Stakes in the Ground

One of my first jobs in advertising was as an intern at an agency in Salt Lake City. Every Monday, the entire agency (40 or so) would meet in the board room to review any work that had been produced, and address any issues for the coming week.

Each week, we'd be reminded of the agency's goal, which was to be the premiere creative boutique between Minneapolis and the West Coast. (This was back when Fallon McElligott and Goodby Silverstein were having their breakout years.) We even had a map on the wall outlining the states we wanted to "own" - everything from Arizona to Missouri. And within five years Creativity had listed this agency as one of their "20 Agencies to Watch," and Communication Arts had profiled them.

I think it's important for agencies to have clearly stated and ambitious goals that everyone can rally around. It's the difference between a good shop and a great one. It's not enough to say, "We're going to do killer creative." That's what 750 other agencies are saying. Compare that to Fallon's new CEO Chris Foster, who publicly declared last month, "We want to be Ad Age's Agency of the Year within three years." That's an awesome reason to want to work for Fallon right now.

As a junior creative, you might not be in a position to set such lofty goals for your agency. But there are a few things you can do:
  1. You can ask what the agency's purpose, vision or goal is. My guess is there is one, but it's not clearly articulated. If there is one, and it's a good one, get behind it. Start championing it. See each assignment through the lens of "How will this help us do X."
  2. If there's not, ask why. Chances are your CD or other agency leaders have thought about it, but need some enthusiasm to nudge them.
  3. If you're interviewing, ask the people you meet with if the agency has a goal or a purpose. The answers they give can give you a huge insight into the agency's ambition and its commitment to creative work. If the president says the goal is to be the best agency in the region, but the CD says it's to be on Creativity's Top 5, the junior teams say it's to do killer work, and the account team says it's to keep the clients happy, you'll at least know how well the agency is with its internal communications.