Don't Use Thoroughbreds as Plow Horses

A Parable for Small Advertising Agencies

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Bart Cleveland
Bart Cleveland
You opened your agency with a vision to be something special. To be great. No, the greatest. You burned late hours. You lost weekends, holidays. Most likely, you sacrificed a good bit of time that your family needed, because you knew what was needed if you were going to fulfill that vision.

You put your money where you mouth is, hiring the best people you could find -- people smarter and more talented than you. You invested in the best training and technology to equip those people to make your vision a reality.

Then the call came in.

"Just this one time," they said. "We know it's not what you do," they said. "We know it's bad work, but it's really the only option."

You hang up the phone and think about it. You rationalize and you cave. Just this one time.

So you go and harness that thoroughbred you've spent all you have to nurture and train. You lead that horse, that can run faster than any horse has ever run, and you hitch it to a plow. Just this one time. Just to get the job done.

Another call comes in, not too long after the first. You did it before for us. Can you do it again? You did it cheaper and faster, so it shouldn't be a problem, right? And, by the way, why is it you were able to do it so much cheaper and faster than usual?

These are good arguments, you think. The thoroughbred fussed a bit, but it did the job. It plowed that field just fine. It won't hurt to do it again. Just this one time.

Then another call comes in. This time it's from the track. There's a big race and they want you in it. This is for the roses. The dream that you have spent all of these years and every penny you've been able to scrape together to fulfill. You go to the stable and you load that thoroughbred into a trailer and you go to the track. You groom that thoroughbred to a high sheen. You saddle it up and ride it to the starting line.

And that thoroughbred runs like . . . well, it's not really a run. It's more like a trot. The kind a good plow horse does to get to its feedbag after plowing an acre. You lose. But that's okay. You've got a decent plow horse for let.

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