VaynerMedia London Learnings Document
What’s this for: I hope this helps guide you through your early days on the job.
Context: I started at VaynerMedia London on 4th July 2016 as an Assistant Account Executive and employee number 7. This document tracks the lessons I’ve learned along the way as we build the team and the business.
What should you do: Start one of these for yourself and pay it forward to someone who might find it useful! I know I would have a read. ;)
How to get a doc like this started?
I’d recommend three lenses through which you can view each week/month:
What did you learn?
Were there any learnings around how you do things?
People - what have you observed from others and the way they manage their relationships? How do they interact with you specifically and what do you think about this?
Topline Takeaways From Year 1 (July 2016 - July 2017)
A company = a football team.
Play the ball to people’s feet; not to the side or in the air, make it easy for others to control the ball (workflow) and score a goal (happy client/successful campaign).
Eg. If you want someone to take a look at a document you’re working on send them the link with the exact slide number/page number you want them to look at. A shortcut for you is 5 mins extra (more touches/clicks) for someone else. Loose passes will make the team slower and less successful in the long term. Let’s play one/two touch stuff, it’s called ‘the beautiful game' for a reason.
As a new starter, be sure to pull from both directions.
Acknowledge there’s a lot you don’t know, but there’s also a fair bit you do know. Do both and hone your gut for when to deploy each approach. When should you be all ears and keen to learn? When can you add some value to a conversation/project?
Initiative is key.
If you were the CEO what would you do? Smart people think straight to a variety of solutions. Ask yourself: what’s probably the right thing to do? Then go to the person who knows and show them your thinking. Then work together (using that person’s added experience) to align on the suitable solve. Remember how they came to this decision, keep it in the locker so you can eliminate the less helpful solutions faster next time around. Eventually, you’ll just know what to do.
Sharpen your tools daily
What programs, tools, sites do you use at work? How do you use them? Do you have your process and best practices on deck? How can you be faster and more accurate? Don’t just think about what you’re doing but also how you’re doing it. Ask people for tips about the nitty gritty stuff which people don’t usually ask about (eg. how are you organizing your personal notes). Notice when other people do things ‘better’ than you, call it out, ask them to show you how they do it. Learn. Eat your humble pie. People love it when you notice their strengths for them and they’ll enjoy telling you how they do it! Take note.
Work everyday at gaining an understanding of everyone else’s jobs and what matters to them. We’re all here for different reasons. The more you can understand what motivates people, their communication style and their personality the more chance you’ll bring the best out of each other on a daily basis.
....And here’s the whole year of 2016/2017 as well as the beginnings of 2018 broken out month by month.
Use bullets, break what you’re trying to say down to the essentials, make it easy to read. Be unmistakably clear.
Start with a template, then fill it out as you go.
Take on the responsibility, listen actively in meetings, own the details. Be. The. Hub.
Learn the terminology of the industry fast. Ask what things mean early, take note and review regularly. Be a sponge.
In client meetings….Don’t worry about being put on the spot for budgets, timelines and other things you won’t be able to answer off the top of your head. Nothing should phase you. The term ‘circle back internally’ is a good one, just say you’ll do that and then get back to the client in good time like you said you would in the meeting.
When people are out…This is when you grow. You now have to ask yourself the questions you’d go to your manager for. Use your initiative. If you had to solve this problem what would you do? Usually you can find a couple of good answers.
Assume everyone else doesn’t have a bloody clue what they’re doing (internal and external). Don’t write to them like they don’t have a bloody clue, but do over communicate the key info. What do they need to do, and when? Giving action items and timing are key to getting things done.
Set timelines, reasonable expectations, and next steps with your clients. Otherwise, they’ll have a pop at you for not being clear enough with them.
Art and Science:
The Art - figuring out what your client wants
The Science - the day to day stuff which moves projects forward
Pull from both directions: acknowledge there’s a lot you don’t know, but also that there’s a fair bit you do know. Do both and hone your gut for when to deploy each approach.
For presentations: tee others up to succeed, make sure they know what they need to do, when and to who.
Don’t sit on briefs (or any information that needs to be relayed to the team internally), they have to be moved along fast, once you receive a client brief tell the right internal people about it. Don’t be the bottle-neck, get it to 80% and then let people know, get feedback, get questions, come up with your own questions, iterate fast. Move it along fast.
Think ahead. Remember to adjust if a campaign or workflow started late. Think - how does this impact the end point? What’s the knock on effect for other teams working on the same project? Dates and timings will shift, you’d need to adjust and adapt often.
If you’re not on the dial in line 2 minutes before the client - you’re late. Again, assume no one has a clue what’s meant to be happening on the call. Lead from the start. Reliability and punctuality should be your default state.
Get to client meetings early and talk through what needs to happen with the team before the meeting. For more important, highly structured meetings, you should have a 5-7 minute meeting plenty of time in advance to talk through what needs to happen. Over communicate. People don’t want to talk through the nitty gritty stuff. But you do need to put it on people in a nice way: eg. "you’re taking notes, I’m driving the deck, you’re guiding the client through the work, everyone’s actively listening for opportunities, let’s smash it (with a smile)". People need to know their roles and be held accountable for the part they play in the team.
Speak in solutions, not problems. Anyone can identify a problem. Smart people think straight to a variety of solutions…Then they go to the person they usually go to for help. Present that person with a variety of possible solutions, then work together (using that person’s added experience) to align on the suitable solve. Remember the rationale used to select this solution, keep it in the locker so you can eliminate the less helpful solutions faster next time around.
Always think: is there a better way to do this? Then run it by someone. At least you’re trying to find a better way. Remember what Steve Jobs said:
"Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you and you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use.”
This applies as much to the iPhone as it does to the way people book in meetings on a calendar. How can it be better?
(Advertising agency specific advice) Media buying is a precision game. Be totally exact with what your communication. Eg. How much we’re spending, where we’re spending, when it’s for, for who, what colour it is, whether it has blue stripes or pink stripes…you get the idea. Smash the details. Be unmistakably clear.
Got promoted from Account Community Coordinator to Account Executive.
(Advertising agency specific advice) Set firm deadlines with the Creative team. Trust them to get the work done on time after you’ve had the conversation about what’s possible.
Sharpen your tools daily: do you have your process for slack and gmail down? Don’t just think about what you’re doing but also how you’re doing it. How can you increase speed and accuracy? Ask people for tips, notice when other people do things ‘better’ than you, call it out, ask them to show you how they do it. Learn. Eat your humble pie. People love it when you notice their strengths for them.
Be the air traffic controller: direct proceedings, take the initiative, you know what’s going on so make sure everyone else does too. Don’t let yourself/others use the crutch of uncertainty as a reason to not move forward. Kick the crutch away. Get clear, deliver concrete information with certainty, confirm next steps (there’s always a next step), circulate to the team.
Drive the project forward. If it’s quiet that’s usually a sign you’re missing something. Take responsibility. Think, what’s next? How can we get ahead? What are the next 5 chess moves going to look like?
When communicating with anyone remember to ask yourself this question before engaging: what question is this person going to ask me about the information I’m about to communicate? Then answer that question in your first message.
Know your dates and facts COLD. Have good memory (just like in the exam room ;). Look to hit off-the-top-of-the-head factual recall each and every time you start a new campaign or project. Memorise the information, just like you did for the weekly class test at school.
Develop your style both internally and externally. Pick a part of your personality you want to amplify. Ask yourself: might this improve some of your working relationships? If the answer is yes, do more of that thing.
Think Charles Dickens. The client always has ‘Great Expectations’, and rightly so, just always be prepared to reset these expectations in line with what’s possible so they’re never disappointed and always understand the context behind decisions and why work turned out the way it did.
Move to where the puck is going. - Wayne Gretzky
Be persistent when managing up. Let them know, if you don’t do x by y time, z won’t be able to happen. Be firm and clear, but also take the edge off any comms by acknowledging they probably have a lot of other stuff going on (empathy). Keep all the plates spinning, yours, and senior management’s.
Think about the campaign framework in the upfront. Get the set up right. Then cruise and adapt where necessary.
'When the plane’s in the hangar it’s easy to set it up for a smooth flight. It’s much harder when you’re in the air already and you’re trying to fly the plane and fix it’. - B. Williams, Paid Media Manager, VaynerMedia
You’re the CDM (central defensive midfielder) of the football/soccer team. All offensive and defensive plays go through you. You make the most passes. Play the ball to people’s feet, make it easy to receive and pass on, they’ll return the favour to you and the next person. If you have a document popped up and you want someone to take a look give them the exact link with the exact slide number/page number you want them to look at. A shortcut for you is 5 mins extra (more touches/clicks) for someone else. Loose passes will make the team slower and less successful in the long term. Let’s play one/two touch stuff, it’s called ‘the beautiful game' for a reason.
Speak in person but think in written messages. People are working on different things from you day-in day-out. Frame your communication up so they understand what you’re referring to from the start of every conversation. Think in the following order: account>campaign>your communication>what this means for them>what they need to do.
Give clients the big picture and required context when you send them something. Then they can get stuck into the detail from an informed position.
Send holding emails. If the next step isn’t immediately obvious or you need to find out some info before getting back, just confirm receipt. Be high touch. Be white glove.
Meetings: be on time. Respect the team’s time, it’s what we sell. Be self aware enough to have the 1-1 conversations that are needed in a 1-1 setting and not over the top of a meeting.
Be direct. What’s the net net? Tell decision makers internal and external what exactly they need to do in order to keep the project/deliverable moving forward.
'Handle it once’. Messages, updates etc. You should take an action on everything that pops up on your screen. Don’t dwell or procrastinate, take action or go about gathering the information you need, then execute.
Minimum effective dose.
What’s the minimum amount of time/effort you can put in to get the job done to a good enough standard?
What’s the 20% you can cut out which would make the output slightly better but in exchange for a disproportionate amount of time spent.
Cut the 20%. Focus on the 80%.
Be thorough and fast. Pull from both directions. You can do both. Just set that standard. Make the judgement call on when to prioritise each of these slightly more than the other. Your default mode should always be both.
When new apps and tech come out get on it quick, download it and have a quick look. Don’t wait for the review article to come out a week later. Form your own view, take the initiative, that’s how you stay on top of everything that’s happening. Skating to where the puck is going to be, not where everyone knows it already is.
Pitching season. Realised the importance of productive meetings and candid discussions in order to move the project forward. Egos have to be left at the door by everyone who walks into the room. It’s always the team’s work, not any one individual.
Did a couple of phone interviews. As a candidate, think about your tone of voice, you’d don’t need to fake it but in some way you need to communicate you’re excited about the role and determined to do a great job. When asked a question and given the opportunity to speak have your stories lined up, deliver them with enthusiasm, answer the question but don’t be afraid to explore other pre planned areas where you know you’re strong if they’re relevant to the job. Sell yourself.
A sign of a good meeting is when everyone knows what ‘work’ they need to do as a result of the meeting. Go around the room and reconfirm what the next steps are for each person, start with yourself so it doesn’t sound so much like you’re ‘putting it on people’ rather you’re just holding everyone accountable to each other. If this isn’t happening, take the initiative to do it, it doesn’t matter if you’re the most junior or youngest in the room, be clear be direct but, be nice about it, but get it done. It works better for everyone. Say it with a smile on your face. Be kind.
Praise in public more. On internal communication channels, take responsibility to do a round up of the week. What went well and why? Who deserves a pat on the back? Yep, it’s another thing on your to-do, but it makes the people on the receiving end go away that much happier over the weekend.
Don’t worry about learning how to touch type. You’re doing loads of it and eventually you can type without looking at the keyboard. Am I the fastest in the office? No. My technique is off. Am I fast enough? Probably, yes.
If you get invited to an event. Go to it. The day will soon come when you have to start selecting what you can and can’t go to. Until that day, you should be going to everything, bump into opportunties and give yourself the chance to take them. Just like when you’re at school, do everything, try stuff, figure out what you like and train yourself in overcoming all kinds of challenges.
Deliberately doubled down hustle efforts over August and September (eg. Took on more, took no holiday) as I thought my review was coming up in October. It got pushed back to April. Perhaps a little short sighted approach on my part. But this was a speed bump on the road to progression. Just had to take it on the chin, put it into the perspective of a 50 year career, and readjust to track towards April 2018.
Let the client talk on the phone. No need to jump in and interrupt when you hear something you could say something smart about. Otherwise, it all becomes a bit messy, people talk over each other and you lose direction. Wait until the client has finished, mentally register your points and then deliver them in one fell swoop. Keep structure to the conversation as you work through the agenda.
Saw voice getting big again (ie. Gary talking about it a lot). Started doubling down on The Exam Coach podcasts on the way to work. A good exercise in prepping oneself mentally for the day. Sometimes I think people on the street may think I have a screw or two loose, or that I just love dominating a phone conversation. #onewaytraffic 😉
Be explicit with the detail. Restate and state again. Even if you’ve already clearly stated timing, what needs to be delivered and whose responsibility it is, this all often needs to be over communicated. Yes, it does feel like you’re repeating yourself at times and this behaviour assumes people’s intelligence levels are below par. But the risk of something not being done due to human error is always there, vet against this as much as possible.
Using text messages to communicate much more now. Good for the urgent stuff. Also learning that everyone has their own ‘messaging hierarchy’. Eg. the level of urgency people associate with each messaging format. Often text is considered urgent. You can also pair communication tools. For example, explaining at length and in details via email and then following up with a short text to direct the person who needs to pay attention to it to the searchable subject line of that email. Give the subject line in the text message so they can copy and paste it.
Use quieter times to get to know your colleagues better. I think any good team does this. It’s like the offseason in sports. You should be going out, enjoying yourself with the team, building experiences and fun times that you can fall back on when the going gets tougher and relationships need to be strong. The best feeling is knowing the other person has your best interests in mind.
Took on a side project of learning more about the sales industry. Especially liked the area of structuring your communication more. Using a framework or sticking to principles which guide the conversation in a productive direction. I’ve come to challenge the idea of ‘just be yourself’ when it comes to the way you communicate in business and life. I’d argue the case that yes, you should be yourself, but feel free to modify, adjust, improve areas which you think, with a little work and study, could make you a more effective communicator and achieve more positive outcomes. Be yourself plus the changes you would make to improve.
Hit New York up, it was awesome. Had an interesting 5 min meeting with G Vaynerchuk and other longer form meetings with VM New Yorkers. The underlying tone was, you have time, go to where the opportunity and white space is for you to grow the fastest and learn the most. At the moment, that’s in London. Don’t get lured in by a ‘grass in greener’ mentality, London is pretty damn green, enjoy it until you feel you’ve squeezed every last drop of juice out of the orange.
Doing stuff as you go is way easier than periodically batching when the task requires high levels of detail. I like batching tasks. Eg. if I have to upload content to a platform I’d much rather do it all in one session rather than chunk it out over a week as the former is more time efficient. However, if there are tasks which require high levels of detail to be input do these as you go (eg. finance, job code tracking etc.). Don’t delay. Net net you will spend more time trying to remember/figure out the details as you do your batching sessions than if you were to input as you went.
Marketing as an academic subject. Been diving into this more and learning about different marketing theories. Still think the practical approach of figuring out things by doing has a lot of merit but the higher level academic thought on marketing certainly does help to frame up the marketing landscape and get you thinking more clearly about it. It’s still interesting to me that marketing academia seems easier to understand that some of the historical ideas and concepts I was studying at Uni. I think I naturally just ‘get it’ more. Or it could be that it’s just common sense, but as we all know, common sense really isn’t that common.
Enjoyed the Christmas party. It’s events like these where you really do appreciate being part of something bigger. It’s awesome. The entrepreneurial side of me dims down on these occasions, it’s nice to take it easy and create great memories. But would I like to ‘take it easy’ within a corporate job for an extended period of time? No. I think this is just a case on anyone needing the contraction/expansion, on/off switch, it’s just that at VM we have a lot of people who are on the majority of the time. It’s a great environment to be in and sets the bar high whether you are entrepreneurially focussed or not.
Went to Helsinki for a week in the middle of the month on a company trip. People were voted in to go from each office: 1 from London, 7 from New York and 1 from LA. The biggest takeaway I had was that this is one of the best ways to form strong relationships with people over a short period of time - I get it why companies do offsites now. I helped organize the trip and I learned a few important lessons along the way including how to communicate with a large group of people who you’ve never met in person before, ensuring you have a touch point with all the people you’ll be meeting and working with in the destination country so you can be sure of what their expectations are for your visit, focus on the following three things and making sure they’re taken care of so the trip and work expected goes smoothly: simplification, over-communication and alignment.
For the rest of January I began to take on a more business development focused role and do less of the account management role. I always wanted to get stuck into the biz dev opportunity. But I also think the timing here was perfect, I had to learn the inner workings of the machine I’ll now be helping people fully understand the benefit of to their brand. It also helps me properly think through how the client ask will work in the most practical sense in the company. Lesson learned: do the time learning the fundamental skills within the company and then, when the time is right, take a leap.
Had a group of University students in to visit the office today. Reminded me of one of my Exam Coach workshops! Talked to them about VaynerMedia (what we do, how we do it) and then had Snapchat come in to do a deep dive session into their platform.
Priorities are crucial. You will eventually be given too many things to get done. Your ability to actively prioritise each as they come in and adjust with their timeline for delivery is crucial. The CEO mindset helps here, asking yourself ‘how important is this task in relation to the purpose of the business?’ Other important things to consider is what context there is around the people involved in the work you’re working on (both internal and external) you want to make sure it’s understood so those relationships are kept in a good place through the delivery of good work.