formative years at the agency.
Whilst Sir John Hegarty was the celebrated external figurehead, it was always my impression that Sir Nigel was the soul and conscience of the agency.
His the vision, his the principles, his the integrity.
Culture is vital to conducive environments. And culture is a function of leadership, which Sir Nigel delivers in spades.
He is the consummate CEO.