In business, especially in our business, things die. Or, in less dramatic terms, clients come and go. And honestly, it can be a bummer. Just when you thought things were going great there is a management change and you’re out. Nothing you can do it about. No hard feelings, just business.
The death of a client really used to bother me, especially because you put so much into what you do for them and there is a part of you that believes they will be there forever. But they won’t. No one lasts that long. So my new feeling is when a client passes, go higher. Instead of getting upset and circling the wagons, get BIGGER. Because if you don’t you will just keep shrinking.
Our business isn’t a numbers game, and I know quite a few agencies that operate that way. We aim to be a strategic partner to our clients, even if they only choose to use us in a more administrative capacity. But even though we don’t play by the numbers, we always need to expand, because that is just the way it works in our industry. So, if you’re feeling like things are getting smaller rather than getting bigger, remember that for something to grow it often has to die first.
In a people business you have to be for the people. I’ve spoken about this before, but I don’t think you can say it enough. It’s a hard balance to achieve. Clients are the basis of our business, so it goes without saying that we have to focus on them and their needs. But you can’t forget your own people.
With everyone under the gun these days it’s easy to lose sight of how a client’s fears around their business can spill over into their own accountability zone. I’m not saying there is a lot of finger pointing happening, but when a client is getting pressure they tend to pass that pressure on, it’s a normal human response. It’s also a normal human response for the owner of a company to pass that pressure down.
I say do your best to stop the madness. When things start to spiral, and they can, take a step back, look at historical data and make your decisions. I know this is something I have to do since I can tend to get myself into a lather. I think it’s critical to keep your own people accountable since that’s what’s happening with your clients, but it’s also important to remember to temper fear. Your long-term strategy is to grow good people, not just to keep your clients happy.
My grandfather was the patriarch of my family. He died yesterday at the age of 99, just a day after his birthday. He was blessed to have been in good health up to the end. At that age the body just gives out, which is what happened to him. He just slowly wound down until he didn’t have anything more to give.
I loved my grandfather. He was a stoic man. He shared little of what he was thinking, but you knew you could always rely on him when you needed him. Growing up I had wished he was a little more warm and fuzzy—all kids want that kindly grandfather type. But what I didn’t get in the way of warmth I got in the way of security. And I never doubted that he loved us, it just took some growing up to realize his style of love was different from what you saw in the movies.
Speaking of movies, I love old Hollywood films. I’m actually pretty obsessed with the past 100 years of pop culture. My grandfather had incredible stories from growing up in New York City in the ‘30s. He would frequent bars I knew in the West Village, or spend summer afternoons on the Island. He was a scratch golfer and caddied at the ripe age of 8 (in 1918) at one of the oldest golf courses in the country (Knollwood in Westchester). As an avid golfer I was thrilled when he gave me some gutta-percha balls he had found on the course way back when. It was exciting to hear his stories because it brought all my backward musings to life, gave them real life context.
After New York, the family moved to Miami in the forties and they would spend summers in New Hampshire where he caddied at a resort. It sounded like a storybook to me, a great old film. Up until the time he entered the nursing home my grandfather maintained our family homestead in North Miami—a little bungalow where he raised his four children. Over the years the house remained the same, as did the modest neighborhood—a rarity in the land of over development. When I’d go to see him it felt just the way it did when I was a kid visiting from North Carolina—a little subtropical haven with fruit trees and spiky grass, lizards and parrots roosting in the eaves.
I’m going to miss my grandfather, but I am so thankful that he died well (just like my grandmother). He may not have led a glamorous life, but he enjoyed the life he had been granted. And it was a good one, a solid, simple good life. Bye-bye, Poppy, see you later!
I write a lot about how to run a business. I also write a lot about how to handle your people. I have learned over time that it is a lot harder to practice what you preach than you think. And I’ll tell you why. We live in a crazy, dynamic world. I think you have to be a saint to always keep your head and not lose it. Well, anyone who knows me knows I’m NOT a saint. And I don’t try to be one, because that’s crazy talk. But I do advocate for trying to remember what is important to you, what your values are. And if things don’t go the way you hope or expect, try to keep your head straight so you can handle your disappointment gracefully.
So, what do I think is a key factor in making this happen for you? BREATHE. Yep, breathing is something we don’t do often enough. We take breathing for granted, of course we do. But of all the things that can help you make better decisions, not lose your cool and generally live a more relaxed life, it would be breathing. Just try it. Instead of yelling (oops, do I do that?) BREATHE. Yep, that’s better. Guess it’s time to practice what I preach, LOL!
In business there is SO much posturing. Everyone is worried about not appearing smart, or buttoned up enough or “on the proverbial ball.” Honestly, it’s just silly. NO ONE, I don’t care WHO you are, can be that “on it” all the time.
My motto for the end of 2009 (and it’s been an interesting year, hasn’t it?) is: TRY to lighten up a bit and keep it real. We basically do this anyway, but I think it’s going to be more important in 2010. Now, this does not mean fall down on the job, get sloppy and throw caution to the wind. But if you read my blog from yesterday, I think it’s a good time to BREATHE, assess reality (as you know it) and keep it real.
Example: I got a deck yesterday from an associate that was a bit “over thought.” Totally understandable, she is doing Herculean things and is in a perfectionist mode. I get it. But I had just heard that my grandfather had passed away and I now had to leave town in the middle of fashion week. So, instead of getting bummed about an edit job that I wasn’t prepared to do, I took a deep breath, remembered what it was like to be sitting in her seat, thanked God for her commitment to my business and got down to it. We kept it real and we now have an amazing deck. I sure do hope I can do that more often. Just keeping it real!
Brainstorm, data dump - great terms for coming up with fresh, new ideas? Hmmm... Not so sure. But what do I know about a term? Well, what I do know is that if it's a good brainstorm it can yield amazing results. Here are some of the ways we do it at Brand Building, and even if we don't always do it this way, it's the way we WANT to do it...
- No idea is a bad idea (sounds good in theory, not always true, but don't let the person putting it out there know).
- Back into an idea - we like to think as big as we can no matter how crazy and then back in, if necessary.
- Bring in multiple layers of the team. Sometimes the coordinator has the best idea, but you would never know it if they are left out of the discussion.
- Forget the tactics, a brainstorm is about the BIG picture (tactics will take care of themselves).
- Take notes by hand, the process keeps it real.
Just some thoughts for that next "storm." Have at it!!
I'm launching a new business that was birthed out of my agency experience. The business is web-based and will offer people a place to share ideas and receive gifts, etc., for their participation and time. We developed it because we saw an opportunity and more than that felt connected to this concept (details to come!). But here's the thing: what the heck to name this new platform?
Just how important is a name? Brand Building was named by my ex-partner/owner (originally we were a division of Toth Brand Imaging). He felt strongly that our name should "say" something. I wasn't too keen on the name, but since he was the boss, I went with it, and I'm glad I did. The name really works for us and has given us a powerful way to express who we are and what we do.
When we played around with the name for this new venture, some "interesting" ideas came to light such as “cake”, “up and loop” (which is pool spelled backwards, and I don't want to tell the crazy ideas we had around that iteration). Usually, names take FOREVER to find. So, you can imagine how thrilled we were when our own brilliant Laura Thomas came up with "24/Savvy." Watch out guys, if you want great ideas for living your life (and great products to help you do it for free!), then we're your destination.
We've all heard it, a man can yell in business and be perceived as strong but if a woman raises her voice she's just a bitch. If you haven't heard that I'm surprised. I've worked for a TON of screamers in my day, some of them legendary, all of them women. I, myself, have been known to raise the 'ol timbers. And I can admit, it's NEVER a good thing and really never gets you anywhere. Stress can make you lose it or fear, which is linked to stress, and I suffer from both on occasion (who running their own business doesn't?).
So, when I saw Serena Williams called out on her behavior at the US Open, I was surprised. Not so much for HER outburst but for the short memory of the judges and pundits (whom I'm sure have NEVER raised their voice in consternation over what they felt was an unfair situation). Hmmm, let's see, wasn't there a loud mouthed tennis pro several years ago that ranted and raved on the court? Hmmm, isn't he making a good living spoofing his bad 'ol self on a National Car Rental commercial? I think so, but maybe I'm wrong (not). Don't worry Serena, we'll forget this incident as we always do and then you can have a laugh about it on Letterman. Not sure if there is a double standard here (maybe not), but if there are two things I do know it's this: screaming is not good for your image and we (the collective we) tend to have short memories - not always, but most of the time. And that's good for those of us who mess up on a regular basis (me). And for those of us who only make a mess of things once in a while. Phew!
Our agency reps jewelry and fashion brands that year on year vie for red carpet exposure. And year on year we show up, thanks to the tireless efforts of our team. It's always a bit of a struggle as you wrangle temperamental stylists (they are artists after all) and compete against the BIG brands with BIG budgets who PAY for their spot on the carpet. It's all a white knuckle experience as the E! pre-show airs and the team scans the celebs, especially the ones they've been negotiating with. Will they or won't they???
We've been doing this for years, and the anticipation and general freak out never gets that much better. But a little better, with a long line of success in your wake (January Jones, Jessica Lange, Olivia Wilde, Natalie Portman) does make it a less painful experience. So, as we move past Emmy and toward Oscar (not to mention our golden friend) I started wondering, will Emmy ever catch up to Oscar in terms of desire and panache? What separates them? TV vs. Film. Is film really that much more glamorous? Maybe. But maybe it's also the crush of award shows and all the build up that makes Oscar so exciting.
Oscar has been getting a bit tarnished these last few years, mainly in the ratings game. They've tried to spice up the proceedings, and last year was a great new step forward, but not sure if things will continue to slip. I sure hope not, that red carpet has spelled gold for several of our clients. But back to Emmy vs. Oscar. Here's what I think: Emmy has been gaining over the years and I think our golden boy may need to watch his back. It will be interesting to see how things shape up. I'm watching. Are you?