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December 7, 2009
Personalities Give Each Agency Its Unique Complexion

Driving the ad game are a set of personality types that vaguely resemble those on Mad Men; characters who can be counted to think, act and talk in predictable ways under almost any situation. Agencies have traditionally attracted people with broad interests, short attention spans and little ability or tolerance for corporate life. Iconoclasts, wise guys, alternative thinkers, smart alecks, frat boys, hippies, geeks, neurotics and hot women have traditionally populated agencies. The cast remains mostly the same though the intensity, texture and range of behaviors have changed dramatically over the years.

Here are 5 ad types you are sure to encounter whether you are working in an agency or hiring one.

The Rainmaker

Rainmakers drive the ad business. They have or make the contacts, instantly understand the clients’ business and are master salespeople. Frequently their names are on the agency door. In the old days they were white-shoe WASPs who hobnobbed with corporate titans at exclusive clubs. They were members of a social class united by religion, education, fraternities and often neighborhoods.

The democratization of the business changed a lot of that but didn’t change the need for high-energy hustlers who were smart enough and presentable enough to interact with and sell both squirrelly and conservative corporate executives. Rainmakers innately understand that people buy people first; then goods or services get transacted. They have big personalities and know how to deftly wield them in almost any circumstance.

They have keen instincts and can carefully read and dissect client personalities and organizational politics. Even in complex agency searches, where intermediary consultants try their best to mask the decision-making process, Rainmakers know who matters and whose vote counts most and they know how to romance those individuals. Often this skill set comes with experience, but sometimes it’s comes naturally to a younger entrepreneur.

As a type, Rainmakers are extroverts interested in a wide range of things. They know a little something about everything, listen closely but not too closely and have the ability to zero in on the key variable quickly. They focus just enough to grasp the winning idea or the winning angle and then cue their players accordingly. They are usually great at creating a name, a theme, a catchy phrase or a slogan to concretize an idea. Many can wickedly nickname somebody in ways that capture them precisely and stick. Some appear to be distracted, aloof or merely glad-handers, but the best use that stereotype to mask their wiles.

You know a Rainmaker because you sense that they know you instantly and you trust them instantly. You can’t choose to become one; they just are who they are. And they come in all stripes usually motivated by the intense desire not to work for others or the equally intense desire to express a unique point of view and demonstrate success on their own terms.

The Empty Suit

The Empty Suit is a rainmaker wannabe with moxie, flash and presence but no substance. These guys fill out the ranks of agencies warming chairs, attending endless meetings, wining and dining clients and generally taking up time and space. Frequently relatives, frat brothers or long time friends of agency leaders or client executives, these guys used to dominate the ranks of Account departments but now can be found throughout the agency.

Empty Suits live in fantasyland. They imagine that they are glamorous and effective executives when in fact they are filler; the hamburger helper of agency life taking up time and space to meet client expectations or adding a measure of style, grooming and/or good looks to round out the agency’s offerings. Empty suits are usually the best looking people in agency. Well coiffed, better dressed and much more presentable than the folks who actually know something or do something.

Some Empty Suits are conscious of their posture and kind of go through life shrugging their shoulders. Others (think of Pete Campbell on Mad Men) are malevolent weasels. As a type, they are affable, polite to a fault, up on the latest gossip, news, trivia or sports and eager to engage almost anyone in meaningless chit-chat.

They can make terrific recommendations for dining, entertainment, leisure and personal services and will frequently make the arrangements or accompany a client to a restaurant, a golf outing, a ball game or a salon. They look great in clothes and never refuse an opportunity to fill out the agency or the client tables at charity affairs.

As co-workers, Empty Suits carefully guard their perceived prerogatives and hoard their perks. They are prissy about their space. Many have a sense of noblesse oblige; that they contribute to the agency’s image and positioning by contributing good looks, breeding, legacies or a sense of decorum. They can be counted on to dump their work off on others, ignore deadlines and timetables, never know any important details or data, but they often claim credit for others’ work. They rarely stay late or put themselves out and never praise colleagues in front of bosses or clients. They are the co-workers you love to hate.

The Magician

Magicians are the idea people who make the magic that agencies sell. While over-represented among the ranks of art directors or copywriters, Magicians work in every department often distinguishing themselves as strategic planners, media negotiators or digital wonks. They provide the spark behind every idea and campaign.

Some have native intuition. Others grind it out. But all Magicians have an inherent and mysterious understanding of people and the uncanny ability to find the right connection between goods, services or concepts and their natural audiences. They understand the psychology, the levers and the channels of communication and can magically marry them together in ways mere mortals can’t. They don’t need speeches, threats or chemicals to stimulate or accelerate productivity. They express themselves naturally in creative concepts, in media plans, in web designs or UI schematics or even in dense data tables.

Like crude oil, diamonds or truffles, Magicians have to be found. They cannot be made. The trick, for agencies, is to find and keep enough of them to achieve critical mass necessary to power or sustain critical departments and then have the management legerdemain to leave them alone and nurture their gifts. Many are good at rallying co-workers to the cause because frequently everyone instantly gets their brilliant ideas and naturally grasps why they are so brilliant.

Motivating and managing Magicians is especially difficult since the majority of their great insights and ideas are shot down or modified beyond recognition by clods or cowards. Theirs is a world of highest highs and lowest lows often presented or obscured by oversized or persnickety personality traits. Some are famously insecure or shy. Others never quite get the credit they deserve. And a notable few are over-the-top prima donnas and divas. Many agencies, formally or informally, assign senior account people to be their advocates or protectors because they are the critical resource for agency success.

The Expert

Experts are the tortoise to the Magician’s hare. Experts have intense and deep knowledge of functional areas linked to carefully crafted tool sets and processes to help them do their jobs. In many instances, they are their tools. They assign the highest value and esteem to those who know what they know and those who can manifest expertise on-demand.

Experts exist in media, direct, relationship, CRM and database marketing, interactive, project management, traffic, production and support departments. Experts demand that you follow their lead and follow their process to enjoy the fruits of their labor. They jealously defend their turf and under stress or tight timelines frequently require colleagues to know-tow to them.

Nerdy and temperamental by nature, Experts are defined by what they know and what they’ve done. Few are bashful. An Expert will gladly tell you his or her greatest hits and will regale you with tales of how they saved the day. They take themselves very seriously and genuinely believe that no one else can do what they do.

They seek and hoard access to information and parse it out gingerly to those around them. They keep score. They remember every slight. And they hold grudges. They are all about the details but can get distracted by nuances or spun off course by their intrinsic interest in data and new information.

Intense and sometimes anti-social, they require careful handling and frequent stroking. Quick to find fault with others and quick to bemoan their lack of credit, they see themselves as prophets without honor in their own land. Many have specialized degrees and are wannabe or has been consultants. It’s a conceit that sets them apart and, in a weird way, motivates them. They live to be underestimated.

Too often overlooked or undervalued as “below-the-line” functionaries, experts usually understand much more about the client’s business, organization, structure, procedures, IT architecture, digital landscape, data channels and internal politics than the clients themselves. They are natural spies and always develop expert allies buried deep in client organizations.

They usually know what’s really going on before anyone else. This enables them to develop useful intelligence and practical work-arounds to satisfy demanding clients or impossible schedules. Experts insure that an agency can get smart fast, trouble shoot problems on-demand, find critical inflection points to add value to client relationships, smooth over ruffled feathers or gain competitive advantage.

The Pleaser

Pleasers reflect the pre-feminist culturally-conditioned behavior of women, who make up the vast majority of professionals in every advertising agency. Nobody really knows why they have an insatiable need to be “good” girls by earning the praise and approval of any nearby authority figure. But they do. By manically internalizing the notion of customer satisfaction, Pleasers provide the daily energy, attitude and lubrication that make ad agencies work.

Everyone loves pleasers. They are always friendly, polite and on-call. They will drop everything and fly across the country in the middle of the night to attend a frivolous meeting. They will put aside their own plans to listen to a client talk endlessly about every real or imagined relationship in their life. They will re-do copy or art nine times and make their team mates nuts to satisfy a client’s whim. They will write decks, formulate reports, format spreadsheets, predict internal politics and tell clients what to think as they laugh at your jokes. They have your back. And they never say “no.” Pleasers are the imaginary best friend you dreamt about and hoped for brought to life.

Pleasers live to please. The take orders easily. They rarely push back. They believe in the system; no questions asked. They find security and validation in the routine of agency life and with every moment of pleasing delivered.

Many also live to complain. The “ying” of their never-say-die attitude is offset by the “yang” of their whining. It’s a unique pathology with its own origins, history and psychological benefits. Pleasers inherited the mantle of Sisyphus. And yet without Pleasers, there is only chaos and conflict.

Pleasers provide the “give” in client-agency relationships. They deliver on the fiction that clients know their own business and have clearly defined marketing needs that can be distinctly communicated to agency partners. Pleasers finesse prickly personalities, tense situations, business crises and tactical conundrums with the hope that a friendly face and sweet temperament can sort it all it. Ironically much of the day-to-day ad business rests on this sexist premise.

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Danny Flamberg, EVP Managing Director of Digital Strategy and CRM at Publicis based in New York, has been building brands and building businesses for more than 30 years.Prior to joining Publicis, he led a successful global consulting group called Booster Rocket, as Managing Partner. Before becoming a consultant, he was Vice President of Global Marketing at SAP, SVP and Managing Director at Digitas in New York and Europe and President of Relationship Marketing at Amiratti Puris Lintas and Lowe Worldwide.
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