In the crazy world of marketing, your agency is only as good as your people.

David Ogilvy Swan AdNot too many years ago, ad agencies were known for their ability to create stars. It didn’t matter what the background; if you had talent you could rise to the top.

Ogilvy Mather, one of the world’s most successful marketing firms, was founded by David Ogilvy, who was a college drop-out, chef, salesman, researcher, and finally a copywriter. All before he started his agency. He understood a great pedigree was not always a sign of talent. Mr. Ogilvy was known for looking for the so-called “Trumpeter Swans” – someone with real talent. He understood talent could come from anywhere. And not necessarily from some art school or university.

Just a few short years ago, every one of the big agencies worked hard to cultivate stars.

Everyone started at the bottom as an intern or assistant to some department. After a short time, some hard work, and a little talent, they would move you into a different department, perhaps traffic or media to really round you out.

Agencies like Leo Burnett, McCann, and Thompson had outstanding training and a well-documented system to both identify and hone talent. They understood that by investing in young people, they would have those needed skills in-house. Currently, with the accountants in charge, most of these efforts got axed.

If your biggest asset is your people, you have to find a better way to leverage them. Take a look at your team and pick out the real stars. What would your agency look like if you had 2 or 3 times as many stars? Would it be an exciting, productive, energizing shop? Do you think you would win more new business? Keep clients longer? We work with many firms around the world and here are a few tips that may help that happen.

train your team

If your team has the passion it’s up to you to find it!

How to Create Stars:

  1. Bring in experts: When a pitcher gets the yips they call in a pro. Do the same with your team. Reach out and find some experts to help with specific skills.
  2. Back to school: Reach out to the local universities and see if you can trade some of your time (offer branding, marketing strategy or creative lectures) in exchange for some in-house lectures on research, statistics, psychology, sociology, etc.
  3. Working lunch: Many agencies do a brown bag and learn session lunch. Utilize your existing talent to teach the agency specific skills. Don’t forget to ask your vendors who’d love to do an educational session at your agency.
  4. Pay forward: For some of your rising stars, offer to help pay for tuition for them to study needed skills. A few classes towards an MBA can really help and can bring in more talent.
  5. Old pros: There are several great organizations of retired executives, from both the marketing world as well as more general business. Most of these retired leaders would love to share some of their life lessons with the next generation.
  6. Book club: Pick a few great books each year and assign them to your team. Each month have someone offer lessons learned and how to make the agency better to the agency as a whole.
  7. Professional groups: Many of our industry trades and association groups host and sponsor skill-specific and leadership development sessions. AdAge, Adweek, and the 4A’s all offer sessions. Send a couple of rising stars and make sure they’re ready to share the information with the rest of the team on their return.
  8. Hire us: We offer some great book-driven sessions on everything from new business to keeping clients longer. Bring us in and apply the hard won lessons at your agency.

If you want to transform your agency, it starts with building a powerful team. Learn how to identify and hire those rare Trumpeter Swans. Then work to engage and motivate these rising stars in your firm. Give them the tools needed to learn, grow, and contribute to the future of your agency. If you want better clients, work on creating stars inside your agency.

If you’re interested in some powerful, agency specific training for your team, give us a call.


Photo by april182