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  • David Meikle

Maybe "Don't do unto others"

What good management can teach us about managing brands and ad agencies.

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Many managers have been given this advice and many have regurgitated it throughout their careers, and doubtless they continue to do so. But it’s more than just a little bit arrogant, really, when you think about it.

In fact, it’s just wrong.

It’s wrong because it trades on one vast assumption: that every person you are doing something unto, is just like you. It assumes that they respond best to being treated the way you respond best to being treated, that they are incentivised by the same things by which you are incentivised, that they are inspired by the same things that inspire you and that their life priorities are the same as yours.

The more you think about it the more it is patently nonsense. What we should be saying is something more akin to:

“Do unto others that which is within your power to do and that they would best be done unto to be motivated, rewarded and perform to their highest possible level.”

The point is obvious when you have the answer – people are different and therefore need to be treated differently.

Brands and ad agencies are different, too. Indeed, it is the purpose of both to be different and to effectively differentiate themselves from other brands and agencies. And the talent within agencies is different. Also, brand owners are different, their business circumstances are different, their business priorities, markets, and competitors are all different.

“So why,” we should immediately be asking ourselves “do we think that the processes we use for managing different brands with agencies should use something we describe as “best practice”? Why are we doing unto one brand with one agency the way we do unto all brands and all agencies?

Well, the short answer is that we shouldn’t. But in my experience and in the experience of many others with whom I have consulted, there are very few brand owners who recognise that their brands and their agencies need to have processes designed to suit their brands’ circumstances and to do unto the agency that which they would best be done unto to be motivated, rewarded and perform to their highest possible level.

For example, we know that a challenger brand in a growing market but with limited market share will have to work a lot harder to achieve a share-of-mind in their potential customers to be able to compete with a big advertiser in the same market with a high market share.

Logically then, if you want a greater return from a small investment with your agency you need to increase the risk quota in your communications strategy. To do that you need to relinquish some control, be more open to challenging ideas. How will that fit with your company’s idea of best practice? If it won’t, you either have to change the processes, change your investment level or change your expectations for ROI.

The other maxim for management, and one that I can agree with is that if you always do what you’ve always done, you always get what you always got.

When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997 he said “We spend a lot of money on advertising. You wouldn’t know it.”

After arriving back at Apple, Jobs immediately dispensed with the pitch process that was already underway to find a new ad agency and went straight to where he knew they had the talent he needed – Chiat Day.

Jobs did unto Apple and unto Chiat Day what they needed to be done unto to perform to their very best, not some ceremonial idea of best practice. 8 weeks later Apple relaunched with “Think Different” and the rest is history.

David Meikle


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