Thoughts on my first 30 days leading a new agency

Just one month into the job, I realize I am in the very fortunate position of leading a newly formed company. Wunderman Thompson Canada is tasked with re-imagining a new marketing services approach consistent with where we believe people are and where they’re going. Our raison d’etre is to create ground-breaking creative work to inspire growth for ambitious brands.

The mandate is clear.

It’s an incredibly exciting and stimulating gig, and I’ve only been in the seat since the beginning of September. Truth be told, you only get a short window to stay true to this type of vision, and I can already feel myself losing my Wunderman Thompson virginity—that pure, optimistic, the world-is-your-oyster feeling—one on-boarding meeting at a time. And so, I’m trying hard to bottle it, this exuberant feeling of my first 30 days. I want to always remember what this feels like.

At the same time, when you look at the future through this lens, you see things a little differently. I have found myself uber aware of not only who we are as an agency and where the industry is today, but where we want to take it tomorrow. From those observations, I’ve come up with specific ideas about how our group can learn and continually move toward the bold vision we have.

Sharing these ideas will help me—and perhaps others—remember how lucky we all really are. That said, before I (shallow) dive in, I am officially reserving the right to rescind any of these new guy revelations a couple months from now. But for today, this is where my head is at.

Modern marketing is no longer “all about the work.” It’s all about all the people who make the work.

I grew up in the industry pounding my head against the wall trying to make great things. I started as a copywriter, where I was—in basketball terms—a volume shooter. It took me lots of shots to make an impact. I needed to write 50 scripts to get even one blessed by my creative director. All I cared about was trying to do great work, people be damned. I was never standoffish or difficult, but I was focused entirely on the creative output, trying to get stuff made, and made well enough to win trophies.

One thing I know now is, if we don’t take care of the people making the work, there will be no work to make.

Over the last few years I have become a proponent of the “work when you’re at your best” philosophy. If a project keeps you up late, make sure you get proper rest the next day. More isn’t always better. Sometimes it’s just more.

And if you don’t take time to recharge, you will undoubtedly end up like too much of our industry—not working in it by the ripe ol’ age of 35.

Take your time and hurry up.

When it comes to evolving agency models, being methodical and thoughtful in your approach are crucial. However, doing something—anything—resonates.

We encourage clients to take calculated risks, test, learn, and iterate. But really, it’s agencies that need to iterate. Constantly. Where it gets interesting is in the how: When you get a creative team of thinkers, makers, and doers thinking laterally and literally about staffing structures, utilization ratios, compensation models and more, some fascinating outcomes can occur. And quickly. I have seen it.

This is especially true if you embrace the notion that an agency is a constant work in progress. Never done. Never perfect. Always learning. And (hopefully) always growing by setting up a structure that fuels great work for great clients with great ambitions.

We need a much bigger tent. Big time. 

It still amazes me how few people actually know or care about how the basic agency business functions: How we keep the lights on; how we get paid to perform; and how retainers, projects, scopes, and MSAs work.

Once exposed to it, people seem to really understand—and even empathize—with the challenge of making it all chug along. The notion that this information is limited to a handful of C-suite people is just plain silly and selfish. Let’s break down the walls. Let people in. Everyone who works at a company has the right to know where their paycheque comes from, and hopefully be part of growing it for the collective.

At our agency, every few months we have a “DAY 1.” On that day, every Wunderman Thompson office across North America gathers staff together to share our story, get to know each other, and work better together. All with the feeling of wonder and possibility that comes with “DAY 1” of any new project.

With that “DAY 1” spirit in mind, I recognize it is the earliest of early days for me. But I remain incredibly optimistic about what has been built and what we are rebuilding at Wunderman Thompson. I’m sure many of you in agency land are going through your own transformations and evolutions as well.

From my vantage point, it has never been a more interesting, intellectually stimulating, and educational time to be in our industry. I hope you feel the same. And I look forward to seeing you on the rollercoaster soon enough.

Jeff Dack is CEO of Wunderman Thompson Canada. His agency career has taken him from TBWA/Chiat Day to Zig, Cossette, GWP Brand Engineering, Taxi, Jamieson Laboratories (client-side as a CPG marketing leader), Lowe Roche, and Carat.