I think I can speak for the majority of agency owners who receive calls, letters, e-mails, everything short of a Molotov cocktail from a well-meaning individual or company promising to make us and our agencies better. Consultants. The C word, I thought.
I avoided the overtures of one particular individual -- let's call him Bob -- and lumped him in with the rest. Voicemail city, baby. After all, like you, I have a business to run. Speaking of running, once I took his call (more why I took the call below), that was Bob's main question: "How was our agency running?" Or, as we query in Philly, "How you doin'?"
The reality was, as I'd grown up, added more people, more layers and gotten busier, there was no question that as a creative force of something-or-other, I was pretty good. But as a manager, director of HR, etc.? Let's just say I'm not authoring any books anytime soon. Unless you'd want to title it "The Avoidance of Things I Hate" or "1,000 Fun Things to Do Instead of Writing a Business Plan."
So out comes the mirror and, for the first time in eight years, I stopped -- really stopped -- and took a good look at AgileCat through the eyes of Bob (whose resume, accomplishments, etc. in our industry speak for themselves). And I thought the delivery room was scary! Ladies and gents -- there was much work to be done.
The man was hired. Why? (I mean aside from his laser insight on our agency's particular issues, his candor and his C.V.) Despite many faults, I do own a very good detector for the psychology and intention of people. I know who means something 100% -- and who's riding the B.S. train looking for cash on the tracks. When he looked at me like he was burning a hole in my head and said four simple words: "I want you to win." Either he's beating Mickey Rourke for an Oscar next year or the guy freaking meant it. I wanted to high-five the son of a gun and do wind sprints down 19th Street. Or do the Kid n Play dance or something.
Why did I wait this long to engage? A combination of leggo my ego and the avoidance of that which you know deep down inside will make you feel like 10 lbs. of sand in a 5 lb. bag. (Madden's posts now edited for young readers -- like Highlights!)
As Bob got working on us, I considered what I should have named our initial engagement phase. I came up with "Step 1: Holy Crap, It's Worse Than I Thought!"
But guess what: The intense, sharp pain of knowing we weren't perfect subsided pretty quickly. Like jumping into the Atlantic for a surf with a hangover and a shark convinces you you've got worse problems than the after-effects of too many dark-and-stormies (great drink). Kidding. Information really is power no matter the sting. And the quote that "luck is when preparation meets opportunity" can be applied appropriately here.
My pain was replaced with a serious fire. One I don't think I've felt since I was eating Ramen noodles and living off an Amoco gas card when AgileCat was Hungry Kitten. Like in every small agency, whatever I feel, good or bad, is pretty quickly transferred into everyone who works here. Basically, the agency was on fire -- in a good way. We're awfully competitive (understatement) and we really do want to win.
I think for the last number of years I wanted to be perfect for everyone at the agency, because aren't all leaders perfect? But the whole time I was trying to hide what I wasn't good at. My scars were obvious, my shortcomings painful for everyone. I was trying to protect myself and was doing a marvelous job of screwing things up.
Are ya feelin' me, agency peeps? Been here? Done this? Avoiding it now? Glad you did it? Share away.
In a strange way, by letting the agency know that I could do a lot better, and then getting in the ring with Bob so he could Mike Tyson me, then hopefully pick me up and train me to be a featherweight champ, I may have won more respect than was intended.
Time will tell, but I'm pumped for "Stage 2: Let's Kick Some Ass."
Postscript: Special thanks to Jeff Greenhouse who runs a great design agency in Philadelphia, Singularity Design. We're friendly competitors, and he didn't have to call me to tell me that Bob would be good for the Cat, but he did. That's a spirit I'd like Philly branding/ad/design firms to be known for one day. We are all in this together in a funny way.
Dare to dream.