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Delegation and lead agency mentality

Delegation and lead agency mentality

For dramatic effect in this post I’m going to say that there have been two attitudinal moments of truth in my career to date.

The first was learning and embracing the art of delegation.

The second was dropping the lead agency mentality that had been instilled in me after 18 years in advertising agencies.

These were both instances of a leopard actually being able to change its spots.

Big deals.

Delegation first.

There are drawbacks to being a perfectionist, as I learned the hard way.

To the old adage, “If a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well”, I rather arrogantly added the unspoken mantra, “If a job’s worth doing perfectly, do it yourself.”

Up to a point that attitude is a ticket to career progression in account management.

Up to a point.

It’s also a ticket to 60 hour working weeks.

So, up to a point, it’s a stressful but sustainable approach.

But after a point it’s an attitude that actually serves to impede career development.

Promotion brings with it added responsibility. Responsibility for more work and more people.

You get promoted on the basis of consistently delivering work of a high standard. And the expectation is that those standards will be maintained across an expanded workload.

And, all of a sudden, the DIY perfectionist attitude is no longer sustainable.

The bottom line is that an ambitious perfectionist has to learn to delegate whether he likes it or not.

I’ll admit that placing trust in others and devoting a significant proportion of my time to developing people rather than doing stuff didn’t come as naturally to me as it does to others.

But I did learn quickly.

And I was soon delegating with the zeal of the recently converted.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

So, if you want to get ahead you have to be adaptable. You have to be able to drop deeply ingrained but counter-productive attitudes in favour of counter-intuitive but ultimately profitable alternatives.

Which brings me onto that lead agency mentality thing.

Firstly I should point out that there’s a difference between lead agency status and lead agency mentality.

And secondly that lead agency status is a good thing unless it brings with it a certain type of lead agency mentality. More on which shortly.

Clients want two things from their lead agency.

They want powerful, engaging, high-concept ideas and communication platforms.

And they want close collaboration with other agencies to fully realise the potential of those ideas across all channels.

Lead agency status means that you get the high-concept briefs and the retainer fees that go with them.

But a lead agency mentality seriously impedes the lead agency’s ability to deliver on the second part of the client’s wishlist; collaboration.

Carrying a lead agency mentality and not delegating effectively have a lot in common.

Both infer an insidious arrogance on the part of the attitude holder. And both act as an anchor to progress.

At my current (digital) agency, we sometimes enjoy lead status and we sometimes play a collaborative role with 3rd party lead agencies and other disciplines.

Whereas I spent my time in advertising working exclusively on a “lead” basis.

Much has been written about how ad agencies need to adapt to retain their traditional lead status in a digital world. And a lot of that writing focuses on the additional skills required.

But I think the new attitudes required are just as important.

I have learned a massive amount in the last two years. But the biggest revelation has been the open, generous, naturally collaborative attitude of digital natives.

And the lead agency mentality of some ad agencies is in stark contrast to this generous spirit.

Picture the over-competitive kid in the classroom hiding their work with their arm to prevent anyone from copying. Probably not the most popular kid in class, but a reasonable analogy for lead agency mentality.

I’ve watched with interest of late client reactions to lead agency mentality from their lead agencies.

More and more clients are using all-agency, cross-discipline meetings as a means to manage projects.

Some of these are exemplar cases of how to collaborate to maximise the return on an idea. They include excellent lead agencies who don’t bring any counter-productive attitudinal baggage with them.

And some are pretty far from exemplary if truth be told.

And it pisses clients off.

Why the agencies concerned can’t tell that they’re pissing the client off is beyond me. But I’m sufficiently long in the tooth to know that I’m reading the signs correctly.

“Getting” digital isn’t just about staying on top of emerging technologies. It’s about displaying the open, generous nature without which many of those technologies would never come to fruition.

The less than exemplary lead agencies need a moment of truth. The penny needs to drop re. their lead agency mentality as it did for me with delegation.

They too have to be able to drop deeply ingrained but counter-productive attitudes in favour of counter-intuitive but ultimately profitable alternatives.

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