By September 23, 2013 Articles, Forbes No Comments

Running an advertising agency like RocketXL is a lot like being a circus conductor, with many different types of people all under one tent. Project managers are the lion tamers, finance people are the ring leaders, HR staff are the pooper-scoopers, and account execs — the natural people-pleasers – are the clowns and creative people are the trapeze artists. Put them all together and you’ve got quite the show.
The trick with any business full of young creative people, is to keep them thinking like young and creative professionals, while also helping them to understand where to draw the line in the workplace.
But how to tame a motley lot?  Here are five lessons we’ve learned:


    1. Watch out for lip readers. Our primary conference in one of our offices is soundproof, but it’s completely see-through, with floor-to-ceiling glass. One of our management teams felt comfortable having confidential discussions there until one day an employee, who sat within eye shot of the conference room, suddenly got up and ran out the office crying.  Turns out she could read lips and saw her manager mention her name as one of the people due to be laid off the next day. Soundproofing is never enough; confidential conversations need to be done behind closed doors.  (Preferably reinforced steel that not even Superman can see through.)
    2. No wet t-shirt contests in the office! A number of years ago, one of our employees found a brand new PlayStation 3 in the storage room. When no one recovered it, he had an idea to make the male interns do a wet t-shirt contest to win it. Nothing good could possibly come of this. Some people were disgusted while others were mad they weren’t invited. While we didn’t want to kill the spontaneous creativity around a group exercise to auction off a PS3, employees obviously needed to understand where to draw the line. So our HR team went through the storeroom and pulled out other valuable items and set up weekly Friday activities to win them. And this time, they were family-friendly activities, like a good old-fashioned talent show.
    3. Keep the office stocked with toilet paper.  A few years ago we put in a new online ordering system that required us to write a purchase order before we could order more office supplies. The system was new so it took a few days to successfully create an order. In the meantime, one of our offices ran out of toilet paper. The employees started panicking at the thought of not having toilet paper — until one employee suggested that each employee bring one roll from home to tide us over. You think I’m kidding, but this wasted an hour of billable time for 10 employees! One problem solver stepped in and offered to run down the street to buy a few rolls and boom, problem solved. I can’t tell you how many times simple office supplies get in the way of doing business. Always have a backup plan and always keep the office stocked with the essentials.
    4. Just buy the stamps. One of our employees once asked his manager to buy him postage stamps on her way to the office. I’m sure the manager had no problem buying office supplies, but she told her employee that she wouldn’t have time to do so. Two weeks later, she was called into HR’s office, as her direct report filed a formal complaint as he felt that he wasn’t getting the support he needed from his manager (and cited the stamp buying incident). Clearly, there was a bigger issue at hand, and the manager should have gotten to the heart of that earlier. Once we unraveled the situation, it was obvious that the employee was feeling overworked with too much on her plate. The postage stamp ask was a subconscious way of asking for help and support. Had the manager been doing something as simple as bi-weekly one-on-one check-ins, she would have uncovered that her employee was drowning in work, but didn’t know how to ask for help. Closer attention to an employee’s work load would have avoided the situation.  The moral? Don’t let things escalate to where postage stamps require an HR visit.
    5. Don’t laugh at calf implants. Yes, one of our employees cared so much about the beauty of his calves that he actually got implants over Christmas break. One of the employees ridiculed him so much that it turned into a shouting match, causing a chaotic scene that ended with one employee throwing everything he could get his hands on in anger. But the real problem was their managers, who had created a frat-like atmosphere where making fun of people was an everyday thing.  And subsequently, one employee wasn’t taught where to draw the line and took it to far.

Believe it or not, these are all true stories from five years running my company. How have we survived the ups and downs of having so many personality types under one roof?


Simple: By empowering each manager to actively encourage the daily craziness that creates great advertising, but teaching employees where to draw the line. After all, the circus would just be a big smelly tent without the drama of the lions, clowns, trapeze artists and of course, the pooper-scoopers.

Courtesy of YEC

Anson Sowby tames the circus at Rocket XL, a digital advertising agency in Los Angeles, New York and Toronto.  He’s led global teams within the Brand and Agency functions of numerous Fortune 500 companies marketing their products in traditional and social media including Toyota/Lexus , Samsung, HBO, Activision, Sony SNE -2.82%, Old Spice, Dove, PepsiCo PEP -0.7%, The NHL, NASCAR, and The United Nations.

Courtesy of YEC

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, the YEC recently launched #StartupLab, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses via live video chats, an expert content library and email lessons.