Ogilvy’s Top 8 Tips for Business Owners

It’s Monday morning and as I am fueling on coffee and nootripics, let’s reach into David Ogilvy’s bag of tricks on how to make you and your agency more awesome.

It doesn’t matter the size of your agency, as in our industry, it’s always ripe for office politics and other bullshit that should have stopped happening in junior high. The energy it takes to deal with the drama is better served driving revenue. So, it is YOUR job to put a stop to it before it starts…or minimize the damage when it hits you. I have seen agencies implode. Don’t let this happen to you. You’ve worked too hard to get where you are.

  1. “Always be fair and honest in your own dealings; unfairness and dishonesty at the top can demoralize an agency.” Ogilvy isn’t just talking about business here, he is referencing your personal life too. Have you ever been out with a business associate and the server forgot to add a charge on the bill? What was their reaction? If it is “Let’s get out of here before they notice,” that person is a piece of shit and you should never do business with them. Why? Because they will short change you and take advantage whenever possible.
  2. “Never hire relatives or friends.” Ogilvy forgot a key point that you should NEVER break: Never hire someone you are fucking. Ever. I have done this twice in my life and both times it was a complete disaster. Not only did the business fail, but it destroyed the best parts of the relationship. You can never break this rule and expect to have success and respect of others at your agency. And that voice in your head that is saying, “Nah, I can make this work.” No you can’t.
  3. “Sack incurable politicians.” I love the UK version of firing someone: sacking. While you may see this as Ogilvy pointing towards elected officials, he is not. He is targeting those people who’s work behavior is that of a politician. Forever positioning themselves for the good of themselves, speaking from both sides of their mouth and back stabbing whenever possible. Fire those people. Your staff may never say anything to you directly, but they will love you for it.
  4. “Crusade against paper warfare. Encourage your people to air their disagreements face-to-face.” Ogilvy said this BEFORE email. I should not have to explain to you why communicating face-to-face is a good idea. Just do it.
  5. “Discourage secrecy.” Being fully transparent is a trait your staff will appreciate you for. It nearly ceases the “rumblings” in the office.
  6. “Discourage poaching.” It’s called manners, even in an industry which lacks manners. This goes both ways too. I had a great candidate interview with me a few years ago. I asked what he was presently doing as the interview was in the middle of the day. “Oh, my boss thinks I am at a dentist appointment.” While I appreciated the honesty, it was said in a gloating manner, in that he was “pulling a fast one” on his boss. I ended the interview stating, “It’s not going to work out as if you worked here and had a legit dental appointment, I would think otherwise.” Takeaway: If a person is unhappy with their job, they should quit before looking for another one. Most people would never “shop for a new spouse” while they are married, but have no problem doing the same to their current employer. There is NO difference between the two.
  7. “Compose sibling rivalries.” This refers to competition within the agency. Get your best people to compete with one another in a healthy manner so they are continually pushing each other.

Every owner wants their staff to believe they are working for the best agency in the world. You aren’t alone in that thinking. Ogilvy had a great formula to motivate his staff.

– treat your subordinates as grown-ups and they will grow up.
– help them when they are in difficulty.
– be affectionate and human, not cold and impersonal.
– ask for your staff’s advice and listen to it.
– never summon people to your office, it frightens them; go to their office instead.

Remember the Scottish proverb: hard work never killed a man. What kills a man? Boredom and disease.

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