It takes a certain amount of courage to watch yourself present on videotape. If you’re like me, you have this notion of yourself as a presenter: commanding, in control, occasionally funny.
And then you watch yourself, and see and hear all the stumbles, non-fluences, and other semi-embarrassing moments as you parade yourself in front of an all-too-kind and generous audience.
As most of you know from my previous posts, last month I visited Springdale, Arkansas to speak with the folks at the shopper marketing agency Saatchi & Saatchi X. Here’s what I said about the formal part of my presentation: “Not that I didn’t give it my best, but try as I might, as a presenter I wasn’t nearly equal to the task at hand. I failed at monologue. I was better in dialogue.”
The agency videotaped me, so they could share my pearls of wisdom with other agency offices, plus have the option of putting it on their internal website, so people who were having trouble with insomnia could watch it.
As a courtesy, and because I nagged them, they sent a copy to me.
I watched it, twice, with a sense of dread trumped by a voyeuristic desire to see how I sounded and what I looked like.
I was mildly surprised to learn that I didn’t sound half bad. Yes, in that hour of presenting there were the occasional stumbles and the all too-frequent lame jokes, but all-in-all I did a reasonable job on behalf of my sponsor. The content was worthy of consideration, my suggestions to the point, and my stories reasonably illustrative of the points I wanted to make.
But how did you look, you ask? Not so good, I reply.
I could excuse the fact that, when I crossed in front of the audience, my head intruded on the PowerPoint images being projected (on what I thought was) above my head. Note to self: remember to check next time.
Many of my friends know I have been struggling with osteo-arthritis in my left hip, which causes me to walk with what (I think is) a slight limp. But I cringed as I saw myself drag my leg back and forth and up and down the stage steps. I am surely old enough, but this made me look ready for the great advertising agency in the sky
As dreadful and embarrassing as this might seem, if you are a presenter, I would strongly urge you to have yourself videotaped for review. You will see yourself as others see you. That alone will be enlightening. You can make note of what you’re doing wrong, and take steps to correct it. You will get better at something that is utterly central to gaining trust with clients, building credibility with colleagues, and advancing your career within your organization.
As for me, I am going to summon the courage required to get that hip fixed.
If you didn’t watch last Sunday’s Mad Men episode, save this post until you do, then read it.
If you did watch, you know that Don Draper couldn’t sleep the night before Sterling Cooper’s pitch for a piece of the Chevrolet account. He got up, left his hotel room, and went to the bar for a drink. Soon thereafter, in walks Ted Chaough, one of the owners from competing agency Cutler Gleason Chaough, the shop Peggy Olsen joined at the end of last season as head copywriter. CGP also has been invited to pitch Chevrolet.
After some typical, “I-can’t-sleep-so-I’m-in-the-hotel-bar-before-a-pitch” back and forth, Don and Ted conclude they are doomed to lose to the larger, better established agencies that already have a presence in Detroit. That’s when they do the unthinkable: they decide, on the spot, to merge, to become more like the agencies they are competing against, in order to improve their chances. They have great ideas; what they lack is scale. Joining forces solves the problem.
The following day, they win the account.
If you are a fan of Mad Men, and if you happen to be a reader of Adam Grant’s just published book, Give and Take, you know that Don Draper is the ultimate “taker.” Not a “giver,” not a “matcher;” a taker. We know less about Ted Chaough, but let’s assume he’s pretty much a taker too.
Now, this is television, but something interesting happened in that bar. Two takers became givers, and something good came as a result: the givers won a major piece of business.
As much as television draws us in, especially this program, what I find far more interesting is Adam Grant’s book, which deals in the real world, not a make-believe one, and has as a central premise that people who give can succeed often more readily than people who take.
Agency people, client service folks in particular, take note. Grant says,
“The takers were black holes. They sucked the energy from around them. The givers were suns; they injected light around the organization. Givers created opportunities for their colleagues to contribute, rather than imposing their ideas and hogging credit for achievements. When they disagreed with suggestions, givers showed respect for the people who spoke up, rather than belittling them.”
How many of us have worked with the takers, the black holes? I certainly have known my share, and my memories are not happy ones. But I’ve also had the pleasure of working with the givers, the shedders of light, and my memories are what propel me forward. I just wish there were more of the latter, and fewer of the former.
Advertising need not be the whore’s business many of us have grown sadly accustomed to. If enough of us buy into Adam Grant’s point of view on giving vs. taking, there’s hope. And if Don Draper can change, so can we.
In July of last year I posted a piece called “Separation of powers,” in which I attempted to define the various “voices” that represent an agency.
This is hardly original with me, but I suggested that the agency’s strategists and planners serve as ”the voice of the consumer.”
Because the creative people are responsible for the body of work that best represents and differentiates the agency, I suggest that they, in fact, serve as “the voice of the agency.”
But what of the account people? To what do they give voice? Hold that thought for a moment.
A couple of weeks back, when I was visiting Springdale, Arkansas to talk with the shopper agency Saatchi & Saatchi X, the subject of agency “voices” arose. One of the production people asked me — forgive me for paraphrasing – “You speak of creative people as being the voice of the agency, and planners as the voice of the consumer, but what about those of us in production? What is our voice?”
After a bit of ruminating, I came upon it: production people are “the voice of reason.” I was pretty proud of myself for having made this up on the spot, and said as much.
There was just one, small problem.
In that Separation of powers blog post, I claimed that account people are “the voice of reason,” not the production people.
The person who asked the question must have read that post, but was thankfully kind in letting slide my misappropriation of the term, even as I went on, and on, in my typical, longwinded style.
But the question remains: if account people truly are the voice of reason, what would I say about production people? I’ve been thinking about this ever since my return to Napa, and have arrived at what I think is an appropriate answer.
Production people are, “the voice of authority.”
Here’s why: production people are not only the keepers of vast technical expertise, they are the people who actually convert ideas into execution. They are the people you turn to when you want an answer to, “Can we do this within budget?” or, “Can we do this on schedule?”
You consult them whenever an issue of this sort arises. But beyond that, you consult with the best of them because you value their judgment, rely on their knowledge, and trust their instincts.
To quote a former resident of the White House, production people are the voice of authority because, in the end, they are the ones who decide.
They are the deciders.
Many thanks for your note, Marilyn, I very much appreciate it.
You and your colleagues might want to stayed tuned for a second post I’ll make next week, on “the voice of reason,” something we discussed in our meeting. I have a few additional thoughts to share, accompanied by an apology.
Hi Robert: Thank you so much for coming to visit us and for your nice words about SSX. You are too humble - your presentation was wonderful and stimulated the good conversation we had. We enjoyed your war stories and you made us feel welcome to your world. Brings back memories of New York City. All the best. Come again soon. Marilyn
April 16, 10:00 pm, on a flight from Northwest Arkansas to San Francisco, via Cincinnati
I write this on the plane ride home from my visit to Springdale, where I spent the better part of a day presenting to and meeting with my colleagues from the shopper marketing agency, Saatchi & Saatchi X.
This engagement came about in the best way possible. A couple of agency folks read The Art of Client Service, liked it, and reached out by email. A conversation ensued, leading to a proposal, which resulted in a gig.
Three observations about my trip:
1. I made a formal presentation, followed by an informal conversation. The presentation was carefully planned, written, rehearsed, and delivered. The conversation was unplanned, unscripted, unrehearsed, and ad hoc. Now, this might be more a commentary on my deficiencies as a presenter more than anything else, but it is clear people got good stuff out of the conversation. The presentation? Not so much.
The point: even the best presentation – one far better than I delivered – loses out to discussion. In the presentation, I was in control. In the discussion, the audience was in control. This audience was great: thoughtful, provocative, in search of answers to questions they confront every day. Not that I didn’t give it my best, but try as I might, as a presenter I wasn’t nearly equal to the task at hand. I failed at monologue. I was better in dialogue. Those who know me will not be surprised.
2. The questions were great. Those in attendance – there easily were 70 or more people in the room, with other offices joining in by video conference — each armed with a thought, an observation, or an inquiry, which made the discussion engaging, invigorating, and, at times, almost illuminating.
There were many moments that stand out, but one was particularly noteworthy. A senior account person asked me to cite three life-changing professional experiences — I think she used the word “life-changing” – and, “one that got away.”
The first part was easy: 1) the day I figured out how to write a presentation, which I blogged about July 1 last year in a post called, “Eureka;” 2) the day a client green-lighted a new business presentation on the spot, writing a very large check to my then agency, to signal the go-ahead; and, 3) writing The Art of Client Service, which I view as a legacy, and a way to give back to the community I am a part of and grateful to.
The second part, the one that got away, was harder, but I recalled how crushed I was the day we competed for but lost the Delta Airlines account to an agency called Saatchi & Saatchi. I’m sure if I had more time I could think of a hundred other equally large disappointments and failures – I’ve had my share — but this was the one that stood out, and not simply because I was at a Saatchi agency.
3. I’ve said this before, in a number of different ways, but it is incredibly helpful to escape New York. I confess I now call Napa, not Manhattan, my home, but until last November I was, for the preceding 19 years, a New Yorker, with a New Yorker’s perspective of the advertising world. But then you go to someplace not New York, and you discover just how motivated, driven, and hungry for knowledge people are.
Good agencies everywhere, like the one I was visiting, believe they are on a mission from god, which in this case means how to serve clients well and do great work. Geography is rendered meaningless.
I’ve always assumed there were agencies populated by smart people in places other than New York. But these other places usually are Chicago, San Francisco, Minneapolis, all known hotbeds of creativity.
I return home with the knowledge that there are smart, nice, driven people in Springdale. Who knew?
Now you do.
In a blog post a couple of years ago, I suggested an anthem for account management, replicating the, “First, do no harm” physician’s oath. Borrowing a line, but not its intent, from director Spike Lee, I proposed, “Do the right thing.”
It seemed to me the line captures what constitutes great account people: when faced with an opportunity, an issue, or a crisis, they inevitably do the right thing.
I assumed great account people would do the right thing because it simply is the right thing to do. But then I read the cover story in the March 31 issue of The New York Times Sunday Magazine, called “The Saintly Way to Succeed” that adds the weight of fact to the lightness of my assumption.
The article is a profile of University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business professor Adam Grant, who, according to reporter Susan Dominus, is “the youngest tenured and highest-rated professor at Wharton.” Grant wrote a book called, Give and Take, which has as its central premise that “the greatest untapped source of motivation is a sense of service to others; focusing on the contribution of our work to other peoples’ lives has the potential to make us more productive than thinking about helping ourselves.”
The assertion is not confined to anecdote; it is backed by data. Grant conducted a bunch of research studies that proved his point; you can read about them in the article.
What I found most gratifying is that doing the right thing confirms what I assumed to be true, but never could prove to be true: helping people helps yourself, whether it be a client, or a colleague, or even a competitor. It is, in essence, a plea for enlightened self-interest, with little emphasis on the self, and lots of emphasis on those who benefit.
Based on nearly 30 years of observation, I know the best client service people are infused with a generosity of spirit that prompts them to respond positively to any overture, deal calmly with any problem, or help willingly with any task.
The point? Great account people know how to do the right thing; they know how to be good.
I’ve often said the best posts come not from me, but from you.
The other day I received an email from Matt Singer, a young account guy working in my former hometown, Philadelphia. Matt had some kind things to say about The Art of Client Service; I responded, as I always do, with gratitude – I am always delighted to hear that people find the book helpful – and in our exchange of emails, Matt asked me this:
“Out of curiosity, if you had to choose only 1 piece of advice in there for a 24 year old account guy to really pay attention, what do you think it would be?”
I have been exchanging emails with all sorts of people, from all kind of places, working in all types of agencies, and not once did anyone ever ask me this question.
It’s really good question, mostly because it is so easy to ask, yet so hard to answer.
After thinking about this a bit, I wrote back. Here is what I said:
“One is really hard, but if I think back on all my years as a line account guy, and reflect on the thousands of conversations I’ve had with clients, colleagues, and competitors, I would say the one thing that matters is…
Knowing how to ask the right question.
The right question proves how smart you are, how well you listened, and how clearly you communicate. Above all else, asking the right question leads to formulating a smart answer, and in that answer is the kernel of an idea that addresses a challenge or solves a problem, which will make you a hero in a client or colleague’s eyes, and helps build trust, which is at the foundation of every enduring client/agency relationship.”
It’s April 1, and many of you are probably thinking, “This is an April’s fool’s joke, right? It cannot possibly be this simple!”
I assure you this is no joke. The Art of Client Service includes 58 suggestions, recommendations, and reminders because it is nearly impossible for me to reduce this to one thing. But if I were compelled to name that one thing, I would follow the principle of Occam’s Razor – the best ideas are simple – and say that asking the right question is the one thing that truly matters.
You can think I’m wrong, or smoking, or full of it. If that describes you, email me with what you think matters, I’ll publish it in a follow-up post with your POV.
Okay, it’s an old joke, and I won’t insult you with an answer, at least not until the end of this post, but I will tell you a story about Jerry Seinfeld. Not my story, exactly, but rather, one I read in the Sunday New York Times Magazine.
I was on vacation in Mexico, catching up on all the old Times magazines I never read, mostly because I am forever catching up on the old New Yorkers I never read, when I came across the December 23 cover story by Jonah Weiner called, “Jerry Seinfeld Intends to Die Standing Up.”
Now, in the world of stand-up comedy, Seinfeld is about as veteran as they come, having performed show after show, year after year. If one person should be relaxed about delivering his routine — he’s scheduled to do 89 shows this year — it should be Jerry Seinfeld. Even if he has an off night, or worse, stinks up the joint, who cares? As Weiner points out, Seinfeld is “rich beyond imagination,” not to speak of being famous.
Still, there is one person who does care, and that person is Jerry Seinfeld, which explains why when he was about to appear for the first time on Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show” he rehearsed his five-minute routine 200 times beforehand.
Imagine that. One of the worlds’ most famous, most popular, most successful comedians rehearsing 200 times before going on stage. Now you know one of the reasons why he became famous, popular, and successful.
Most of us would be lucky if we rehearsed two times. Many advertising people I know are even worse: they wing it, taking absolutely no time to rehearse, no matter how important the presentation. It’s no wonder so many fall short of the mark.
It doesn’t matter how long you have been in this business, how much success you’ve achieved, or how much rank and seniority you’ve acquired. If you want to know how to get to Carnegie Hall, you need to be more like Jerry Seinfeld, and less like your peers in advertising who just don’t get it.
So, how do you get to Carnegie Hall?
It simple. You practice.
Okay, David Geffen has his own jet. I don’t. He’s worth billions. I’m not. He’s celebrated. I’m anonymous. We are as different as different can be.
Except for one thing. Near the end of PBS’s American Masters Documentary, “Inventing David Geffen,” there is a moment where Geffen says,
“I never dreamed I would be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and here’s why: I have no talent.
“I have no talent, except for being able to enjoy it and recognize it in others.”
You should watch the show; beautifully produced, populated by a long list of stars – Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks, Neil Young, many others – it is well worth the investment of time.
Geffen is a deeply conflicted, complicated person, with traits – ego, insecurity, anger – that would make him the last person you’d want in client service. But in terms of this one quality – a passion for great work – he is exactly the person you’d want.
There are about a million reasons why I am different from David Geffen, but if you, like me, celebrate great writers, art directors, producers, and other creative people in our business, support and nurture their work, and build the relationships necessary to sustain it in the marketplace, then you too are like David Geffen.
To the many definitions of what it means to be a great account person, I’ve come across one more.