Welcome to the Management Team

Hope You're Ready for the Responsibility

By Published on .

Phil Johnson Phil Johnson
Every other Tuesday, the eight people who comprise the PJA management team meet in one of the back conference rooms to discuss the state of the agency. Not surprisingly, the rest of the office is curious about what takes place in those meetings. While we give regular updates, every once in a while, someone asks me, "What the hell do you guys talk about?"

First of all, the team spends a few minutes making fun of me, but that's OK. I've got two teenage boys, and I'm used to it. What I really care about is how well all of us work together, along with our ability to deliver on the agency's business plan. More than ever, I'm convinced that the chemistry of this management team determines the success of the business.

Understandably, everyone wants to be a member. Who wouldn't? You're close to all the major decisions and you get an audience for all your opinions. My opinion is that if most people really understood the responsibilities, they wouldn't want any part of it.

At the top of my list of expectations: You give up the right to whine. The agency problems belong to you. Not enough resources? A broken traffic system? A difficult client? That's your job. Years ago, I worked with an executive who walked around the agency shaking his head and exclaiming, "The wheels are coming off the bus." I always thought, "Hey, isn't it your job to keep the wheels on the bus, not to mention moving forward?"

Among the most backbreaking work is getting the right people in the door. You've got to find them, recruit them, train them and integrate them into the life of the agency. Our San Francisco GM frequently likes to say, "The agency with the best people wins." With the right people in place so many other problems seem to disappear.

I've noticed that a 1% difference of opinion between members of a senior team can turn into a 10% difference among the rest of the staff. Has anyone ever heard of tensions between account and creative? The place to eliminate those problems is at the top by building absolute alignment between the creative director and the director of account services. That means thrashing through a lot of preconceptions and long-held convictions and finding common ground. It makes a world of difference when these two people like and respect each other.

Agency morale belongs to the management team. There are good days and bad days. Sooner or later everyone gets a little down. Individuals can become demoralized, but so can groups. I believe it's a responsibility of every member of the management team to keep people feeling good and positive. I don't mean over-zealous cheerleading. What counts is projecting authentic confidence, finding cause for optimism in the face of adversity and showing the conviction to stand beside people and help solve their problems. That job alone will burn some serious calories.

Don't forget about getting stuff done. Intelligence, insights and sage advice don't win business. Nor do they hire new managers, launch new services or fix whatever problems crop up on a daily basis. If you want to be on the senior team, get ready to sign on for some serious long-term objectives.

Face it, some people just freak out when they encounter uncertainty and the unknown. Members of the management team need to possess the rare gift to operate with confidence in new circumstances and to sometimes bravely go where they have never gone before. That's the only way to grow beyond the conventional and the familiar -- both enemies of our profession.

Over the years, I've experimented with the size of this team. It has been as small as three people, but we lost some important voices. I've swung the other way and included half the agency, which dilutes the power of the group and makes it somewhat meaningless. Today, we have eight people on the team, which feels just about right for an agency with 50-plus people. No one gets a buy. Everyone is in the room because they carry the responsibility for an important function of the business.

If all that responsibility and pressure doesn't scare you off, give me a call. Maybe you can have my job. I really want to be a copywriter.
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