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September 4, 2006
Hardback Books and Hard Truths

If you look on the web at advertising agency websites, you’ll notice that every agency has its own manifesto.

Some take it a step further: their manifestos are printed in hardback and available at Borders.

Take “Lovemarks,” a book written by Saatchi & Saatchi’s Kevin Roberts. Now, I don’t know if every Saatchi employee walks through the door each morning with love on their brain and in their hearts, but it was recently revealed that JC Penney’s CEO was so enamored with the idea of his brand becoming a “Lovemark” that Saatchi got the entire account.

Books written by and about ad agencies keep coming. Pat Fallon recently wrote one called “Juicing the Orange,” highlighting the accomplishments of his shop. And soon, a fly-on-the-wall account of life at Crispin Porter & Bogusky called “Hoopla” will be hitting the bookstore shelves, too.

Frankly, I’m an admirer of anyone with strongly held convictions about advertising or business. I’ve read dozens of books about the advertising business and learned quite a bit from each. I’ve recommended quite a few to friends and colleagues.

Unfortunately, CEOs of mediocre shops all over the land will buy many of these books by the boxful. They’ll give out copies to management. They’ll Xerox significant pages and distribute them to the staff. All in an attempt to duplicate Fallon or Crispin’s success.

Save your money. Save your copy paper. It can’t be done.

I did a little research. Crispin has been around as an agency since 1965. For at least 30 of those years, the only thing hot about the agency was the climate outside its building. It took time to build a great creative agency & a culture. More importantly, it took the right people—and the right clients.

Could reading one book make that kind of difference at your shop? Could you pull off a major transformation in one year, or two?

I once interviewed at an agency that claimed it wanted to be “the next Cole & Weber” –back when wanting to be Cole & Weber was something agencies wanted to be. Only this agency was 3,000 miles away; from a mindset standpoint, it was even further removed from a west coast ethos. Instead of focusing on what the agency could become, they focused on what they would never become.

All agencies should strive to improve and to help its employees and clients achieve something unique and special. But that begins with an honest assessment of where you are today: What makes your agency unique, if anything at all? What makes you a unique advertising professional?

Here’s a hint: you can’t be unique by trying to imitate someone else. Simply put, you can’t hire someone who worked at Crispin and expect them to spread the pixie dust at every turn. Much like in football or baseball, a superstar on one team can be a bust somewhere else.

Right now, many agencies are working to redefine themselves for the new media landscape. Yet they still utilize processes that are outmoded—in everything from the way they hire people to the way the work flows through the agency. Even in a business like advertising where everything evolves rapidly, new is always unfamiliar—and scary.

It’s easier said than done, but I’ll say it anyway. Your agency could be the next…well, whichever agency you admire. But it won’t be the same; it won’t feel the same and it won’t look the same. Create a great culture at your agency. Allow the people around you to be their best. And don’t try to become something you’re not.

Then maybe you’ll have a story to tell that folks will pay $24.95 to read about.

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Since 2002, Dan Goldgeier has been writing the most provocative advertising columns about advertising and marketing -- over 170 of them, covering every related topic you can think of. Now based in Seattle, Dan is a copywriter and ad school graduate who's worked at shops big and small. 

Visit his copywriting websitesee his LinkedIn profile or follow him on Twitter.

And please, buy his book for 99 cents.


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