Written by: Robin Baudreau
The SoDA Academy is a unique opportunity to meet other curious leaders in the industry where it seems no one is afraid to challenge how we can be doing better or trying harder. It’s an intimate setting and the sessions encourage you to break into small groups. Among the group members there are people from all over the world – agencies big and small.
I look forward to attending because for me, it’s a little bit like peering behind the curtain. And by curtain I mean I get to be in the same room as some of the smartest, hardest working people in the industry. We have the opportunity to collaborate on ideas and pick each others’ brains for two whole days – it’s not just about learning from the instructors and leaders, but the other delegates.
For better or worse, I forever consider myself to be quite green in the advertising world – I’ve worked at Kworq for three years which happens to also be the exact amount of time I have worked in advertising. I’ve worked my way up quickly as Kworq has rapidly evolved from a production company to a full-scale creative production agency, leaving us to learn the ropes as fast as we possibly can.
The first day of the Agency Leader track is like being in a masters’ class for advertising executives led by Michael Lebowitz of Big Spaceship and Johnathan Tann of Spring Advisors. We discussed things like culture, mission statements, and what true leadership really means. Since #2 of the SoDA Academy Principles reads: “We hold our conversations confidential” we’re in an interesting space where there is no holding back. We talked about the good, the bad, and the ugly mistakes we all have made. We argued over the difference between values and culture (values should and will remain the same, culture will evolve), questioned whether we need mission statements because they all sound the same anyways (does our mission statement need to define us?), and admitted that a little vulnerability ultimately makes us better leaders (there’s a lot of power in vulnerability.)
As someone who is always questioning whether I’m doing the right thing and feeling like I always have to play catch up in my role, at the end of our many discussions I not only felt justified in my beliefs and decision-making, but I also remembered something: we may be small and new now, but all great agencies were small and new once before as well.
Day two allowed us to break into smaller sessions, a highlight for me was Doing Better by Jules Erhardt. I was initially intrigued by Jules because we sat next to each other the first day and he introduced himself as wanting to “blow up our industry.” Doing Better dug into what the problems with the current agency model are – are we creating products that matter? Are they sustainable? How can we have healthy client relationships if everyone wants to spend the least amount of money for the best possible product? Is that a sustainable model? Should we be charging clients based on value and profitability, and would that allow us to continually strive to be better while being compensated fairly?
When we broke into groups to design our “ideal agencies” a common theme was not a model based on hours worked and rates, but one where we all have a stake in the game. Whether that be equity, a value based compensation, or a creative combination of the two. The first day a trend among mission statements for popular agencies was positioning themselves as a “partner” to their clients – maybe the biggest question is, can we truly be partners with our clients if we are simply contracted for work as opposed to forging relationships where we both have a true stake in the end result? In the end, I think we left both days asking more questions than truly having answers, but it seemed that everyone was ok with that. From the questions we can continue to learn and shape the industry we’re in.
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