Recent Articles on Adsubculture

Recent Articles

How do we accomplish the impossible?

How do we make a big idea come alive? How do we make something that never existed before real? Everyone, will be asked at least once (although as project managers it seems like everyday), to make the seemingly undoable, doable. Under impossible conditions and overwhelming odds, we will be challenged to make crazy asks, happen.

In 1990, at the age of twenty-one, I was lucky enough to land my first job with a small creative marketing firm, where I was equally lucky enough to encounter my first mentor, Curt. Through the years, Curt would impart many, valuable lessons. He believed in creating a culture that support self-organized teams, where everyone was valued, contributed, played a role and helped each other to problem solve.

It was a collective of people that were united, passionate and full of energy. They loved to make stuff, whether for a client or themselves. It was that passion and constant activity that seemed to provide a never ending boost for everyone.

How do we adapt to change?

Change is happening in every organization, across every department and in every geography. Change is not limited to self-defined creative organizations or innovative companies. During the past seven years, I have traveling across the USA and have spoken to organizations far and wide. Change is a topic that organizations all over the world are thinking about. 

A cross-functional team in a creative firm can take on many forms.

These teams are small groups of individuals that cross formal or informal functional departmental boundaries and levels of hierarchy. The groups are created to commit to a common purpose or goal, typically formed for a project, program or by client for a finite amount of time; the team acts and works as one unit. They communicate frequently, cooperating and providing mutual support, coordinating activities, drawing upon and exploiting the skills and capabilities of each other, while considering the needs of individual members.

Cross-functional teams are formed on the assumption that a small group is better able to accomplish a creative project than individuals acting alone or in a large, permanently structured setting. The belief is that cross-functional teams, improve the quality of the outcome and become committed to see the project through to the end.

In almost every discussion of how to motivate individuals, it’s inevitable that the discussion will turn to some form of reference to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. This is a reference to a pattern that human motivations generally go through. For example, if someone’s basic needs aren’t being met, like their rent, we don’t motivate them by recognizing them with a fifty dollar gift card to Applebee’s.

Unless you know the person really well, it can be hard to determine where they are sit on the hierarchy and how to effectively motivate them. You have to get to know someone a bit to understand what’s the best way of motivating them. As their lives change, so does what will potentially motivate them. You might have a great worker one day, who seems to get motivated purely for doing challenging work, then one day they kind of shut down. We might think that they are getting bored, or don’t feel challenged any more. We may worry that they are now looking for a job.

The Ever Changing State of Creative Project Management

Over fifteen years ago I started writing about creative agency operations. It started out as a necessity, to teach the people in the agency’s I worked for how to get work done. As a creative producer, I knew that if I taught people how to work together and get their act together, then I would gain time. Time to craft, time to get ideas made, time to do more with less.

It started out as a survival tactic. If I could teach everyone in the agency what was expected of them, then when it came to working outside the normal way of doing things, then people made rational decisions.

Together, we will figure it out and get it done. 

Culture in an ad agency is unique to the place and the personalities of the people running the shop. There is the outward agency persona, and then there is the inward true cultural persona of the agency that we all work within.


Agencies are a business and the established distinctive culture of the place is there on purpose. For one thing, as a brand seeks a potential agency partner, they look for agencies that would be a good working relationship fit. An agency's culture is part of what the shop is selling to a client. It is part of the promise to the client, on what type of work they are going to get and how they are going to work together to get there. If the agency is all about ROI and analytics, think about the types of people and processes that would be in place as opposed to an agency that is known for design or an agency that is known for very out-of-the-box thinking...

When an Organization's Culture Goes Toxic

Creative land can be stressful. 

We have deadlines, demanding clients, and people that we work with that can drive us mad. The terms "creative shop" and “sweatshop" are too often used interchangeably when it comes to describing certain work environments. Working late nights, on the weekends, or on vacation is considered normal. A creative career with a positive work-life balance is often very hard to come by.

Truth be told, many organizations value “the work” above all else. The work pays the bills and keep the clients coming. Too often, we forget that it's the people behind the work that make it happen.

As employees, I think we are pretty savvy when it comes to deciding where we work. We know ahead of time what we are getting ourselves into. You can bet we’ve googled the company and its leadership, and checked out the dirt on industry blogs. Our friends have told us about the environment, the recruiter used certain words to clue us in, and quite frankly, the company’s values are pretty much out in the open.

Being as S.M.A.R.T. A.S...

How do we get project managers to think beyond basic project goals? By remembering that creative assignments are a set of accomplishments beyond being on-time and on-budget.

One of the reasons why I hesitate on the "traffic manager" approach to managing creativity, is that if you ask any traffic manager (and albeit many project managers) what determines a project's success, you are going to hear the single repetitive mantra of "being on-time and on-budget." Traffic managers are good at getting things from point A to point B, fast, but that's because there is a set path. Deviations from that single path, however, can be hard on traffic managers, since they have high accountability for providing regular outcomes on just those two work activities. They don't always think beyond what is provided to them as project objectives.

Traffic managers are rarely given the responsibility or held accountable for a project's holistic goals. Since just like a production manager, they are only held responsible for only part of the bigger project. This is best shown, by the adaptive mantra of, "Pick two: Do you want it on-time, on-budget or good? You can't have all three." As far as measurable metrics go, these three variables are pretty poor. Who and what determines if a project is good or great? Good is a pretty subjective criteria to measure...

What Makes a Great Creative Project Manager?

Recently, I attended a panel on project management as an audience member. One of the topics that kept coming up was, “What makes a great project manager?” I don’t think the panel ever fully got around to fully answering the heart of the question. 

Over the years, my project management style has certainly changed. But when I look back to when and where I was very successful, I can see certain patterns emerge. 

Beyond the Mechanics and Taskmaster

If you have ever taken a project management course, or worked on your PMP, you tend to focus on the mechanics of how to manage a project. How to create a scope, a project plan, identifying tasks, navigating process, risk, milestones and deadlines are all things that are taught and learned. Certainly these are skills are important to know, a strong foundation in the basics means you can apply these concepts.

Indeed, knowledge of the mechanics is often one of the key things people look for in a project manager. However, if all you did as a project manager was to apply these concepts religiously, you may find yourself in the role and style of a taskmaster. I think this is where a lot of company’s get it wrong. If you are all business, and driven by tasks, productivity and outcomes, you might find yourself driving people on your team away from working as a team.

I’ll give you an example. I remember when I started at a very well known creative shop. First day on the job, I had a very senior project manager come up to me and announce, “Hi, my name is ______, and I’m a bitch. Get use to it.” 

I raised an eyebrow, like I tend to do, and I thought to myself, wow — great first impression, I bet everyone just loves to work with you.

From the outside, upper management thought she was one of the most productive people in the company. And yes, this person got stuff done. This person valued outcomes and this is what management saw, and by providing positive feedback she felt empowered.

So yes, this person got stuff done, but bullied everyone along the way. Did anyone want to work with this individual? No, this empowered person, lacked empathy. While this style may push work through, it wreaked havoc on the creative teams. While this individual may have completed things on time, if you compared this person’s projects with other project managers, you would see some significant differences...

Producers vs Project Managers in Today's Agency - Revisited

When it comes to managing how work gets done organization wide, advertising agencies are anything but typical when it comes to workflow & process. Part of what makes an agency special (besides the people that work there) is the agency's approach to how they create work. It’s also driven in part, by how the agency tries to carve out a unique place for itself among the hundreds of agencies in at the marketplace.

In the past, we often identified agencies by either being account or creative driven. Now, however, we identify agencies in dozens of different ways from being creative, account, digital, data-driven, interactive with varying 360° experience, a general agency with varying degrees of interactive experience, to name just a few. This fragmentation of focus and company values has lead to a greater variety in workflow paths among agencies.

As experienced managers we know the dangers and pitfalls of having a workflow process that leans toward one of these extremes. It's no wonder that many agencies are re-examining project management and redefining traditional roles within the agency. In the quest to better manage our agencies, we are tearing down traditional silos to create cross-functional teams, but on the opposite end we are also creating new digital silos with technical teams that seem to have a narrower creative function...

Building Your Agency's Integrated Engine

Your agency's engine has a dual purpose. First, it needs to be able to drive your agency to develop creative solutions and innovations for you and your clients. Second, your engine is the heart of how you get your team to those solutions. Without out a reliable, and strong engine that can keep up with the evolution of advertising, you may find yourself running out of gas and stuck on the curb.

One of the main reasons why I started this site was to not only share the basics of process and workflow — to provide a starting point in defining what goes on during the creative process — but to make the case that the way an agency operates is a vital, strategic part of the business model.

Throughout the site, you are going to find a variety of ways of doing things, most of it centered around the basics, to help you evaluate what parts you may need to build your own unique agency model. This definition process, I think is vital to help you define and develop your own practices for your own specific agency...

Building Presence on the Creative Playing Field

On any given weekend, you may find yourself watching a game. In my house, the sport of choice, both watched and played on the weekends is soccer. As with any team sport, each member of the team needs to work together in order to score a goal. Every member of the team has a particular role but plays with an intricate underlying knowledge of who's on the field and where they are. Some play offense, some defense, but they have enough knowledge and ability to fill a gap if a player needs help. They work together passing the ball forward, backwards and sideways to keep possession of the ball and ultimately to score a goal.

Creativity is also a team sport. The art of solving creative problems requires thinkers, makers and builder to come together to solve business strategies by executing ideas that resonate emotionally and designed for you and me. Project managers along with strategists, creatives, and technologists all play different roles on the field, but the best teams are made up of individuals who not only play well together, but complement and support each other in developing ideas.

If you ever watched a soccer game, every now and then you'll see a player seemingly come out of nowhere and make a play, taking away the ball, acting as interference, blocking or shooting for a goal. It can seem like the reaction was almost instantaneous, and can have the direct effect of changing the tempo of the game. All of a sudden the ball is on the other side of the field, just one more kick a way from making a goal.

In order to be that individual, who can see all the players on the field, the hundreds of variations on where the ball can be kicked or passed to, and be the player to arrive at the exact instance in time where you are needed most is called having field presence. It is the ability to see through all the extraneous distractions, analyze what needs to be done and then act. 

While this is especially true of team leaders, anyone on the team can have field presence. However, as a team leader or project manager or producer, it can be an invaluable skill. As someone who may have played sports, or have been on a creative team, I bet you already know what I'm talking about, or at least you've seen someone utilize this skill in the real world. While this can be a natural ability, everyone can improve their own field presence skills. To give you some idea on how you can gain field presence, I'm going to walk through some project management framing questions that can not only help you in managing projects, but help to develop your own project management presence...

The Integrated Team Model

The integrated model for agencies is focused on building collaborative teams to strategize, come up with ideas, make, execute, and evolve creative projects together. It is a more dramatic way of tearing down silos in an agency. While all agencies have their own core business model, these diagrams show how a small team can be built to work together in a design thinking "like" environment. Successive slides show how the team can work with the larger agency group.

The idea is, as you move out of the core, you either bring in new players to the team, or the team members themselves use their "T" shaped knowledge of their core function. This also means that the entire team can share and exhibit strategic multi-discipline views on a creative problem.

Please feel free to comment and share your thoughts. In the upcoming weeks, I will be adding to the diagrams.

The Creative Brief - An Exercise in Soft Values Between Client & Agency.

If you do a quick google search on creative briefs, you’ll find hundreds of articles online. I think this is a testament to how hard it is to write a good brief, since the development of the brief, is as much a part of the creative process as thinking of ideas to answer the brief itself. The creative brief is meant to be the culmination of all the research and strategy completed, an understand of the client’s business, an understanding of the audience and a framing of the goal of the communication – in addition to uncovering the truths and insights about the emotions and behaviors surrounding the brand, consumer and cultural relevance. It's a lot to think about. However, a good creative brief is also meant to spark inspiration while guiding your team through the constraints of objectives, how and where you may engage, and hypothetically how much time and budget is suppose to be spent. 

It’s a tall order to create a good brief (and one that is brief). It is no wonder that many briefs, to put it mildly — suck.

We expect clients really do want to engage agencies for their creativity and innovation, as well as the tactical application of strategy. However, sometimes clients get more caught up in a tactical approach to defining projects (writing a 12 page essay chock full of business objectives and must haves) than actually engaging agencies to do what they do best – think...

Managing the creative process is more than just setting and following the rules of typical project management procedures. As a creative industry, you would think that agency's would be better at identifying that the reason for tension and conflict is often created by the formality and rigidness of processes that we put in place to help us be more efficient.

I often look back at my time working at both small agencies and startups with great nostalgia. For those of us who have spent time in similar small organizations, we know what it's like to have that small company, "we can get done," team spirit. Or at least what's it like to work with your slightly awkward extended family.

In small agencies, you often get the impression that very little formal project management is in place. While that's most likely true, what you do feel is that people often feel invested in common goals and that they really believe in the philosophies that founded the agency. In a way, small agencies do act as one very large cohesive team, even though they seem dysfunctional at times. At a small shop, everyone usually knows what's expected of them, what the goals are, how to get the work done, where they want the agency to go, and what they want from the experience. If you had a problem, people talked and communicated. If something was outside of your job, you still felt you could contribute and be appreciated...