Adventures of An Advertising Nomad — Answer That Email!

In ongoing series, I will be documenting observations of things and experiences I come across as I continue my journey as an advertising nomad. I am literally like one of those old In Living Colour sketches as a man with the four jobs. (see my LinkedIn profile). The funny thing is that for the first time since way back when I ran my own shop, I finally feel like I fit into this wonderful business we call Advertising. And all it took was my having one foot in the Advertising Business and one foot in the Start-Up world.

If an agency is judged by its creativity, then its lifeblood needs to be the talent it attracts. Ever more fractured P&L’s have positioned us to having to deal with the lack of well-rounded skills and the knowledge folks used to possess that once powered this business. Helping to create some of the best work that has made this industry such an attractive place to work in. We are now living in an era of experts and that is not how you build an agency to handle the daunting challenges this business is facing as startups come in and show how things are done.

My recent foray into professorship at Seneca College placed me firmly in the trenches as I back up the talk by showing the future how to walk. I have been constantly amazed at the lack of actual skill that is powering some of the biggest agencies in this country which I guess drove the decision to take on this new challenge.

I first noticed these gaps as a freelance hitman for various agencies (only there for short period of time on a contract basis) however the problems really showed itself when I committed to working for agencies full time — the look being a much longer one with the goal not to solve an immediate task hand but to build an agency with a great culture that powers wins. And from this new perspective I was able to really see a huge problem. These gaps have created a large divide between the tier one agencies doing great work and tier two or three agencies that just talk about the great work they are supposedly doing. Relying more on billings poker where you undercut your competition to keep a client (or in some cases, spend more than your bringing in just to keep the optics of success intact) creating a culture of accounting driven by procurement not creativity.

Culture is a picky issue and one that is talked about quite a bit. It is one thing to be happy at your job. If it is simply a job that let’s you work from home whenever you want or doesn’t really hold your accountable for excellent work, this begs the question ‘what’s the point?’ I have never understood how Agency Heads got to the positions they are in without that mojo to win that their more successful counterparts have. If you don’t want to win, then you are not going to play. You will just simply be. If you are simply just wanting to be then you won’t be there long.

It’s a tough industry. There is no doubt there. Having run my own shop for almost a decade, there are times where you have to do what you have to do. But if you find that becoming a habit as opposed to anomaly, then you have to question things.

And it does come from the top. Last semester, I was challenged with a question on who I thought was the best agencies in the market. While I am always hesitant to answer that because it is not simple by any means and extremely subjective, I countered with who would you want to work for?

This is the one of the main metrics that an agency should focus on. And sadly, while the focus has now shifted to making millenials happy as opposed to shaping constructive citizens in the industry powered by proper training, that ideal is lost as a result of basic, short-term thinking. It comes down to this, If people want to work for your agency, then you will have a culture that allows you to win.

With the crazy schedules that we inevitably fall victim to, it’s tough to answer all of the requests for coffees/can you look at my book/returning emails.

Or is it?

Some of the best managers I have had the absolute honour to work for, never let the busyness of the industry get away from the duty you have now that you are a senior member of this industry to help the generation coming up.

Just in my classes alone there were over a hundred bright-eyed and eager students absolutely aching to work for you for free so that they can learn from the best. All frustrated by the sheer lack of engagement they face from agencies as they do everything they can to get your attention. Sure the vast majority will not last in this business letting their ego drive their sense of self worth as opposed to the simple task of working hard, but that is part of why you are where you are — to be able to spot the talent that you can mould and make work for you.

Having worked closely with these millennials that are apparently so hard to figure out, I can say unequivocally that the good ones all want to win and given the right environment, support and training will put in the work to help make that happen.

Because at the end of the day the perception of you not even answering that email from that student looking for that internship or wanting to buy you a coffee will do damage that is at most times irreparable. Not only will they not want to work for you, they will remember you and the agency as the work their way up the ladder and become the ones defining the industry. The ones that you may very well be looking to for your next job.

So answer that email won’t you?