by Jerry Mpufane (@JerryMpufane) We often say that the advertising industry is a people business, and that people are our greatest asset. This sentiment is true regardless of which lens is used to view the agency business, as is the case with many other professional services firms.

The creative solutions to the client’s business problems are produced by people. More often than not, clients come to us because of the people we keep. The subject of people is always pertinent, being a part of every conversation in the advertising agency business.

People Answers by Idea go courtesy of
Image by Idea go courtesy of


The calibre of our client teams has a big influence on the success of the brands. However, we also know the pivotal role played by agencies in building the most successful and resonant brands. Advertising agencies don’t keep heavy-duty industrial equipment, nor do we keep tons of stock that is stashed away in dark warehouses. Success in our game is achieved only when the best people come forward and lead.

When it comes to the subject of people, decades’ worth of research has gone into what separates the winners from the mediocre. Every speciliased science into humans shares the same view. High levels of intelligence (IQ) are a critical skill, and an important requirement when mapping the agency’s talent requirements. Whereas we admire people with a very high IQ, there is another kind of smart that is the difference, namely EQ.

Internationally renowned psychologist Daniel Goleman helped define in modern times the subject of ‘emotional intelligence quotient’ (EQ).

IQ vs EQ

People with the highest levels of IQ outperform those with average IQ just 20% of the time, while people with average IQs outperform those with high IQs 70% of the time. In the field of behavioural sciences, this is a peculiar finding. This forced the likes of Goleman to dig deeper, and later conclude that beyond what a person knows (IQ), the critical factor is in identifying who that person is and how the person handles himself or herself and others (EQ).

Their studies of more than 200 organisations worldwide showed that 66% of the difference between top performers and average performers was due to emotional competence. Only 33% was due to technical skill. In top leadership positions, more than 80% of the difference was due to emotional competence.

Speaking to the Wall Street Journal, Jack Welch once said: “A leader has to have high levels of self-awareness and self-control. EQ is more rare than booksmarts; it’s actually more important in the making of a leader.”

Paradigm shift

The case for emotional intelligence supports a paradigm shift when it comes to defining the skills which can make or break organisations. This shift includes, among others, a reappraisal of the so-called soft skills. A positive attitude, team play, good communications skills, flexibility, adaptability and the ability to accept and learn from criticism are no longer soft. Of course, the smarts and a strong work ethic are a must.

EQ people build and deepen relationships more effectively.

Any functional area of the advertising agency business requires people with the smarts. But it would serve us well to consider that the best outcomes emanate from those people to dig deep and apply their EQ as a way of working. Emotions guide everything we do, because we human beings are innately emotional creatures. When we consider the proven impact of EQ people upon the success of any organisation, the ‘soft’ has become the most critical of skills sets.

Built upon storytelling

The advertising industry is built upon storytelling, a cornerstone of human existence — the ability to communicate and connect. The good ones among us tell stories that make you sit up, listen and understand. The even better ones tell stories that make you go and do something.

This brings me to the subject of women. Yes, women.

If research has found that women have an edge over men when it comes to expressing their emotions and perceiving the emotions in those around them, how come so few of them lead in the agency world? How come so few of them lead on the creative floor?

May well be better

Renowned philospher Gabriela Kilianova has applauded men’s abilities in storytelling. She has also published opinion from numerous studies that show that women are great storytellers, and may well be better than men at this craft.

Kilianova’s studies observe that humorous plots are more the domain of men in storytelling, while women are very good at telling magical tales.

Now, I do not wish to trivialise this subject, considering that I am not a scientist. There is, however, enough evidence that at the very least, without women story tellers, the advertising industry is deprived. And that we are, thus, doing a great disservice to our craft.


Jerry Mpufane, July 2014Jerry Mpufane has executive experience in both ad agency and client organisations. He’s only got one goal in life, which is to be an inspiring leader. Jerry is currently group MD, Gauteng of M&C Saatchi Abel. His monthly column on MarkLives, “The Business of Business”, focuses on what it takes to run a great AND sustainable ad agency.

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