True Ad People Are Natural-Born Problem Solvers

Even More Thoughts from the Small Agency Conference

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Tom Martin
Tom Martin
It never fails. You go to a conference, and I don't care how good it is, the best session ends up being a hallway conversation or meeting over dinner, drinks or coffee. And so it was at the Ad Age Small Agency Conference here in New Orleans.

While I loved all the sessions and took a ton of notes, my favorite session was definitely "Dinner at Clancy's" where I had a chance to meet, eat with and learn from my fellow Small Agency Bloggers -- Phil (I blog slow but I'm buying dinner) Johnson, Bart (Thanks for not sucking) Cleveland, and Marc (Yes I'm as dapper as my avatar) Brownstein.

So other than the fact that this session included some incredible food, why was it my favorite?

First, I was sitting with three very successful agency owners. As someone who just launched his own firm, having an hour and a half to soak up wisdom, pick brains and pose questions was simply invaluable. Too often, I fear we miss this opportunity -- and not just at conferences. I've learned over the years that most in our industry are willing to share and mentor if they're just asked. So do as I did -- ask. You'll be surprised what you might learn.

Second, I learned something I think I always knew but never verbalized: Great ad guys (and ladies) are first and foremost problem solvers. They simply cannot see a challenge and not offer advice, ideas and insights. I think it was about 30 seconds after I explained my new venture, Converse Digital, to Marc that he started offering advice. Then Bart and Phil chimed in and before you know it, I've got three mentors challenging my business plan, my niche, and basically giving me a ton of very valuable advice. Best of all, it continued during the conference and into the next evening with the guys stopping me with a "Hey, I had another thought." I think this is one of the things that makes our industry so great. The old guard really wants the new guard to succeed and is willing to invest in that success.

Third, I was amazed that these "competitors" were freely sharing information, ideas, and "this is how we do it" type information. Not that these guys compete often or ever, but they could. Maybe it's the natural curiosity that flows through great ad people, maybe it's that we all kind of "knew" each other, or maybe it was just the spirit of New Orleans getting into their veins. Regardless, throughout dinner and again at drinks and dinner the next night, there was a kinship that led to some really thought provoking discussions about agencies, agency models, the ad industry and the future of digital marketing to name a few. And in each of those discussions there was a truly honest discourse that revealed strengths, weaknesses and plans. It was enlightening and something we all committed to continue over time.

So what can you learn from my dinner at Clancy's?

Simple. If you really want to get smart, stay current and innovate as the leader of a small (boutique, independent, or whatever other names we came up with at the conference) agency, call on leaders at agencies like you that you admire. Invite them to dinner or trade e-mails or chat via phone. While at first it may strike you as odd, the truth is, it's lonely at the top and great ideas usually come from collaboration. So go collaborate with the enemy.

Heck, you might just like it. I know we did.

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Tom Martin created Converse Digital to help companies and agencies monitor, create and engage in digital conversations. Want to talk? Just email ConverseDigital@gmail or follow @TomMartin on Twitter.