Paul Venables, Founder/Chairman, Venables Bell & Partners
Let’s get something out of the way: I’m not motivated by money. [Aside: You’re not, either. In fact, there are a lot of studies that show money is a lousy incentive, and can often hinder performance.] Good thing, because being independent is not about money—if it were about money and money only, we’d sell the thing, kill it during an earn-out and live the rest of our advertising days beholden to the holding company.
But we remain independent.
Being independent isn’t about freedom, either. I was much more free to take questionable risks, make mistakes, throw an occasional creative tantrum and ignore client issues when I didn’t have an entire ecosystem of employees and their families, agency partners and, of course, the careers and well-being of my clients on my shoulders. I am in the service business, responsible for the food on a lot of people’s tables. Instead of one boss, I have an army—I work for every one of the people here, and for every client. So “freedom” isn’t exactly the word I’d use.
I’d also like to dispel the control myth. “Oh, you work for yourself, so you control everything. That must be awesome.” Uh, no, and well, no. Aside from being a horrendous management style and counter to every bone in my body on how to get the best out of people, controlling everything would take a lot more time than any one person has. Plus, frankly, it sounds annoying on a grand scale.
So if not money, freedom or control, what then is the power of independence? Where is its true charm? Its advantage?
Being independent simply means I get to choose who I trust. And I trust who I choose. That’s it.
But I have to tell you, like the proverbial road less traveled, it makes all the difference.
I don’t get thrown into a bunch of client relationships because the mother ship needs me to handle some accounts. I choose my clients as much as they choose me. And I choose the ones I trust—to be good people, to have integrity, to share in the desire for great work, to value and compensate us for our partnership. What’s nice about this trust thing, it is directly correlated to likability. You like people you trust.
I am also not forced to report into some accountants in New York or Paris who may never truly understand how I make money. I find management leaders and financial advisors I trust, cut a hole in the fence and let them run, run, run. And that running happens at a location of my choosing because I’m not forced to merge with the struggling sister outpost that has overinvested in uninspired office space.
In addition, I am never asked to go through the motions of faux collaboration on a pitch with another network office that truly wants nothing to do with us and is only interested in using our creativity to pad their P&L. As enjoyable as that sounds, I choose to authentically collaborate with people I trust.
I am never expected to hire or keep anyone I don’t believe in. The result is obvious: I believe in every single one of the people who works here. Imagine how the company you work at would transform if management had faith—and acted as if they had faith—in every last employee.
When you get to choose who you trust, a lot of other good things happen too. There are no workarounds (it’s worth noting that in our business, workarounds are usually people). Politics are kept to an absolute minimum. Egos never get out of control. Policies tend to be generous and lenient. Collaboration runs high. The common goal becomes the only goal. The CFO–this is a big one–actually understands and supports the culture. And work is fun. Not just foosball-and-beer fun, but the work part of work is fun. The grind becomes less so.
I have no idea if being independent is right for you or your company. You won’t be as free as advertised, you won’t control everything and you’ll probably sock away less money over time. But, well, relationships. Those you get to choose. To invest in. To nurture and grow into wonderful, productive, profitable things. And while freedom, control and money are nice things, when it comes to true factors of deep-seated happiness, they can’t hold a candle to meaningful relationships.
Agency leaders Paul Venables, Colleen Decourcy and Lisa Clunie explain why their agencies are resolved to forge their own paths as fearless independents at "Independents' Day" on Wednesday, September 28th at 3:00pm at B.B. King.
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