If you're in the advertising business, uncertainty is your new norm. It doesn't matter what level of seniority you have in the advertising community, uncertainty looms over us all. It affects the jobs we do, the way we do them, and the ways in which we define success.
This uncertainty is not going to disappear any time soon. In fact, I think it's only going to accelerate.
What do I mean by uncertainty? It's everything from the heated dialogue about companies joining cause-based conversations to brands bringing work in-house to data being mismanaged. It's also the constant redefinition of work-life balance, and what exactly a great agency culture means.
Ironically, uncertainty is a key ingredient for both growth and stagnation. By embracing it, you win. By fearing it, you lose.
As an agency owner, I'm entrusted to navigate uncertainty on behalf of my agency and to empower my team to take advantage of the opportunities that arise in an indefinite environment.
Leadership in this industry is no-nonsense, and there is no universal guidebook. So, I believe the most effective thing you can do as a leader is to surround yourself with people who proactively lean into uncertainty to drive your business forward despite how unclear the path may be.
Out of necessity, personal curiosity and genuine enthusiasm, I devote a lot of time to talking with and about talent in the advertising industry. Knowing that the right team is what's going to get any business through uncertain times, these are four traits I admire.
Opportunity keeps you up at night
The good news is, there is always so much opportunity in the advertising industry. If you don't sense that opportunity (even if you can't immediately see how to capture it), you will remain stagnant. Every week, I see a new case study of a brand that took a risk in an uncertain space and conquered it. While it's totally natural to be nervous about uncertainty, those who thrive are those who face their fear head-on with enthusiasm and create new opportunities. "I had an exciting idea last night while I was sleeping that woke me up. I just had to write it down!" This is when you know uncertainty is probably bringing out the best in you.
You aren't afraid to acknowledge what you don't know
The changing mechanics of programmatic and blockchain technology, GDPR legislation and social algorithms—let's just start there. Anyone who thinks they always know everything there is to know is a fool. The industry is changing so fast that it's hard to believe we will ever have a complete grasp on even one of these topics, never mind all of them. The real winners are those who embrace an attitude of perpetual learning. We've all sat in a room and listened to a sermon of digital jargon laced with baseless certainty that shoots right over our head. Yeah, those speakers are people you want to run away from. But the person who asks, "What's that?" You want to invite them in.
You live among humans, not bots
A strategy is something you do, not something you merely talk about. Somewhere over time, the word "strategy" was hijacked into inaction. Questions like, "You know what the problem is?" or "You know what the industry needs to do?" don't get us anywhere. Most people are stunned by the powerful effect of doing something rather than simply talking about possibilities in a loop (like some chatbots). The new order should be: ready, fire, aim. This approach requires creative endurance and accepts that you may get it wrong the first time. No matter what level of seniority you have, actions thrive amid uncertainty because so much potential is stuck in "strategic" stagnation. By prioritizing action, you break the chatbot loop by not only diagnosing the problem but by actively working toward a solution and avoid unnecessary dead ends.
You maintain a great sense of humor
The world is undeniably a crazy place right now, and not just in advertising. It's important to find lighthearted moments and to embrace the craziness of it all because much of it is beyond your control. Throughout my career, I've heard some inane things come out of people's mouths but have always endured, thanks to my sense of humor. Uncertainty can cause people to make ungrounded statements, prompted by fear, but the best team members will learn to smile and keep their sense of humor. Time evens everything out, after all.
As a parting anecdote, in 2007 a big-time executive told me, "Damian, the internet is only a fad." I can certainly still find the humor in that in 2018, can you?