The video above was taken last year in October, when I had the distinct pleasure of speaking at the MYOB Conference in Nashville. This annual gathering of creative service agencies and design firms is put on by renowned management consultant David Baker and How magazine, and it brings together an incredibly eclectic and exciting group of people. Appreciating that any creative services agency is only as good as the people within it, I spoke to this group about how they can use storytelling to attract, engage, align and retain talent. If you don’t feel like watching the video, a transcript of what I say is below. Enjoy!
About eight years ago, the business world started catching on to storytelling. They started realizing the place that this timeless art of humanity has in the cold, hard world of business. What they came to recognize was that storytelling has a way of connecting with the most important asset any organization has and that is, of course, people. Stories connect us to ideas, but they also connect us to each other, around those connections to ideas. They help us understand not just what we’re working on, but also what we’re working towards. They help us marry the logic of where we want to go as an organization to why we would even want to go there in the first place. This is a lot of what we’re going to talk about: how you can use storytelling to create that connection and how that creates collective understanding.
People are certainly important in any industry, but I would suggest that nowhere are they more important than in your industry and in my industry. At the end of the day, that’s what it’s about. Your clients are people hiring people. And people can be an incredible differentiating and distinguishing factor for your firm and your agency.
Your business, my business, it’s incredibly crowded and incredibly competitive. It’s a somewhat desperate business. You know…we’re fighting tooth and nail for every client, every account we can get at. And any advantage that we have, that we can leverage and showcase, gives us an advantage over our competitors. But guess what? There are lots of different things that can differentiate you, but some of them are maybe not as differentiating as you would think.
For instance, I’m sure a lot of you have a unique trademark process. So do I. But guess what? So do they. They might have successful case studies and shiny industry awards, and you do too. Great! They might have beautiful, kick-ass, hip offices, a cappuccino machine…I don’t know. You do too.
These things can be differentiating, and I’m not saying that you should ignore them. But I think the best potential for differentiation for you firm, for your agency, is your people. The ideas that they produce and the services they provide.
With some of your agencies, with agencies that I’ve lead in the past (I grew up in the advertising agency business) there are, a lot of times, some star players. Maybe one person, two or three people who are real showcase individuals that the agency becomes known for, or their work becomes celebrated and famous around the world. That’s a great thing. But if the story of your agency is inextricably linked to those people, sometimes there’s some risk involved with that. What if they got hit by a bus or worse, what if they went to competing agency?
There is risk involved in that. And again, not that you shouldn’t showcase those star individuals, but if the story of your agency is inextricably linked with them, there is some risk. Instead of focusing your story around those individuals, around those one, two or three people, think more about the collective, the collective of individuals. What binds this beautiful, motley crew together, emotionally, mentally, philosophically and, I would say even, spiritually. Uncovering that story can be powerful: the things like where you are, where you’ve come from, where you’re going, the higher purpose that’s driving you there, the differences that you want to make in the world and in the lives of your clients. That’s what great agency and creative firm stories are made of.