I learned how to staff an agency from Fantasy Football

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I play in a fantasy football league with 9 other members of my family. We enjoy the trash talking. We enjoy the competition. And we enjoy winning. I recently gave my wife some advice about setting her line-up, and I realized it’s the same process I use to staff our office in advertising.  So here are a few things I’ve learned over the years.

Pick the best players. I know this is simplistic, but just as the best football players score the most points; the best creatives do the best work. And this is true no matter what level you’re hiring. Best junior books out of college are your long-term investments. They’ll pay quick dividends some times and long term dividends most of the time.  Senior level creatives who have done great work in the past will some times do great work again in the future.  They may be more consistent. But they may not be as spectacular.

Have a deep bench. Football players have bye weeks. Creatives have vacations, holidays, sick leave and creative dry spells. Having a deep bench will allow you to bring in reinforcements when you need them. And the interesting thing about advertising is you never know when you’re going to need them.  You can’t look at a calendar and say, ‘oh, this week I’ll need to swap out my best player for someone else.’ You need as many really good people as possible. (As I’m writing this – I got an email that an incredibly talented ACD is leaving for another agency. Having a deep bench makes this a little less painful)

Pick your best line-up and let ’em play. Once you’ve brought in your talented people, you have to let them play. You can coach them, you can put them in the best position to succeed, but you have to let them play. You can’t bench them if they have a few bad presentations or new business pitches or weeks.  You brought them into your company because you thought they were talented. Let them do their thing.

Always look for value players. Just because someone didn’t succeed at a competitor, doesn’t mean they won’t succeed under your system. I always tell a story about my first day on the job at another agency. The current CD’s told me that this art director needed to be terminated. I refused. And after 6 months in the new system he was winning awards and being promoted. I can point to 10 different stories like this one. Where someone flourished under a new system or a new team or a new partner. These team members can be the most valuable and loyal on your team. Because your need each other to succeed.

Don’t be afraid to cut big name players. Some times you just have to admit you made a mistake. You spent a lot of money on someone and it’s just not working. They’re just not performing, as you would have hoped. And sometimes its just time. We all know people who stayed in jobs way too long. And we also know people who are on our staff who would probably be doing better some place else. But we’re afraid to make the big move, have the tough conversation or rock the boat.  You have to rock the boat. Believe me, its better for everyone.

If you’ve done your homework, if you’ve hired correctly, you should have a winning year. But remember – your team is a reflection of you. How well you hire is how well they’ll perform. Good luck. And may the best team win.





How To Create Your Best Campaign In Your Portfolio

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When I’m sitting with someone and they want to show me their portfolio – I always have the same request “show me your favorite campaign.”  And I’m surprised how few people know the answer to this question.  Some say, “I like everything in my portfolio,” which you and I both know is not true.  Everyone should have a favorite campaign. A campaign that you loved when you created it. A campaign that you still love.

And if you don’t have a campaign that you love, here is the easiest way to create one — I call it a passion project.  Create a campaign for something that you are incredibly passionate about. Maybe you were a ballet dancer as a child and still love dance. Maybe you have a passion for Ultimate Frisbee. Perhaps you always loved to travel and spent 3 weeks in Prague. Do that campaign.

There are two reasons to create a passion campaign.  First of all — it won’t be in everyone else’s portfolio. Every year there are advertising college competitions. And every year I see hundreds of campaigns for the same product.  One year it was KFC. I can’t tell you how many KFC campaigns I saw. And I would always ask the same question — “did you win the competition?”  And everyone says, “no.”  (BTW – if you enter a student competition – don’t put the work in your portfolio if you didn’t win.)  The second reason (and the most important) is when you present a passion project; you present it with more passion. You know the subject matter inside and out. Your face lights up. And as a viewer, I can feel your excitement.

A former student of mine created my favorite passion project. On her resume, in the about me section, was a line about the Girl Scouts of America. She told me that she loved being a Girl Scout. So she created a campaign to try and persuade tween girls to stay in scouting longer. She told me a story about how Girl Scouts actually gets better as you get older. That you get to do more meaningful community service. That you get to make a difference. I loved the campaign before I even saw it. Because I loved her explanation.

From that moment forward, I have always encouraged students to create passion project campaigns. Every time I see one, I’m happy to see how much heart and soul go into those projects. The projects are always about something very personal. The arts. Dance. Theater. Hiking. Travel. Someone even create a campaign about their favorite biker bar.

No matter how ‘finished’ your portfolio, you can make it even better by creating a passion project campaign. Trust me on this one. It will become your favorite campaign. It will be the first one your present in an interview.  And it will be better than anything you create for KFC.




You Can Go Home Again — Returning To Temple University

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I graduated from Temple University before 1/3 of my creative department was born. I’m almost embarrassed to say, that I hadn’t been back on campus since I picked up my diploma. All that changed last Thursday.  I was invited to speak on campus about healthcare advertising. I was nervous. I was excited. I couldn’t wait.

I was met in the parking lot by the Director of Career Services. She walked me to her office and then graciously allowed me to camp out there all day. Throughout the day I met the Dean, the Chair of the Advertising Department and other members of the faculty. I also got to meet with some incredible students.  It was inspiring to see what the University had planned for the future of the department. It was great to listen to the dreams of the students. And I was in awe of the campus that had grown and improved dramatically since my last visit. (By the way — the Tech Center is absolutely amazing.)

About 150 students came to my lecture. Many asked questions. Several stayed after to ask one-on-one questions. I met a future Account Executive star, several incredible graphic designers, art directors and writers.  I was impressed. And I’m not easily impressed.

But I think the thing I liked the most was the hunger that everyone displayed. The faculty wanted to know my thoughts on how to make things better. Career Services wanted to know how to best prepared their students for the real world. And the students wanted to find a way to intern, get a job, keep in contact and get better in their craft before they had to leave for the real world.

Temple University students are hungry. To improve. To prove they’re just as good as the “advertising school” grad students. To make a difference.  I’ve always been proud to say that I’m a graduate from Temple University. Last Thursday only made me more proud.

Well done Owls.