Grit and Gusto
03.28.19 · Sonia Greteman
Anniversaries mean more to me now. I have a growing respect for companies with staying power. As our agency hits the 30-year mark this April 1, I think about lessons learned over the course of this rewarding, humbling journey.
In the beginning, our small-but-mighty band worked incredibly hard. We found success, but I didn’t trust that it would last. That kept me from staffing up as quickly as I should have in those early years. Feeling that only the paranoid survive, we simply worked even harder.
That fast-and-furious pace also got addictive. It can be fun to put out one raging fire after another. You go home feeling like a hero. You saved the day, right? Constant activity also keeps you from thinking. From planning. From strategically going after new business. You never have to consider your next to-do – a zillion pressing deadlines set your agenda. I’ve come to understand, though, that a failure to plan is planning to fail.
When you start out, it helps to be a workaholic. But that pace is not sustainable. Stress can torpedo your business. And make you sick. All work and no play drain your ability to be your best. You need downtime with friends and family, mind-expanders like travel and books, exercise and a full night’s sleep. Life is better with balance. So are you.
Imagine Better Ways
As I relaxed into my leadership role, I started building a bigger team. One broad enough to deliver the necessary services and deep enough to have the needed expertise. Also with redundancies in core capabilities so projects carry on even when someone is on vacation or out sick.
I became more intentional. Pulling together a leadership group so I wasn’t making decisions alone. Investing in training to make us smarter and better. Defining our culture and values – then hiring and measuring performance based on them. We keep them top of mind with posters in our office and a dedicated section on our website. At our weekly all-agency meetings, team members give shout-outs to colleagues using real-life examples of our values in action. It’s one of my favorite times in the workweek.
Investing in Culture Pays
We’ve even gotten business because of our culture. Most recently, Airbus Americas chose us to develop an atrium experience center for their Wichita facility. We learned later that one reason they awarded us the project was because our teams share similar values. And, I will say, the project has gone very smoothly, probably because of our commonalities.
Our culture is also a big part of why we enjoy a higher-than-average client retention rate. It averages 15 years. This flies against the norm. The American Association of Advertising Agencies, known as the 4A’s, has reported relationships getting shorter, moving from seven to five to less than three years. A strong culture also helps with team member retention. In a volatile industry that’s quick to hire, but perhaps even quicker to fire, our team members stay with us more than 10 years on average. Adweek recently reported an average turnover rate of 30 percent. Ours is half that at 15 percent.
Choose People Who Have Your Back
Surround yourself with good. Good vibes, good people, good conversations. Hire the best. People who know their stuff – and always strive to learn more. If you, like me, prefer to keep supervision to a minimum, hire professionals who require little if any external motivation, who take projects and run with them. Keeping you in the know, but not needing you to continuously check in. Build a team that helps you be better, smarter and cooler than you could ever be on your own. I was lucky to have developed that and hope you have, too.
Learn to read the room, to understand someone’s body language, to decipher what’s not being said – but you better pick up on. I’ve figured out how to be part detective, psychologist and investigative reporter. If you’re a passionate person like me, I focus more intently. Say your piece, then zip it. And listen loudly.
Show Up and Speak Up
Have an opinion. And be able to back it up. I know at least some clients have enjoyed my willingness to push the envelope (and them) when needed. I once had a CEO throw an annual report mockup across the room and say, “Next.” So I took the second concept and threw it, too. That made him laugh. When I pulled out the third concept, he bought it.
Take No Shortcuts
Be resourceful. I once flagged down a Learjet 45 taxiing down a runway when the jet we lined up for a photoshoot didn’t show. (We got the shots.) I doubt you ever have to round up a plane, but you get the idea. Not everything goes according to plan. Sometimes, you have to make it up as you go, to MacGyver a solution with the resources at hand.
Focus on Results
If you treasure it, measure it. Metrics rock the CEO. Marketers love the creative product – websites, videos, ads, collateral. The CEO loves results. The earlier you start thinking about ROI, the better. Measure. Track. Repeat.
Celebrate the Wins
We used to think we were too busy to stop and celebrate. Bah, humbug. Take the time. Cherish those bonding, relationship-building moments. Sometimes we’re silly – running through the office with pompoms yelling cheers. Other times, we simply join together in the breakroom for an announcement and toast.
Expressing gratitude and joy makes you more resilient when you hit the inevitable downtimes. I’ve cried when losing a favorite client or being yelled at by an overly frazzled one – but pick yourself up, move on and remember there will be more victories in the future. (Note, I’ve only shed tears three times at work. So just once a decade. Not bad.)
Times Change and You Should, Too
We gave ourselves a gift for our 30th: a newly evolved site. Fresh creative leverages stylized infographics, adds personality and makes our aviation focus clear. You quickly see that we look at things from 50,000 feet. Finding the big picture. Keeping an eye on objectives. Developing results-achieving strategies and creative. Monitoring outcomes. More than ever, we’re providing nimble, rapid response and doing all we can to ensure our clients’ success.
We’ve learned many lessons over the years. It’s our joy and privilege to share them. May there be many anniversaries in all our futures.
This column first appeared in the March 28, 2019, issue of BlueSky Business Aviation News.