Time to Look at Yourself in the Mirror -- Naked

Keep Excellence a Priority and Your Agency Will Benefit Exponentially

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Bart Cleveland
Bart Cleveland
The end of the year fast approaches. If you're like me, this is a time of reflection on all of the work your agency has done during the past 12 months. It's a last chance to ask myself what is my agency's best work? How many examples of excellence do we have? How do we compare to the rest of the industry? I ask these questions throughout the year, of course. But the last months of the year may afford some opportunities that have been overlooked.

The present economy makes the answers to some of these questions pretty depressing. There are plenty of reasons why the work isn't where it should be. Clients are still not spending as they did, in some cases by more than half. For many, what they have spent has been utilitarian, recycling old work instead of creating new campaigns. New work has been primarily on shoestring budgets and integrated efforts are few and far between. From my conversations with other small agency leaders, my agency's situation is common.

Despite the hardship, I believe my agency should be moving forward, growing in capability and expertise. Our work should be the best it's ever been. At least, there should be one example of the best work we've done. Having nothing worthy of praise from the past year's effort is unacceptable. We agencies have all been dealt the same cards. I've seen great work from my peers. There is no excuse for my agency not doing so as well.

In fact, tough times offer a true test of how passionate an agency is about doing great work. A meager budget that is turned into something extraordinary exemplifies those that are willing to dig deeper for greatness. Agencies that do so are lead by example. If the leadership lets hard times beat up the work, there is no hope for those doing the work.

When one is faced with the obstacles of a bad economy it becomes easy to rationalize quality. But those who are passionate about the work know that rationalization doesn't move our industry forward. Their attitude is that creativity should be at its best when the obstacles are at their greatest number. If they have to give away quality because a budget doesn't allow for it, they do so. They know the economy will come back. A reputation for great work spoiled by compromise may not.

Many have said that advertising isn't curing cancer. Few things are. But what we do can be culturally relevant while serving a business goal. Thus we should always execute with an attitude of excellence. We must have a defiant attitude toward dire circumstances.

My agency cultivates such an attitude by placing an expectation for excellence no matter the budget or circumstances. The work must be done at the highest level possible. During tough times, that level is much higher than most want to admit. However, it will be evident when we see the work of our peers. Agencies that keep excellence a priority will benefit exponentially.

Yes, it's been a tough couple of years. But that is no excuse for less than our best. When discouraged by tight budgets and fewer true opportunities, I remind myself not to use the truth of the situation as an excuse. I know that those who refuse to accept failure and press on to better work, even if they have to do so for less money, will be our industry's leaders in better times. I pledge to myself to do everything I can to be one of them. It is better for my clients, my agency, my industry and my peace of mind.

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