In response to Rosie Siman’s great post on company mantras: I agree mantras can be catalysts for real business transformation.
I think it is motivating and focusing for both company owners and employees to have an active and inspiring mantra. Especially if that mantra is not the usual bland corporate speak, but down-to-earth and inspiring, with a sense of immediacy, like: “Think Different”, “Never off-duty”, “Smarter, Sharper, Faster”, “The work. The work. The work.”. My colleague David Proudlock was moved each morning when he used to cross over the Saatchi & Saatchi doorstep, with the mantra “Nothing Is Impossible” embossed on it.
But an agency must not confuse its mantra – which is largely a motivational touchpoint for staff – with its positioning. While great companies often have mantras, they also have very well thought out positionings that they can either justify to the nth degree with a sack-load of proof points or alternatively, that simply differentiate them from rivals.
The final arrows in the company’s outward-facing arsenal are: talent and culture, a very sell-able way of doing things, or a very sell-able secret to success. Talent comes from the staff the company chooses to bring onboard and they can create such an overwhelming impression, that it can negate the need for those looking to use the company to have to buy into a particular process or secret of success. After all you don’t ask Kat von D what her tattoo shop’s process is, you are just sold on the fact that they employ the best tattoo artists in the USA. Not me personally (I don’t do tats), but you get the principle.
Equally, you don’t need the best talent in the business if you have a relevant marketable culture, that is to say, one of creativity, precision, relentlessness, heritage of success (for example, BBDO: “[We are] the world’s most awarded advertising agency. With 15,000 employees in 289 offices across 81 countries, it is the second largest global advertising agency network, with its headquarters in New York” – that’s a sellable culture of creative success!). Brands came to Howard Luck Gossage’s agency Wiener & Gossage throughout the 50s and 60s not just because he was an innovator and advertising genius, but because the agency, based in an old fire station in San Fran, had a whole culture of free-thinking creativity and coolness, which clients wanted to rub off on them.
Finally, I think most companies make a choice between selling themselves to potential clients by letting them in on either a killer secret to success or a killer way of doing things. Saatchi and Saatchi always used to bang on about Lovemarks as their earth-shattering ‘this will change your world’ process. Essentially, it was a Love and Respect axis they would place brands on, with key pillars of Mystery, Sensuality and Intimacy for moving the brand up to the peak spot between the two. That was unique and massively invested-in process sell from them, that was missionary-like in its expression.
The ad agency Dare, for instance, took the other route away from selling themselves on a complex set of processes towards a simple secret of success in saying their “distinctive origins” in both digital and advertising mean they provide “unparalleled effectiveness” in today’s world. At Inkling, many a coffee has goes from hot to cold as we discuss mantras, processes and secrets to success we feel are true, clear and memorable for our business. However, it will always ultimately be the quality of thinking and brilliance of work that we or any agency will be judged on. Hey! That could be another mantra to toss into the pot.