Bits & Pieces?
I’m involved in a couple of professional groups that are big into mentoring, which has me reflecting on how lucky I was to have great mentors and role models in the early, formative years of my career. Let’s face it, the ad/agency/marketing industry is not exactly known for excellence in mentoring and training programs; the phrase “trial by fire” comes to mind. So, I thought I would share a few of the lessons that were shared with me early on, in hopes that they might help some young ‘uns new to their advertising or marketing careers. (Gayla, Lisa, Peggy and John, this one’s for you.)
You exist to make your bosses’ lives easier. There are times when challenging authority is appropriate, even necessary. And we certainly don’t want “yes people” who never question anything. But more often than not, you need to be really listening to and acting on the input you are given and asking how you can help instead of putting up roadblocks. Chances are, as a young person in the industry, the people you report to are much, much, MUCH busier than you. So I recommend that you do all you can to help them. It’s how you will advance.
[Tangent: I wonder if the "Millennials" reading this will be offended at the suggestion that they have bosses and hierarchy? Trust me, we want and value your opinions, and social media has trained us all to be more democratic, but work is not a democracy. Not really. I hope I'm not coming across as condescending here, but I have observed a potent "You're not the boss of me." vibe in some - not all - of the "Millennials" with whom I have worked. Bonus points to anyone who can help me truly understand this generation and how they work - enlighten me in the comments. I beg you.]
Underpromise and overdeliver. This is the best piece of client service advice that I ever heard and the same holds true of managing your supervisors’ expectations. Never, ever make promises that you can’t keep. Not keeping commitments kills trust faster than you can say “unemployment.” Conversely, setting expectations that you exceed wins every time.
Check your work. Then check it again. I started my career on an airline account, where if there was a typo in a fare ad, it could be a seven-figure mistake. Sloppy work is just not acceptable. No one is perfect (see below), but job hunters, I’m telling you right now that if there are typos in your resume or email, you are done. *Poof*. In the bin. No chance of employment. We don’t have time to correct your work so you need to demonstrate that you care enough to do great work in the first place.
Don’t try to hide your mistakes. Check your work as you will, you will still make mistakes. In cultures of innovation, it is actually encouraged. In servicing clients, not so much. Yet, it happens, particularly in the trial by fire scenario mentioned earlier. Fresh out of college, I failed to cancel a $75,000 ad placement on time; I simply had no clue about space closing dates and when the ad had to be cancelled. Shortly thereafter, there was a cease and desist order on an ad that hadn’t gone through legal. I was absolutely horrified and for a time, I’m pretty sure I actually hid the file under my desk in hopes that it would disappear. In a lesser organization, I might have been fired. But my mentors understood that I simply didn’t have the information and experience at the time to have possibly known any better. If you are in a gig where you feel like you have to hide your mistakes, you should probably look for a new one.
Toot your own horn. In the wonderful new-ish world of social media, we’re not supposed to talk too much about ourselves. In our careers, though, it is essential. Your boss may well be too busy to take note of your hard work and your accomplishments, other than maybe at your annual or semi-annual review. Therefore, as long as you doing it with tact, it is a good idea to merchandise yourself to them now and then. If a client praises you, pass it along. Update people on your progress. If you are functioning as an island, and no one knows what you are doing, it may seem like a good thing. Trust me…it’s not.
If you can do those five things, you’ll build yourself a nice little suit of kevlar to get through the trial by fire. An advertising or marketing career is not an easy one; but it can one of the most multi-faceted, creative, challenging and fun ones. Don’t be scared. : ]
What about you? What have you learned so far?
Having ideas is hard work. Selling ideas is just as hard. But what good is your idea if you can’t sell it? Of course it has to be strategically correct, on point, relevant, and now more than ever, at least slightly entertaining.
Once you have all those bases covered, here’s a little bit of advice to help you get clients to believe in what you have to say: dress (at least a little) like a client.
The fact is, you got in this business to be a professional. To solve clients’ problems creatively and you want them to value your thinking. They are more likely to value someone who presents well, and looks the part, not of a quirky creative person, but someone who takes his job very seriously and acknowledges that this is a business, not your personal playground to make stuff up for fun.
Now don’t freak out. I’m not saying you need to jump in your car to the nearest Men’s Wearhouse and buy some cheap suit. You should have your own style. And carry yourself confidently. If you are confident in yourself, it can be contagious and clients can sense it. Don’t be afraid to wear a tie. A jacket. Buy one killer pair of shoes. You’re in the world of helping clients build their brand. What is your personal brand? How can you build credibility?
Of course, your ideas need to be great (ever heard the term “empty suit?). Your professionalism alone can not do the trick. But how you present yourself, and your ideas, can be the difference between a client believing in what you have to say and heading for the door, and you going back to the drawing board.
Very early in my career, a veteran of the ad world said to me, “75% of the stuff you work on is not going to get produced.”
Ouch. Wow. Sheesh. Really? Regardless, I didn’t let this get me down, stayed the course, and now I’m still here, 15 plus years later. And now that I’m here I have a little bit of advice for you all.
75% of the work you do isn’t going to get produced.
I know it’s a harsh reality; a lot of times you’re going to put your heart and soul into an idea and a client is going to kill your idea for any number of reasons. But the key is to pick yourself up and move on. All you have to do is keep coming up with ideas. The more ideas you have, the more chance you have of getting a great idea produced, right? Make the numbers work in your favor. All you have to do is be one thing: persistent.
But not just any kind of persistent. A kinder, gentler, version of persistence. There are two scenarios when it comes to being persistent: There is the overbearing jerk type of persistence in which one fights and fights and fights for their idea and doesn’t know when to stop. Their world hangs on that one idea and it’s all they have. Most of the people I have encountered in my career who were like this aren’t in advertising anymore.
Then there’s the other kind of persistent. The kind of persistence that says, “I’ll show you, I’ll come up with ten more good ideas, all better than the one I just showed you.” It’s the type of persistence that goes back to the office, rallies the team and says “We can solve this.” Those are the type of people that hang around and have long illustrious careers in the ad business.
As I’ve said many times (to an equal amount of guffaws and applause) “Ideas are like Doritos, we’ll make more.”
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