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Category Archives: Management

How wrestling prepared me for agency life

by Nextness published March 20, 2014 posted in Insights Management

Today’s guest post is by Adam Noakes at Switched on Media.

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.

 
 

What we’ve been reading | Friday 21st February


The Vice Guide to Engagement | Google Think Insights

House of Cards is built on Big Data | Salon

By analysing its subscribers’ preferences, Netflix can be sure its original content will find an audience. But is that a good thing ? | 15 min read

Machine Language | The Verge

How Siri found its voice | 15 min read

When hardware acts like software | Ideas Lab

Digital fabrication — the ability to instruct a machine to create a form defined on a computer — is blurring the line between software and hardware | 10 min read

Invisible money | Fjord

The transformation of money will affect commerce at every level | 5 min read

The death of expertise | The Federalist

Exploring the Google-fueled, Wikipedia-based, blog-sodden collapse of any division between professionals and laymen, students and teachers, knowers and wonderers | 15 min read

Why people trust online reviews for dinner but not doctors | Quartz

‘I’d give you five stars if your hands were warmer’ | 5 min read

Why I left advertising to become a software designer | Co.Design

There’s a war for design talent between technology and advertising companies. Marc Scibelli of Infor explains why he left the ad industry after 18 years to focus on the UX of business software | 10 min read

Haven’t made it yet? Don’t stress. Big breakthroughs come in your 30′s | The Atlantic

What the ages of Nobel Prize winners tell us about creativity  | 10 min read

How technology makes creative more intelligent | Google Think Insights

Google’s Creative Platforms Evangelist talks about how new tools and platforms can help marketers create “intelligent” ads that are engaging and meaningful to consumers in the moments that matter | 8 min read

How the internet uses nostalgia | The Atlantic

Long-lost memories pop up in music recommendations, personality quizzes, and ads. Why? | 10 min read

Brand building in a digital age | Martin Weigel

Old thinking for new times | 18 min read

When Yahoo Reigned Supreme | Priceonomics

In the 1990′s, Yahoo was a really big deal. What can we learn from that? | 15 min read

A mobile content marketing strategy just became essential | Forbes

What Google’s latest algorithm update means for your content strategy | 10 min read

From foodstamps to fortune| Forbes

How Jan Koum Built WhatsApp into Facebook’s new $19 billion baby | 10 min read

Getting to the bottom of the top end of town: 5 myths about engaging execs | Marketing Magazine

It’s easy to make assumptions when marketing to senior executives. They’re impossible to reach. They don’t read marketing. They’re humourless money-men, who just need the bare facts laid out in short, sharp, staccato fashion. Interestingly, the evidence suggests the opposite | 5 min read

Your story of experience | Smart Company

In today’s connected world, consumers can navigate their own way through a brand experience and buy anything and everything at the tap of a key | 5 min read

 
 

It’s not business. It’s personal.

by Nextness published November 27, 2013 posted in Management

The Dark Ages of corporate behaviour is over and Australians are demanding more from companies, according to the results of the first ever Australian Business Purpose Study 2013 (pdf). Today’s guest post is from Bec Madden at Shift.

Today the workplace plays a more meaningful role in people’s lives and so corporations are being called to account by Australians for their behaviour more than ever before.

In our study, how a company behaves is the third most important issue to Australians after their personal money and personal health. Eighty three per cent said it was very important for companies to look after their employees.

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The truth is, we spend more time at work than anywhere else and the physical environment is critical to our wellbeing. Company benefits, how it supports us, how it handles hardships are key influences in how we view them and how they attract and retain us.

Ninety five per cent of Australians believe a company has responsibilities far beyond making a profit. Social responsibility is fast becoming the new currency.

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With the Internet affording greater transparency there are less places for businesses to hide. People have an insider’s view into a company’s historical behaviour and commonly ask themselves how truthful they are. Ninety one per cent of Australians agree that it is this ability to be honest and human that will determine whether they’ll accept a position.

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At the end of the day, the results show that if business can’t serve people and tap into core human values, then people won’t serve them.

Read the full Australian Business Purpose Study 2013: pdf. Find out more by contacting Shift MD Iain Good. Follow Shift on Twitter at @the_shifters.

 
 

No need to wake up Jeff; values and leadership on a valley safari.

by Nextness published October 28, 2013 posted in Management


Today’s guest post is by Steve Harris, Managing Director of the Brand Agency.

On an African Safari people want to see the big five – elephant, rhino, buffalo, leopard and the apex predator, the lion.

On our Silicon Valley Safari we were sitting in the fertile plains of Linkedin when in wandered the Valley’s own big five apex, Linkedin CEO Jeff Weiner.

Our Teutonic guide had warned us that he might appear, and that if he did he typically responded best to ‘an interactive engagement’ of questions and answers rather than a one-way dialogue.

So as the charismatic and approachable CEO moved to the head of the room the group leaned forward with a tentative question on Linkedin’s values and culture.

Weiner didn’t disappoint, and demonstrated why he was at the top of the pyramid by distinguishing the difference between Values and Culture, and reminding everyone that to maintain your success as a leader in a business you have to spend a lot of time on ‘some very unsexy stuff, specifically people, process and infrastructure.’

He then offered to take the group through the core values behind Linkedin, and with pens and fingers tapping like camera shutters on a safari we listened.

Linkedin operates with six specific values.

  • Members First,
  • Relationships Matter,
  • Be open, honest and constructive
  • Demand excellence
  • Take intelligent risks
  • Act like an owner

Importantly these values are framed by a culture that encourages results, transformational behaviour, integrity, collaboration and humour.

The key, said Jeff, was to ensure that everything the company did was gated through these values, and most importantly, that people were hired against them.

Now on the surface you might think these fairly straightforward, but what made Jeff Weiner’s explanation different was the depth of engagement and delivery from the CEO throughout the entire organisation and product experience.

They were being lived, breathed and delivered, and staff could recite the mantra and give examples of it impacting the organisation and their behaviour. We didn’t need to see any posters or screen savers promoting the driving forces behind Linkedin, we could feel it in the buildings and the people we met, and it was encapsulated in the humble energy of its CEO.

The tour of the Valley was a little like looking through a window into the future of our industry, but the time with Jeff Weiner was a reminder that whilst technology and communication platforms change, leadership and culture always have, and always will, keep a company at the top of the food chain.

Steve Harris (@onecrowded) is the Managing Director of STW Group company The Brand Agency. He attended the STW Group Silicon Valley Study Tour in October 2013.

 
 

The fight for attention.

by Nextness published September 9, 2013 posted in Management

Today’s guest post is by Ryan Griffin, Digital Account Manager at Switched on Media.

Last week I finished a book called Permission Marketing by Seth Godin. Based around the idea of customers “opting in” to various marketing promotions such as newsletters and social media, I came to the conclusion that this wasn’t exclusive to just customers.

It sparked the thought of where else we fight for others to pay attention.

At work.


It’s common practice to assume your own priorities are the most important. It’s not your fault; you’ve been ingrained with it ever since your kindergarten teacher told you that you were special. Unfortunately, they were most likely wrong, and the project you’ve been working on for the past month isn’t quite as important as you expected. The resources you requested aren’t delivered and suddenly your world begins to cave in, like a small child realising that Santa didn’t receive his Christmas list. Breathe – you’ll be just fine.

With clients.


I always thought that I was the busiest person on earth and that because I worked for an advertising agency, I was inherently busier than my clients. I’d be frustrated when it took days to get a response to one email, but I never really looked at it from their prospective. Then I began dealing directly with a CMO and my 3-4 meetings per day suddenly seemed very insignificant. I forgot that I was just one person from a single agency. Most large companies deal with 5-10 agencies, each with their own specialty. It’s easy to get lost, even if you’re an expert tantrum thrower.

With consumers.

The first thing that comes to mind for me when it comes to successfully gaining consumer attention is the “opt-in” email or a Facebook “Like”. These wins allow you to reach a targeted consumer base that expresses strong purchasing intent. Unfortunately, these are typically consumers who are already familiar with your brand and just want to know when your next sale is on. This may or may not be me…

So how do I get someone’s attention?


Poking them with a stick may be effective but it’s for all the wrong reasons. You’re being ignored because you require too much effort. Don’t take it personally – it just means that in someone’s head there are greater priorities than yours, but it can be reversed. You just have to make it beneficial for them. So how do you do that?

Only provide solutions.

Everyone’s got problems. Your problems aren’t any more special than the next person’s; if they were, then they’d be listening to you. All you need to do is present a solution. If you go to your boss, client or consumers with an unresolved problem it just creates more work for them. Solve the problem and ask for approval.

Get to the point.


Long emails intimidate people; they get skipped over quickly and despite the strongest intentions of being looked over later, they never do. There’s nothing wrong with being direct – you’ll get an immediate answer and you can stop wasting your time on fruitless adventures. Put things in dot-points and ask for a decision.

Pick up the phone.

If you’ve got a problem that’s getting ignored, another email won’t solve it (even if you flag it with the little red exclamation mark). Despite the advances in technology over the past few years, you will still hear people say “Oh, it didn’t come through”. You know that they’re probably lying…but you’re not in a position to call them on it. Phone them until they answer, if nothing else, they’ll at least promise to get back to you.

Ask for help.

You’d be amazed at the response you receive when you reach out to someone else for support. Provided their job hasn’t yet sucked the life out of them, you’ll usually find someone very supportive who’ll help you achieve your goal. If they can teach you correctly today, they don’t have to worry about you tomorrow.


These are by no means an exact science, but they’ve definitely worked for me. If only vaguely, they revolve around making the life of other’s easier. I’m sure there are people you always reply to quicker than others, and it’s probably because you don’t have to do any serious thinking when you reply. And don’t we all want to think less?

How do you get someone’s attention and keep yourself top of mind?

Ryan Griffin is a Digital Account Manager at Switched on Media. Follow him on Twitter at @nutsocial.

 

 
 

Uncertainty.

by Nextness published February 4, 2013 posted in Management


We’d all prefer to play life like a game of chess, plotting each move on a grid we oversee, governed by known rules.

But what happens when someone flips the board and all the pieces fly up in the air.

Chaos, tumult, worry and fear.

It’s Julia Gillard’s prerogative as Prime Minister to set the date for the next election, and most PMs like springing it on the Opposition to their own advantage.

But last week, Julia Gillard tried to return “certainty” to political life by setting the date for the 2013 election months before she needed to:

Not everything about the tenor and temperature of debate this year is in my control. But I can act to clear away the carry-on that comes with speculation about when the election will be held… I can act so Australia’s Parliament and Government serves their full three-year term and it is clear and certain when the election will be held.

The next few days saw a reshuffle as two senior members of the Government resigned. A “body blow.”

And yesterday we saw one of the worst polls Labor’s faced.

It seems like uncertainty in the only certainty in life. And it’s everywhere we look.

Founder of political consultancy Crosby | Textor, Mark Textor (@markatextor) (who helped Prime Minister John Howard win his many election victories) explored the precious quality of certainty in political life in an article he wrote for the SMH in 2011.

In Chaos Theory and its Application in Political Science, Joan Pere Plaza from the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona and Dandoy Ré´gis from the University of Louvain, Belgium, explain the growing use of chaos theory and complexity science and how its use “can be explained by human psychology and by perception[s]“.

They note how voters’ greater awareness of the chaos and division in modern politics “via the news media” – and I’d contend social media – frustrates their driving desire to feel secure and “creates a more intense focus on order as a prime value” . “In other words”, they noted, “the public becomes more sensitive to the disorder”.

They found “our fear of disorder therefore makes it inevitable that we will either find or create an endless supply of it”.

So did Julia Gillard do the right thing trying to wrest control of the agenda?

Not according to Textor, who believes “the only certainty Prime Minister Julia Gillard has provided is a continuation of instability for the rest of us until polling day.”

But we’d make a case for yes.

First, she took a decision. Being decisive is a good quality in a leader. Firm leadership and a steady hand is a key buffer against uncertainty.

Second, it showed confidence. She gave up an asset she had in her back pocket (the ability to call an election at a moment’s notice) and said she didn’t need it. Tony Abbott is back on form now but the morning after her announcement he was shaky on the morning shows. “If she can give this up, what other strengths does she have I don’t know about?” He was rattled.

And third, she did the only thing a leader can do in the face of uncertainty. Take action.

Uncertainty is no excuse.

As Roger Martin wrote for the Harvard Business Review blog, poor leaders use uncertainty as an excuse to keep on doing business as usual.

Life is and always has been uncertain. If we live in an uncertain, fast-moving, turbulent world today, why would it be any different a week, a month or a year from now? If the world is too uncertain to choose today, what is it about the future than will make things more certain? At some point, do we simply declare the world to be certain enough to make strategy choices? How will we know it is the day? What criteria will we use to decide the requisite level of certainty has been reached? Or will we simply put off choosing forever, because certainty is utterly unachievable at any stage?

By boldly aiming towards September 14, Gillard’s recognised uncertainty is everywhere.

The key is to have the strategy and vision to act anyway.

Well, that’s the theory. And we have over 200 days (ugh) to see how it goes.

You might also like Leadership without easy answers in a time of spiralling complexity.

 
 

The 10 commandments of successful Client-Creative relationships.

by Nextness published August 27, 2012 posted in Management


At Nextness, we very much dislike posts that treat creatives like clueless crazy children and clients like clueless stick-in-the-muds. But we love this guest post by OgilvyOne Sydney creative and Nextness Prize finalist Simon Bloomfield (@dekkard42). A perfect roadmap to getting the most out of a client-creative relationship – and producing great work.

1. Thou shalt engage early and often.

It’s a great idea to get the creative team into the room to discuss big campaigns as early in the process as possible; preferably before media/channels have been decided upon.

2. Time is the enemy of all great ideas.

Too much, not enough; when it comes down to it, it’s about finding the right balance. And knowing just what that is often comes from starting the conversation as early as possible (refer Commandment 1).

3. Thou shalt tell us what’s wrong, not how to fix it.

If I had a dollar for every debrief full of tracked changes that didn’t actually explain why the changes were being made, I’d have quite a few dollars. The problem with this is if we don’t know the reason behind a change, it’s very difficult for us to avoid making a similar mistake again. And there’s always more than one way to write a bullet point, so by telling us the issue, rather than your quick solution, we can often find a middle ground that keeps everyone happy.

4. Thou shalt not insist on thy product name in the proposition.

Again, if I had a dollar … We know what the brief’s about – we’re not going to miss it. That handful of additional words would be better served delivering a unique insight (refer Commandment 5).

5. Insight shalt be provided in abundance.

You know your product better than anyone; your creatives need to know it as well as you; then add a layer of consumer objectivity on top. So give us as much insight as you can – shopper; brand; product; category; communications; technology etc. There’s a reason why David Ogilvy was a big fan of the factory tour – it’s where real insights are often found. And speaking of Ogilvy, the next commandment is one of his…

6. Frightened people art powerless to produce good advertising.

Confining client/creative relationships to the creative presentation ensures that you won’t get the best work possible. A lot of creatives can be quite timid individuals, and they’re often a little bit scared of clients. I always remind young creatives that clients are people too. Seriously. And the best way to break this fear down is by encouraging opportunities for clients and creatives to mix in other situations, eg, OgilvyOne SWAP meetings see our clients spend a day moving through different aspects of the creative and production process, with different teams.

7. An element of respectful friction shalt be encouraged.

You need to think outside of your comfort zone in order to deliver work that cuts through, so the end result of successfully negotiating Commandment 6 is that creatives should feel confident enough to speak their mind to you. And you should be trusting enough to listen.

8. Thou shalt give thine agency a focused brief, not a lofty ambition.

Another Ogilvyism was “Give me the freedom of a tight brief,” and it’s true, nothing focuses the mind more, and yet still encourages room to play, than a brief that provides a clear picture of the problem to be solved. Too often half of the creative team’s time working on a brief is lost to trying to work out what the real problem is.

9. Always ask thyself this question before making a decision.

“How would you feel if you woke up tomorrow and your biggest competitor was running this work?” This question came from Steve Henry, founder/CD of Howell Henry Chaldecott Lury in the UK. For me it’s a reminder that the work we create for our clients is designed to elicit a reaction, so the work we present to you must do the same. So if you’re just a little bit afraid, that’s probably a good thing.

10. Thou shalt celebrate successes jointly.

Great results, big awards, we’re all in it together, and nothing could have been achieved without the other party. Whether you like them or not, awards keep creatives inspired, excited and motivated, and seeing you get excited by them makes them want to keep giving you their all.

Simon Bloomfield (@dekkard42) is Creative Group Head American Express at OgilvyOne Sydney. His last piece for Nextness was The future of 1dent!ty.