Monday, February 5, 2024

Read What's on the Wall.

My friend, Patti McConnell, the Managing Director and co-founder of the agency Something Different posted a story on Linked In over the weekend. She was doing an email purge and came upon an email from Chris Wall, who for many years was one of the great creative leaders at Ogilvy. 

Chris wasn't the easiest person to work for. Though of course, others will disagree with my assessment. Despite some personal contretemps I had with Chris, I never really found myself questioning his taste, judgment or his passion to do great work. Chris also, always, as far as I can remember, put the needs of clients first, not the needs of awards' juries. 

He wrote these words to me when I was having one of my every eight seconds moments of rage at Ogilvy: 

"Look, you have to have a certain amount of faith in the power of two things:  creative work that is genuinely insightful and well crafted and the willingness to put in the time to do things right.


"If you do those things, smart clients love you because their work gets results.  And the others fall by the wayside because hard work trumps a title in the long run.  


"It can be a tortuous path, I admit.  You are envied for your portfolio and envied because the people with money and influence look to you for help - and they can't figure it out (because if they did, they'd have the same relationships)."

The note Patti reprinted was touched many of the same themes.

This is from Patti:

"When Chris was departing Ogilvy after 20 years, he sent a much longer email (he was famous for his robust notes), but these nuggets are what stand true today. Or should. Needed this reminder."

This is from Chris:

  • "Manage down, not up. Look out for your people. Be unselfish. Help them succeed. Spend time talking to them about their aspirations, try to protect them from stupidity and care about them as human beings. It will come back to you in the form of loyalty, commitment and good karma.

  • Look for the good in every idea. Critics are a dime a dozen. It’s easy to be dismissive of an idea, especially when it isn’t yours. Force yourself to think about how an idea COULD work if it’s not quite working as presented.

  • Ethics is not a training module. It has become fashionable to shovel various on-line “training” modules at people these days. But if you’re smart enough to get a job at Ogilvy & Mather, then you’re smart enough to know the difference between right and wrong. Ethics comes from the heart, not from an email. If somebody who works for you is behaving in an unethical fashion, get rid of them. We owe our clients honesty and integrity above all else. Once you start fudging the truth, you forget what the truth is.

  • People follow leaders, not titles.  It astounds me how many people think a windy title on your business card is the same thing as actually being a leader. But while titles are common, leadership is rare. Leadership brings with it the collective force of faith and partnership. It can move mountains.

  • There aren’t many geniuses in this business. I’ve met perhaps three or four. For the rest of us, hard work is what counts. This is an enormously competitive business and outworking your competition is one of a handful of proven ways to win. The harder you work, the more often you win.

  • Above all, have perspective. I’ve tried to work hard and apply my skills to the best of my ability. But mostly, I’ve benefitted from a culture that attracted people of character and talent who shared their knowledge and made me look good. Lucky me.

  • For a business that depends on the passion and inspiration of people, it is remarkable how willing it is to treat them as a disposable resource.

  • If you embrace it, believe in it and live it - it will continue to flourish
And that, I think, would be a good thing for all of us."

Chris' words seem especially important today, when agencies like Ogilvy have CRL (continuous rolling layoffs) and seem to be less and less concerned with creativity in the service of their clients and more and more concerned with spurious awards, hiding layoffs from the trade-press, the cost-cutting benefits of automation, data and AI, and Holding Company C-Suite bonuses.

This is how agencies talk today. As reported in Ad Age (no relation) last week.

That was then, above. This is now, below.



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