Category Archives: Insights
First up I need to say that I’ve never wrestled professionally – although many an old mattress was laid on the garden floor, and used as a WrestleMania ring mat.
A good few years before football, music, video games and movies would enamor a teenaged me – my interest and passion was for the entertainment sport of Wrestling. In fact, I watched my first WCW Main Event aged 7.
It’s only when you look back on experiences, to use a phrase from Steve Jobs, that you can really connect the dots.
I have come to realise that the lessons I learnt from the men and women of the WCW and WWF wrestling companies prepared me for agency life and the role of a leader.
You have to be both the hero and the villain
The very best wrestlers, and those not so good, would flip-flop between hero and villain status. This well-known trick to keep characters and storylines fresh is one that should resonate with leaders within marketing agencies. Even the greatest of wrestling legends have to play the bad guy: Hulk Hogan famously went ‘bad’ during his WCW days to become Hollywood Hulk Hogan, as part of the N.W.O (New World Order) group.
Embracing the fact that you can’t be popular all the time is a key truth of agency life. Sometimes you’ll have to make decisions, communicate change, or implement processes that will turn you from hero to villain in an instant. Remembering you will hear the cheer of the gathering crowd once again will keep you sane during these times.
A little showmanship goes a long way
The best wrestlers are true entertainers, some with elaborate face paint and pyrotechnics as part of their show; others able to turn a simple elbow drop into a dance and spectacle worthy of the Royal Dance Company.
In agency life, colleagues look for inspiration and motivation the same way as a wrestler trying to get up from a missed top-rope body splash. Clients crave theatre and entertainment in pitches, much like the crowd counting along with the wrestler laying a 10-punch combo on a forlorn opponent. Think about your agency – I bet there are plenty of examples of showmanship on display. And I bet it would be a dull place without it.
You can’t be the champion forever
Ric Flair is a 24 time champion, spanning various divisions and companies. His shortest title reign was a matter of hours. Whilst that example is extreme, it sets a valuable lesson in your expectation of success working in agencies.
Clients, much like title belts, come and go. You might have won your last title fight as the incumbent agency but what if the new Marketing Director is a fan of your title rival? For no good reason you can be stripped of the gold around your waste before the next main event.
Internally, you can’t hold the employee of the month title forever. Your colleagues all train as hard as you, so it’s only right they get their hands on the prize too.
One day you win a pitch and feel like a champ. The next day your finance director rejects a budget increase that you’ve been wrangling for months. You can’t be the champion forever.
Changing character is necessary
Mick Foley is a veteran wrestler who has played many characters over his 30-year career. To stay relevant and fresh, Mick has invented novel situations and storylines for his character over the years.
Watching Foley reinvent himself so frequently was a little baffling to me as a teenager. Looking back now I see that the chameleon act I saw in the wrestling world is replicated in my working life now.
Agencies change proposition to ride current trends and expectations – a few years ago it was all about Social Media, in recent years it has been Big Data.
People also change and pivot with the times: graphic designers turned into UX experts, PR execs transformed into social media specialists and account service suits became digital strategists.
Like wrestling, trying on a different mask helps to ensure you remain fresh, relevant and importantly: stay ahead of the roaring crowd’s expectations.
Overall, entertainment is key
If I had to choose one key thing I learnt from watching wrestling as a kid that has carried over to my professional life, it’s this: entertainment is key.
People pay hundreds of dollars to be cramped in with thousands of other wrestling fans, in awe of the showmanship, pyrotechnics, grand entrances and highflying top rope moves.
Like wrestling, our clients expect a certain level of entertainment from the agency/client relationship. Chances are, the monthly meeting with ‘the agency’ is one of the best things in the diary that week. Turning up with good results is one thing but making the meeting fun; making the client feel special and leaving them with a sense of awe should be the ultimate aim from all meetings. This doesn’t always happen. Again, just like wrestling – a few bad shows and the people will stop paying to see you. It’s really as simple as that.
My favourite wrestler growing up was a guy called Steve Borden, better known as Sting. 6ft 2inches tall, 250lb – his wrestling debut was the year of my birth. He has held a total of 21 titles over the years. He has re-invented himself several times, playing the hero and villain when required and he always entertained the crowd; entrances from the arena rafters, to taking on entire groups single handedly.
I guess if he wasn’t wrestling, he could very well be leading a marketing agency.