Swimming buddies

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Today we were showing some work to an account team that included Steve McKee, one of my partners. Unfortunately, the account team was a bit afraid that though the work was on strategy, it was too far away from the campaign that had preceded it. I left the meeting feeling drained. I expected the account team to be excited and had instead experienced a lot of hesitation. I wondered if it was due to a lack of great thinking on our part, or that the account people, out of fear of what the client might think, weren’t giving fresh thinking a chance. I concluded it was a bit of both. We had decided to show the work to the client but, oddly, I didn’t feel very happy about it. I think it was because the team was in disagreement over how much the new campaign should evolve. I really wanted them to see my point-of-view that the work must be fresh, not the typical “clever” ads that most people deem as good work.

I was also a little worried over how Steve was feeling about me criticizing the previous work. I figured he was thinking I was being too hard on the previous work and just wanted to do something different for the sake of having ownership. Steve’s a quiet guy. Sometimes you just don’t know what he’s thinking. We’ve been working with one another for less than a year and it’s been an exciting and rewarding experience. We’ve accomplished a great deal toward building a great agency. Being a moody creative, I occasionally wonder when the honeymoon will be over. When will reality set in and I realize how far we actually will go?

As I mused over this, Steve arrives at my office door and says, “Hey, I just want you to know how much I love working with you.” I guess I had a pretty incredulous look on my face because he added, “I’m being sincere. You and I can disagree and yet still keep working to find an answer that we both believe in. As long as we have that we are going to do awesome work.”

Obviously, this brightened my day quite a bit. It’s interesting how you can have an obsession for great work, and I know greatness only comes from a team effort. The team must believe in the same goal; otherwise they are not a team. Teammates sometimes have to challenge one another to keep us all as honest to the common goal of being great. Greatness happens when you strive for excellence in all aspects of what you do, not just one. When the members of the team are thinking about how to help each other succeed in our individual jobs you are bound to succeed.

When I was a kid at summer camp we got to go swimming everyday as long as we had a swimming buddy to go with us. From time to time the lifeguard would blow his whistle and count to ten. If you weren’t holding your buddy’s hand up by “ten” you had to sit out the rest of the swim. I think great advertising is like swimming. It only happens when you’ve got a buddy watching out for you. If you have one, make sure you stay close to them.
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