“It makes you sharper.” That’s what my real estate buddy said about operating on the precipice of financial peril. And he’s right. Six months into my new gig, I feel like I have less security and more good ideas, insights and clarity than I have in a decade.
But it’s not about fear, it’s about focus. It’s about waking up every morning knowing exactly what you need to do to be successful. Which, due to a myriad of pressures and influences, is something I believe has largely been lost in the advertising business. I know, because for the last twenty years, I was a perpetual multi-tasker across multiple brands. And here’s what I can tell you—I concentrated more on the big clients than the little ones and my greatest efforts were spent not on the clients we had, but on the ones we didn’t. That’s the way the system was set up. Now, you can say that I was inefficient or that I had my priorities in the wrong place. But the fact is, my behavior was emblematic of what most people do in my role. If you don’t believe me, ask someone who works at a multinational how much of their time the Chief Creative Officer bills. It’ll be somewhere between 200-300%.
It’s an epidemic. And clients are just as much to blame as agencies. You simply can’t ask an agency to participate in a four-month review, where they’re tasked with not with just providing an opinion on a representative business problem, but solving every single issue facing the brand. If you choose to make participating agencies endure this experience at the expense of their paying clients, you should expect them to do the same for another brand less than a year down the road.
On the other hand, my Oberto clients know that while I may field calls from prospective clients, I am not going to spend time actively soliciting them, nor will I “pitch” their business. If you checked my time sheets, this simple act will effectively give me back about half of my man hours. Eliminate commuting, internal staffing issues, performance evaluations, company finance meetings, offsite retreats, email chains and “quick regroups,” and I’ve suddenly got more hours to dedicate to my client in a week than I previously had in a month.
Granted, on any given day, there’s still plenty of multi-tasking. Today I jumped from a website discussion, to brainstorming advertorial piece with Outside Magazine and Horizon Media to writing a radio spot for Pandora. All before noon. The difference, is that all these efforts were focused on a single brand, with one initiative actually helping to inform the thinking on the others. Especially since they all revolve in some way around the new tagline I wrote, “You get out what you put in.” Which means that everything I’m involved with is an opportunity to come up with ideas.
And it’s a funny thing, when you’re bringing your clients ideas rather than simply responding to their requests, they tend to be a lot more interested in what you have to say. Because now, you’re not just an ad guy who spends an alleged portion of his or her time overseeing the creative for their brand. Now, you’re a catalyst. You’re invested, hungry and active. And every brand could use someone like that as part of the marketing team.
Over the years, different companies have consciously or unconsciously placed a value on my involvement in their business. And that value has probably ranged from “Totally expendable” to “Absolutely essential.” Due the emphasis on creativity and longevity of our relationship, I believe ESPN and The State Of California Anti-Tobacco group would both say I was pretty integral to what they were doing. But in the 29 combined years I spent working with them, nobody ever paid me the compliment I received in my fourth month on the job with Oberto. I was walking the halls of their headquarters last week, when a guy who just joined the marketing team stopped me and said, “Nice to meet you. Our CMO says you’re the best hire in the history of the company.”
I could try to convince myself that this response was due to my years of experience or some God-given talent. But if I’m honest, I think it’s because I stopped being an agency CCO and started being someone who rejoices in the fact that, for better or worse, my future is tied to a single ad client. And I’ll be damned if it’s not going to be for better.