April 13, 2010
 

End Cubicle-Factory Creativity in 2009

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By Paul McEnany

It's getting late in the year. 2009 is almost upon us and you know what that means. Once the Times Square ball drops, your best talent may be looking towards the door.

Do you run an agency? Pull up a chair. You better sit down. Here are a few things that everyone at your shop would like to tell you, but won't. Why? Because they're afraid that if they do, they'll get fired. What they don't realize about you (that I do) is that you're really smart. I know that. You know that. Now let's make sure they know that.

Consider these few suggestions as you wrap up the year and plan for a great 2009:

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1. Pick a fight...with Yourself and the CFO.
Nothing unifies a team like a rallying cry, the loud hoot and holler of an "us versus them" mentality. Make your team feel like an "us" versus you as "the them". This means spreading the wealth. People can imagine how much you are making. They can hear it too when you tell them about your last minute excursion to Paris for the weekend. Pay people more. It's amazing what a little more scratch can do. You'll get more results. Talent is getting more expensive. Realize that now before you lose your "A" team and then be in the position of having to pay even more to attract another one from outside.

But it's still not that easy. For us in advertising, there may be some idea, some foothold that may be restraining your ability to change a deeply entrenched way of thinking. Make that behavior your enemy. Let your team know that you are doing so. Boldly destroy whatever dogma holds you down. Of course, if this is your objective, pick an idea worth battling.

A team only fights for a leader who tells the truth. Doing so with you team shows them you respect them. That will make a huge difference.

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2. Move from task-oriented to responsibility-driven.
Punch the clock. File reports. Write a semi-creative brief. Make a spreadsheet. And on, and on... Change the way you may have been looking at them, as machines, This has the added aspect of making them feel that you no longer commoditize them and their jobs. You don't like it. Neither do they.

What is the responsibility that comes with the goal? Allow them to accomplish it, however they see fit. Processes are great, and sometimes they save a little time, and maybe even a little money, but if you over-process, if you continue to remove the chance of screwing up, you may actually end up doing so. Chill out a little. You may be blown away when you see the work you get back. And that's the first thing you should be hoping for, some surprise from innovation. What a concept!

Fundamentally, our business is to sell ideas, and if you've over-processed your office this year into some robotic machine you can also revert it back to the idea factory it was supposed to be.

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3. Give them time to think.
If you've bred middle managers to hover over team members, making sure they're not surfing the net, engaging in office chatter, or even sitting back in their chair for a good stare at the ceiling, you may actually be robbing your team of the intuition and inspiration that motivates them. Be counter-intuitive to what the bean-counters say. What do they know about creativity anyway?

Google, the grandmaster of innovation, will allow your team members to get more work done in one fifth of the time. That translates into one day a week to work on projects of their own choosing. Become dedicated to improvement, to innovation, and even more, to inspiration. Did you do that this year? Is your plan to do it next?

The larger issue is the question of whether or not your team is intellectually exhausted. If you hired them because of their talent, have you sucked it out of them or have you made a platform to have it shine even more? Have a little faith in yourself and in them that you made the right choice. Watch them as they breed good ideas next year instead of you "telling" them to do so. If you're so good a manager, set it up so that you're constantly impressed and surprised by your team's brilliance. Anything else in this hyper-competitive environment is the last thing you can afford.

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4. Create a bigger goal/Surprise them!
Remind them that their jobs are actually about something even greater than money; that they're about your team's, your client's and your client's customer's lives, everyday. And get this, make everyone believes it! Make sure every employee feels the love. Prop them up in some tangible way. You're smart, right?

Would you ever try to dup them with some fake blog? Would you ever send out another spam email, or stuff another mailbox full of trash without asking? Humor works. If you do, make sure they know it's a joke. If you want to be surprised, surprise them!

Think about charities. Find a cause. Do some things that you've never done before, Offer something unexpected. Next year, refine your mission and constantly push your people to think past the numbers. The money will flow freely when your goals are pure. Let them know you believe that as much as you say it.

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5. Make innovation a job requirement
What system do you have in place to reward innovation? There are plenty of systems to make sure your people are getting the job finished, but if you want to grow your shop, you can't be singularly concerned to only do the things you've done well before. Constantly push yourself to do better, to find new ways to reach consumers. Trust me, there are more now than ever before. Make it easy for ideas to be shared, and the good ones to rise to the top.

Now, after you've rewarded these great ideas, implement them. Having the guts to actually follow-through will inspire your team members to keep creating, to follow your lead to keep reaching for those higher goals.

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6. Make everyone just a little uncomfortable

There's something to be said for job security, but there's even more for chutzpah. Putting the attention on both good team members and bad team members exacts the best results. The talented ones flourish while the losers leave. Comfortable team members sometimes slow their motor, stop innovating, stop reaching and driving. You see it. Don't stand for it. You want them to be hungry, tenacious, crawling and scratching towards the goal. Don't be afraid to make changes. Yes they can be unpopular, except if the changes are the ones that get the talented folks more excited. The heck with everyone else.

Now, that's not to say you should fire at will, just to prove a point or to scare the others. We're not talking about fear-mongering. It's really just a function of your ability to see and reward talent. Only enlist people that make you just a little scared yourself so they'll be better at your job than you are, and require the same all the way down the line.

We call this good fear. It can lead to greatness which ultimately becomes exponential. David Ogilvy once said, "If each of us hires people who are smaller than we are, we shall become a company of dwarfs. But if each of us hires people who are bigger than we are, we shall become a company of giants."

Agencies are finally getting it in this new era. Your competition is much attune to these issues and will be more next year. Both agencies and advertisers have been a little slow in the last cycle to keep up with consumer interests and new lifestyles of collecting and sharing information. Advertising is not a prerequisite. Offer more. Starbucks didn't become Starbucks on the back of Ogilvy or Bernbach, and Apple didn't change the course of pop-culture by taking the advice of Bogusky or Burnett.

The only way to remain relevant in a world increasingly distrusting of us will be to constantly inspire, to constantly innovate, and to never stop trying to change the world. It may seem a little grandiose, but small men and small ideas aren't what consumers crave. They want to experience inspiration in ways they never have before. "Be" the solution.

Wake up. It's all about you; your ability to lead. Begin now. Act as if it's a new year today, before it's New Years Day.

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About the author:

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Paul McEnany is a populist marketer, developing strategies and conscientious marketing programs that build lasting relationships with consumers. He's an expert in participatory media, with experience in traditional marketing and account planning.

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He is currently Director of Content at Dallas, TX-based Levenson & Hill, and has experience in online creative strategy, copywriting, online media strategy, planning and buying, search planning and buying, email marketing strategy and implementation, and social media strategy. At L&H, Paul has been able to delve into the core of what good strategy is, how to bring it to life, and ultimately how to sell it. McEnany has worked with companies such as Aaron Brothers, Greatwide Logistics Services, Gordon's Jewelers and Church's Chicken to design cutting-edge interactive programs.

Paul is author of HeeHawMarketing.com, one of the top 25 marketing blogs in the world, according to Technorati. It is also considered one of AdAge Digital's Top 150 marketing blogs on the globe. Mr. McEnany also contributes to BeyondMadisonAvenue.com and the MadAve Journal.

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A graduate of the University of North Texas in 2005 with a degree in Journalism with a concentration in Advertising, Paul interned (or shadowed as he refers to it) for the Richards Group and Tracy Locke before joining L&H full-time. He can be reached at paul.mcenany@gmail.com.

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