5 ways to check if you’re a leader worth counting on

Screen Shot 2014-05-16 at 11.51.41 AMDoes your leadership garner the level of trust and loyalty from your team in difficult situations? To steal a page from our armed forces, are you the kind of leader that inspires people to get in the trenches or do they scatter when the going gets tough?

I always believed at my core that the only way I could develop valued relationships in business is to be the kind of leader that would never abandon my team when things got challenging. In advertising but probably true for many businesses, people invest themselves creatively and almost always are subjected to forms of rejection. Whether it’s a picture or a word, people can be merciless in their critiques. If truth were told, the Agency Creative Director painstakingly reviews each picture and word for their relevance and business-building potential. It’s in those moments of challenge, a leader needs to emerge and support their team. Many shy from the debate. Some believe you shouldn’t “Fall on your sword”. I never really understood that expression. I always felt if I had a sword (excuse the metaphors—but great work) I was going to use it to slay because in the end I believe in the power of great ideas.

So how do you know if your people trust you to protect them when the going gets tough?

1. Are you willing to face-off with your boss? Your Client? Your partner? This is not a strategy for those with a weak stomach. You often lose something in the interaction but what you keep is worth far more – your integrity and loyalty within your team.
2. Are you capable of shielding others and forsaking yourself? Again, it sounds noble but it’s really not about nobility. It’s about standing up for someone else regardless of the hits you might take.
3. Do your respect the people you represent? Both on your team? At your Clients? Sounds easy but, again often is gratuitous. The only way to truly be effective is if you believe in the intentions of the people that surround you. There’s a different lesson in that one for a later post!
4. Are you willing to be support an idea that might be different than your own? Ideas are fluid and true leaders recognize that they can come from anywhere and by anyone. The importance is your ability to recognize and support interesting thinking.
5. And of course, at the end of the day, what’s your headcount on throwing people under the bus at the eleventh hour? I’ve watched countless people cut down others at the presentation table. It’s sloppy. It’s says more about the person doing the cutting down then the person being slaughtered. But that said, an important decision is a moral one – which are you more comfortable doing?

When you choose to be in the trenches defending your team’s position, you get dirty. But, when your team emerges victorious, there’s nothing more satisfying.

Maureen Maldari
CEO, The BAM Connnection


The two ways to create advertising: Brand Out and World Back

Screen Shot 2014-05-02 at 10.14.15 AMFrom my experience, there are two very distinct ways to create work for a brand. I’ll start with “world back.” Many creatives find interesting things in the world, provocative artists, funny pieces of film, cool animation, great standup comedians, and appropriate them for advertising. They ask how could I take this cool thing, and back it into the brand? This works best, of course, when there is a good match in tone and message between the appropriated piece and the brand. A great example of this is the famous Whassup? Budweiser work. That started as a short film by Charles Stone III called True. I assume some clever people at Budweiser’s ad agency saw this film, and backed it into the brand brilliantly. Regular guys, being regular guys, drinking beer, both with the same theme line, “True.” Perfect. And really funny.

The “brand out” approach goes in the opposite direction. Creatives look first at the brand, hold it, turn it over, visit it, walk through it, dissect it, try it, read all about it, and attempt to find what is uniquely appealing within it. It’s similar to what Michelangelo said about sculpture, “Every block of stone has a statue inside it, and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” “Brand out” believes the answer is inside the product or service itself, you just have to find and release it. One example from my work is the Captain Morgan “Got a little Captain in you?” campaign. We were looking for a way to express the lovable rogue, the irreverent, fun-loving bravado of the Captain (and the drinker), and right there on the label was the Captain standing in this bold, irreverent pose with one foot up on a barrel. There was the answer. That pose said everything we wanted to say. It became the icon for the brand, and the core of a very successful campaign that ran for nearly 8 years. And NO ONE ELSE could do it because no one else had the pose.

The danger with the “world back” approach is many brands can appropriate the same idea. Creative teams around the world are on the internet as we speak combing through all the same youtube and Vine videos, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest pages, looking for something cool, provocative, artistic, funny to appropriate for their brand. So you better beat them to it. Also, with “world back” you run the risk of getting pegged with that dreaded and horrible comment “borrowed interest.”

Yes, a great idea can come from any direction, and I have worked in both. But I believe the “brand out” approach greatly increases your odds of doing something singular, and inimitable. If you start with something more uniquely yours, it only makes sense the creative output will be more uniquely yours, as well.