Complacency is the greatest danger to an advertising agency and its clients
It happens to everyone and everything, everywhere. Monkeys in the forests of South America get complacent about their jumps between trees in the jungle and fall to their deaths. (Check it out, it is a real thing.) The New York Yankees get tired of winning and think it comes easy if you have the money. Marriages fail daily due to complacency. Businesses, too, lose the passion – and their customers, employees and products suffer. Advertising agencies are not immune to complacency. In fact, it is a prime destroyer of advertising agencies. Even this one is at risk.
For nearly two decades bloomfield knoble has fought against this sisyphean struggle to produce amazing creative, positioning, messaging and more to drive our clients’, and our own agency’s, success. Some historians argue that Rome fell due to complacency. This complacency, Historians argue, led the emperors to the hiring of mercenaries to win their wars to keep the empire expanding. That worked fine . . . until the mercenaries turned on their masters. All of this is to say, “it’s hard to keep the fire burning bright for a long time.” So what do we do when we start to feel it and see it affecting our work?
At bk, we try to stay ahead of it. Here are some of the tools we use in this epic struggle:
- Rotate talent – It’s important to NOT have “sameness.” That problem is not always solved by simply swapping internal creative talent on client projects. Therefore, we invite guest artists to come in and critique our work. This usually leads to some defensive statements by art directors. (That’s when we know it’s working.) We don’t use freelancers for start to finish work, but I believe it is a benefit to invite artists, strategists and other talent to come in and turn things over regularly. Sometimes we get them to start a thought process or challenge a belief. Amazing results come out of what can be a difficult, honest approach to solving complacency.
- Ask for client reviews at least twice yearly – Believe me, not everyone at your client’s office thinks you’re great. Someone has a negative opinion and it really helps to air that out. Better to know the issues, who is raising them, and deal with it head on. This keeps an agency from being blindsided with an agency review.
- Internal competition – My father did it to me and my brothers, so it must be good for business. Pick a favorite for a while and watch the jealousies drive the work. Parade around the bad stuff, ignore the good stuff and magic can happen. Or, bring in one of those outside artists for a week, not tell anyone what they are supposed to do, and watch the fire get lit.
– Nah, that doesn’t work.
- Entire staff brainstorming – I mean the entire staff. Have a cleaning crew? Ask them to join in and add their thoughts. Just don’t make it the usual suspects. Don’t be surprised by how enlightening common sense statements from the least likely source can change a thought process.
- Fire a random staffer every 6-8 weeks. It’s kind of fun and keeps everyone wondering who’s next. It’s completely random, so it surprises people when we let one of our best designers go late on a Friday. Plus it keeps it stressful, which is good for morale. (They don’t have to like me. Only fear me.)*
So, that is how we battle complacency on behalf of our talented creatives and thoughtful thinkers and happy managers at the bloomfield knoble advertising agency offices.
But what about the partners and directors?
That is much more difficult to break. However, there is always a problem (or 50) to solve everyday. There is always new business that must be found. There is always somebody trying to screw you to the wall. Yes, those things kind of keep complacency at bay for that segment of the agency. I think the term for that is “burnout.”
So, I guess there is not much complacency for partners and directors. We are covered in so much sh_t and sewage we don’t have time to get bored. Wait, what am I writing about . . . Moreover, do I even care?
(*Number 6 on this list was just my way of keeping you awake and not complacent with my blog. Guess I should have added “shock value” to the list.)
Eric J. Hirschhorn is a principal at bloomfield knoble. For 17 years he has helped lead the Dallas-based advertising agency from start up to becoming a premier, full-service agency whose clients include some of the most influential companies in America. Eric lives to spend time with his family, to work and to travel the world in search of unique fishing adventures.