Thursday, June 7, 2012

Building a Successful Ad Agency

Surviving in the Advertising and Marketing world for 35 years hasn't been easy, especially if you want to live a normal life. Having a normal life means having other things in your life other that your work. I have had the good fortune to experience an incredibly successful ride that I am still on, and which I continue to work hard at every day. I continue to learn something new every day, and then share those new ideas with both my colleagues and my clients. What a blast! I've been asked many times to share the secrets to my success, and I do gladly because I believe that one my gifts is helping others; that's one of the reasons I make a good ad guy, I like helping people figure out how to succeed in their endeavors. But when it comes to having a successful small business, I believe that the guiding principles that my wife and I have established along the way were, and still are pivotal to our success.

So, here are the ten guiding principles that have shaped our successful business:

1. Our Business Culture is a Family Style Environment. If you come from a dysfunctional family and you know it, but don't want to change, then this principle is probably something you should pass on. But for us, this remains a critically important element of our success. We treat our staff like family. We celebrate all major holidays and we work hard at remembering everyone's birthday, their wives and husbands names along with their children's names. When there's a personal emergency we are there to help them. We have monthly staff lunches, not to discuss business, but rather to enjoy each other's company. We even celebrate back-to-school-day by having a special breakfast that my wife makes for everyone.

We also know that our family functions better when we are honest with each other; and when we have to speak about difficult topics, we speak the truth in love.

And, just like with our family, we must keep current. I do that daily with my staff by walking through the office and stopping to catch up with them. I know it sounds so insignificant but it pays off in big dividends, because our team will do whatever it takes to get the job done for our clients. They also know that our collective survival depends on them.

Early on in my career I have learned to attack problems not people, and, to act rather than react. It's probably part of how I am wired, I like solving problems and helping people, so why would I attack and hurt anyone.

We got this idea of creating a family culture in our work environments, believe it or not, from my mother. She had away of making anyone that came into our home feeling accepted and welcomed. Her motto was biblical, but she never preached it...SHE LIVED IT! "Love everyone that will let you." (Paraphrased by Mom) Matt. 18:6

So, I learned from an early age the first secret of success from a master that cared about everyone.

Lastly, we say grace at every meal we have together, just like we do at home.

2. Treat Everyone with Respect.

Maybe it's just me, but I get my feelings hurt when I stop at a convenience store to buy something and when I make my purchase the cashier hardly recognizes me and if he says anything he or she will say something like "have a nice day", me, the customer, in return say "thank you". It irritates me so much that I now say, "you too".

I purposely go out of my way to open the door for the UPS guy, and thank him for the delivery. Every vendor, every sales person, everyone that comes into our office looking for directions, I treat with respect, and I expect everyone that works with me to do the same. Why? Because my dad taught me early in life to say thank you, and yes sir, and yes ma'am. And, my dad would always open doors for people when passing. He never told me to hold the door for someone. He just did it! I hold doors open for people because it's the right thing to do, and because everyone is always, I MEAN ALWAYS, watching the boss. So don't drop you guard. Giving a little respect to people can go a long way.

3. Hire Team Members that are Smarter than Yourself.

This takes raw courage. Imagine how far you'll get in life if you surround yourself with dwarfs and robots that always agree with the you, even when they all know you are wrong. You will succeed much faster, much more successfully, if you have the guts and courage to higher giants. Trust me they will make you look smart, and then someday you will look back and realize you have learned so much from them that you'll be smart too!

4. Creativity Reigns without Fear of Rejection.

Many, many years ago I had a client that would demoralize his staff and me as we presented our creative ideas. No matter how hard we tried in his mind it was "Crap"! Oh, how I hate that word. Nothing destroys the creative process more than rejection, or the fear of rejection. Now that doesn't mean as the senior creative director that I can't tell someone that what he or she is doing isn't working yet. I find that we get better results by offering suggestions or ideas rather than bad mouthing the idea and the person. So around here Seagulls are not welcome.

5. Provide a Path for Staff to Grow.

This is very important because if your staff is not growing then something is wrong, and they should leave, sooner than later. I want each of our staff members to grow in four areas: I want them to grow intellectually because I know that the smarter each member becomes the more they contribute in many ways. Secondly, I want to see each team member grow financially. This makes a lot of sense when you think about it. If I continue to financially reward those that work hard and help the company succeed, then we are both very happy.

The next area that I want to be sure that I provide for the team is a work environment that allows some social interaction. This has to be done with great balance. You've heard the expression "All work and no play makes a dull boy". And we also know that "all play instead of making hay will make you poor". When you pick great team members they can figure it out.

The fourth and most important area, in my opinion, is their spiritual growth. If I provide a great work place that allows each person to grow professionally, financially and socially, and I fail at providing a spiritual foundation - that there is a God that made this beautiful creation from the smallest micro-organism to the largest planet, and everything in between, and that His name is Jesus, yes the Jesus of the Bible ¬- and, if I don't explain to each person that eternity is a gift to those that believe in His name, and what He has done for us on the cross at Calvary 2000 years ago, then I am a miserable failure.

6. Keep Things Simple. This is easier said than done, but so important. If you study design and the work of the fortune 100 companies you will notice that most of what they communicate is sophisticated and elegant yet simple. But it goes deeper than just the creative design work we do. I encourage staff to write simple, short, easy to understand sentences. I don't require staff to keep time sheets charging every 15 minutes of nothing to a client. I prefer that each person concentrate on their tasks and talents, and let the work we do sell itself instead of using time to justify what we charge.

7. Do the Right Thing.

Of course everyone one knows the importance of doing the right thing, like duh! Doing the right thing is more than just a principle, what I mean is this: Do the right thing, the right way, the first time for the right reason. Now, that's maturity, that's integrity, that's character; and that is what I strive to develop in all of the team.

8. Bigger is Not Always Better.

I've seen many agencies crash and burn because they got too big, too fast. They under estimate projects. They don't have the right players on the team. They burn out their best players, and, they over-promise and under-deliver. They see dollar signs, thinking that "big" brings profit. It does if you do it right, but most agencies fail trying to get there. Our approach is different. You should measure your success based on your clients' success.  Measure your success based on satisfied clients. We've learned that our clients want us to be profitable, not greedy. We think long term. Relationships are more important that lots of one night stands. In the book Customers for Life by Carl Sewell, it says "you can shear a sheep many times but you can skin it only once". I know that's a little graphic but hopefully you get the message.

Build your business on long term relationships. Deliver what you promised, be fair in your billings and think more about your customer and less about the next thing your dreaming of buying and you will be a lot more successful and happier too!

9. Employ Good Business Practices.

Any accountant or lawyer starting a new business has been taught this principle from day one, but not us artsy-fartsy types. The graveyard is filled with agencies that died a pre mature death because they failed at business 101. Don't go crazy on this topic, but think about it for more than just a minute.

Early on in my career I would work day and night designing ads, writing copy, creating marketing strategies for my clients. I'd fall into bed from exhaustion, then get up the next day and do the same thing over again. I quickly found that I was only doing half of my work. Remember, you have bills to pay, on time, so that means you have to be as faithful with your accounting practices as you are with your creative work.

One of the best things that happened to me was the accounting firm that did my annual taxes (btw don't be stupid, pay your taxes on time), they recommended a bookkeeper that worked for them until she became a mom, again and again and again and again, to do my basic bookkeeping. She's been with us for over 15 years and is truly a gift from God.

10. Deliver What You Promise On Time and On Budget.

Sounds pretty basic, doesn't it? What I learned in my early years was that as I worked with a new client on a project, I would hear over and over again that my competitors failed miserably at delivering what they promised on time, and, that the final bill seldom reflected the quote that they were given. With that information I determined that On Time/On Budget must be one of the fundamental building blocks of any business. You can be the best creative guy or gal in the world, but if you cannot deliver on time and on budget you should probably work for the government.

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