When I came into the workforce back in - let’s just say, a long time ago - there was this industry belief that eventually, everyone must move to the bright side or better known as the “client-side”. Well, I was no exception to that rule and I fell right into that mindset and got conditioned to thinking that eventually, I need to make my way to the client side. And I did!

I spent close to 20 years as a client and I loved every minute of it. The experience, exposure, the simplicity of life, the early nights (well most of the time), the work-life balance and of course the pay and benefits; I could not complain at all. And then I decided to switch, after all those years, to the client side. I jumped to the agency world and to make things more challenging, to the media agency world. I was getting into a world that was completely out of my comfort zone, leading a team of over 20 passionate media experts, which further added to the pressure.

So why did I switch? Simple – to learn one marketing tool that has picked up in focus over the past few years – media. Media is an area where the majority of marketing budgets are allocated but many marketers are not able to challenge the plans or make sense of its intricacy. I was curious and eager to learn more.

We now know why I made the move and took up the challenge. The big question is, how has it been for me to hit my one-year mark as the head of a media agency? Everyone has been asking me this and frankly, I think they are just curious, and some even think that I had gone mad to even consider joining an agency let alone actually moving and taking up a role. Well, I have to say that the journey has been pleasant, enlightening and more than anything, knowledgeable. In the past one year, I have learnt a lot but there are the three that I really value in terms of my education in this role

1. Empathy

As a client, I always thought of one thing – MY brief and MY campaign. And it was the most important thing to me and I expected everyone to think and believe the same. But what I realised sitting on this side, for the team on the agency side, they have my brief and probably five other briefs from five other clients, who all would have the exact same mindset as me in terms of what is important and urgent to them.

So the agency team now has six briefs that are all due probably at the same time. My role today allows me to understand what the team goes through and the pressure that they are under in delivering all the “urgent” work from clients. My level of empathy has increased tremendously and I feel deeply for the team who work on campaign briefs, which most of the time are in parallel and simultaneously need to be delivered. I take the time to listen with conviction to really understand what they are feeling and how they are dealing with stress and emotions and pressure so that I can do everything to share the workload in any way possible, and give them the assurance that they have the support they need, and they are not alone in this journey.

2. Understand what they do

How many of us know what happens after a brief is given to the agency? All we know is that sometime in the near future (like tomorrow) agencies will revert with a proposal that will make magic happen and grow the brand and the business for us. But I can guarantee, that most of us, do not really know what happens once the brief is given.

I fell off my chair just watching the team working behind the scenes. I have to admit though that at times I was completely in awe at the speed the team thinks, plans and puts a proposal together. Sometimes I feel I have the entire generation of Flash Gordan in my team. There is a lot that goes on behind the scenes, and all we see is the end result, and sometimes, we make comments and give feedback that can hurt them. They hide this very well, but I can see it, even though they still try to hide it from me.

I appreciate them more today than I ever did because I know what they go through and how much they love doing what they do. I know the struggle and the challenges and yet, a smile is always there on each of their faces. Similarly, I tell my colleagues to take the time to also understand what clients do in their roles and what is important to them. What we see is only 20% of what their day-to-day is and understanding the other 80% will give agencies a view into their struggles which will allow us to think of ways to provide the right solutions to turn their challenges into opportunities. Knowing what the client goes through will also help us understand why they react the way they do so that nothing is taken personally.

3. Everyone is learning

This is probably the most important thing that I have learnt and realised being on the agency side. Everyone is learning something, at some point and about something. I am a firm believer that learning does not stop and has no expiry. No one is an expert in anything, well, unless you are a rocket scientist, but even they make errors and learn from them.

Agency folks are no exception because of one single fact – they are after all human beings. But what I find amazingly fascinating is that, the hunger for knowledge and the speed that they want it, just so that they can always and continuously impress their clients. And this is especially tough in the media world where things change so quickly, making what was new today almost immediately old the next day, so imagine the speed of keeping up with things while doing their day job. Not easy but yet, they do and they do a fine job at it. Nothing is perfect, and that is quite alright – as long as we are delivering the right results and fulfilling the right expectations.

These three things that I have learnt being here, will be extremely useful to me and also to the agencies that I would work with for sure. I will be able to put myself in their shoes knowing what they do behind the scenes to derive an excellent strategy and proposal for client briefs. In fact, I would be more collaborative and build plans together with them by putting on the agency hat. After all, there is nothing wrong in sharing the workload regardless of which side I sit on.

I will be more positive in my tone with them knowing how much of work they have done and will ensure that I never break their spirit and continue to encourage them to deliver their best. And finally, I will always have at the back of my mind, that no one has the answers to everything and that is quite alright. We can find the answers and solutions together as a team.

In summary, it is good to have knowledge of both sides because it allows us to collaborate and communicate better to deliver a unified plan to achieve success. To me, there is no dark or bright side – there is only one side – the winning side, and to be on this side, both agency and client need to know who each of us does in our roles and how each of us can come together as one team that will only produce exceptional work.

The writer is Hemanth Jayaraman, partner, head of dentsuX, dentsu Malaysia.


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