Originally published on LinkedIn in June, 2023.
Over the last 10 years I’ve learned there are three questions I need answered for myself when I look for full-time work.
1) Does the agency know what great work looks like?
2) Does the agency know how to sell great work to the client?
3) Does the agency know how to produce great work?
Without all three, the odds of making something great are fairly low.
The ones who don’t get lucky from time to time, but the best creative leadership does all three and that’s why they consistently produce work you are proud of.
Every agency either thinks they can do all three, or they’ll make excuses as to why they can’t… yet.
You’ll hear things like, “we are building trust with the client.” Or, “we’re picking our battles,” and not present anything that may push the client. “It’ll take 3-5 years” is another thing I’ve heard a lot.
Yet the moment where they push back never actually comes.
In an age where many clients want the cheapest option, they’ll likely bolt before the creative director decides it is finally the time.
The best shops are the best because they take risks and don’t always want to have “a good meeting,” which isn’t to say they won’t have one.
They just know that if things go south, they can save the “good meeting” for the second round.
In a podcast, Alex Bogusky said he was walking around an agency (not CPB) and saw some work on the wall. He asked what the client thought of it. The agency told him they didn’t present it because they were worried the client wouldn’t like it.
He commented to the host his son plays him music he doesn’t like all the time, but he doesn’t love his son any less and knows his son will try again.
At the end of the day, a client can’t say yes if you never give them the opportunity. Presenting things they may not like is a good way to discover things they do like, the less obvious things.
That’s why being a great creative doesn’t always make you a great creative leader. You have to know how to sell as well, but you also have to deliver.
After all you can have a great idea, client buy in, and still completely flub the landing.
If you can find these people, work your ass off for them, really listen to them (especially when they disagree with you), and watch how they interact with both the client and internal teams. This way when you get your chance you can do the same.
Creative advertising doesn’t end when you have a great idea, it’s just beginning. That’s what separates the greats from everyone else. They do all three.
If you find these people, stay as long as you can. Or at least until the agency lays you off, you can’t do much about that.
– Josh D. Weiss is a Co-Founder of The Side Show and Freelance Creative Director