We didn't really know what my uncle did. We weren't supposed to. Gone for months at a time. Moving from country to country. My aunt went about her daily activities, patiently waiting for his return. Knowing just enough on a need-to-know basis. So, not much. (She says she can relate to The Good Shepard.)
He's retired from the agency. The stories quietly buried somewhere in his mind. Every now and then, you catch a glimpse in his eyes. Something hinting at experiences we'll never comprehend. A world we're not familiar with. Maybe for our own good.
To those of you up for the challenge, I'd like to pass along some espionage traits that may or may not be related to my uncle's influence. Focusing on how we can use these characteristics to sell creative. Incognito ingenuity. Or, something like that.
1. Exude confidence and effortlessly earn trust. – As Wieden + Kennedy pointed out, "trust is the secret sauce if you want to do groundbreaking work." Establish, protect, and maintain it.
2. Blend, but be bold. – The top agents are regular people with extraordinary capabilities. They are your neighbors. Strive for greatness, but be humble.
3. Be able to tell a story. Hilariously. (Bonus: In multiple languages.) – Humor and effective storytelling lead to clients liking your team. Wanting to work with you. And consequently, being open to your team's concept.
(My uncle has endless comedic material. In a battle of wit, he will win. Always. I'd leave the dinner table, having to gain composure after laughing myself to tears. He'd have people rolling in Spanish as well. I didn't completely understand what he was saying, but the locals did. And they were dying.)
4. Observe the room quickly, but extensively. – Be able to read personalities and adjust your pitch accordingly. Picking up on tone and gesture cues early can help avoid potential missteps later.
5. Negotiate, but empower the client's buy-in. – No one likes to be forced into an idea. And yeah, medieval interrogation techniques are generally frowned upon. Give away some ownership by including the client's direction in the genesis of the idea. Provide shared reason not to kill it.
6. If the creative becomes significantly compromised, retreat. – Have a colleague helicopter you out of there. Change your identity and go into hiding until it blows over. If you can, grow a beard. Train in a reclusive dojo perched next to a ridiculously-steep ravine in some random arctic location. Whatever it takes.
7. Always reemerge with a better idea. And mean it. – Your clients can sense doubt. So, never give yourself a reason to have it. Believe in the work. (Or repeat #6.)