Building Confidence In Your Craft


The advertising agency sector is facing a talent crisis. A joint report by LinkedIn and 4A’s showed that when compared against competitive industries, the rate of talent turnover at agencies increased 10 per cent year over year, and that there was a 25% net talent loss at ad agencies.

To add to the challenge, ad agencies today operate in a complex advertising landscape, faced with an expanding number of marketing channels. As a result, brands are on the lookout for multiple specialised agencies to help them demystify these complexities – and yet every other agency claims to be full-service, integrated â€“ that they can do it all.

If you are a young executive from an ad agency, are you confident to stand in front of your clients and be the one they can trust, having all the answers to their questions? I’ve seen many young executives in meetings with senior clients and they struggle. They feel they are too junior; they feel intimidated by senior clients. They feel they lack the gravitas. What if they are asked a difficult question and don’t have the answer for it? What if clients don’t believe what they say? What if they are not a good representation of the company? These are just a handful of common apprehensions.

All these fears are very real, and can be crippling for an individual’s professional growth. As marketing folks, we don’t just need to be good at what we do, we also need to be confident in our craft and we need our teams to be confident, too.

We need to be the ones leading the client-agency relationship. After all, clients hired agencies to help solve their challenges. Clients know what they would like to achieve, but rely on their agencies to develop the strategies and guide them into achieving their goals – failing which, the business will be taken to other agencies that will.

We need to be confident in front of our clients if we want to lead the relationship and be a valuable partner. So here are a few things that we can encourage our teams to do to be confident in our craft:

1. Know your stuff

Unsure of something? Read up, Google it, ask around. There is no excuse in not knowing your stuff. If you know your stuff, you can be questioned in anyway and you know you will have the answers.

Do this:

  • Create a learning plan. List out the things you feel you need to learn in three, six, nine, twelve months.
  • Have the discipline to learn at least one thing every week.
  • Ask your seniors out for coffee and learn from them. Ask them any questions you may have within their domain of expertise.

2. Be passionate in your craft

Passion is a loosely used word. For the majority of those who say they have passion for their craft, most of the time they are saying it because it is the right thing to say. At interviews, when questioned, some candidates really have nothing to show for their passions and are only paying lip service.If we say we are passionate about our craft, let’s make sure we have something to show for it. If you are passionate, do what it takes and the enthusiasm will speak for itself. This gives your clients confidence in what you say.

Do this:

  • Register a domain and build a small website of anything you like. It can be a blog, a cause you believe in, or simply a portfolio site.
  • Create a Facebook page, LinkedIn group of anything you are interested in and try to get at least 1000 people on it. It can be a hobby, a sport, anything.
  • Download the latest trendy app and work towards being good at it. It can be Snapchat, or BIGO Live.

3. Don’t think you can’t

Sometimes we lack confidence because we think “I can’t overcome this challenge, it’s just too great.” Instead of harboring second thoughts, focus your energies on thinking of “How can I?” That is a lot more productive and sets you on a path to overcome your challenges, so don’t think “I can’t.”, think “How can I?”

Do this:

  • List out your top career challenge and think of 3 ways of how you can overcome it, then do it. Once you have overcome your top challenge, start working on your next one.

4. Everyone is your age once

Senior clients can be intimidating, but most of the time the only reason they are more senior then you is simply because they were born earlier. They were once your age too. So make sure you are above par when compared with your peers. If you are behind, start becoming better now. Tell yourself that you will be much better than them when at their age. And don’t just think it, do it.

Do this:

  • For each client whom you find intimidating, search their profile on LinkedIn and then make a comparison with what they were doing when they were your age.

In short, we need more driven individuals.People who strive to better understand the client’s business. People who want to try out the latest app that everyone seems to be talking about. People who constantly go out of their comfort zone to learn more about how things work. People who are working towards bringing their client’s brands to meet their stated brand purpose.

In advertising, our people are our greatest asset. Just imagine what a few confident and driven people can do.

Contributed article by Nick Pan originally published on Digital Marketing Asia.

The Agency Reviewed in Advertising


Being in the advertising industry it’s quite common to have a less than positive attitude towards the clients we serve and dedicate our waking hours to. Phrases like “the client is dumb” have been heard in the halls of advertising for as long as advertising was around.

It’s common to be aghast when clients spew vague oxymoronic wisdom and expect the agency to continue the discussion and explore their direction of thinking without first going to the bathroom for a puke, the bar to get drunk and home to our mothers to spill out our hearts and tell her how we hate our lives. I’ve seen quite a few junior executives go through this phase and when their superiors cast the first stone, their uninhibited inner thoughts from their subconscious comes out and torches the client like a mindless dragon that just escaped from a dungeon seeking revenge.

Then after a year the agency gets reviewed and the whole account goes into a toss.

When we, the people from the agency side put in the hard work and long hours and not seen success, it’s understandable to be frustrated, it’s also understandable to lash out at our clients who are supposedly the ones who brings us much pain and suffering. In this highly emotional industry, It is understandable, but it’s also unhealthy and career limiting.

Have we thought about the conversations happening on the other side, the client side? What do they say about their agency? Let’s simplify the agency review into a scale of five stars and see what they could possibly mean.

Disclaimer: I’ve never been on the client side. The following are purely from my imagination and of my own opinion. Any resemblance to real events, real persons, living or dead is purely coincidental.

1 Star

How did my predecessors decide to engage this agency? I’m perfectly fine that they are late on their deliverables, but avoiding me on calls and not replying my emails only later to tell me that the deadline had to be pushed because of some vague unfathomable reason when the deadline had already passed is just unbelievable.

Not only do they not seem to have basic common sense, they also don’t seem to understand the words coming out of my mouth. I rather do the work myself than to pay them another cent to make my life even more miserable than it already is. My blood starts to boil when my phone rings and I see the agency’s number on caller id.

2 Stars

I believe my briefs are clear, but why do they always come back with all this super lame my-grandmother-can-have-a-better-idea type idea. I’m really curious how our brief was translated to the rest of the extended agency. Seriously copying epic split and old spice was not the brief, I wonder if they even have any insights at all. Do they even know what my marketing objectives are?!

They can execute, I give them that and I can even forgive them for that once in a while mistake or delay, but I seriously think I’m paying too much for just this kind of execution. There is simply no leadership, we need to tell them what to do along the way. They still have the cheek to pressure me to sign new quotes whenever we meet. I’m looking forward to work with a new agency.

3 Stars

My agency is ok and I think agencies are generally all the same. They work hard at times, they slack at times, they deliver most of the time according to plan, but they do miss some deadlines as well. Sometimes they give us all their attention, but sometimes they also seem to be busy with other business, so that’s not so nice.

The senior strategic people seems to be appearing less, leaving all these junior executives to take care of our business.

But when we do get the good senior strategic people in, things move along fairly well, but when they don’t get so involved things either become less strategic and becomes more executional. At times I give them some briefs just to keep them on their toes and challenge their ideas.

4 Stars

I love my agency. They get me. They know what is important and I can genuinely feel that they care for our brand and our business while having a good grasp of the market and our consumers. At times when we are not too sure of the way forward, they will workshop with us, make us focus on the more important things and collaboratively we work something out. The outcome tend to be good and sometimes simply brilliant.

The awards we have won because of this partnership is evidence that it’s a great relationship that’s working well. I understand that such agency reviews are necessary but honesty lets just extend their contract already.

5 Stars

My agency is a unicorn. Their employees are all supermodels and available 24/7. Every meeting is like a date and my heart will always skip a beat during these meetings and they are the absolute highlight of my day.

They send me their proposals before I send them the brief and the best part is we don’t need emails as everything is done almost telepathically. Not only do we win all possible awards we enter for, my agency charge me only a nominal fee and most of the time the work is pro-bono.

They take all my verbal abuse when I’m bored and just need to shout at someone. They counsel me when I’m sad, throw me parties, run my errands and collect my laundry too.

I love my agency. I love them more than I love myself.


Of course the last bit is an exaggeration because supermodels need their beauty sleep so its not possible to be available 24/7 and telepathy have not been invented yet.

Ok ok ok, in all seriousness, If you are working in Advertising and have read thus far, I urge all of us to not think that “the client is dumb”, instead look at ourselves and ask ourselves if we are proud being paid by our clients for what we have done for them?

What value have we brought into the relationship? What leadership have we shown? How much time have we invested in knowing our client’s business and understanding the things that are keeping them up at night? Is it just a client-vendor relationship or is it more of a partnership? The list goes on…

We are in the business of communication. We have the power to shape minds and change perceptions. We have the power to build brands and start movements. We have the ability to create art filled with science. We have the ability to be a catalyst of good and to influence this generation and the generations to come.

So, in the grand scheme of things, the stars our client gives us don’t matter, what matters is how we approach our craft which results in the quality of the work which then results in the stars our client gives us. So care for your client’s business and do good work and I’m sure you and your agency will be stars.

Brainstorming House Rules

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In the creative industry, we can’t escape for brainstorms and for those who have been to enough unproductive brainstorm sessions will know the frustrating feeling of losing precious hours in the day. Here are some key brainstorming rules to keep it productive from what i’ve experience.

  1. Designate a moderator – This person makes sure we start on time, keep on topic, break up disagreements and ensures notes gets circulated after the brainstorm with clear next steps.
  2. Keep the group small – Each person’s time cost the company money, so keep the group small. Many people does not mean many ideas. Just ensure the people who know the subject matter well and the creative people are in the room.
  3. Get everyone wired up – Set the environment. Coffee, snacks and the most important, provide stimulus. Links to youtube videos, articles, reports, great advertising, etc.
  4. Focus on Quantity – During a brainstorm, you want to get as many ideas as possible. Some seemingly not so good ideas might spark off new thoughts in others. Ideas can also be merged.
  5. Withhold Criticism – While brainstorming for ideas, don’t start figuring out execution, so don’t think too far down the idea and start criticising the ideas. Criticism might also cause people to stop contributing as no one likes to look silly.
  6. Welcome unusual ideas – Everyone thinks differently and some can come up with really obscure ideas. Welcome it as it adds an interesting mix.
  7. Build on Ideas – Some ideas can be merged, so feel free to build upon the ideas of others.
  8. Don’t execute – At brainstorms, avoid going into too much detail and start crafting out how the idea will be executed. There will be lots of time for that for the shortlisted ideas.
  9. Don’t worry - Don’t be too self conscious at brainstorms. Remember we are going for quantity, so don’t worry about what others think. Even if there is something semi good in a half idea, share it.
  10. Don’t look backward – Don’t let legacy or past failures haunt you. Some past ideas that could not be executed in the past or did not work out does not mean it won’t work now.
  11. Keep it short – If you can’t explain your idea in a simple succinct line, then its going to be hard for others to understand it. Reduce complexity, keep it short.
  12. Sleep on it – We don’t have to decide on the ideas in the first sitting. Let the ideas fester. Sleep on it.
  13. Use tools and techniques – Story Cubes (available on Amazon), De Bono’s Six Hats, Really Bad Ideas, What If, Pass-N-Build etc are really helpful to get some structure around the ideation process. (Contributed by Derrick)
  14. Pre-work – send out some top line background information about the client or issue a few days beforehand. Sets some context and saves you valuable time on the actual day for productive clarification and ideation. (Contributed by Derrick)
  15. Problem statement – write this out clearly and prominently on the board or flipchart so folks can always glance back to the mission at hand and not go too far off-course. (Contributed by Derrick)

Any other rules that works especially well in brainstorms you’ve been to? Do share below in the comments.