How Agencies Can Redefine Cool By Not Trying Too HardBy Mark Scrivner

Have you ever watched an episode of “Mad Men” and not wanted to live Don Draper’s life? OK, maybe not all of it—maybe just a day or a single meeting. But there’s no denying the allure of “coolness” the small screen brings to the creative agency lifestyle.

Today, though, marketing executives focus a little less on in-office bar carts and a little more on modern definitions of being cool. We have sassy job titles such as “customer service ninja” and “social media maverick,” we go the extra 125 miles for our customers, and sometimes we bite back when we don’t get what we want.

Unfortunately, our desire to defy the status quo and be more hip than everybody else has a serious downside. Within a company, being too edgy strangles creativity and creates corrupt silos that cause dysfunction and internal competition.

And, outside the company, clients see through the skinny jeans and ping-pong tables, and they start to question the agency’s priorities.

The time has come for our agencies to stop competing to be the trendiest and to define our own senses of coolness.

Here are a few tips to help you stop measuring your comparative hip factor and start leading your clients and employees to greatness.

How Agencies Can Redefine Cool

  1. Stop seeking attention for anything other than good work. Despite the audacious publicity stunts we see in the news, being cool is not beating your chest and saying, “Look at me!” It’s also not about designing and writing campaigns that strengthen the creative director’s ego, but that miss the mark for the client by a country mile. Your agency exists to serve your customers’ needs. If you’re in business to impress yourself, you need to find another business. To be successful, focus on the client’s goals and do the job to the best of your ability.
  2. Don’t be too cool to serve your client well. Measuring yourself against the competition in terms of something as intangible (and unmarketable) as how hip you are puts the focus on beating other agencies rather than serving clients. In a client-focused industry, that will send your bottom line spiraling into the red. Instead of pitching and pushing your ideas, sit back and listen. Strive to understand both the business side of the client’s needs and the client’s creative comfort level. Then apply your creative license in line with the expectations your client sets.
  3. Open your team up to collaboration. True coolness is inclusive and accommodating, which means working against your clients and thinking you are above them is incredibly uncool. Make your client feel involved in everything. Don’t just throw out creative treatments and seek approval; give your client options and ask them to collaborate with your team so that they are part of the process.
  4. Set a distinct standard for behavior. Lead your team to excellent client service by example. Create a personal statement that addresses your company’s unique values, and then make it clear you expect these to be leading sales points with your clients. Make this understanding stick by connecting the client service component to the agency’s chance of growing. Employees who deeply believe in the work they do will take pride in the results and look forward to working with the clients, ultimately leading to an enjoyable workplace.
  5. Build a team based on your unique definition of coolness. Once you know what cool means to you and your company, use that definition as a guideline for your hiring and training practices. Call BS when necessary, and help your team understand why you have.

Train your team to see that vulnerability is a desirable trait. Make it clear your business encourages a willingness to experiment and take risks; therefore, overly inflated egos are not welcome. Help your team members make emotional connections that humanize the work they’re doing to build solid relationships based on real work and real partnerships.

Agencies are notorious for their self-congratulatory, “they just don’t understand” attitudes.

Use these tips to be the company that stands up and sets a new bar for coolness—using a definition that puts clients and culture first and that won’t change with every fashion trend.

Mark Scrivner

Mark Scrivner is the founder and COO of SnapShot Interactive, a Nashville, Tenn.-based full-service digital agency bridging the gap between video production, web design and development, and online marketing strategies. Mark is also an avid runner with a passion for charity fundraising.

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