How Running An Agency Helps Prepare You for a Storm

Business Leadership Can Come in Handy

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Over the weekend I, along with millions of others along the East Coast, prepared for a brutal storm: Hurricane Irene. You never know if a looming storm is going to be an overblown event or the real deal, but I wasn't about to take my chances and wing it. The ole' "better safe than sorry." After all, in the same week, we experienced an earthquake. So much for a quiet August.

Frankly, by the time the rain started, I was on hurricane-hype overload. You couldn't turn on the TV, online, Twitter, Facebook, radio, or open a newspaper without someone talking about what was coming up the coast. Everyone had a tip and a warning to help you make it through.

Still, as I stocked up on bottled water, filled the bath tub (still not sure why, but experienced friends in Florida said I needed to do it), lowered my swimming pool, and battened down the hatches, I knew this was simply prudent planning.

While I'm still without power as I write this, in clean-up mode, and down a few trees, I realized there are parallels between how we deal with havoc from Mother Nature and how we run -- or should run -- our businesses. Here are a few:

Preparation. As basketball legend John Wooden once said, the key to winning is to "Be prepared and be honest." Living in the Northeast certainly doesn't prepare you for earthquakes and hurricanes, but you need to deal with it. As you would your agency. Running a successful shop requires teams to anticipate client needs; get ready for meetings and presentations of all sizes and importance; prepare briefs with insight and relevance; and have a culture of readiness and candor, where everyone is on the same page about how to do their jobs and serve clients -- and do it with integrity. As much as agencies want to operate in a proactive mode, the day-to-day activities of managing a clients' scopes of business requires a mentality of preparedness, where teams have to react quickly. Anything could happen on any given day; how we respond is critical to the success of the relationship. Getting ready for a major storm is not much different, and it polishes a leaders' skills.

Communication. Talk to your staff, your clients, your vendors, 'friends' and 'followers.' Especially internally to your team. They are seeking your leadership. At my shop, we probably over-communicate, so that there is no confusion over what our goals are, what our values are, and where things stand with the business. I believe in recognizing accomplishments and giving credit publicly to those who merit it. A good communications plan also squashes rumors and set things straight. With a natural disaster, there's not a heck of a lot an ad agency exec can do about it, but one tool we have is our ability to communicate clearly and effectively. So whether you re-distribute the agency's emergency plan, or lay out the steps employees should take to ensure their own safety, it's important to do it.

Execution. You can have a master plan that you unveiled with flair and style. But if you don't execute it effectively, what have you really accomplished? Whether it's a new campaign for a client, or a bold new initiative for your agency, make certain that you pay attention to the details and see the plan through. Lots of people have big ideas; only the successful ones are able to execute them. That reminds me of how we reacted to nature's events of the last week. We dusted off and communicated our agency's emergency plan, and shared some guidelines on how to survive a natural disaster with our employees. As I said, we're not experts, but if you do a little homework, you get smart quickly, and distributing that information is in everyone's best interest.

Many of us on the East Coast will be digging out for days and weeks to come. My thoughts go out to those who were particularly hard hit. In a way, life mirrors business and vice versa. On the East Coast, the waning days of summer have been a vivid reminder of that .

Marc Brownstein is president of The Brownstein Group, Philadelphia.
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