It’s not easy to apply the brand-building lessons we give clients to our own lives
Have you ever wondered why the advertising industry attracts terrific people and unscrupulous types at the same time? Two recent incidents illuminated the wide disparity I’ve encountered in this business.
First, an ad agency owner I knew passed away suddenly last week. Many years ago, I applied for a job with his shop, having been amazingly impressed with the work they did. He flew me in to interview and freelance for a week. He picked me up at the airport, arranged to put me up in a hotel, and even loaned me one of his cars (a Mercedes, no less) to drive around in while I was there. On top of that, he paid me for my work. He didn’t end up hiring me, but I was still quite amazed at his sense of class and decency.
On the same day I heard of this agency owner’s passing, a recruiter inquired about my availability on behalf of an agency 20 minutes from my house. The agency did a lot of fast-turnaround retail advertising and was having trouble finding copywriters who could handle that type of work, which I’ve done before. But instead of having me meet with the agency, I was given an assignment by the recruiter: Write four radio spots and two TV commercials for two different clients in only 2 hours. All for spec. Then, once that was completed, I was told that maybe — maybe — I’d get to work with this agency for an hourly rate quite lower than what I usually charge. (It’s incredibly easy for someone like me to spout, “agencies shouldn’t do spec work for pitches” and then capitulate to demands like this. So I turned it down.)
Amazingly, I have more respect for a man who didn’t hire me — on two different occasions — than an agency who expects me to jump through hoops for the possible chance to work there.
So how do we can we tell the difference between the good folks and the bad folks in this business? Frankly, we can’t. The two anecdotes I’ve mentioned above could easily have been anomalies for the people involved.
But just like consumer brands, many ad agencies and marketing firms are advertising themselves before customers are even interested. And I’ll take it one step further: We are all advertising and marketing ourselves with our behavior.
Whether you’re an agency, or a person, every point of communication or contact is an ad or a piece of marketing for yourself. Every unreturned call or email, every blow-off, every unfriendly conversation adds up to a reputation. Whether or not you subscribe to the notion that everyone is a “brand” unto themselves, any action you take could make or break your reputation in another person’s eyes.
Whether they’re positive or negative, reputations might be deserved or undeserved, and they might be out of our control. Sometimes it’s like catching a usually-great restaurant on an off night: It might be forgiven or it might lead to a one-star Yelp review.
Should we be more aware of this because we’re in marketing or advertising? I think so. We spent so much time working on messaging documents or charting AIDA-like purchase paths for our clients that we rarely understand how to do it for ourselves. And as I’ve seen, many ad agencies and marketing firms who do it well for clients don’t understand how it relates to their own businesses.
In an ideal world, agencies and other ad professionals would treat us the way we’d like to be treated, whether we have something to offer or not. It doesn’t always work that way. Some people assume the Golden Rule means that if you win a Gold Lion at Cannes you’ve earned the right to be a jackass.
Still, the world, and our business, moves fast. Which doesn’t always leave time for proper etiquette, protocol, or decency. But it’s important to remember that even the smallest actions have a huge impact, just like one errant brand tweet can cause an uproar.
So as I think back with admiration for the ad agency owner who’s now gone, there may be a lesson in it for all of us. Even if we don’t have a Mercedes to loan out, a kind word or deed that shows character is the type of gesture that might just earn us those five stars.
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.
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