A while back, I invited a managing partner from a well-known agency in another state to come and visit us. He accepted, and we had lunch. Since then, we have invited several other head honchos from larger agencies to come and see what we're doing, and share some of their expertise. (We always foot the bill, mind you.) It is, I will tell you, somewhat of a vulnerable feeling. Kind of like inviting the "Joneses" in the big house over to your small casa; or like undressing for the first time in the locker room.
I'm always impressed, however, at how eager and gracious these icons are to share with us what they know and what they've learned throughout the years. A few have declined the invitations, but in general, most of these men and women have been extremely friendly and transparent in sharing their knowledge, their mistakes, their successes -- and they've been willing to give us some free advice.
Invaluable. That's all I can say. As a result of these relationships, and because we haven't been too proud to say there are some things we don't know, I believe we have saved ourselves from making some big mistakes, and as well, we have stayed ahead of the curve. I can think of more than one occasion in which one of these gurus essentially asked incredulously: "Why in the world would you think that was a good idea?" Questions like this obviously make you re-think your strategy.
Additionally, we have been all the more fortunate to hear what's going on in their world. Where are our industry leaders leading us? What do brands that are household names worldwide really want, and what are they looking for? And on one level, it's really comforting to see that no matter how big an agency becomes, some things remain the same. (We had one guy tell us that he still answers his own phone -- you gotta like that!)
So what do we do with all of this? Well, we still continue to invite firms that are doing incredible stuff to come and visit our little shop. We still ask a million questions. We still swoon over great ads and great ideas. But now, we are also at a point where we can give back a little bit.
No, no one has offered to fly me to their agency so that I can give them pointers and critique their work. But whenever someone comes into our place looking for a job, we always take the time to review his book, spend some time with him and give him some pointers. On the flip side, we've also found that when you give to your clients as much information as they can handle, they don't eventually stop needing you. Instead, you actually build a much stronger relationship that binds your two organizations together. We convey loyalty.
And you better believe that, when that call comes someday from another shop saying, "I've just always loved the work your firm has done and I was just wondering ..." there will be an immediate response: "Absolutely!"