The Ad Exec: Inside the agency — working hard vs smart
by Tom Fels (@thomasfels) The constant hum inside advertising and communication businesses creates a real sense of energetic productivity, no doubt leaving managers quietly pleased that the staff is working efficiently and effectively, deadline after deadline being nailed as they tap away at their keyboards and crisscross the office to fuel up on caffeine.
All too often, however, the inadvertent sense of busyness is not much more than, well, being busy. Working smart and working hard are far from the same thing — it’s actually hard to work smart and, as an agency leader, it’s often even harder to ingrain a culture of behavioural excellence throughout an organisation.
Here are four ways to counteract the appealing fallbacks of human nature to greatly increase your personal and professional productivity:
1. Drop multitasking for mono-tasking
We’re stuck in a society where we chase quantity over quality. If you were a mathematician, you would not try to solve 30 complex problems simultaneously, jumping from one to another throughout the day. Yet, in the advertising world, we have come to pride ourselves in just how many different roles we can take on at any one time.
Rather than justifying this lunacy and applauding yourselves, try to drastically minimise the number of tasks you juggle in any particular workflow. The results will be more considered, and likely more valuable. Your clients will, no doubt, thank you later.
2. Plan your most important hours
The modern professional seems entirely dominated by their work calendar and overflowing inbox, to the point that they are missing out on their zones of highest potential output by cramming work into the gaps in their diaries.
Ignore the urge to react to external influence and take control of your high-energy times during the day by booking out slots where you disable email access and focus yourself on specific project tasks.
You’ll not only experience greater quality output but also more satisfaction when reflecting upon the work you’ve handled through the day.
3. Opt for power meetings
Have you noticed that people only ever send meeting requests in multiples of 30 minutes? It’s almost as though a design flaw in Outlook has determined the way we approach decision-making. I’d argue that at least half the meetings you host and attend can be completed in a fraction of the time they are booked for.
My first rule of meetings is that, if you can avoid them, choose rather to make decisions on the fly by engaging the key stakeholders face to face. This will keep conversations lean and momentum levels high.
If you do opt for a meeting, maintain a deep respect for the people’s time you are absorbing. Start by inviting only those needed for a well-informed and decisive session where, much like in a presentation team, passengers should not be encouraged.
Then get aggressive on the objectives, structure and expected outputs of the meeting before kickoff by touching base with attendees ahead of the time. This will not only shorten the actual session but also transform its orientation toward decision making.
The final ingredient is energy. If an excellent framework is set and all apply their energy generously, the context and content will be amplified significantly. Conversely, sensing a deep despair in the room after 40 minutes is a sure sign to hit the eject button.
4. Dump email in favour of conversation
Email is the worst of all the communication sins, for a variety of reasons. No client was won, business relationship was mended or big idea was ever cracked over email. Yet, every day, hours are spent crafting long and beautifully formatted emails, not only to our clients, but to our colleagues, too!
This archaic approach encourages delays, along with an over-supply of information and a lack of specificity about what actually needs to get done.
Therefore, the fewer emails sent, the better. Rather use the tool to formalise outputs from discussions so everyone remains aligned.
It’s a simple science
There are no new ideas captured here, no magic formula or revolutionary practice — just simple and accessible ideas that, if fully embraced, have transformative power. Far too much time and effort are spent over-compensating and ass-covering in our industry, when the highest form of agency performance can be achieved by placing our trust in age-old processes, well-implemented.
I challenge you to apply these principles for two weeks and then share your experience with me on Twitter (tweet @thomasfels). It won’t come with a money-back guarantee but, then again, it wouldn’t have cost you anything.
With a decade of local and international experience in leading independent brand consulting, design, shopper marketing and integrated advertising roles, Tom Fels (@thomasfels) has gained a deeply relevant understanding of the dynamics of independent agencies. His skills are put to work daily as group managing director of MACHINE. He contributes the monthly “The Ad Exec” column to MarkLives.
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