Believe me when I say, it takes a lot for a room full of Marketing Academy scholars to be rendered speechless. And (she won’t mind me saying), that is a room that includes our illustrious founder, Sherilyn Shackell. Yet this is how we found ourselves on Wednesday afternoon this week, post a superb lunch and learn with the charismatic Robert Senior – UK CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi/Fallon Group.
In true leadership form, Robert passed down to his captive disciples ten pieces of invaluable advice (kind of like our new Marketing Commandments). Unlike their predecessors, these are not quite carved in stone (any plan must remain flexible, as I’ll come on to…), but a solid base on which to step forth and conquer the marketing world. Well, that’s the plan anyway.
1) Who are you (and what is your point)?
“Most people are pointless”. Think about that for longer than a second, and it’s not quite as dismissively trite as it first sounds. How many of us really spend time considering our own impact, our own contribution to the wider picture? Probably a minority. And to really find out who you are, think about your extremes: what makes you cry? When are you at your worst? When do you excel?
2) Judo, not Boxing
Life is not a boxing match. Don’t expend all your efforts try to fend off your competition with tactical brute force. Use your opponent to your own advantage. Be open to the forces around you, be aware of your internal flow and go with it.
3) “Plans are useless, Planning is everything” [General Dwight D. Eisenhower]
The old adage, fail to plan, plan to fail does still hold true, but the nature of plans is crucial. They must not be carved in stone. How many times have our managers/clients held up a marketing strategy or PR plan document, 6 months down the line, and said with rising panic, ‘but this wasn’t in the plan!’? Change is all around us. To survive, we must adapt.
Think short-term and build from there. Start with a 100 day plan. Move to a 100 month plan. Be bold – go for a 100 year plan: what will be your legacy? At every stage just be prepared to make essential changes. In each one – keep it simple; make 10 astute points, but ensure each one starts with an active verb (‘Secure the coverage…’, ‘Win the business…’, ‘Close the deal…’).
4) Define your own ‘top’
A wonderful anecdote. Nelson Mandella, one of (if not the most) inspirational leader of modern times, was asked during his 90th birthday celebrations, ‘what will you do next?’. Expecting talk of a steady retirement from the turbulent stage of international politics, the assembled throng listened in awe as he paused, looked the questioner straight in the eye and responded, simply: “I am going to climb a higher mountain”.
Having a destination is a valuable motivating force. But make it your own. And, like every plan, be prepared to change the goal-posts as you achieve your ambition.
Listen – Think – Decide. It really can be that simple. Take counsel from your lieutenants, walk away from the crowd to ruminate and make a solitary decision, and then return to make a decisive judgement with full courage of conviction (even if secretly you’re really unsure). If you’re wrong, find a solution and make the decision quickly. Don’t waver and don’t blame others for the error.
Interestingly, Robert noted at this juncture that the solitary thinking part is most frequently what is being missed. With the world we live in, surrounded by a multitude of simultaneous communication channels, and the constant buzz of social media, private consideration can be difficult to both see the benefit of and find the time for. But we must. (More on similar principles can be read in Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows)
6) Being Respected is more important than being liked
A concept I have heard time and time again on my Marketing Academy journey, and one that I increasingly believe in from experience. Especially for those of us agency side, the service industry (as Robert aptly put) could readily be called the servile industry, but it is crucial not to let this be the dominant force. Don’t be a yes-man, or an over-effusive girlfriend. Stand up to principles, fight your corner – don’t make enemies, but if you gain respect, chances are the like will follow. And in the professional world, as in any other, the best is both.
7) Do the right thing: maintain your moral compass
Something easily forgotten in the commercial business world. Is your brand making the wrong ethical move? Is your team skirting round fundamental brand principles to achieve short-term objectives? Do you have a client whose attitude is making a project unreasonably hard for the team to deliver? Act on it. What will ensure a stronger legacy? Think long-term and be true to yourself.
Described to us as a ‘virus’, Robert was clear that an over-indulgence and obsession with incremental growth can hinder the bigger picture. Of course the bottom line is important and demonstrating an ROI is generally crucial to the continuation of any project (not least the contract renewal for an agency), but don’t get lost in it. Is that extra 0.5% really the bottom line of the campaign? Do you really want to focus on selling more product in the short-term, at the expense of long-term brand loyalty and engagement?
9) Make a difference
When asked what he hoped is own legacy would be, Robert was brief but poignant: ‘Make a difference’. Vague and open-ended this principle may be, but it allows for a great deal of personal contemplation and interpretation. Be it to your team, to your company, to your industry, to your client’s bottom line – aim to make a difference in everything you do. If successful, that is what you will be remembered for.
10) I think therefore I CAN
A fun turn on the René Descartes philosophy, Robert’s existentialist side takes a more pragmatic view of the world. Use your mind, but take action. Have impact. Adidas‘s famous phrase of ‘Impossible is nothing’, is the inverted version of the inscription that adorns the Saatchi stone steps at the front of the building: ‘Nothing is impossible’. Use that and believe it.
At the start of the session, Robert astutely observed that we are all in the midst of “exciting times”. Why? Because we are in the middle of a period of unfathomable change. From a brief introduction to each of us around the room, Robert deduced that we were all viewing this change in a significantly positive light. On a more micro level, each of us is undergoing some sort of change at work, be it new clients, mergers, company growth or promotions and each of us is greeting these changes with optimistic open arms – not shying away in terror as, according to Robert, the majority of the population is want to do. It is only human to fear change. It takes something considerably more to greet it head on.