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Authentic Talent

Through image, song and anagram, each week we present ‘mystery strategist!’ An authentic if cryptic talent showcase be they; Creative, channel, brand, business or amalgam. One week later the individual presents themselves.

Being Positive About the Future of Advertising

Does advertising have a bright future?  If we’re talking about doing things the way they have always been done without changes, then yes, the future is bleak. And where change isn’t happening fast, that’s because the agency still makes enough money doing things in the same old way.

If however we’re talking about ‘back to the future’ on some level, where agencies focus more on investing in talent and culture, things are a little less transactional and about hiring and firing at will, things can be good.

There are some agencies that have found more balance between short term profit and creating a great place to work. These are also places that have crossed the rubicon and evolved a new way to make money, one typically either more integrated in the focus of the outputs or have a brand experience focus in mind, typically the same thing.

So what degree of confidence should you have in your current role?

Some of the questions that will clarify this for you. What are the outputs of your agency? What does it offer and how well does it deliver on the promise? And, how committed it is to a short-term P&L versus investing in the medium and longer term? Is it an agency more focused on relationships and partnerships than making the next quarters’ numbers? Of course whatever the place you work, how positive you can be does depend hugely on the value you provide.

The Market

Companies/In-House Agencies – There are some solid examples where in-house  works but in many more cases it hasn’t in large part because the move to developing in-house agencies has been driven by procurement. The reason why most companies work with agencies is because they are seeking creative thinking borne of creative cultures. Simply bringing creative talent client-side does not in itself make for a create environment and so agencies will still be needed.

Consultancies – Perceived as a short-term threat to agencies, they have compelled the agency business to become more business focused. Even without consultancies, the emergence of digital channels created the transparency and immediacy of results for clients which called for a transformation of the agency business.

Agency Leadership/Quality of Thinking – The reason why the agency business hasn’t innovated is not because there isn’t the strategic thinking to know what needs to be done; It’s not due to a lack of strategic or business savvy. It’s actually because the agency business still makes a lot of money, particularly the holding companies, that don’t want still very profitably run agencies to change, even if their focus is one or a few channels. (This hasn’t been without huge impact on employee salaries and job security). The good news is, the business does have the quality of people needed to successfully navigate the business forward. It’s the business model that’s the problem.

Creativity Rules – There will continue to be huge uncertainty over the next few years as agencies adjust. That said, there is a greater need than ever to find creative ways to get people engaged with products/services. New integrated marketing agencies will and are appearing. Ones that are as much about targeting algorithms as they are at impacting consumer actions. But above all else creative thinking will remain key.

Why I’m Optimistic?

Consumers – Are not going away. People still wish to be made aware of new products and services; There will always be a need for storytelling, the essence of great communications; And creative engagement, whatever the channel (pre/at/post sale) is as much about the future as it is mobile.

How Well Positioned Are You Where You Currently Work?

Your Organization – If it’s an integrated agency, you are much better positioned than if it’s not. Conversely if there is a focus on one or more channels, pick a leader in the field.

Your Expertise – If you are an effective strategist or creative, great at understanding consumers, great at building business, you should be good.

Timeframe – In the short term, whatever you do there will be uncertainty as even if you do a great job, and even if you are part of an integrated organization, it in turn is part of an industry and culture experiencing seismic change.

Personal Growth – If you are someone that welcomes variety, constant learning and new challenges, you are more likely to successfully navigate forward. If you don’t know what skills you should develop/what makes you most marketable, contact me and I will try and help.

Travel at Home..

‘Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world’ (Gustav Flaubert)
So true Gustav, but living in the moment in your daily life also allows for quality of experience, engagement and thereafter, true understanding.
Beautiful Friday it is in NYC, happy weekends one and all.
#Living #Inthemoment #Understanding #Travelathome #SPARKIN


Don’t Play The Fool… How The Savvy Select Their Jobs

More and more workers are taking the view that they are the sole drivers of their careers in what Peter Murdock refers to as the new reality of employee loyalty, in which the workplace has become a transactional environment.

Given the new employment realities, as companies require ever greater flexibility, and when headcount forms the greatest part of business costs, this trend will continue. This explains why ‘75% of the causes of employee turnover are preventable,’ (Valerie Bolden-Barrett.’ HR DIVE 8/17).

‘Most employees see themselves as being hired to perform specific tasks and, once they feel they have mastered this role, they seek out a new opportunity,’ or companies decide to let them go.

The downside of regular job changes is being perceived as a ‘flight risk’ by the hiring manager, cynical of employees not prepared to provide the commitment that agencies aren’t typically themselves making. Arguably those risk averse hirers and cultures are the ones to avoid!

Truly smart employees are not only pivoting around task mastery but they are also pursuing career opportunities which they feel will allow for their broader personal growth. For the brighter ones this is about job variety and a personal desire to grow but for many it is seen as a necessity.

A 2016 Pew Research Center Survey ‘The State of American Jobs,’ highlighted that 87% of workers believed it will be essential to get training to develop new skills throughout their working lives simply in order to keep up with changes in the workplace.’

‘We’ve learned that what really effects people is their sense of how they are doing compared with others and their peer group.’ Brian Kropp, HBR.

Smart employees are not only focusing on skills areas to develop but are selecting business areas less easily supplanted by artificial intelligence, Think: Creativity/imagination/emotion/strategy/selling. They are also seeking to be challenged and to work with others and in cultures where their values culturally align.

Looking forward, will more individuals not simply think about skills and experiential development but think that the greatest job security (and personal growth) will be realized through envisioning new business opportunities in which they become their own bosses? Certainly the flexibility required by employers is increasingly making us all more focused on one business at least, that of our own careers.

Adaptability the Key to Success 2018 and Beyond?

A 2017 report by talent experts Right Management highlighted 91% of HR managers thought that by 2018 individuals would be recruited for their ability to change/adapt. Meanwhile, 53% of employees believed that adaptability would be a key driver for success. Some discrepancy.


‘It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive, but those who can best manage change.’ (Darwin) 



  1. Do employees truly underestimate the importance of adaptability or, do they believe other factors (such as intellect and emotional intelligence are more important?)
  2. The trend for full time roles continues to point to ever shorter tenure in advertising/marketing. The average employ of a CMO whilst up to 44 months in 2017, bucked a ten-year decline prior to last year (Market Technology Insights 3/28/18)

What might exacerbate this further?

i)   Corporate needs – Budget pressures point to constant change and push toward flexible work contracts.

ii)  Employee preferences – Flexi-work hours/job variety, which many want, provide flexibility, but the but also create much greater complexity/juggling of tasks.

iii) Rapid Technological innovation will continue – Moore’s Law refers to the doubling every two years of the volume/capacity of computer chips, which will make everything move even faster,         further challenging business and employees to adapt.

What do you think?






Increasingly It Is Your Adaptability That Will Determine Your Success


Neophilia or ‘to like anything new’, might be something we can all relate to dependent on the context. New places to visit, new foods to eat, all good when they expand who we are, sometimes literally!

But what about new things or circumstances when there is much more at stake, such as new management or new systems at work which may impact our job security? Perhaps a Luddite after all?

What’s typical, most of us don’t like uncertainty, when the stakes are high, when we have much to lose.

Should we even care about how adaptable we are unless we are explicitly assessed for it when seeking employment?

A 2017 report by talent experts Right Management highlighted that 91% of HR managers thought that by 2018, individuals would be recruited for their ability to change/adapt. Meanwhile, 53% of employees believed adaptability, would be a key driver for future success. What might explain this discrepancy? And, given the stated direction of HR managers, what are the keys to you and those you care about developing effective adaptive capability?

‘It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive, but those who can best manage change.’ (Darwin)

First we need to understand adaptability or, ‘the nature of changing or creating modification in oneself to suit a new environment.’

Alessandra and O’Connor in their book ‘The Platinum Rule,’ suggest adaptability consists of two aspects, ‘flexibility’ or our willingness to change and ‘versatility,’ or our ability to change. Perhaps the latter points more to experience and intelligence (IQ) and emotional (IQ)  that people believe they possess in sufficient quantity.

Flexibility however, refers more to your willingness to pivot or, to focus your energy/ability to embrace rather than resist change. It is this ‘ability’ of acceptance, the degree to which you are more a ‘cup half full’ optimistic type, which may well explain who actually adapts. If this is true then expect people to be talking much more about optimism quotient’s, or ‘OQ.’

From a personal perspective, having clear options moving forward post-change, (internal or external) which whether exercised or not, can enhance our state of mind, can make us feel less trapped by a changing situation and therefore better able to adapt.

Arguably those with foresight, do and continue to plan for change, anticipating what might happen and prepare themselves accordingly, but not everything can be planned for.

And, even if we did anticipate, is planning and recognizing the same as the ability to actually cope and proactively adapt to change, particularly when it is sudden.

What do you think?

For more information on this subject see the newsletter on the subject and past newsletters too. Feel free to sign up for future letters.



Bespoke Career Choices

When looking for a job most strategy planners ask ‘what’s on the shelf? (well not literally) but as if going in to a store, they ask ‘what have I got.?’ You all have much more power than you could ever know  and a more bespoke role is within reach. The key to bespoke is knowing what you want and having the confidence to pursue it. (This doesn’t mean your feet are not on the ground and pragmatism goes out of the window.) This is why I ‘always’ ask, ‘moving forward, what is your ideal next career challenge/what is progression for you?’


‘Unique’ Candidate Raincheck

Some candidates  believe when compared to others, like the glowing waves. what they have to offer is quite unique.
What can enhance the chances of this being true  is something regularly practiced by the best candidates, who always seek feedback after interviews/They always seek to improve.
Really smart candidates learn from the new found knowledge and adapt.
The smartest candidates of all, (who always end up with serious consideration, if not the job) know that even when they apply the lessons of the past and do everything they can and what they offer is very differentiated, sometimes still, they won’t be hired!
They know that this is not because they did anything wrong but because every opportunity is unique, (just like them) and simply, in some cases there was an even better ‘unique’ fit for the role.

Avoiding A Career Ambush – Be Alert and Bring Your ‘A’ Game



Strategic planners on the fastest career track know that getting to the truth of a client’s challenge is key. It’s is equally vital to understand the truth of the consumers served by your clients.

Getting to a genuine understanding of your client’s business gives you a chance of being relevant and better still, of moving the client forward.

In one of life’s great paradoxes, the strategic planner plays the role of the cobbler that wears no shoes/do not do for themselves what they instinctively do for others. That is, apply the same strategic nous and tools to obtaining authenticity when it comes to understanding a genuine career opportunity from a dud.

I hear of almost daily tales of candidates that got duped. But, the storytellers typically don’t see that they are complicit.

New career enhancing roles lie before them and rather than clarify the fundamentals that will define their success in a new role, much is taken at face value. Naiive? Or, a commendable illustration of their trust? It doesn’t matter. The carnage is the same.

Some basics. Whenever you are considered for a career opportunity, it is your knowledge and experience that is sought after. It is perceived to be able to solve one of a range of challenges facing your prospective future employer.

Ultimately what your future employer is seeing is your ability to either help save or make money and preferably both! And this is where it can get dangerous, for you!

The more your perceived ability to make money combined with urgency by the agency to make a hire, the more exponential the chances that they will avoid communicating, miscommunicate or incorrectly communicate information that might otherwise deter you from taking the job.

I don’t mean to say that hiring managers intentionally mislead. I am saying that many people under enough pressure, hiring manager or agency with a pressing client need, may be economical with the truth. This may help relieve client pressure whilst unfortunately not be optimal for you.

The Group Director hired to become a Head of Strategy takes the job because the agency is independent, moves countries and finds out one month in that the agency is being bought by a holding company.

The Director that moves across country to discover one month in that the client, that they moved their lives for, is leaving the agency.

Clearly the agency has to do what it has to do and perhaps the hiring manager or the department head is not party to much larger forces at play. The take out is therefore, you as the individual seeking a career enhancing move have to be alert!

You have to employ that smart truth revealing expertise to your career and most certainly at the inflexion points of progression from one job to another.

To be fair to those hiring, the more ‘you’ want an opportunity at a certain brand or agency, the more you will compromise, the more details you will overlook, the less you will be ‘on your game’ to understand exactly what you might be getting in to.

Indeed, far from applying healthy skepticism that engenders a pragmatic understanding that what one is being told is correct, you seek to reinforce your perceptions of what you want to hear. And, you fail to see the pitfalls.

When you are ‘on,’ you do not ask limiting questions but bigger questions in your quest to understand the truth. You in this mode are in control and driving your quest versus passively being drawn into a career ambush.

Getting to a Robust Understanding of a Job Opportunity – Some thoughts

  1. Know what do you want to do next
  2. Know what outputs you want to generate
  3. Know what defines your success in a new role
  4. Know what resources are available and timelines in which to achieve specific goals
  5. Know whether your goals align with those of the leadership of the prospective employer.
  6. Seek out not ‘sexy’ agency but dynamic client relationships, wherever they are and with them the opportunity for good work
  7. Seek out those clients that value your expertise and better still the employers that value your expertise equal or (even better for you) over and above other disciplines.
  8. Clarify where money is made – This is definitive proof as to what the agency says is does reconciles with what it does.. Good to know!
  9. Ask better questions that reveal the truth to you and not choreographed answers.


How to positively manage the effects of sudden changes in a new job


I regularly receive calls that talk to an individual having started a new job and a few months in, it is unrecognizable from expectations, not simply because of a changed challenge but in terms of what was promised about people, the value of their expertise in the agency/company, the culture, resources, leadership and clients. The boss that hired you leaves, the client it turns out is completely unreasonable and/or not embracing the value your expertise can bring and/or, the function you represent period, for example strategic planning.  And, the department of which you are a part, doesn’t seem to have any practical leadership. These are just a few examples of challenges I’ve heard someone newly employed describe to me as they asked what they should do.

Now, it’s true, situations in the agency and business world can and do change very quickly. The role you were hired for can become manifestly different. Where you confront such a situation in a new role (1-3 months) you should ask yourself the following three questions:

Is the change significant enough that you believe you cannot be effective in the new role?

Can you through discussion alter the changed circumstances so that you can be effective?

Is there an opportunity for professional progression/a chance to develop your expertise even with the changed circumstances?

If the answer to all the above questions is “no,’ you should leave the role. If you take no action you are very likely going to go around in circles as you fail to direct your career. A better approach, whether you leave depends on rationalizing a course of action based in my opinion, on three factors: Your sanity; Your reputation; Your resume.


More important than your reputation or resume is your state of mental health. Being in a situation for which you are unprepared, unsuited or simply don’t desire can adversely affect your mental state of mind. Extreme stress arises due to a complete lack of support or from a role or circumstances significantly different from those you believed you were being hired for. In such a situation if you cannot, even after talking with someone you trust, get clarity or assurance that the job you are being asked to perform will, in some timeframe align with that that you were hired for, then you should seriously consider leaving the agency.


Whenever you are delivering a product or service you have been paid to deliver, the consistency and quality of that delivery is what your reputation is in large part based. Clearly other people’s perception of you are based on other factors too significantly, being seen to be easy to work with/cultural fit. A positive/can do attitude is the ally of a great reputation but even that is not enough if the quality and consistency of your work is not up to par. So whenever there are persistent factors that are out of your control and you cannot resolve, that will materially affect the consistent quality of your work, that would also be a reason either to change your current role with your current employer or to leave. Your reputation takes time to build but it can be damaged very quickly. You cannot afford to persist with anything that damages your ability to be the best you can be.


I’m often asked, even when an individual is unhappy and is struggling in their new role, ‘Should I stay another six months?’ I’m being asked this question even though there are no obvious concerns about mental health or loss of reputation that is, they can do the job but they are not happy or motivated by it. They are considering leaving their job but hesitating because of how this might look on their resume, their leaving a job after a short period of time. Clearly, if you have left your last two jobs within six months it becomes more important to prove you can commit. The question also arises whether the individual is simply ‘unlucky’ in their job selection or failing to properly qualify the jobs they are subsequently accepting. Irrespective, if what’s at stake is your state of mental health or reputation for delivering great work, these are compelling reasons for change, irrespective of how your resume looks.

Mitigating Risky Career Maneuvers


If you’re an uncomfortable ‘back seat’ driver, you’re someone that either doubts the ability of the person at the controls and/or, you just feel you’re not safely going to get to your destination in a certain timeframe.

Typically, you are frustrated at not being in control of the velocity or direction you are going, so you do what back seat drivers do best, direct the driver from the ‘non-driving seat,’ never a satisfactory experience. The alternative is to drive the car.

Many ‘back seat’ drivers’ show up similarly in the context of work and career progression. That is things evolve or happen organically, with them playing a bit part in the motion of their own career progression rather than directly controlling their own destiny.  They neither map out or devise a platform for their own happiness if not, career success. (Career success and personal happiness are not always concurrent!)

Why does this happen so often? And, what can you do to make sure you drive?

Why we fail to map out a path for our own success/Open Ourselves Up to Risky Career Maneuvers?

Loyalty v blind loyalty – Your loyalty to the agency you work for should be expected! You have a role to play and you should deliver against it, 100%. That said sometimes even when you do this, you can lose your job. That is, for business reasons the agency will ‘let you go.’ It is not blind to economic circumstance and will retain your services based on its needs. Similarly, neither should you be blind to your need to grow and progress. So, if you are not developing or achieving things that are important to you, it would be crazy not to either seek to get those things where you are and failing that, to look for them elsewhere.

Job focus – In your effort to do a great job, to be a great team player and to deliver the results you are set, you tend to be focused on the short term. And, while short term focus and learning are at times critical, so does a need to see the road ahead, if you are to safely and optimally travel. The need to find time for thinking, to know what you are working for and what skills and experiences you will need to get there are key. If you know what skills, experiences and connections you need, then you can begin to factor them in to your work or request that they are.

Want to be flexible/maximize options – Being open to where your career path can go is to be encouraged. Being open to the opportunities an employer might deliver should also be applauded. That said, doing so without a clear sense of what you are working toward, without knowing what a great next career challenge looks like is just stupid. It’s like sitting in the back seat of a car, except in this case there is not even an attempt at ‘virtual driving.’

We rely on others/feel we are special and therefore will be looked after – If you have a fantastic boss then you are lucky. The reality today, very often bosses may well care but typically they don’t have the time to do the advocating you’d hope for. You are the only one fully vested in your success. So, you can’t rely on being liked or effective! You must assume that you have to navigate and drive your career forward. 

What can we do to optimize your career trajectory?

Know what you are working for/Personal Mission – If you have a personal sense of mission, you will then have a much better sense of what knowledge, experience and connections you need to achieve that mission.

Know what experience you need to have next – Knowing what you are working for, you will have a much better sense what is the next challenge you need to experience on the road toward your ultimate goal. Which skills and experiences do you need to enhance? What challenges do you need to embrace? What environment might best equip your learning?

Make your current work situation work for you – If you know what would be an optimal use of your time in the pursuit of your goals, you will then be able to effectively pursue that experience in your current working environment.

You will also be able to negotiate effectively when you have a review as you will know what matters most to you and relatively what you can be relaxed about. And, you will also be able to understand how good your chances our of achieving your goals in your current agency versus proposed alternatives.

Knowing which resources and opportunities to pursue whilst delivering on the role you have been hired for, is the optimal springboard for your progression. It is the ultimate way to avoid risky career jumps. Being conscious about your goals and needs will you give your employer every chance of making you happy and more important, every chance of you achieving your definition of success.