Words of wisdom

Whether the outcome of a situation is positive, negative, or neutral, I believe there is always a lesson to be learned in everything we do in life. Sometimes, we simply don’t look for it. And, while I believe in learning from my mistakes, I think it’s even better if I can learn from the mistakes of others.

So about two and half years ago, I began meeting with highly successful people in the advertising industry from around the world. So far they have ranged from Executive Creative Directors, Chief Executive Officers, people who are (or have been) on the Board at large multi-nationals, people who have built their own agencies, people who have been nominated into advertising ‘hall of fames’, and so forth.

Put simply, I just wanted to pick their brains and ask them about their experiences and what they’d do differently if they had the opportunity. So after many chats over coffees, beers and even Skype, here are just a few words of wisdom from those who have been there…

“The biggest realisation that you make is that it’s relatively easy to make the same salary on your own as you do when you’re employed by an agency.”

“Just make the work brilliant. If the work’s consistently good, it’s what gets you on lists, it’s what gets noticed, it’s makes the place fun to work at.”

“As you grow and get more people around you, you feel safer.”

“None of us had much business nous. We didn’t have a solid business model or anything to begin with – it just kind of evolved as we went. The only thing we did know was the kind of work we wanted to be doing and the kind of work we didn’t. You just have to jump in and do it. You learn so much from actually doing it.”

“You need to devote yourself to new business, and make it an ongoing thing. You can get caught in the trap of just servicing existing clients, and when one of them walks, you’re left living hand-to-mouth for six months until you can win something else.”

“Learn about business. Understand how it works, and how they make money. Once you understand business, you have remarkably different conversations with clients. They no longer treat you as the ‘weird creative people’ who just make funny ads (that makes them a bit nervous). If you illustrate an understanding of their business, they treat you differently.”

“It’s better for business if you fire a bad client rather than keep them.”

“As a creative, you’re a problem-solver. If you can keep that in mind, and run a business as one that solves a client’s problems, there really is no difference between being a ‘suit’ and being a ‘creative’. But avoid becoming a ‘client’s studio’ – there is not a lot of long-term value in that.”

“It’s easier to run a business on a retainer because you know what’s coming in and you can staff up accordingly. Also, it’s psychologically easier for a client to pay $10k per month rather than sign a cheque for $120k at the end of the year, even though they’re the same amount.”

“Lease everything. And if you get a place, put all your money into the boardroom. Make it big and make it good.”

“There are enough ‘good’ clients around. It is a balancing act, but if a client is not aligned with you, get rid of them.”

“At the time, I enjoyed the comfort of selling half my business to a holding company, but now I see little value in continuing to give them half the profits of all my hard work.”

“Regardless of the scope of our ideas, I found that unless we actually called ourselves an ‘ad agency’, clients didn’t really know how to deal with us, or which pigeon hole to put us in.”

“For some people, ‘freedom’ is having a place with their name on the door. For me, ‘freedom’ is not having my name on the door and knowing I can walk away tomorrow if I choose to.”

“Decide early on if you’re building a business to sell or a business to allow you to do the kind of work you want to do. That decision will play an important role in some of the choices you have to make down the track.”

“Stay true to the reasons why you started.”



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