Building A Valuable Creative Business: Step 3 - Change The Conversation

Yesterday was an interesting day for the future of creativity. An extensive article in Fast Company analyzing in some depth the state of the advertising industry. 

By 1pm it had made its way round the business.

By 2pm I’d received emails from three clients asking whether issues raised in the article had been considered in our most recent recommendations. They had. Relieved clients are happy clients.

By 3pm, I’d received a call from a journalist asking for my thoughts on the article. I said I thought there was one fact that stood out.

The average tenure of a CMO is 22 months.

You want to become more valuable to the economic buyer, solve that problem.

The question is how.

If you’re a regular reader here, you’ll know that I’ve been offering a practical, step by step guide to creating change. The guide begins here.

Step 3 in The Guide to Valuable Creative Business is:

Change The Conversation.

You can’t engender fundamental change in your business or your life in an instant. The organism, human or cultural, won’t allow it to happen easily. Or at all.

Instead, identify your smallest client, the loss of whom would not keep you up at night. The purpose of which is not to minimize your potential loss, but to minimize the resistence you have to overcome in order to take this step.

Ask to meet them in their office. Tell them you’re looking for an opportunity to invest in improving a client’s situation. Then ask them these five questions:

1. Why do you buy services from companies like mine?

2. What’s the best outcome of that work?

3. What’s the worst outcome?

4. What are the three biggest problems your company faces every day?

5. If I told you I was willing to invest $25,000 of our services to help you solve one of those problems, with an agreement that if it works we are paid $40,000 and if it doesn’t we are paid nothing, would that be valuable to you?

The value of this process to you is driven not by whether number 5 creates a new opportunity - one that realizes a 38% return incidentally. But by the knowledge you gain from numbers 1-4. And the confidence that comes from realizing that changing the paradigm starts by changing the conversation. And where it happens. 

 “Most significant changes that happen in society will happen from the bottom up, little phenomena that start locally and then multiply exponentially. Once you do that math, the exponential multiplication results in dramatic change.” Vinod Khosla

What you do with the information you gather, we’ll discuss next time.

A Week of Cannes: 2 - Waste and Investment

A week at Cannes is hard work. Physically. Financially. And emotionally. The relentlessness of what’s next being punctuated by the constant evaluation of how we’re doing.

How we’re doing is relative. To the day, the hour, the occasion and the group we are with. 

Cannes is geo-locational and hierarchical. Success being measured on a complex, unwritten, but widely known metric. Lunch at du Cap with two prospective clients is trumped by a boat ride to St Tropez with one, but beats drinks at the Carlton with three. And La Colombe d’Or is worth changing your flight home for. 

For many that don’t go to Cannes, particularly those that pay the bills, the week is seen as a waste. Of money, of focus and the opportunity to do meaningful work at home. 

It’s easy to see why. Four days in the South of France comes conceptually attached to the world of Ian Fleming. Beautiful, powerful women mingling with men in white suits in the pursuit of global domination. Proof that every spy novel comes from a basis of fact.

But beyond the billionaire’s yachts’ moored off St Tropez, or Cap d’Antibes - is that a helipad or a swimming pool on the aft deck and is Armani on board this week? - beyond the glistening sheet metal of the most expensive motors, beyond the limitless supply of rosé, the simple truth is that for any advertising-related business, Cannes is the most valuable investment of the year.

People comes to Cannes wanting to engage. Heads of companies, thought leaders, decision makers, movers and shakers. All are willing to meet, to talk and to explore what might be made of this. The blue and white strata of Ralph Lauren-inspired summer vistas removing limitations of imagination that otherwise restrict the vision of those paid to have one.

This alone makes Cannes worth the price of admission. The limitless possibility of meaningful and memorable conversation with people that can make things happen.

The other return on investment is membership to the club that Cannes represents. The club of, ‘I’m serious.’

If you go to Cannes you’re tempted by the potential. If you’re there it’s because you’re serious. Oh, the beauty and booze are part of the compensation. But use them as motivation even once and you’re not going back. Because if that’s why you’re there you don’t get it. And Cannes separates the don’t get its from everyone else like a canning factory.    

But there is waste at Cannes. Sleep for instance. Cannes operates in a different reality. Time passing six to eight times faster. That boat ride to St. Tropez for lunch takes 30 minutes, though your watch tells you it's seven hours since you left. Lunch at du Cap? 15. It is a reality that makes sleep impractical, every moment of disengagement a wasted opportunity to make a connection, have a conversation, promote an idea.

Fortunately, most people don’t. Sleep. At least not much. The four hours a night that seemed like a bare minimum when the week began, is reduced to nothing by the time Saturday come along - sixteen hours after we arrived on Tuesday.

The other waste at Cannes, is opportunity. Wasted by the ocean-full.

There are obvious examples. And some that are almost imperceptible.

Of the former, this year’s winner was Yahoo. A company desperate to be seen as relevant. Proving that money and its spending are not dispositive in an attempt at brand significance. Yahoo sponsored the Gutter Bar, a folly of immense proportions. Sponsoring the Gutter Bar is like sponsoring air. Everyone knows it's not true.

Yahoo also handed out purple flip flops to anyone they could find on the Croissette. All of which went un-worn, from what I could see. And promoted a branded sand castle event on the beach, at reportedly vast expense. Somehow seeing a team of people put Yahoo’s logo into a pile of sand does not convince me I should do something about my relationship with Yahoo. Nor does it tell me what they would like that relationship to be. In a world in which consumers and brands are having conversations, sticking your logo on my feet and in my face, morning noon and night is the act of a bored child, or a dying brand. Not a company trying to solve my problems or provide me with value.

Yahoo’s waste did inspire me to think about how to create the most effective brand placement at Cannes next year. The idea I came up with would change the way Cannes works for everyone that attends. And I’m going to suggest it to one of our clients. I’ll let you know if it goes anywhere.

But the greatest waste at Cannes this year was the opportunity for re-definition. By the Festival itself.

Cannes operated under the theme of  “Connections Made Easy.” As an example of truth in advertising, it leaves a little room for improvement.

Cannes is an analog event. It has a badly designed, difficult to navigate, hierarchical (that word again) website. And offered ‘Cannes Connect’. An unintuitive online delegate tool.

But at check-in you are handed an enormous canvas shoulder bag filled with reams of printed paper. You could hear trees crashing in Brazillian rain forests. The week’s schedule is offered in a booklet that has no page numbers. And is too large for any short or shirt pocket. 

“Connections Made Easy” is the foundational Purpose of advertising. And there is much about the Festival that encourages those connections. 

But the “Made Easy” part is a work in progress. 

Which makes sense.

Because Cannes is a reflection of an industry.

One struggling to separate from its past and embrace its future.

But one with the ability to change the way we see things. In this case, in 72 seconds.

Happy 4th of July.

Unlocking Potential: 3 Investment

No business is complete. For the simple reason that a company can exist only in two states. Growing. Or dying. 

If you are not actively investing in your business, your company is decaying. Perhaps not yet in ways you can see. But inevitably and with growing impact. The cost of repair increasing exponentially.

Investment comes in many forms. Money being the most obvious. And often the least impactful. For the simple reason that much of it is misspent. Typically on initiatives that feel strategic, but are often simply reactive.

In today’s business environment, many companies are seeking ways to expand their income stream. Extending new services to existing clients is one strategy that most business leaders explore. It appears reassuring and feels instinctively right, building on existing capabilities and relationships.

But vertical expansion has limitations. Its very familiarity luring us into quick justification for the decision to act, while obscuring the need for more comprehensive analyses.

When building a business, the most imperative investment if that of our own ego. The question of what we do, and whether that is the best use of our company’s assets and experiences, requires a willingness to see ourselves as something other than that which our success has been built on.

Great business leaders ask themselves these questions every day. Their concern being not whether their past defines them as a success.

But whether the future they have planned is the best return for the most precious investment they have to make.


A Week’s Worth of Mistakes: # 5 - The Dilution Of Distraction

Ideas are cheap. The cost of this blog for instance is a few moments of your time. Paid as you go. A mutually agreeable arrangement.

At latest count, there are well over 150 million blogs. To which 900,000 new posts have been added in the latest 24 hours. A rich idea pool from which to draw. And does not take into account books, magazines, newspapers, television, radio, websites, art, apps, conversation. Or personal inspiration.

What you do with ideas, whatever their source, determines many aspects of your business. And your life.

In a world in which everything is possible, and most information is always available, we are not deprived of new possibilities.

But increasingly I am aware, through my own experience and that of others, that exploration and investment in the possible is best guided by an understanding of what we are trying to achieve. A definition that can and should evolve. But through conscious choice. Rather than the endless opportunism of interesting investigation.

Otherwise, we spend our lives in a pool of diluted distraction.

Exploring everywhere.

And arriving nowhere.

Going Horizontal

Adding new offices to an existing business is almost inevitable if you’ve been around long enough.

In part this is a practical result of looking for new ways to expand once local markets have been maximized.

In part it’s anthropological. A nod to the explorer that exists within every entrepreneur.

Adding new offices is rarely done well. And often in such a way that the potential benefits are reduced by more than fifty percent and the costs increased by a third. A quantifiable piece of analysis based on comparative studies.

Most businesses succumb to these results because they fail to identify the characteristics that made them successful locally.

  1. They understood what they were selling

  2. They understood why that was valuable to the local market

  3. They were trusted by local customers

  4. They learned from their mistakes and applied the knowledge to make themselves better

  5. Their systems were designed to support their business and improve their customers’ experience

  6. The employees believed in the owners’ vision and were motivated to help the entire business grow

  7. Employees were rewarded for creating value

  8. Investment decisions were made that benefitted the whole company

When you add a second or third location, each of these characteristics is immediately put under threat. And many are eliminated entirely.

They need not be. But getting geographic expansion right requires the following:

  • A clear strategy

  • The ability to identify your company’s core DNA and to find someone who can plant it and nurture it in new locations

  •  The elimination of the ‘not invented here’ pathology that most human beings instinctively bring to the table

  • Systems and practices that don’t just connect each location, but inter-twine them

  • A financial management and compensation philosophy that aligns everyone's interests

  • A willingness to defend the whole while supporting the parts

These are not easy to come by. But they are critical to any successful expansion.

And to making sure that ‘going horizontal’ is a growth strategy.

Not an analysis of your P&L.

Change - Part 1

We’re in Chicago this week, packing up our home so we can complete our move East.

It’s been a two year process. In May of 2005 we listed our house with a vague idea that we would move to the New York area once it sold. We thought we’d have a last lazy summer in Chicago while we got used to the idea of leaving our adopted city and a house that we love.

We were in London the day the house was added to the real estate listings. At the Chelsea Flower Show. I know because that’s where I was standing when our real estate broker called. We had an offer. It had taken 47 minutes.

Two hours later they called back and offered us our asking price.

Panic set in. We came up with all the reasons why we weren’t ready. All the practical things that Chicago had for us. Doctors. Dentists. Vets. Dog day-care. All the friends we’d be leaving. The work we were doing at PAWS Chicago. All of this loss danced before our eyes.

We said no and took the house off the market.

My heart rejoiced.

Somewhere in the darker corners of my being, an instinct was hammering on the door of my fear trying to get out.