10 Lessons Learned in 10 Years at Well Done

5 min read

Fountain_Square_Indianapolis1. Good things don’t usually happen overnight. Example: We were, as the saying goes, Fountain Square before Fountain Square was cool. And we’re pikers compared with our friends at Halstead Architects and Green 3 and Santorini and Radio Radio, and, of course, the Fountain Square Theatre. Like them, we used to have to explain where Fountain Square was and that, no, you didn’t have to fear for your life to come visit us. Today, everybody wants to be in Fountain Square, and rightfully so. It’s a nice place to have an ad agency. It’s good to remember that lots of us worked for a long time—years, decades—to make it happen.

2. You should hire people who are better than you. I’m happy every time I hire someone who’s great at the things I do poorly (account service, finance, coding). I’m also happy when I hire someone who’s better—or potentially better, with a little guidance—at the things I do well. You don’t become great with a staff of underlings.

3. Great clients are the ones who challenge you. The clients you want are the ones who demand your best work—who expect greatness from you and tell you so. And recognize when you give them great work. And thank you for it. Those clients are rare. We’re lucky to have encountered a lot of them.

4. No one will use the treadmill desk (but me). Before Well Done moved into the Murphy Arts Center, I asked the staff if they’d be interested in a treadmill desk. I got a lot of positive responses. In practice, though, I’m pretty much the only one who uses it. I’m using it right now. I actually love it, even though others don’t seem to like them much. (Fine. More for me, I guess.)

5. You don’t have to do everything to be a full-service ad agency. In fact, you can’t. You never could. Ad agencies have always relied on partners to do great work, and Well Done counts scores of producers, directors, engineers, printers, photographers, media specialists, graphic designers, editors, etc. as our colleagues and friends. If we started naming names, we’d leave someone off the list. But you know who you are, and hope you know how much we appreciate you.

6. It’s better to be friends with your competitors. All’s fair in love and war, I guess, and business is more than a little bit of both. Well Done competes for plenty of business, and we win plenty, and we love winning. But we also don’t mind losing to competitors we respect. We know we’re not for everybody—that would make for a boring world, wouldn’t it?—and if we believe in a client enough to pitch them, we should genuinely hope for their success. Which means, in a way, rooting for our competition. And it’s easier to root for people you like. Which is why we enjoy the company of so many of our fellow agency types.

7. Our staff will eat anything you set in the kitchen—except doughnuts. It’s the weirdest thing. We’ll eat cake and potato chips and candy and nuts and fruit and pizza. Set something in the Well Done kitchen and watch your fingers. We eat everything. Except doughnuts. For some reason, we don’t do doughnuts. Weird.

8. There’s another side to every story. More than two sides, usually. Even if you think the other side is wrong, it always profits you to listen. Case in point: At Punchnel’s, we were an early, loud voice speaking out against RFRA. But we also published a smart, reasonable response from a conservative writer who had reasons he thought the law was necessary. In politics—including office politics—the minute you think the other side is “stupid,” you’ve lost.

9. Great account service is, like, really really important. I come from the creative side of the ad business, and creatives have a long, proud tradition of looking at account execs as “empty suits.” Creatives have to conceive and execute great ideas, and our technology team—well, I don’t know exactly what they do, but I know we need them. But I can say without qualification that Well Done would be nowhere without our amazing accounts team. They’re smart and dogged and patient and they put up with a lot of guff. And they manage to be kind, delightful people to boot.

10. Good work is its own reward. We’ve always had lots of nonprofit clients, and I would encourage everyone I know to find a cause or two and work your tail off for them. I tell for-profit clients the same thing—that you should sponsor good work in your community, which means sponsoring events and raising money and providing services to worthy causes. But don’t do it for the recognition, because there’s really not much of that to be had. Do it because it’s the right thing to do. Do it because, deep in your soul, you know that, even though you’ve worked hard to achieve everything you’ve accomplished, you’re lucky to be where you are, and others aren’t so lucky. Do it because you can. Do it because it’s the right thing to do—and don’t be surprised when you feel good doing it.

Oh, and have fun. If you have to learn that lesson, you probably shouldn’t be in advertising.


Fountain Square photo by Chris Light at en.wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], from Wikimedia Commons.