Thursday, February 21, 2019

An open letter (which won't be read by those who should read it.)

Many years ago, I worked at an agency where attrition was high and morale was low. (Who hasn't?)

I was high enough up in the company that senior management came to me and asked me what I would do to improve things.

I should clarify. They wanted to know how would I improve things without really changing things--without giving people more money. 

I thought about this quandary for a few minutes and said, "I think Bill, the CEO, should walk around on pay-day with peoples' pay envelopes, hand them out personally, and personally thank people for their hard work.

Naturally, everybody looked at me like I was crazy. Even though we in advertising are at some ostensible level in a relationship business, upper management is terrible at having relationships with people who work so hard (and enjoy so few of the benefits from their hard work.)

Just now, in the wake of Lee Clow's retirement from TBWA\Chiat\Day after decades of amazing work and amazing leadership, I stumbled upon this in my LinkedIn feed.

I think anyone who asks others to do things, bosses, spouses, parents, etc., could learn from it.

Here's the story that showed up in my feed:

                        Over a couple of non-stop, no-sleep days in 2005, I was fortunate enough to support Lee Clow and Chuck McBride in prepping a pitch for Diet Pepsi at TBWA\Chiat\Day New York. Lee spent a LOT of time in the production studio. Supervising mostly--but also making comps, trimming down boards, tidying up scraps off the floor, etc. I was gobsmacked. This guy is famous--he created Apple's "Think Different" campaign, for fuck's sake--yet he was down-to-earth, and working in the trenches (happily) with we lowly grunts. The morning that we had completed our work, this 24 x 36 sheet was pinned up on our studio wall. I exited the lobby of 488 Madison, to see the silhouettes of Lee and Chuck on the street, waiting for cabs--as the sun was rising in front of them. It couldn't have been any more majestic/super-heroic if they'd planned it. Enjoy your well-earned time off, good sir.

And here is a copy of the 24 x36 sheet pinned to the studio wall.

These days, everyone in our business is so smart, so sophisticated, so busy and so very important, that we forget many of the things that go into making people human. We forget the little things that motivate people to work hard. The things, beyond money, that make people feel valued, rewarded and recognized. I'm not talking about an agency t-shirt at the holidays, or a logo'd mug with 32 M&Ms inside.

No, I'm talking about a basic human need. The need to feel appreciated, valued and rewarded. You know, liked.
Maybe our technocratic society, our inequality of wealth and the hectic pace of the business today has made humanity, humor, sharing and kindness relics of a different era, like the horse-and-buggy or toaster-pizzas.

I know my values are old-fashioned--believing in manners and their value is as passe as a pair of bloomers. I suppose if there's an MBA reading this or an aforementioned technocrat, they'd say, "You get paid. And you're lucky to have a job. You're dry when it rains. You get four weeks vacation and so forth."

That's fine.

If that's the way you want to be.

It's not the way I want to be.

Thank you.
PS  I don't know Lee. Never had the chance to work for him. So maybe I'm being naive. Maybe he's a jerk. But given the discussion around his retirement and some anecdotes from friends who have worked with him, I don't think so.

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