Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Role Of Passion In Success

I have been studying the advertising business for practically my whole life trying to figure out what makes successful agencies and companies.  I have finally come up with an answer.   


Passion is the will to succeed.  The belief in what you do.  And the determination to do it. 

Thumbs Up

If you look at the really successful ad agencies over the past couple of decades, what distinguishes them more than anything else, is their passion for what they do.  Passion pervades their corporate culture.  Take a look at Deutsch,  Crispin, Wieden & Kennedy, BBDO, Kirshenbaum, McGary Bowen, Goodby, Kaplan Thaler and a dozen other highly successful ad agencies.  Passion is an inherent part of their culture.   They are excited about their work, believe in what they do and hire people who exude enthusiasm.

It isn’t about their positioning in the marketplace.  (Agencies spend too much time trying to come up with unique positions, but if you talk to the search consultants as I have, they all say that there is very little uniqueness out there.)  Passionate agencies believe in themselves.  And this belief pervades everything they do.  They are exciting places to work.  And this excitement is evident in their new business presentations and shows among the agency's people in the room while presenting.  Passion communicates more about the work than the agency's positioning or the words that agencies say during presentations.

Passion means that the people working in those agencies genuinely believe in what they are doing and communicate that belief to their clients and prospects. Everyone is marching in the same direction.  Passion cannot be legislated; it cannot be created by free soda or casual Fridays. It comes from the management and is inherent in the culture. It is shared right down to the lowest level employee. Everyone believes.

One comment made to me about one of the agencies I mentioned is that a large number of their former employees end up returning.  They come back not for money (although that is sometimes part of the equation),  but rather, they come back for enjoyment of their jobs. Those people tend to be the biggest advocates of their culture.

I have often written about not hiring a résumé.  Recently, I came across an article in Fast Company about hiring passionate people.  I am sharing the link. It should be mandatory reading for every hiring manager, human resource person and ad agency owner.  Passion outweighs credentials. Passion overrides hiring executives with category experience (the bane of my existence). Passion compensates for weak work.  

There is a story I would like to share about legendary ad man, George Lois I don't know if it is true, but it is illustrative of my point about passion..  George was presenting to a client and when the client expressed doubt about the advertising, he went to the window of his office, opened it, and started climbing out to the ledge.  He told the client he would stand out there until they bought the work.  The client bought the campaign because he believed that if the George Lois was so sure about the work, it must be good.  True? It almost doesn't matter.

The point is that passion sells.


  1. Paul, in a tough industry you succeed because you are passionate about what you do. Good stuff. Alas I am passionate about the Yankees but have never been called up to the Show.

  2. This is true of every job that can consume most of your days (and nights, weekends and holidays) It's very hard to stop trying when you like what you do.

  3. While at a networking event not long ago I watched as conservative men in conservative suits exchanged their conservative business cards and conservative conversation. I was then drawn to a young Asian woman in a colorful outfit whose face lit up when I asked her what she did. She was a graphic designer with a passion for Japanese comic art. Whenever I prepared to gracefully depart she'd pull out another sample of her work and present it with such enthusiasm that it was impossible not to listen a few more minutes. Though I could see little business potential in our connection she was by far the most interesting and magnetic person at the event. Why? Her passion. That eve, when I got home, I wrote this:

    The Power of Passion

    It's not hard to figure out who loves their work and who doesn't. Those who love their work exude a very positive, attractive energy. And those who don't exude something quite the opposite -- a negativity which often takes the form of rude behavior, arrogance, or just plain boredom. (If you've ever had to deal with the DMV or a corporate receptionist you know what I'm taking about.)

    A passionate person is also a powerful person. I'll never forget a comment from ad guru Tom McElligott who was once asked about his secret for his high success rate in selling his edgy creative work to clients. "It's not about selling,'" explained McElligott, "it's about passion. Clients can tell if you truly believe in what you're presenting, or not."

    In the new book entitled, "How They Achieved: Stories of Personal Achievement and Business Success," twenty-one of the country's most successful CEO's, entrepreneurs, and visionaries are interviewed about their path to the top. Some, as you would expect, knew early on exactly what they wanted to achieve. Others, surprisingly, didn't. All, however, shared one powerful characteristic: Passion. They were all involved with things they loved doing. According to former PepsiCo CEO, Don Kendall, "if you're not excited as hell about what you're doing, you'd better find something else. There's no way you're going to be successful if you're not excited about what you're doing." John Sculley, former CEO of both PepsiCo and Apple says, "I never really cared about making a lot of money. I was more concerned about doing things that were interesting -- things that would make a difference." Adds Robert Mondavi of Mondavi Vineyard, "You must be passionate about what you do if you want to succeed and live a happy life. Find a job you love, and you'll never have to work a day in your life." After hearing testimonies like these is it any surprise that these people are successful?

    Whenever I meet new people I'm curious about what they do. But I'm also curious about what they love. Rather than just ask the expected, "So, what do you do?" I often ask; "So, what's your passion?" Try it sometime and see what happens. Those unfortunate souls who have no passion in their life will look at you oddly, mumble something, and then probably get another drink. Those with passion, on the otherhand, will light up and eagerly share their joy of traveling, or gourmet cooking, or salsa dancing, or whatever it is they love doing. And, like the woman at the networking event, a few lucky people will actually talk about their work.

  4. Jphn: What a nice, thoughtful response. I love the story and I appreciate you sharing it with me and my readers.


I would welcome your comments, suggestions or anything you would like to share with me or my readers.

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