Every Growing Agency Needs A Coach Thibs

Sometimes we place so much emphasis on the first year of a business as its most challenging, we don’t always consider that the real challenges to come happen in Year 3, 4 or 5 – when tough transitions need to happen. When they do, your people on the ground can’t necessarily see the grand vision for what your organization is trying to accomplish high above. We can look no further at an organization like the Chicago Bulls to see how they struggle with this present/future paradox. The organization trades Luol Deng to save itself $20 million from the salary cap and avoid a dreaded tax for repeat luxury tax offenders. Which makes all the sense in the world from a financial standpoint. But for the actual players and coach, it makes no sense at all. They can’t relate to the move. They try to respect management but they also know that same management doesn’t take the court every few days like they do – even if they were former players. Managers aren’t their brothers. Managers don’t go into battle with them. Managers don’t communicate everything to them.

Doesn’t this sound like some cultures you might’ve worked in? Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Take ad agencies, for example. I’ve worked in agencies where good people got laid off right and left. Management tried to justify the financial decision, but it didn’t really make sense. And here you were, knowing that you still have to write, still have to design, still have to program, still have to service your account.

But all the while, on the inside, you’re hurting. You’re ticked off. You just don’t understand it. The people who stick around can feel almost as bad as the people leaving.

It’s here, in the middle of the organization, where a Director-level person or people make a difference you can’t even measure to ensure the focus by your “troops on the ground” are on the tasks right in front of them. They don’t have to like the current situation. But they have to perform. In the Bulls’ situation, that person is Tom Thibodeau. Does he like the situation now after Deng has been traded? Of course not. Because no matter how much it may benefit the team long-term, he knows he has to win games right now and this move would seemingly impede that from happening. And yet, because he is such a good coach and can keep the team as focused as possible on maintaining a defensive identity, he’s still winning with what he has. How can this be? He’s not delusional. He’s not talking championship. He’s not expecting a locker room to instantly feel better about losing a cherished teammate, even after they win a game or two. But he does know that they still have to play games and win. To do that, everybody has to buy into his philosophy, which calls for playing the most suffocating defense in the NBA. It’s so stifling that other teams are going to beat the Bulls with more talent, but they’re not going to be outworked. This is no different than the mark of any other Thibodeau team, whether they had Derrick Rose or not.

In an agency setting, the role of Coach Thibs could very well be your Creative Director. The Copywriter and Art Director types look to this kind of person to help them understand what management above is doing. Did my CD always get what the people above were doing? Heck no. But the good ones also understood that we still needed to produce a fantastic product that was creatively captivating and strategically on target. But they weren’t robots. They could lend an ear too for people who needed to talk because happy people – at least happier people than yesterday – usually make for better results.

The CD here and there who couldn’t connect with their creative department fell short because they didn’t have these compassionate bones in their bodies. They couldn’t put moves from above in the proper context. They couldn’t try to relate and they didn’t see the purpose in doing so. It was just business as usual for them and their body language essentially told the rest of the team to “get over it.”

Which ones do you think got more respect and which ones do you think were tuned out more often?

In an agency setting, what can tend to happen when there is a connection with your CD is for the team to flip a switch and despite some sudden transitions of people leaving, the team sees themselves in a cocoon away from the rest of the craziness going on around them. They see a CD with fire and passion for doing great work as well as a person who has great love and respect for his people. They want to work hard for him. They want to make him look great. Because if he’s suddenly not part of their world, then things really will go to hell. And they don’t want to imagine that. There’s few things worse than a rudderless Creative Department.

In some small shops, you may not have the luxury of having upper management focused on the business of running the agency and Creative Directors – you may have to wear those hats together. I’ve had to do that and let me tell you, it’s far easier said than done. But it’s not impossible. You may want to “coach up” someone to grow into an Associate Creative Director role, which gives you the eventual win-win of giving more of your time to the goals/vision/promotion of the agency and potentially hanging on to a talented creative that much longer who can help you on the day-to-day level. After all, before he became a great coach, Thibs spent years and years learning the ropes as an Assistant.

Do you have a go-between Director or Director-of-the-future person like this in your environment? Identify them now and think about your plan to nurture them. You’ll be glad you did when big transitions in your agency are necessary that are abundantly apparent and necessary to you but far less clear to those players on the ground.




Rose’s Brand Thornier Issue Than It Should Be

I never thought I would see a day in Chicago when Derrick Rose would have his heart questioned, but it’s obvious that we’re officially there. While we can debate to no end whether it’s right or wrong for him to sit on the bench when he’s been medically cleared to play for two months now, the fact remains that there is a definite faction in this town that is flat out frustrated with #1. They see his teammates playing on less than two healthy legs, throwing up in the locker room due to the flu, getting stitches in the head, wearing gear that enables them to play but probably isn’t terribly comfortable and so on. These guys don’t care. They just suit up and go to war.

Ironically, in the Bulls (and the absolutely brilliant Tom Thibodeau) turning their MASH unit of injured players into a Cinderella story, the questions about Rose grow larger – in fact, there’s a giant issue here far beyond this season that speaks to his brand, namely:

How much of a hit does he take as a result of all this?

Do endorsements slow down?

Do not as many of his Bulls jerseys or Adidas shoes or Giordano’s pizzas get sold?

Is he seen as any less of an icon?

The answer for many of us who follow any kind of major sport lies in the psyche of the typical fan, which is always this:

If you help our team win, all is forgiven.

You can think of hundreds of examples of brands that have been slightly dented to outright damaged over the years and still come back (usually Michael Vick or Kobe Bryant come to mind first, though).

Just look at the examples in our town alone.

Michael Jordan was, is and always will be the greatest basketball player of all time but never met a poker table he didn’t like, has not exactly reminded people of Red Auerbach as a General Manager and gave what was probably the angriest, most bitter Hall of Fame induction speech in the history of halls and speeches.

Of course his brand didn’t really suffer from any of that. People remember that stuff occasionally but they’re still going to buy his merchandise and think of him with reverence.

People can occasionally recall Scottie Pippen not going to into a game at the last second because he had a migraine. We’re a great sports town so we may remember that stuff where people in other places wouldn’t – hell, they don’t even stay for the game. But that’s not going to stop people here from thinking of the much larger picture of how great he was as Robin to Jordan’s Batman during those championships.

Some folks wish Brian Urlacher was still with the Bears while others still gripe about how he said, “I don’t care about what the fans think.” Yet I’d bet some of those complaining did it while wearing a #54 jersey.

Bears fans wanted to trade Jay Cutler a couple years ago when he came out of a playoff game with the Packers due to injury and called him “soft.” Some even saw him at a club going up and down the stairs that night. Yet that seems like a lifetime ago and now we talk about how we need to get him a thousand more players to protect him. Sure, many may not love him, but if they hated him they wouldn’t want to acquire so many offensive linemen to prevent him from eating Soldier Field turf.

See the pattern?

The same will hold true here with Rose and bodes well for the future of the brands he’s associated with – especially since this is still mostly a medical challenge rather than a character one, even with people questioning his heart. We can dissect an athlete’s comments and actions (or lack thereof) to death in the moments immediately during or after. But in our attention deficit culture of rapid-fire tweeting, what-did-the-Kardashians-do-today, wondering who we’re going to be at war with next, etc., we simply don’t have it in us to hold on to these minor quibbles with athletes and celebrities for very long. If our issues with famous people we will never know are not literally here today and gone tomorrow, it’s safe to say that we will forget about what those issues were 6 months from now.

The exception would be if Derrick opens the 2013-2014 season by saying, “You know, I’ve practiced hard for all these months but I’m still just not comfortable with playing.”

But that can’t possibly happen. Can it?





News station, Korver polar opposites on Rose’s dark day

“NBC Miami reporting that a Derrick Rose Hologram will take over as a starting point guard for the Bulls.”

“NBC Miami reports the Chicago Bulls have lost the Eastern Conference Finals to Thomas Dewey.”

“NBC Miami reporting their baseball team is missing.”

When NBC Miami reported prematurely that Bulls point guard Derrick Rose had torn his ACL – even though the report ultimately proved correct – you can see the importance of how knowing you got it right the first time becomes on Twitter with the actual tweets from people above. In the time the first tweet was launched from NBC Miami on the injury, thousands of tweets exploded in the Twitterverse of how the station was reporting it. NBC Miami then had to put out a tweet to say the news on Rose’s injury was premature – wow, do you think? He hadn’t even been to the hospital yet to have an MRI, but somehow a news outlet in South Beach knows what’s going on with his anterior cruciate ligament??

Boy, did they ever luck out with ultimately getting it right, because prior to that, on Twitter they were all kinds of wrong. I surely hope they didn’t turn around with a “you heard it here first” spin.

On the other hand, let’s celebrate someone who not only got it right but also didn’t have to apologize for it in between – the Bulls’ Kyle Korver. So many athletes put out foolish, PR-nightmare tweets and posts before they have any business doing so, so it’s refreshing when someone from within the organization rises up and posts something thoughtful on Facebook like so:

Right about now, the disbelief has faded, anger has subsided and were all wondering… why? Why. Why. Why Derrick, again? Derrick is more than an MVP to our team. He’s our friend, our brother he inspires us to be the very best we can be, just by who he is and how hard he plays. That he has spent so much time this year hurt, was frustrating. Now that he is out for the rest of the season, well its just plain sad. No one is to blame; what happened, did. We send him our prayers, our love, our good wishes that he heals and comes back stronger, better, healthier than ever before. 

Bulls fans. Now is not the time to ask why or to get bitter. Now is the time to refocus and ask “How are we going to win this Championship?” We have the best Team in the league. This season has proven, we are a TEAM and it has taken us ALL to have the best record. Lets focus on whats ahead. This is an incredible opportunity for All of Us to step up and make it happen. We’re all gonna have to work harder and smarter. We are all gonna have to believe in ourselves. That we are more than the sum of our parts. We need YOU to believe with Us. We need You to believe for Us. We are going to keep going strong. One quarter, one game, one round at a time. Until its over. That’s how we’re gonna do it.

How often can an athlete write something like this when the moment of winning/losing is so fresh? Almost never. Usually it involves a tweet followed by a second one that starts with “What I meant to say was….”

The entire Chicago sports media on that day didn’t put out something so eloquent and in tune with what people were feeling at that moment. Far too easy for most of them to go negative and say, “This team is done.” Wow. How…uninspiring. Especially when you’ve watched a team like this play every game without most of its starters, including Derrick Rose and still have the best record in the NBA. Back to you, Ron and Kathy.

Here’s my point – rapid-fire journalists on Twitter need to remember they’re playing with a loaded gun in the social media realm. It’s going to be hard for them because their instinct is to be the first one breaking the story. Yet it’s dangerous to just get it out there before thinking, “Hey, maybe we should check our sources before posting this to see if that source is actually real.” That’s Journalism 101. They don’t need to overanalyze their tweets to death before publishing, but they have a responsibility that if they want to be taken seriously, there’s going to be thousands of people who will retweet that news, especially the more dramatic it is. And then all of their followers could potentially run with it.

When news that’s done in error is spreading like wildfire, you don’t blame the wildfire. You blame the person who started the wildfire.

Sure, it’s more than a little scary to know what the potential of starting a panic with bad information could be. But it’s the world we’re living in that’s getting faster by the day. When we do screw up, we apologize for it lightning quick. I get that we’re human beings and all make mistakes. The best we can do is try to put a little more thought behind the content we generate rather than rushing to be the first one to say something. The problem isn’t so much the tweet alone but the ensuing effect. If journalists want to continue to be taken seriously, the more of them that set off a Tweetpanic won’t help.

In that sense, I think Kyle Korver reminded us of two things that day:

1) How timeliness and thoughtfulness can and should very much live together in harmony in the social media universe.

2) Great performances in clutch moments don’t always happen during a game.