Act like an Owner, Not a Hired Hand


By Brett Shevack, CEO of Brand Initiatives Group

Now, more than ever, with agencies feeling relegated to “creative supplier” status, account people need to start contributing like an “owner” of a brand, rather than someone who is just servicing the account. While the creative are doing their thing, account people can make a huge contribution with ideas outside of advertising. Ideas for new products, categories, distribution channels – ideas that can restage brands and change the course of companies.

Great advertising people may work for the agency but they live in their client’s world. They earn their client’s loyalty and respect by knowing the business as well as they do. Whether it’s athletic shoes, lawn fertilizer or deodorant, they get very passionately involved.

They scour sales figures when the sales force does, can recite a product’s ingredients as if they worked in R&D, and get upset when their local stores only stock the competition. They watch consumers on weekends when they are with their families, not just in focus groups. They eat, sleep and breathe the business.

What if… we opened a new distribution channel under a new sub-brand? You have to be willing to push your clients with new thinking, instead of waiting to be pushed. Otherwise you are operating like a vendor, not a partner.

A former associate of mine had a particularly unsettling habit of not speaking in client meetings, just endlessly scribbling on a yellow pad. Then, often without a word, he’d leave the room. Yet a couple days later, I’d find a four-page, single-spaced letter on my chair with incredibly insightful thinking and a list of original brand-building ideas. Enough to make any client say, “Boy, I’m sure glad they are my agency.” Some of these ideas build $100 million businesses. All of them build long-term relationships.

While the No. 1 unwavering focus of every agency has to be the quality of its work, creativity needs to be everyone’s mandate. Great ideas can come from anywhere. They are the “glue” that builds stronger relationships.

And don’t be afraid if your ideas are shot down. A client once told me, “I really hate that idea, but we’re testing it.” From my perspective, it was his way of saying, “I respect your instincts enough to doubt my own… just a little.”

Of course, some of my ideas have bombed so badly they’ve become running jokes in meetings for years. If there weren’t also some pretty good ones along the way, however, no one would be laughing.