I was once told by Martin Sorrell that you only need two friends in an advertising agency: the creative director and the finance director. No surprises there but the way I see this is "one to make the money and one to put the money to work" so this small piece is about the finance director, not the creative director (they are always on the front page….)
I am writing this because a few months ago I concluded an exhaustive four-month search for a finance partner with the appointment of Doris Kang. Kang had been at Thompson Reuters in an executive role. Her deep commercial and financial experience working in the C-suite put her in pole position to help ADNA to continue a strong growth trajectory, whilst in parallel running a company day-to-day.
As is usual for me, I drafted a press release and sent it through to this publication, only to be told that it wasn’t really news and that they are more creatively focused, but that they would be pleased for me to write an op-ed on finance directors (without overly selling ADNA as a particularly fantastic company which helps put creativity back where it belongs!).
I was happy to accept the challenge. Not least because some of the closest friends I have made in my advertising career have been finance and commercial people. They are the people who can at once, settle a client as the face of credibility whilst helping to sell through additional resource financing and hires in the deepest of hiring freezes.
As communications, advertising and marketing have become more numbers focused, in terms of the business, the media, the metrics, the ROI and of course the costs of delivery, so the role of the finance director has become more entwined with the business. It’s a question of common language as well as ownership but the finance directors who are most used to the business are the ones who use what they do to help grow the business. To do this they need to understand the business, the requirements of the CMO and the CEO, and the way to deliver content and results at speed with minimal corrections and maximum impact.
The new agency model has spawned a new breed of commercial account managers who relish the opportunity to tune the agency machine to match the requirements of the client terrain but a great finance partner is like a great life partner.
When you have the right finance partner, everything works. Barriers are lowered, processes become frictionless, and clients perk up and become happier. They have a unique ability to translate processes into potential outcomes which makes you unconquerable when it comes to decision-making. Not least because finance people ALWAYS have a Plan B up their sleeve.
Developing a close relationship of trust and partnership with these unicorns is not easy.
For a start, they need to see that you are a horse to back. You need to be a person in the perceived ascendant. Your relationship with the 'other parent' (in this case the creative director), or the CEO is critical. Trust among clients is another crucial ingredient in the mix.
Then, it is critical that you show an interest in the commercial side of life. Not by writing a didactic and clinical job description, but by showing your finance partner what you do and how you do it. Share your goals, hopes and ambitions. Then explain your weaknesses and where you need their help.
In my experience, it has always been the case that I simply share my weak areas and the right finance partner will fit their understanding of your mission, to your gray areas in commercial and finance and then they will swim into the space.
I am consistently amazed at how right-brained good finance people are. In a world where everything that can possibly be measured, is measured, they see patterns and machinations that would be lost on anything but the most talented of creative directors.
With this unique view of the world from the right partner, you are invincible. The right finance partner will further fuel your ambition and help forge a successful career.
I have had the great fortune of working with many commercial and financial partners but of them all, there are four people – all of whom know who they are – who have helped, advised, averted, avoided, chivvied, pushed, resisted, facilitated, sat me down, pulled me up and made it and I work at every step.
And if that sounds like your mum or your dad or your favourite creative partner or just your niggling conscience, I have made my point.
The writer is David Mayo, COO at ADNA Group.