[Special guest post from WORK’S Cabell Harris]
This is the second in a series of guests posts from faculty at the VCU Brandcenter. Call us biased (we’re both alums), but we’re consistently blown away by the thinking coming out of that school. So we’ve invited faculty members to contribute content to Makin’ Ads. This is a guest post from Cabell Harris, former long-time teacher at the VCU Brandcenter. It is from his contribution to the book The Next Level “How to get ready for that first job in Advertising, Branding, CRM, Digital, Events, and More”
One of the major tasks for those looking to establish themselves in a creative career is understanding current professional standards – both the quality that is demanded and, simply put, how hard you have to work. Cabell Harris, has a company called WORK in Richmond, VA. He calls it “an agency for agencies.” Cabell has established his credentials with outstanding work and, rumor has it, outstanding work habits. Here are his words to the wise on this important topic.
Let’s roll up our shirtsleeves, grab another cup of coffee and get to work.
You are probably well aware that our little agency, WORK, is not counted among the mega-agencies in the modern advertising world. That suits me just fine. I have had the opportunity to work for many of the larger agencies in either a full-time capacity or as a freelance resource. As a result, I have a wealth of valuable insight into what works and what doesn’t at the places where you’re looking for work.
The good news. My valuable advice is free – or, more accurately, included in the price of this book. The bad news. Free advice is often worth what you pay for it.
Nonetheless, here are a few of my observations.
1. Any agency that does good work or has done good work has a strong Creative Principle who has led by example. Think about it.
2. If you want to see what work is going on in an Agency go to the studio. Whether it’s new business, research, planning, pitching or executing it’s moving through the studio. The best agencies have well-run studios.
3. Large agencies often are encumbered by internal processes/approvals which make it very difficult to work quickly and efficiently.
4. The business has changed from problem solving to opportunity seeking.
5. The companies that spend the longest amount of time on process do the worst work.
6. Every agency I believe has the same process, they just come up with different answers.
Who are you talking to?
o The audience
What do you want to tell them?
o The strategy
How do you tell them?
o The creative
Where do you tell them?
o The media
Was it effective?
o The results
7. You can find some very talented people in bad agencies. They just may not have the personalities or the opportunities that get them noticed. Or, perhaps, their goodness may be directed elsewhere. Perhaps they are good parents, or they make a truly exceptional vinaigrette dressing.
8. All the great agencies have work that comes out of their doors that would shock you by how bad it is. Well, at least in the early years you may be shocked. Then, sad to say you are no longer surprised. Disappointed but not surprised.
9. Egos are important for getting the job done. You must believe you can do the work. You must believe you can sell the work. Ultra egos make enemies ultra fast. But don’t leave your ego at the door. Bring it.
10. The inexperienced individual will immediately argue and defend their one idea. Why? Because they are not confident they can come up with another. Experienced professionals will do what they can to protect good thinking but know they are capable of many solutions.
By far the most important difference I have found in companies or individuals is “Work Ethic.” I have often said that I would rather hire someone with a strong Work Ethic than talent. I have seen too many individuals with talent and potential be surpassed by one who is not easily satisfied and will just keep working.
I was going to stop there, but realized I needed to do a bit more work. So here are a few useful thoughts on the topic of work.
Your boss is out of town. You are still at your desk. Why?
OK. This is important. Your real boss isn’t the person with the company car. It’s the person staring back at you in the mirror each morning. You understand a job isn’t what you do, but how you do it. Your DNA has a strand dedicated to the work ethic. It’s an ingrained code of accountability that can never be instilled through any employee video, seminar or retreat. You are wired with a commitment to what you know to be true. And your boss is looking over his shoulder.
Your job isn’t as important as you think it is.
Your work, however, is an entirely different matter.
You are not defined by a job description. You are not defined by the title on your business card. And you are most certainly not defined by your location on the management chart. No. You are defined by the effort and pride that you put into your work. A job is why the floor gets scrubbed. Work is why it is clean enough to eat off of. Do not confuse your job with your work. It is much too important.
Where do you keep your work ethic?
It can be on the end of a mop handle or the end of a scalpel. Work doesn’t care. Work only cares about what’s important; doing the job the right way. Work doesn’t go for fancy slogans. An honest day’s work for an honest day’s wages is all it needs to hear. Work is hard-nosed. It will not be seated in the latest get-rich-quick seminar. Work doesn’t want to be your friend. Work doesn’t want to be glad-handed or slapped on the back. Work wants something much more important: your respect.
A job will behave like a job until told differently.
What is your job? To sell insurance or paint houses or market pharmaceuticals? You know better. Do not allow your job description to dictate what you do. Your real job is to challenge the expected. To give the conventional way of thinking a swift kick in the shin. Make your job more than anyone has ever imagined it could be. Too many jobs are content to sit in the easy chair and fall asleep in front of the television. Make today the day you give your job a wake-up call.
Is white-collar money more valuable than blue-collar money?
Money isn’t a true measurement of anything that’s important. A $100 bill is a $100 bill. It represents nothing more than its face value. Whether it was earned by someone sitting in a corner office on the 62nd floor in Manhattan or someone repairing railroad track in Wyoming. The true value of money comes from how it was earned. Was it acquired by cutting corners? Or by coming in early and staying late? Money doesn’t care. But you do. And that makes all the difference.
Do you still work as hard when no one is watching?
How hard you work isn’t a function of anyone looking over your shoulder. It is a matter of pride. Knowing that when your job is done, it will be done right. That is the beauty of this responsibility called work. It isn’t so much a job as it is a philosophy. A code shared by everyone who has ever dug a ditch, worked on an assembly line, or written a sales report. There is no secret handshake that bonds us. Just a feeling of the right way vs. the half-assed way. You know what camp you’re in.
Many young men and women dream of a career as a WORK employee.
WORK is a place where people want to work – and it’s a well-earned reputation. WORK’s door is always open to those who can meet the test that each one of us had to pass. Those who make the grade can never say: “This is a dull, uninteresting life.” WORK is always on the lookout in colleges, universities and “advertising schools” for young men and women who believe they have what it takes. It is only fair to warn the prospect that a career at WORK is not for those who want an easy, sheltered life, just as the Marine Corps is not a place for anyone who is not ready to fight when called upon to do so.
There is always danger in the pursuit of good advertising. The hours can be long and draining. The code of conduct is stern and demands more than some are willing to give. The rewards often vary between slim and none. But at WORK, good work is its own reward. It’s kind of a 24/7 kind of thing.
Being a WORK man or woman has its rewards. We are proud of the, as the French say, esprit de corps that exists at WORK. Ours is a closely-knit, “team” organization. Every member has clearly defined duties as well as a personal responsibility to his or her comrades. If you believe you are one of those special few who can make the grade, take some time to send me an e-mal Cabell@worklabs.comThank you.
OK, everybody. Back to work.