The Suit: The power of partnership
by Jason Harrison. Do you sometimes feel totally alone in all of this?
The client is giving you massive gears on a tight deadline. Again. The producer is screaming for the costs to be signed off, today. Again. The production company is over budget. Again. The creative team has changed the script. Again. You’re mainlining caffeine, working post-supper shifts alone at the office and thinking FML, why didn’t I just listen to my parents and be an accountant?
Those moments can get pretty low. How do you lift yourself out of them?
Well, Lady Gaga has Mark Ronson. Tim Cook has Angela Ahrendts. Oprah has Steadman and Ben has Jerry. In their lowest moments, they turn to a brilliantly talented, complementary partner to take them to a better place: Because when one is down, the other is up. When one sees black, the other sees white. When one is lost in the detail, the other is staring at the stars. When one is scared, the other is brave.
These partnerships are built on a relationship of innate trust, a complete alignment of values and a shared mission do to something remarkable together. When they are together, they just ‘flow’.
In an agency, there are so many talented thinkers who you can form multiple powerful partnerships with as a suit. But the most important one to start with, in my view, is your creative partner.
It’s scary at first. Logic and magic are not easy bedfellows, until you both realise that the formula for success isn’t logic = magic, but rather logic + magic = magic2 and that you both have equal parts of both. The best creatives I have worked with are actually closet strategists; the best suits I have worked with are actually closet creatives but somehow our ‘creative’ industry decided we should all be put in our respective boxes. True partnerships don’t have boxes. Ask Lady Gaga, where her creative input ends and Ronson’s starts and she won’t be able to give you an answer.
Steve Jobs said of his partner, Steve Wozniak, “One way to drive fear out of a relationship is to realise that your partner’s values are the same as yours, that what you care about is exactly what they care about. In my opinion, that drives fear out and makes for a great partnership.”
Caring about the work
The critical part of that quote is “what you care about is exactly what they care about”. No one cares about contact reports; no one cares about job bags; no one cares about timing plans. Don’t forget that you disobeyed your parents and didn’t become an accountant so you could make things that solve the most-complex problems in the most creative ways. You have to love the work that comes out at the end more than anything else.
So, as a suit, are you watching the Cannes Lions reels together? Are you sending out late-night links to the latest work from Adweek? Are you discussing the pros and cons of the latest campaign that Droga5 just dropped over coffee? Are you fixated on finding the richest possible insight off which to springboard the work? Are you relentlessly thinking about how to sell the next brave idea?
Are they doing the same with you?
It works both ways
I’ve been fortunate enough to have had many brilliant partners who’ve made me infinitely better in my career. In fact, I was reminded of one recently on a late Friday night. The rest of the agency was blowing off some steam in the bar and this creative partner, whom I first worked with over 15 years ago, was struggling with a particular presentation alone in a board room. I grabbed some beers and asked if I could help him and, just like that, we just started ‘vibing’ as 15 years of muscle memory kicked in. I was throwing out copy lines; he was telling me how to structure the presentation. I typed, then he typed. Every iteration made the thinking better and the presentation shorter. Just the two of us, shut off in the boardroom late on a Friday, trusting in each other’s skills with a shared ambition to craft the best possible work we could, together. (and the beer didn’t even have alcohol in it! #thisadvertisinglife).
As the great Dr Seuss once said, “People are weird. When we find someone with weirdness that is compatible with ours, we team up and call it love.”
So, have you?
Jason Harrison started as a 23-year-old account executive at Ogilvy & Mather before moving to London five years later to run three agency teams in three different European countries. He joined his old mates again in 2011 as one of the founding partners of the M&C Saatchi Group at 33. He believes that creating beautifully simple solutions for an increasingly complex world will, in fact, save the world. His MarkLives column, “The Suit” is about inspiring and helping up-and-coming suits to be better at their craft. He is no longer on Twitter.