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Sunday, March 25, 2012





What do Jennifer, Randy, Steven, Jimmy, Christina, Blake, Adam, and Cee Lo have in common? They are all judges on popular talent shows. Jennifer Lopez, Randy Jackson, Steven Tyler and Jimmy Iovine are judges with American Idol. Christina Aguilera, Blake Shelton, Adam Levine and Cee Lo Green are with The Voice. Perhaps, you’ve seen one or both of these programs (or a similar program format in your country). If you have, then you can’t help but be impressed with these judges, and the talent they judge.


Yes, they are judges, and more, much more.  Each is incredibly successful in her/his chosen field of entertainment.  Moreover, they are ardent students of their chosen profession, with deep appreciation for its rich history.  They are passionate subject matter experts who are able to recognize nascent talent, and help that talent perform to her/his potential.  In other words, they are skilled at assessing, and coaching, raw talent.


What might we have in common with these celebs? We’re coaches too! We must be able to coach those resource personnel whom we manage, inside and outside of our companies, in building our brands. Perhaps, there is no more challenging situation than coaching our agency, particularly creative personnel, to help make these creative artists and their work more productive, to achieve the Communication Behavior we’ve established for the target-customer. We need them to connect with the target-customer just as the coaches from American Idol and The Voice need to get their performers to connect with the audience.


Unfortunately, far too few marketing managers are effective coaches.  They are either unable to assess creative ideas and/or provide direction that will make the work more productive.  In many instances they may even undermine the talent from achieving their potential or, worse yet, provide direction that diminishes the productivity of the talent (and, consequently, the quality of the work!).


What Makes Jennifer, et al, Effective Coaches?

Here’s what we’ve observed:
  • They are students of their profession – They know music. They cut across genres. While Steven Tyler (Arrowsmith) is rock ‘n roll, he knows and appreciates R&B, Country Western, Rap … you name it. They not only know the music but the performers, and performances, in these genres going way back to earlier eras. They are anything but one-trick ponies.
  • They appreciate raw talent – They know how to assess talent. They are able to recognize the potential of an individual possessing raw talent. The talent doesn’t have to be fully developed or mature. Sure anyone can appreciate the talent of an Adele (particularly after her album goes “platinum”), or advertising that scores “high, high, high,” but how many are able to appreciate the potential of a petite, 16-year old with a big voice that’s a bit, as they say, “pitchy?” or a nascent campaign idea? Jimmy Iovine (a “big” time producer) will say about a budding talent, “S/he could be a really big star someday.”
  • They respect the individual talent – It would be easy for any of these judges to awe and intimidate young performers with their immense talent and superstar celebrity. But they don’t. These judges appear to genuinely like whom they work with and respect their budding talent. They celebrate the successes of these newcomers and are genuinely happy for them when they deliver an outstanding performance. And, they are sad when anyone is cut from the competition, regardless if the television viewing audience, or they, are doing the cutting.
  • They know what it takes to get the talent to the next level – Each is able to identify what the individual performers need to do to live-up to their potential, and connect with the viewing audience. They are eager to help that talent develop, and will let them know what is needed to get there. Also, they are not afraid to let a performer know when s/he is not giving it her/his all. Randy has told performers that they are “holding back” or “playing it too safe” and that he expects more from the next performance. Moreover, he lets them know what they need to do to stay in the competition.
  • They appreciate that developing talent is an iterative process – Their expectation in selecting performers is that these people have the potential to be stars. They also expect that none of them will achieve stardom overnight. It’s about persistent progress with each performer and new performance. They limit their coaching to the big issues first so as not to overwhelm the performer. With each successive performance they will provide direction to further refine future performances. And, with American Idol, where the television viewing audience votes on performers (with the performer receiving the fewest votes being cut), the judges have just one “save,” for the entire competition, to hold-on to a performer who has been cut from the competition. Only ONE save. It is cosseted for use with that performer who they believe will demonstrate with her/his next performance the potential for future stardom.
  • They are fans – All of them want to be entertained. They want to be wowed! And, they take-in the performances and respond like fans. They will get up from their chairs and sway to the music, or mouth the words along with the performer - if they are moved by the performance. They will get the audience involved in encouraging a performance too. Jennifer Lopez talks about getting “goose pimples” from a performance (which is her way of gauging how well it connected with her). Christina Aguilera has even been so moved as to get up and sing a duo with a performer. These judges are not critics. They’re fans!
  • They inspire – Many of the performers lack confidence. Imagine what it’s like for a young person to go on stage and perform before millions of people. It has to be pretty scary. Imagine, too, what it feels like to be cut from the competition. Many feel deflated and that a lifelong dream has been burst. But, Adam Levine (a coach from The Voice) has been shown hugging a person whom he has cut telling the performer that he is “great,” and asking him to promise not to give up his dream. 

Are you as effective as these celebrity judges in assessing and coaching your agency resources to inspire and achieve leadership advertising? What will it take?


Here are a few suggestions to help take your performance (and along with it the performance of your team and brand) to the next level:


1.     Show some respect – We know you don’t like to hear this but your resource specialists (like ad agency creative personnel) possess skills that you do not. They are not dullards. Nor are they the enemy. (If you could do what they do you’d be a creative director at an agency living a more glamorous life and pulling-down the really big bucks.) They have significantly more experience in the field of communications (both science and art) than marketers. They outclass each and every one of us in their knowledge and ability to connect with customers on an emotional level. Respect their talent. Respect them. As a company group chairman once told us, “when the agency presents to me I feel that within their work there will be a potential powerful idea, given all the talent and experience participating in the development of the creative work.”


2.     Be on the lookout for a nugget of an idea – Recognizing the presence of a nugget of an idea is akin to recognizing nascent talent. Identify it and determine what it is that you find intriguing. Identify too what you believe is needed to more fully develop the idea and realize its potential. Importantly, let your agency know what you feel needs to be done to take it to the next level.


3.     Respond like a customer – Customers don’t respond with their left-brain. They respond with their heart and soul. Don’t respond only with your client brain. Respond with your target-customer brain. Put on your customer hat and address the question, “how does the campaign idea make your feel about the brand?” Does it connect with you on an emotional level? Would it lead you, as the target-customer, to the behavior identified in the Communication Behavior Objective?


4.     Be a fan – Don’t hold back. Get rid of the poker face. If you like what they’re doing let them know. Better yet let them feel it. They, like all of us, respond to those who show genuine appreciation for the work. If the creative work doesn’t work for you (responding as your target-customer would) then don’t hold back either. Let them know what direction you need for them to go.


5.     Iterate your way to success – Don’t expect to get to the BIG idea on the first meeting. So make sure you build in sufficient time for the team to learn from their efforts and iterate their way to success. An important step in that iteration is getting customer feedback. Also, recognize that sometimes it takes a few iterations before we can capture the potential of an idea. Keep mindful of point number 2 above.


6.     Coach – Help take the work to a higher level of performance. Coach to achieve leadership communications. Don’t talk about what is wrong. Instead, provide direction about what you need to see in order to make the work more productive. We use the word “direction,” as opposed to the word “prescription.” We direct, not prescribe. Let the specialists use their creativity to figure out how to achieve the direction you’ve set for them.


7.     Grow your skills – Assessing creative is not about opinions. Every one can have an opinion. Big deal. Why should we heed, or even listen to everyone’s opinion? Assessing creative is about having sound judgment borne from education and experiences. It is about knowing what comprises leadership advertising, or a really BIG idea, before, not after, the fact (of testing). It’s about identifying its potential and then coaching to add value to the productivity of the work in achieving the desired target-customer Communication Behavior Objective. This takes skills. Study advertising. Read. Analyze ads that are ever present in our daily lives. Not just ads from your category, or country. Blend! Blending is learning from other areas and incorporating the learning in what you do. It is a key element in creating ideas. Also, consider enrolling in a training program. If you are interested, contact us about our 2-day Leadership Communication training program. We can help you realize your potential and take you to the next level in developing your skills and achieving leadership communications.


Click the following link

 for a sample of raw talent honed to a perfect performance. It’s Joshua Ledet, of American Idol, performing “When a Man Loves a Woman,” the classic made popular by Percy Sledge in 1966 (well before Joshua was born). Note the judges’ response to the performance. Can you recognize a nugget of an idea that has the potential to be great? Can you get your team to develop that idea to achieve the same level as Joshua? Can you inspire others as these judges inspire these young performers? This should be the goal of each and every one of us who is responsible for managing creative development. Hope you enjoy and learn from the performance. Now your blending.

Richard Czerniawski and Mike Maloney


Richard Czerniawski

430 Abbotsford Road

Kenilworth, Illinois 60043

tel 847.256.8820 fax 847.256.8847

reply to Richard: or



Mike Maloney

1506 West 13th

Austin, Texas 78703

tel 512.236.0971 fax 512.236.0972

reply to Mike: or

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