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March 29, 2011
Fortune Favors the Brave

At David&Goliath, we believe that no person or company can be great without first being brave. We were founded on that conviction. In 1999, we opened to service Kia Motors America (KMA), then a fledgling brand—and the number 12 import—with a reputation for inferior quality.

Courage became our barometer. And for the next nine years, Kia’s market share increased year over year, including in 2008. It’s now the number 5 import, with BMW, Mazda and VW in the rearview mirror.

In an economy that has a lot of businesses basing their decisions on fear, it’s important that agencies turn up the volume on their brave stance…because no economic climate needs or rewards bravery more than one in crisis.

It’s not like this would be the first time. When P&G’s depression-era shareholders pushed hard for marketing cutbacks, then-President Richard Deupree instead saw his company through by doubling his ad spending—not once, but every two years throughout that beleaguered decade.

Scores of other brands were born and bred during economic slumps: HP, Revlon, Charles Schwab, Microsoft, FedEx and MTV. At the start of the Eisenhower recession, a salesman named Kroc inked a franchising deal with the brothers McDonald. And in 2001, another year of economic and social upheaval, Apple introduced the iPod.

Outlined below are a set of practices that can help drive an agency’s bravest work.


Company philosophies are about as useful as a box of wet matches unless they’re part of the culture. And a culture can’t be brave unless its people are. The minute you get behind your own philosophy, you’ll notice that brave people—clients and employees with extra fight in them—will start to find you. Building a brave culture can include exercises such as asking new hires to participate in random acts of bravery. Or instructing your planners write “brave criteria” into their briefs. A good employee is one who knows they’re on to something when an idea makes them a little nervous.

Bravery’s intangible. To make it concrete, give it a physical presence in the world. Start with an identity system that communicates your position clearly. For example, in our office lobby, we challenge ourselves to overcome our deepest personal fears, displaying them in frames on our “Wall of Goliaths.” One employee conquered his fear of marathons, another her terror of Excel spreadsheets.

This isn’t about dressing up the office. It’s about committing wholeheartedly to the value you want employees to embrace. By making this abstract quality real for your people, you’re extending the philosophy beyond work and into their lives. And that gets poured back into your business.

An army that charges blindly into the fray isn’t brave so much as suicidal. Before going to battle, arm yourself with intelligence, insights and brand strategy. Gather and examine all the data in collaborative, agency/client meetings. During these “Brave Sessions,” identify the lethal “Weapon,” or marketing strength, which you’ll use to slay your client’s marketing “Goliaths,” or challenges.

Go deeper than your typical strength/weakness analysis. Because when it comes to challenger brands facing goliath competitors, the best weapon will tend to be a secret weapon—an opportunity that hasn’t been leveraged fully or at all.

Unless they have something to believe in—a conviction that’s bigger than the battle—armies will retreat. It’s important to work with clients to develop a Brand Belief, a guiding principle that gives agency creatives and clients a greater sense of purpose and meaning. It’s something to live up to, bigger than any one product or service.

Brave marketers can handle the truth. They rely on their teams to hold them accountable, to turn good ideas into brave ideas. They accept the cold truth about their own ideas for the sake of bigger, bolder solutions. And they step up to tell clients the truth for the same reason.

In advertising as in life, you can’t teach bravery any more than you can teach creativity. But you can establish a set of conditions that allows courage to flourish. And when you do, this otherwise immeasurable quality—without which greatness isn’t possible—produces highly measurable results. At D&G, we think Aristotle said it best, and with perfect simplicity: “You will never do anything in this world without courage.”

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Mike Braue is managing partner, director of client services at L.A.-based creative agency David&Goliath. A nine-year veteran of the agency, Mike heads up the agency's new business efforts and leads a diverse group of brands including: Universal Orlando Resort, Universal Studios Hollywood, Bacardi Brands, Mammoth Mountain Resort, and MGM Mirage's New York-New York and Monte Carlo Hotel & Casinos. 

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