Account management is change management

A good account man changes stuff that isn’t working.

A great account man changes how an organization thinks together with his/her team/clients.

But what are the key steps to manage change. I came across some great stuff by John Kotter that I can summarize below :

1) Establish a sense of urgency

– make objectives real & relevant

– help others see the need for change and the importance of acting immediately

– identify crises, potential crises or major opportunities

2) Pull together the guiding team (a powerful guiding colalition)

– assemble a group with enough power & the right skills to lead the change effort (think Oceans 11 here)

– encourage the group to work together as a team

3) Create a vision

– develop the vision with the team to help direct the change effort

– develop strategies for achieving that vision

4) Communicate the vision

– use every mechanism and involve as many people as possible to communicate the new vision & strategies for understanding/achieving buy in.

– communicate the essentials, simply, to appeal and respond to peoples needs

5) Empower others to act

– remove obstacles/barriers to change

– change systems or structures that seriously undermine the vision

– encourage risk taking & non traditional ideas, activities & actions

– recognise & reward progress/achievements

6) Plan & create short term wins

– set aims that are easy to achieve for visible performance improvements

– create those improvements in bite sized chunks

– finish current stages before starting new ones

7) Don’t let up

– foster & encourage determination and persistence

– consolidate improvements & produce more change

– used increased credibility to change systems, structures & policies that don’t fit the vision

– highlight achieved & future milestones

8) Make change stick

(institionalise new approaches)

– weave change into the culture

– articulate connection between new behaviours & corparate succcess

– develop the means to ensure leadership development & succession

– reinforce the value of successul change via recruitment, promotion & new change leaders who can implement the vision

Change fails when:

– we allow too much complexity.

– failure to understand a clear vision

– failure to clearly communicate that vision

– permitting roadblocks against that vision

– not planning for short term results & not realising them

– declaring victory too soon

– failure to anchor change.

One of the best books (personally) that I’ve ever read on this topic is Who Moved My Cheese by Dr Spencer Johnson.  It should be a welcome addition to any account handling kit bag & contains my favourite life rule – ‘smell the cheese often’.


What is an idea worth

Yesterday I blogged about some interesting & fairly abstract stuff to do with the idea making process.

Basically that the ideation phase is all about Yes. And that curation is all about No.

Yes = the energetic, chaotic & iterative process of creativity.  No = focus, packaging & team unity behind the presentation of the idea.

Now – when you’re chasing butterflies it’s easy to get lost.

No more so than in the sticky subject of client remuneration for an idea.

When talking about this topic with some students recently I couldn’t help but open up the discussion about how we (as an industry) charge for our ideas. The ‘hourly rate’ discussions don’t seem to reflect the real value in ideas today. And seem more like the circular discussions that pop up here. 

The brilliant Lee Clow has a lot of balls. And he opens this up right here. In his office – with client work in the background:

I think through this constantly evolving new landscape it’s becoming quite clear where the value is. Transformative ideas. And  if the rules have been rewritten thanks to the social layer of the web & our own hyperconnectivty – then isn’t it time we had a good look at our industries pricing model?

Who wants to have a very small slice of a very small (and increasingly shrinking) pizza when transformative ideas can change the way a businss thinks/acts & delivers value to shareholders/customers? See dollar shave club.

This type of idea/change process/approach has to be worth more than the creative services to make a TV spot? The WPP aquisition of Brooklyn Agency – Big Spaceship – is another key indicator. Maybe we need to put our best (and most experienced minds) together to solve this. Ad Contrarian has some reflections on leveraging our most experienced talent here. 

There’s a new model emerging where a forward thinking, rule bending approach to renumeration seems to satisfy a world where there are no rules anymore. A helpful slideshare presentation on the topic is here:

Confessions of a remastered account man

In trying to make sense of the world this week I’ve stumbled across a really interesting fable about managing projects. One which is extremly well known in the field of software development but I’ve not seen it in the communications business:

A Pig and a Chicken are walking down the road. The Chicken says, “Hey Pig, I was thinking we should open a restaurant!”. Pig replies, “Hm, maybe, what would we call it?”. The Chicken responds, “How about ‘ham-n-eggs’?”.

The Pig thinks for a moment and says, “No thanks. I’d be committed, but you’d only be involved!”

It comes from the world of SCRUM development where 15 minute meetings are held daily to answer the 3 basic questions:

  • What have you done since yesterday?
  • What are you planning to do today?
  • Any impediments/stumbling blocks?
There are several key roles in this process. The development team, the scrum master & the product owner. All of these roles are ‘chickens’ where as executive management/end stakeholders/investors are – in rather unflattering terms – defined as ‘pigs’.
The development team is responsible for delivering the work at the end of each phase (called a sprint).  In agency terms this feels like the workgroup.
The product owner represents the voice of the customer. Kind of feels like the planner to me.
The scrum master facilitates the daily scrum meetings (time boxed at 15 minutes) & acts as a Servant Leader. This description hit me like a train. The main role is to remove obstacles for the team & ensure ‘the wheels are greased’. It’s a watchful protector role. And kind of feels like the remastered account handler to me. A quite brilliant colleague of mine likens this to Danny Ocean & the crew.
If you’re a client then the account handler has a duty to enthuse you in the creative process, deliver the goods on time/budget & ensure that you feel like a real partner in the agency. If you’re with a creative team then you have to turn client speak into a creative brief together with the planner, keeping the team on path/on strategy/on time & removing the obstacles. Even when the odds are against the project you’re accountable for pushing things to their fullest. Often without thanks. But that’s okay. Somehow keeping the team enthusiastic when it’s 7pm, with a deadline tomorrow & the work has just been shot down internally.  It’s a balancing act. And in an industry full of empty suits the remastered account handler needs to manage all these softer values & help create the inspirational conditions where magic can happen. It’s about setting a framework for finding failure. Faster.
We’ve been talking a lot lately about a work  process that  is iterative & organic.  And I wondered that in an environment where idea is king whether the SCRUM process had some useful learnings for the communication business? The start up phase needs high energy & some of the building techniques mentioned here. Sure we need to keep open & fluid & keep that chaotic energy feeding ideas with an ‘AND YES’ approach. In this phase it’s worth remembering the words of a great man who says – ‘be like water my friend’:

But once we have a deluge of ideas in the group it pays well to focus. This stage is all about curation. And we need to be brutally ruthless about saying NO:

Saying NO and having focus helps you do one thing & do it well. Take Evernote for example. Their vision is to replace your brain. Seriously. They want you to remember everything. Take the dollar shave guy we talked about here.  He knows exactly what the play is & addresses a simple pain point with a clear (and visionary) offer. Focusing gives you clarity but you have to kill your darlings & fail fast to get to the really good stuff.

So even if you have brilliant idea making sessions. And brilliant team curation it can still be really hard to know what you’re looking for in the chaos. I think Jay Z puts it well in the below film at around the 6minute mark. In all the chaos you’re looking for the truth. Hova & Warren Buffett throw down some knowledge on this here:

With great conditions for ideation & brutality of curation one thing is certain. Great stuff will be born.

It strikes me that an agency scrum or ‘the idea making bubble phase’ can be a lot like the refraction of light through a prism.

There are often many different perspectives & lots of different ways to see the same thing. Take these examples:

Exit music: original.

Exit music: with Romeo & Juliet story

Exit music: Jazz version

None of these are the same. But in an abstract way they kind of are. It’s the prism at play – once the client problem is defined the remastered account handler has a duty to ensure the team are viewing the problem from lots of different perspectives. Challenging the planner to ask those difficult questions. Asking the creative team to consider different ways in on the brief. Creating a little conflict where we fight about the work with ourselves & fight for it together with the client.  I think the last example above is particularly good. A great team/process should be like playing jazz together. We all know our instruments & we know the tune that needs to be played. But it’s okay to go off the page. To say ‘we don’t know yet’ when asked about next steps by the client. To shake the kaleidoscope and see what comes out. This is where we get the pure refraction of ideas. It’s improvisational, freeform, experimental & exhilirating.

How we play the tune together should always aim to be different & disruptive.

Orson Welles was a master at this. In all media.

He reframed theatre at 20 with Voodoo Macbeth:

Terrified America on radio at 23 with a production of War of the Worlds:

And landed an unique film deal with total creative control at 24. Inventing modern cinema techniques with Citizen Kane:

That’s truly disruptive storytelling. He figured out that the best way to predict the future was to make it.

Now – the remastered account handler has a responsibility to ensure the conditions for ideation & curation are perfect.

But remember that they are distinct phases.

And they need different tools, techniques & a different type of discipline in each phase to be truly great.

When it happens we all know that the complicated can become awesomely simple. That different perspectives should be brought to the table. That being T shaped & colloborative leads to shared awesomeness with idea making. And that we might – just might – find the truth in amongst the chaos.

Then – and only then – do we stand a chance of making the future.

Adventures at Hyper Island

I attended a Hyper Island playground the other night & wanted to capture some stuff that was talked about.

The focus of the playground was around a new course that the team are launching about interactive project management. Its a new program for professionals who aspire to become experts in planning, leading & delivering digital projects. Running for 10 weeks on Tuesday evening the program starts with a two day intensive workshop.

Taking place at the Hyper Island space here in Stockholm the course will provide lots of tools/processes & practices around how to run projects in a constantly changing landscape. More here. 

What excited me about this course is what I’ve been blogging about here. And was driving at with Forbes here. And debating at Berghs here. Basically that the old method of ‘taking an order’ from a client is on it’s way out. And that inventing projects together with clients, where an iterative process is preferred to the linear & that the focus is on facilitation of ideas rather than ‘checklists’.

We learnt about techniques used in improv theatre such as ‘And yes’. That ‘Yes’ is an enabler for ideation. Where no is a blocking word.

That to keep the energy flowing with ideas you need to constantly generate & innovate in smaller/larger groups.

But crucially you need to involve clients from the very start of this type of process so that there is joint commitment & trust that is committed to changing behaviour. And that if that trust isn’t there then maybe this isn’t the way to work for you.

How’s that for integrity.

See below for a key summary. On the left you have the values of old school project management & on the right you have the future approach. Awesome.

March madness: cheap shaving, Kony meltdowns & the social bubble

This probably won’t be a very popular post. March has been a fascinating month in & around the social layer of the web – both in terms of the stories that are being generated & the commercial reality that is emerging.

First up we have the awesome dollar shave club. These guys have a simple, disruptive business idea, presented with the type of sharable humour that makes it a real Trojan Horse.

Then we have the video that has had the world going nuts:

And finally we have a lot of chatter about the Twitter IPO, a new Ipad & a bunch of people talking about the death of the video game console. 

Is any of this March madness connected? Well – on the surface no.

But maybe it tells us a little more than we like to admit to ourselves & about the way we consume news, information & place value on stuff today.  In short how we view things & connect it to what’s really important: taking action.  The guardian articulate this in their brilliant new spot (also from March):

Things aren’t always what they seem. Context is the most important thing. See the below from the Guardian back in the 80’s:

Just because we have more channels than ever & it doesn’t mean that we should forget to make up our own mind. Take Kony 2012. 90million views. But how many lobbyists pose with weapons with militia groups?

How many also have public meltdowns, running about naked in a San Diego car park committing a ‘sex act’.

So consider this guys fragile mental state & the 90million people that lapped up the video. They shared the selected views of what now seems to be a madman.  Then also consider – what my childhood friend/Washington advisor Richard Downie has to say on the topic too:

What emerges is that this issue is a complex, multifaceted problem & a sense of perspective is key.

One week ago popular opinion was wondering how it could help get rid of Kony. But unfortunately ‘a Like’ isn’t going to change the world.  Particularly when the perspective around what you ‘Liked’ was one sided & the facts are filtered by someone with a screwed up personality disorder.

But what does this have to do with brands & remastered account handlers?

Well – the problems that we face with our clients are often complex & require a lot of perspective too. Just because someone in Idaho has an opinion about the brand & fires out a tweet it this does not mean that brands have to jump into the conversation. Coke has 6million facebook fans. But 4billion people drink the stuff every year (And lets not even go near the caramel coloured cancer scare from the Twitterverse this week). The point is that just because you ‘Like’ something – it doesn’t mean you’ll make money from it or drive change because of it. In short Engagement is non existent.  The social experts will tell me – ‘but you’re missing the point: it’s about awareness’.


The guy who fronts Invisible Children has encountered 2 very different types of global awareness this week. But neither of them have resulted in any agenda changing action. Other than being locked up.  Put it this way – even if the world is covered in Kony2012 posters on April 20th I’m skeptical that driving public awareness of this complicated issue is going to result in the right type of action. Removal of Kony has already been official US policy under Obama. And converting these 90million views into something more than a complete waste of time is going to be a huge challenge.

There’s a similar issue that is likely to plague the Twitter IPO. Twitter lost nearly 100m USD last year. It’s a great platform for connecting people & breaking news but  just because your brand is being talked about somewhere it doesn’t mean you need to act.  If You Tube is the world’s Television set with micro-channel content then Twitter is the worlds water cooler.  Unfortunately for Twitter it’s acting that drives the numbers. Adscam has more on what George call’s Social Media Thermofucktardonomics here.

My point is that you need to listen. We all do. But perspective & curation are key to deciding how/when to act.

It’s an old saying but ‘awareness on it’s own is not enough’. I think we’ve seen in March that this is even more of a truism in the remastered landscape.

Engagement is & always will be everything for brands. Awareness is helpful but getting someone to do something is even more important.

In today’s landscape there’s nothing worse than being the type of agency guy/gal that treats the creative process & the methods of engagement like the below:

Or encourages these types of conversations:

We need to remember that just because there’s more ways to be talked about than ever – it doesn’t mean we can ignore the fact that our job is about persuading customers to just maybe/possibly/consider taking some action.

I think the most important lesson the remastered account handler will take out of March is to keep a core responsibility  to stay grounded, not get carried away with jargon or the buzz around the next big thing.

To keep a sense of perspective in the team.

Remember the dollar shave guy – he’s better, cheaper, faster. And he makes you laugh. He’s likable. He’s linkable. But above all – he’s commercial. He wants you to act. He’s keeping it simple & asking you to look at things differently. Asking you to look at different angles. Different perspectives. He’s using the dynamics of the landscape rather than tapping a bubble.

Think of him the next time you’re starting up a project. Do you want to do good work? No. The work we want to do is f*cking great.

Ninja Turtles & the new aesthetic


This stuff from JvM has been driving a lot of buzz this week. The guys over at adland have a great piece on where this visual idea may have originally come from here. The question is where do we draw the line & does this matter. Sure the creative team has had to take the visual & wrap around a thought that works for the brand. In this case the childlike wonder of letting your mind see things & make things: using the raw material of colourful Danish building blocks.

I’ve always been a big fan of work that asks you to ‘connect the dots’. You know. Fill in the blanks & make the final creative leap yourself. The ‘ah ha moment’ you could say.  Print & poster executions are historically great at this – check out an old Land Rover piece here to get what I mean:


But what I really like about this stuff from JvM is that it takes the ‘new aesthetic’ that Russell Davies has been talking about & connects it to popular culture for a brand that is timeless. In short – it’s a very modern print idea & makes a lot of sense to group of parents that have grown up with 8bit videogames/carry computers in their jeans.

Regardless of where the original visual originated the creative team have still had to execute it in a way that creates meaning for the brand & for today’s target audience.

All the more powerful that this is done with a single word: Imagine.

As I mentioned to some interns last week & blogged about here. A great idea is best defined as the combination of old & new elements together.

The trick is finding the right ones that make the hairs on the back of the neck stand on end.