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Big Orange Slide

Thursday, July 24th, 2014

Ten lessons from ten years in business

September 28, 2012 by Dave Hamilton

Illustration by Colin Craig

I had a sum total of four jobs in my advertising career leading up to my joining Grip in 2004.Three years apiece, at big and small shops, with the exception of a single year at fellow independent, Bensimon Byrne (sorry about that, Jack).

I learned an awful lot getting here, but it’s the lessons learned at Grip that truly matured me as an Advertising Professional – a Mad Man if you prefer romantic fiction. Here is what I now know:

1) Bring YOU Into The Business

Our story, Grip’s story, really is an extension of us. We all love the ad business most of the time, hate it some of the time, and struggle daily to keep that balance healthy and productive. For me, that has meant learning to use my innate cynicism for good; it has meant frank discussions, an embarrassing amount of yelling (and the odd seething glare) to keep our briefs, our creative product and ultimately our clients’ brands honest. But on whole, I believe I’ve gotten better at channeling this, precisely because we’ve created an environment at Grip in which I was free to do so.

2) Trust Your Instincts

Ten years in, we have pitched a fair bit of business. Every decision we have made to throw our hat in the ring has not been an equal one, however. Sure, we have our “are we a good fit” checklist thingy, like every agency, I’m sure. But if I’m honest, financial pressure, competitive spirit, blind momentum and even ego (bolstered and wounded) have all, at one time or another, landed us in rooms we had no business, or even heart, being in. The decision to pursue a pitch is simpler (or I imagine it to be so) when you answer to New York or London. But we enjoy the luxury of being able to say no. Had we always trusted our gut and stayed true to our ethos, I’m guessing we’d have declined half of the invites. Perhaps, as a result we’d have doubled our efforts on those our gut told us we were the right fit for.

3) Love it or Leave it

You’ve heard this before, but the fact is, whatever business you take on won’t be successful unless you are invested in the outcome. We play to our strengths and divvy up the work, and new business, accordingly across the breadth and diversity of our collective. It’s better and more fun in the long run.

4) Culture is your Biggest Expense

Getting this right is hard. It’s a moving target. But a healthy agency culture is quite possibly the last real advantage an agency can have over its competitors. No one is hiring dumb people. No one is refusing to adopt the great equalizer that is Analytics. But happy people? People who chat, and share knowledge and help each other over a wall when necessary? Not everyone is making that choice a priority. And the beauty is, it is a choice.

5) Lose the Company Line

We’ve all had tight-lipped bosses. Don’t be one. I’ve found that the more we open up to our staff (and our clients), the more likely they are to go above and beyond for us. They embrace the spirit of transparency we’ve tried to foster. And more importantly, those who’ve been here a while are brave enough to call us out when we fail to maintain that transparency.

6) Failing is Fine

You’ve heard this before. Mistakes are one of the best forms of education out there. Don’t beat yourself up when they occur. We’ve hired the wrong people, leased the wrong space, presented the wrong idea, but I cannot imagine where we’d be if we had not committed these errors, and learned from them.

7) You Can’t Please Everyone

Regardless of what you do, how good your creative product is or how attentive your account service is, sometimes the result is still a disgruntled customer. Don’t waste time worrying about this. You cannot get along with every dog in the park.

8) Proofread Everything*

9) Hard Decisions Need To Be Made Quickly

We’ve all had to fire someone, or drop a once-loved supplier who is no longer delivering. Letting this kind of decision fester too long does nothing to solve the problem. Get on with the tough stuff.

10) There Are No Rules

Ten years later, we still have no business plan (that I’m aware of). We get up everyday, we work hard, we have fun, and we try to get out ahead of our clients’ challenges. Sometimes, we argue a little, too. Sometimes, we even sharpen up the daggers the agency dynamic is famous for and get in our own way as a result. But that’s part of the gig. We all need to get our Pete Campbell on every now and then.

*#8 erroneously missing from the original post and added  on Oct. 1, 2012. Oops.

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