Some Principles to Work By

What would you say about a company whose goals included phrases like “benefit everyone who is touched by our business”, “nothing is more important to our success than our integrity” and “building and nurturing our relationships….is an essential part of our work”?

Pretty idealistic, you say? Not practical in today’s environment? This is a great goal but hardly achievable given today’s pressures? These principles do not represent goals from today, as they are from the 19th century. None other than the founder of Coca-Cola uttered these phrases. This and more can be found on the Coca Cola website. The concept that everyone who touches a company should benefit financially seems to have been lost on many who start up companies today. I am not just talking about some of the “dot-coms” that failed, but about some who have survived as well as companies in many other fields.

You’ve all seen it, especially in media. Someone who makes some money by squeezing it out of others. What Coke has been able to demonstrate is that building a company on integrity and relationships actually works. And, while egalitarian, it turns out to be self-serving. Not intentionally, but if everyone benefits, you will too. And if you worry about whether the other guy is making a fair margin, he just might be fair with you too.



We all know about predatory CPA deals where, the minute you make a deal that works for all sides, the client turns around and lowers the goal for the next month. This is not the basis for a long-term relationship and the viability of the company that performs such a practice must be brought into question.

Other examples include relationships between buyer and seller. We have all seen too much of agencies and buyers who have a closed door to the rep community. Back when we bought a lot of spot TV, those buyers who had the sellers “put the avails under the door” were legendary. Today’s equivalent is the buyer who hides out through communicating solely via email but is not available for a face-to-face meeting. In fact, many agencies are secretive about who even works on a specific piece of business. We fail to understand the reasoning behind a policy that excludes dialogue. In our experience, good ideas can come from anywhere. In many cases, rates have even gotten better for buyers because the vendor wanted the business. It can be profitable dealing with an open hand and an open door policy.

The same can be held true for agency/client relationships. Again, this was especially true during the crazy dot-com heyday. Everyone was in such a hurry to get things done that there was not a lot of stopping to smell the roses. Some clients during this period operated on a “gun to the head” mentality. No give-and-take at all. As in “do this or else.” We frankly have found that it is just not worth it. We are becoming increasingly insistent about limiting the clients we take on to those who appreciate what we do and what we can bring to the table. We are not just vendors; we are partners in their business. This involves forthright honesty in all phases of the relationship, even when it is painful to bring something up, as it did not work out according to plan. But it is on this honesty that good relationships are built. And agency client relationships, if nurtured properly, can last a long time.

Many individuals who got into the business over the past few years and who are out of the business right now are finding out about relationships the hard way. If you have not taken the time to build a network, you can’t get much help getting back into the business when you are on the street.

What’s the bottom line? Open door policies are profitable from a long-term standpoint. Help someone out, and you will find not only a friend, but someone who will go out of their way to help you out. Kindness is profitable. Pay it forward and the positive results will come back to you in spades.

David L. Smith is President of Mediasmith, Inc., the Integrated Solutions Media Agency based in San Francisco and New York. He can be reached at

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