July 29, 2013 | Permalink
Several years ago I was interviewing at what was then one of the top creative agencies in the world. A few weeks prior to going out for my full day of interviews, I had met with the head of the department for coffee while on a long weekend getaway. He and I had a great conversation and he was excited to have me talk to some of his team about an opening they were looking to fill.
My day of interviews went fairly well, sans one. Throughout this interview, I was grilled about my past experience, which at the time, was largely in account service roles. I did my best to answer the questions thrown at me, but it was clear to me that my answers were not hitting the mark. As luck would have it, I found out at the end of the day that this rough interview happened to be the hiring manager for the opening.
A week later I received a call from the HR person at the agency and was given a generic dismissal. Something like, "Everyone liked you, but you're not the right fit for the account." I tried to get better feedback, but he wasn't willing to say much else. Despite this, I stayed in touch with the department head and a couple years later, he resigned to do something different.
At that point, he shared with me what really happened. While he loved that I came from a different background than anyone else in his department, the group planning director didn't like that I wasn't "pedigreed" in account planning. I wasn't hired because I hadn't been properly trained at a big name planning agency or two, as she had been.
This experience came up the other day in a conversation regarding my post on how to become a master planner. While I advise young planners to get training from a strong mechanical planner so that they learn the core skills, I don't believe it's the only way to become a master planner. I just believe it's the easiest way to get there. If you don't have this "training" listed out on your resumé, it's still really hard to convice a lot of senior planners that you can do the job. I think this is crap, but that's the way it is with some people and/or at some places.
Personally, I can see how this was valuable in the past. With an unchanging media landscape, past success was a pretty safe predictor of future success. If you were a planner at a great planning agency or on a highly awarded campaign, then odds were in your favor that you'd be able to be successful in the future.
Today though, the media landscape is anything but unchanging. It changes almost daily. Success in the past is no guarantee of success in the future. Just because one set of tools or structures worked yesterday to develop a strategy doesn't mean it will work tomorrow.
Rather than relying on a past pedigree or past success, I look for someone who demonstrates strong creative problem solving skills. I don't care as much about what tools they used as I do about how they thought through the problem and how their thinking guided them to solve it. Even better for me is if they made up their own tools to solve the problem.
The problem with the past is that it's just that—the past. What I want to do for the clients I work with doesn't mirror the past. It learns from it and finds opportunities to improve or evolve. This is why when I look to bring on a strategist or planner to my team, past experience and a treasure chest of tools for developing the advertising of yesterday doesn't hold as much weight for me as someone who is passionate about creatively solving problems and shows me that they have natural talent for doing just that.
Ultimately, I want to work with people who are excited about creating the future. Not those who are standing upon their pedigreed past.
Last night I shared some thoughts on how to be a better community manager with the group going through a community manager training program put on by The Social Lights. Most of my talk focused on how to deeply understand a brand and how that understanding will help them be better at what they do for the brand(s) they serve.
Near the end of my talk, I shared a few loosely connected bits of advice not tied to the main two sections of my presentation. One of those points was that adding value to a community or conversation is far greater than solely seeking attention. If you post content only for the sake of seeking attention, you're not doing anyone any good, especially the brand you're representing.
As an example of this, I used Oreo's tweet regarding the #RoyalBaby. Oreo gets a lot of attention for how well they handle their social media accounts. Especially with the Super Bowl blackout, where they used humor to add value to an annoying moment for viewers who also happened to be tracking the game and peripheral events to the game with social media.
Here though, Oreo seems out of place. Nobody is looking for them to be in this conversation and nobody is going to miss them if they're not there. They're not adding value to the conversation. They're merely taking advantage of all the eyeballs tracking the royal baby news on social media.
The people who are interested in following this conversation are looking for real news announcements about the royal baby. They're not looking for brands hijacking the hashtag to throw an ad in their face. To be fair, Oreo was nowhere close to as offensive as some of the brands trying to get in on the attention.
My advice to the group was to always consider the value of what they're posting on behalf of a brand before they do so. If the only motive for posting something is to get attention, they should not move forward with the post. I asked them to find a way to make what they do valuable in some form. And yes, sometimes humor is an appropriate form of adding value. But not always.
Using humor really comes back to understanding the brand(s). By understanding the brand deeply, you'll know exactly when and where the brand should tell an appropriate joke (appropriate for the brand, the audience and the occasion). You'll also know when not to do this.
The final note I left them with on this particular point was that there is a funny twist on the way I wrote the thought out (which was just like the headline to this post). I told them that if they focused on adding value to communities and conversations, the "greater than" symbol turns into an arrow in that adding value leads to getting attention for the brand. This is the kind of attention a brand should seek.
On Friday, I took my niece and oldest two nephews to see Turbo. Unless you have some relationship to kids who are dying to go see it and you feel that you have to be the one to take them to see it, I'd suggest you skip it. While the animation was well done and they hired some big names for the voice talent, the story is weak.
I bring this up because story is something I've talked about before in various forms due to it being so critical to building a great brand. As Robert McKee says in Story, "A culture cannot evolve without honest, powerful storytelling. When society repeatedly experiences glossy, hollowed-out, pseudo-stories, it degenerates."
The same can be said for a brand—a brand cannot evolve without honest, powerful storytelling. When a brand repeatedly tells glossy, hollowed-out, pseudo-stories, it degenerates. People have no interest in listening to these kinds of stories. No matter what the purpose of the story is or who is telling it. Especially when they exist solely to sell a product or service.
As marketers, on both the client and agency sides, everything we create for the brands we work on tells a story. Regardless of which party we work for, we have a choice in this creation process. We can make honest, powerful stories; or, we can make glossy, hollowed-out, pseudo-stories. The choice is ours.
As you begin your week on Monday, take some time to reflect on what kind of story is being told by whatever you're working on right now. Is it one worth paying attention to? Is it one worth telling others? If not, go back and re-work it until it is. The world has plenty of stories being created that aren't worth telling. Let's do our part not to add to that pile.
I've put-up a post on Medium, sharing some of the advice I give to people interested in becoming a planner, which includes an analogy inspired by Bruce Lee's Three Stages of Cultivation. You can find it here.
On a related note, here are some of my favorite Bruce Lee quotes that are applicable to what we do as planners/strategists:
"Man, the living creature, the creating individual, is always more important than any established style or system."
"Use only that which works, and take it from any place you can find it."
"There are no limits. There are plateaus, but you must not stay there, you must go beyond them."
"Don't get set into one form, adapt it and build your own, and let it grow, be like water."
"When there is freedom from mechanical conditioning, there is simplicity."
"Do not deny the classical approach, simply as a reaction, or you will have created another pattern and trapped yourself there."
"It’s not how much you have learned, but how much you have absorbed from what you have learned. It is not how much fixed knowledge you can accumulate, but what you can apply livingly that counts. ‘Being’ is more valued than 'doing'."
Who knew Bruce Lee could be so inspiring for planners?