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Article Group
I wanna talk about something it’s about how this agency has screwed up. Made mistakes. Dropped some clangers. Spilled some water…then slipped in it. Mucker up, goofed up, muddled the pudding. Fuzzled up the wiggles! So hold on to your bloomers people THIS IS A THREAD
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Article Group Feb 25
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1/ Article Group was founded 3yrs ago. We've done well. We create great ideas. We have wonderful clients. But in those same years, we've made a lot of forehead-slappers. And during a recent leadership off-site we decided to make a list of them. There are 37.
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Article Group Feb 25
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2/ Why? Because we're building a responsible company. We want to be honest w/ ourselves. We want to learn from our errors. Too many agencies sweep problems under the rug. That creates a toxic environment of overworked and under-appreciated staff, which = poor client service.
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Article Group Feb 25
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3/ And, well, not learning from mistakes doesn't scale very well. We want the opposite. We want to grow responsibly. We want to learn by synthesizing our goofs (also a strategy used by Devo!).
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Article Group Feb 25
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4/ Our mistakes cover every possible function of an agency. Some mistakes concerned basics, i.e., the methods of building a responsible & sturdy business. Other mistakes concerned our offering, i.e., the methods of communicating our value to clients and executing on projects.
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Article Group Feb 25
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5/ The full list is below. I hope it's useful to other leaders & creatives out there, or gets biz owners to chuckle knowingly w/ the memory that yes, building a client services business is hard … and you’re not the only one who’s slipped on the banana peel.
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Article Group Feb 25
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GENERAL MANAGEMENT (1) Crappy meeting culture! Daily scrums are great for 1–10 people. Add more people and staffers commit seppuku. So we stopped. Now: meetings by department + once-per-week all-hands. Nobody has ritualistically disemboweled themselves since.
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Article Group Feb 25
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(2) Thought good tools would fix bad habits Repeat after me: Slack will not fix your communication problems. You’ve heard that old saying: water flows where it’s easiest for water to go? Same with people. Still working on this.
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Article Group Feb 25
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(3) Didn’t keep everyone updated on wins Figured everyone would just kinda *know* when good stuff happened. Incorrect. Fixed this with weekly updates.
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Article Group Feb 25
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(4) Didn’t have enough 1-on-1s. You’ve got to make time to check in. Otherwise assumptions creep in, which causes stress because people don’t know how they’re performing.
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Article Group Feb 25
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(5) Hired jerks Skills change. People who use the company card to ship their furniture to China don’t change.
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Article Group Feb 25
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CREATIVE (6) Assumed everyone thought the same way This was a super goof. I thought everybody thought like me. That most good work was the product of a single actor. This, as you are doubtlessly aware, is super not true. I had to learn to delegate. To listen. To scale.
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Article Group Feb 25
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(7) Didn’t unify our creative functions Partner #1 comes from brand marketing. Partner #2 comes from the agency world. Both cultures impart valuable lessons. But both use internal resources differently...
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Article Group Feb 25
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...As we grew, the business would be lopsided at times. That created internal tension. So we integrated the two disciplines. Their value lies in connecting their systems and concepts.
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Article Group Feb 25
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(8) Didn’t invest enough in project management at the beginning I know, I know, I know! What a goof. We fixed this quickly. Still embarrassing to admit! 😬 😬 😬
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Article Group Feb 25
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(9) Didn’t let go of old ideas quickly enough When we began, we hired specialists who couldn't teach others. We’ve since learned to invest in leaders and creatives who can teach systems to other employees, which creates the conditions for scalable growth.
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Article Group Feb 25
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(10) Thought a great culture would magically manifest itself We thought that a great culture would just, y'know, “happen”. Well, we got a culture, but it was disjointed. So we worked towards the culture we wanted. More offsites. More team lunches. The occasional go-kart race.
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Article Group Feb 25
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(11) No after-action reports We’d have a great project or a project that didn’t go so well. But either way we didn’t socialize the learnings with an after-action report, so it was hard to distribute knowledge. That was dumb.
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Article Group Feb 25
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BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT (12) Didn’t clarify what we were selling We confused some of our potential clients by using mealy-mouth language. We hadn’t done the hard work of being explicit about what we sell. This is a constant process of improvement.
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Article Group Feb 25
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(13) Made it too hard to buy our offering We solve big marketing problems w/ creative systems. But brands don’t have line items for that. Clients: “you guys sound really smart, & a few of you have cool beards, but can you just tell me what exactly you’re going to create?”
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Article Group Feb 25
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(14) Thought a consultant would fix our BD process Nope. Nyet. Nein. Repeat after me: I will put in the hard work, rather than thinking a single person would magically fix everything. There are no magical unicorn hires!
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Article Group Feb 25
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(15) Didn’t sell strategically Our business has endured because everyone is in sales. And this can be a good thing! But it wasn’t a good thing when we didn’t *also* have a strategic approach to the market — i.e., targeting brands we wanted to work with, and how.
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Article Group Feb 25
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(16) Competed for the wrong work Sometimes we’d compete for tactical  work— X number of white papers, Y number of banner ads, Z number of articles. We prefer to first work more strategically (“why do you need XYZ?”) instead of assuming the usefulness of XYZ is a given.
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Article Group Feb 25
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(17) Sold the right thing at the wrong altitude CMOs, CTOs, C-whatever-Os…they need systems thinking. Marketing managers need it, too: they just don’t need it right now. They need tactical solutions. So we stopped trying to sell strategy to people who needed tactics.
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Article Group Feb 25
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(18) Didn’t ask enough questions about the client’s business In the beginning, we didn’t ask enough questions about our clients’ businesses. We made too many assumptions. That lengthens project times and makes it harder to “get to useful” faster.
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Article Group Feb 25
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(19) Didn’t raise our hand We have great relationships with our clients. We’re super proud of how closely we work together. And so we have seats at various tables waiting for us…but we didn’t ask to sit down! Fixed that.
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Article Group Feb 25
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(20) Undercut our own creatives Some clients want great work done quickly. We've agreed to take some shortcuts. Look: this is going to happen. But we've learned we have to speak up. That way the client understands the limits of what they might receive.
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Article Group Feb 25
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(21) Used too much jargon Our habit was to hire super talented people from different types of places (brands, agencies, publishers) and drop them into projects to let them do their thing. Effective! But …
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Article Group Feb 25
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...it prevented us from standardizing our language. We’d have three different staffers using a different word to describe the same thing. I mean … this was just … Dogs and cats. Living together. Mass hysteria.
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Article Group Feb 25
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(22) Didn’t define “insight” to our clients One of the things we sell is insight—i.e., interpreting facts, revealing a deeper truth, and translating that truth into a powerful opportunity. We didn't explain this to clients, thus leading them to think it wasn't valuable.
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Article Group Feb 25
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(23) Didn’t include strategists early enough Strategists are trained to examine client challenges, do the appropriate research, and recommend action. They thrive on context. When you include strategists after the engagement begins they can’t do their best work.
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