Agency Life: He said, she said, you said, they said
by TJ Njozela (@tj_njozela) When working at an agency where storytelling is a big part of the job, sometimes you’ll find that the stories being told aren’t about the ads but the people who make them. Here are three tips to ensure that a little gossip doesn’t turn into a big deal, so you’ll be able to enjoy more laughs with everyone while avoiding getting caught up with ‘He said, she said’ conversations within an ad agency.
It happens in every agency, and some even have an undisputed mam’gosi or gossip queen. Though it’s fun to hear how Steve’s new haircut makes him look five years younger, or that Fezi’s new romantic pursuit is the flame of all flames, not all office gossip is good. At its best, it may be entertaining and bring people together. But the bad kind may hurt relationships, damage reputations and be very bad for your career.
Here’s my advice.
1. Keep confidential information hush-hush
Whether it’s a new business win that’s being finalised, a campaign that hasn’t yet launched or a renegotiated employment contract, there is a lot of confidential information that is exchanged daily in an agency. While having the inside scoop of everything that goes on gives you the opportunity to add value to the agency, being privy to confidential information also comes with massive responsibility.
As your career progresses, you will become responsible for things that shouldn’t be discussed outside of a certain context, and some not at all. It could be a repositioning strategy of a major brand, or the results of a performance review for a member of your team.
Whatever the circumstance may be, dealing with confidential information requires you to be discerning, tactful, and trustworthy. The easiest way to do all three is to keep certain conversations only with the people who need to know.
2. Watch what you say
Before you talk about that thing that you’ve been itching to tell somebody about, think about the effect it will have, especially if it’s about a colleague. On the one hand, if it’s harmless, then be your chatterbox-self and share the story with anyone who’s willing to hear it. If, on the other hand, what you have to say will cast a negative light on someone you work with, especially your boss, keep it to yourself.
Rumours, especially bad rumours, have a tendency to travel fast. And, if it’s found that you are the source, it may get you in a lot of trouble really quickly.
How do you know if what on the tip of your tongue is ok or not? Generally, if you want to say something that you wouldn’t say in front of the person you’re talking about, there’s a good chance that it’s the bad kind of gossip. If it’s something that you know would make them smile, laugh, or blush, then chances are it’s the good kind.
3. Build relationships
Tense relationships in the office space are one of the biggest reasons for gossip. When people don’t get along, they smile at each other, then utter words that would make their moms blush under their breath. The most common complaints at many agency bars are about how some people just can’t stand a particular colleague.
Instead of moaning about them over beer with other colleagues, why not have a drink with them? Find out what their interests are, and try to build a better relationship with the person you don’t get along with. You might not ride off into the sunset as BFFs but, the more you get to know them, it may give you more positive things to say about them.
TJ Njozela (@tj_njozela) is an award-winning senior copywriter at FCB Africa with several years of experience in the advertising industry. More than a writer, he is also a reader, a thinker, and an avid liker of things; and he once walked from Joburg to Cape Town in 30 days to raise funds to buy wheelchairs for people in need. #30Days30Wheelchairs. TJ contributes the regular “Agency Life” column, in which he gives career advice for working within the advertising industry, to MarkLives.