Are You Leaving Your Team Out On A Limb?

Among the explainers -- executives, teachers, commentators, analysts -- we talk with authority about our fluid landscape, constantly re-constituting ecosystem and the fragmentation of media itself. But, do we respectfully understand the impact of such constant change for those on the frontlines, executing the day-to-day work within our businesses?

It's not necessarily that we are being lofty and academic or that we are too far from the trenches. Some of us are very close to it. But every once in a while you have industry conversations that make you question whether we fully get the stakes for the real people in our midst and on our teams - executing on the vision of the C-suite deciders.

Several times again recently, I've found myself in the company of striving media sellers working for large media players in the throes of somewhat re-inventing themselves -- the companies, that is. These questions about companies understanding the stakes for their teams, flared again.

The Merger & Acquisition Club
Like anyone who's been around for a while in the agency sphere, over the years I've been a part of several large agency holding company earn-outs, roll-ups and re-organizations. I recall in particular my time at USWeb/CKS and later Circle -- which became a part of Euro RSCG, Havas. These were nothing if not fluid years.

Leaving aside all the excitement and promise of these sorts of activity - I know how badly or how well things can go as far as deciding company brand identity, positioning and organization. I, along with all my teammates, often had to bear the brunt of things not being figured out in due time by those who were supposed to be deciding things.

When the company picture changes, there is a vast amount of work to be done to achieve clarity, alignment and enthusiastic participation from and representation for everyone within the company. And, unfortunately, much of this work gets put off, glossed over, badly outsourced or dealt with at only the most superficial of levels. If you want your people to be positioned for success, this early hard work is not optional.

While I'm not sure when the precisely right time is, relative to the drying of the ink on a merger, acquisition or new strategic partnership -- we must believe that it is ASAP. As I found myself in several conversations with inquisitive sellers recently as they talked of facing prospects, clients and industry peers without clear positioning in mind -- positioning they themselves were in no position to craft -- I couldn't help but ask, how many times do we have to learn this lesson as an industry, as we move from company to company?

It's simple: If we don't do the work, we essentially leave our teams out on a limb in the market. Using particularly dynamic, volatile, noisy spaces -- such as the network/exchange/trading desk/DSP space -- as an example: management teams are not doing those out selling the vision any professional justice by dragging their feet meaningfully defining the brand position. They are just stirring or perpetuating poor brand and business health.

Management and Training Amid Great Change
I have been thinking about media folk coming up through the ranks. As we bring them into the media planning hierarchy, we often lead and train these folks by giving them playbooks and hurling a few best practices at them on how to do media research, issue RFPs, negotiate, formulate programs, conduct QA and more. Especially in the agency world, we execute a certain kind of tough-love, trial-by-fire, throw-em-in-the-deep-end-of-the-pool approach.

Recently, I met this guy, a very senior seller, who seemed almost worried about the rote use of what I'll call "negotiation speak" by rising junior planners and buyers, typically falling back on a soulless script handed down by their superiors.

The good news -- if you believe in the positive collaboration between buyers and sellers, as I do -- is that he, the seller, is in a position to help edify those youngster as well. How? By sharing insights and, creating a conversation about value -- and not just about price.

The bad news is, if the agency side doesn't take responsibility for true experience-based education and training -- especially with the proliferation of networks, bidded media and audience buying -- we risk creating legions of robots. Let us fear the vanishing of strategic thinking and creative planning, so that we may take a collaborative approach to excellence. We need to wake up to the possibility that if we don't take time to give context to our instructions, we are not only hampering our own true success, but the professionalization of our most trusted team players.

So, as vision keepers, makers of change and pace-setters -- those in charge are wise to remember that the stakes are very real for everyone in the room. Not just those in the corner office. The earth will move. Your companies will re-constitute. The rules will change. Remembering to maintain eye contact all the while with those working the market on your behalf is just all-around goodness



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