So we’ve talked about what Agency Disease is, and the various ways you might recognize it. In this second part, I want to look at how those of us with Agency Disease can learn to live with it. Because I firmly believe that with a sound diagnosis and proper management, the afflicted can still have a long, healthy, productive career in this business.
Now, as best I know, there is no cure for Agency Disease. Perhaps there’s a group of scientists diligently toiling away in a lab somewhere working on it, but for now those of us afflicted are just going to have to learn to live with it. And living with Agency Disease means being able to recognize flare-ups when they happen, control any lingering symptoms, and protect others from contracting the disease. So let’s take those one by one.
As discussed in part one of this series, there are many ways that Agency Disease presents itself. But all the symptoms have one thing in common: a struggle to set our ego aside and serve our clients the way they need and deserve to be served. You’ll know your Agency Disease is flaring up if you hear your ego talking. If we find ourselves whining about a client decision or getting frustrated if our favorite ad concept isn’t selected, that’s our ego talking. If we’re more concerned with awards than we are with results, that’s our ego talking. When we tell ourselves the only reason we’ve ever lost a piece of business is because some other shop undercut our price, that’s our ego talking. Our ego is loud and proud, so recognizing the flare-up usually isn’t too hard. Controlling it, though, that’s harder.
Controlling the symptoms
Like all good professionals, we take pride in our work. And we should take pride in our work. The symptoms of Agency Disease creep in when we start to think our work is our work. It’s not. It’s the client’s work. And walking the fine line between “doing the work” but not “owning the work” is a tough balancing act. We can’t deliver our best for our clients without that pride … but we should strive for “pride in creation” not “pride of ownership.” It can be “our idea” or “our design” … but it will never be “our work.”
Make no mistake about it, the easiest way to get Agency Disease is to come into direct contact with it. As a known carrier, it’s important that I protect those around me. But because this is a disease of the ego, rubber gloves and a face mask won’t cut it. For those of us already living with this disease, all we can do is watch ourselves, set a healthy example for those around us — leaders especially — and acknowledge when we cross the line. Setting a healthy example is especially important. Because the healthy example is just as contagious as the disease, and it’s just as capable of spreading through the agency’s culture.
This is a creative business, yes. This is an idea business, certainly. This is an objective, scientific, data-driven business, often. But it is first and foremost a service business. If we remember that, we can all live disease-free.