Kevin Chesters: The golden rule is the only rule that matters in the advertising business

Kevin Chesters, is the partner/CSO of The Harbour Collective and former chief strategy officer of Ogilvy UK.

The golden rule is the only rule that matters in the advertising business

The Golden Rule has existed on Earth for as long as civilisation has. It was the basis of the first set of laws ever codified by Hammurabi. It is central to Indian, Greek, Persian and Roman philosophy. It was in the Old Testament (Leviticus 19:18) and quoted by Jesus in the new one, twice. You’ll find it at the heart of Islamic, Buddhist, Sikh, Bahai and Hindu faiths. It’s been around for a while and I think it’s pretty useful as a lesson for all of us in business.

The ‘Golden Rule’ is very simple: treat others as you yourself would wish to be treated. If you started all decisions by applying this one rule then most of the issues our industry currently faces from diversity to harassment, from bad practice to employee relations, would disappear (if not overnight, then certainly a lot quicker than they are currently doing). It’s a great starting point to think before you do anything, would I be happy if I was on the receiving end of this?

Agencies and Suppliers

How would you like to be treated of the boot was on the other foot?

Pay people fairly for the work they do for you.

Don’t expect people to work for free or use ‘exposure’ as a substitute for payment (you can’t spend fame in Tesco).

Pay people on time.

Don’t mess freelancers about.

Pay people if you want them to speak at conferences.

Oh, and don’t try and stretch to billion-day payment terms (or whatever passes for acceptable these days in massive organisations that can blackmail/threaten their suppliers into submission.)

Are you following me? Just act like decent, honest, fair human beings.

If you started with the golden rule in every interaction with your suppliers then most of the main issues would disappear in a heartbeat.

Conversely, suppliers, do the very best you can on every job. Simple.

Clients and Agencies

I’m aware there are lots of good, mutually respectful relationships out there between agencies and clients but let’s not ever pretend it’s an equal partnership. It’s a ‘partnership’ like the one you had with your parents – at some point one party can always unilaterally turn around and say “because I said so”.

So how would the Golden Rule work here for clients?

If you say you’re going to do something, do it.

If you get an email from your agency, answer it (even if just to say you haven’t got the answer right now)

If there’s a difficult conversation to be had, have it. Don’t hide.

Say please and thank you.

Be open about budgets from the start.

Don’t impose unreasonable deadlines just because you know in the current climate people will (almost) kill themselves to deliver on them.

Don’t brief people on a Friday night; because you know what you’re actually asking for is for the agency to work the weekend (in an industry that doesn’t pay overtime). This equally applies to putting creative presentations in on Monday mornings.

Oh, and don’t hold pitches over Christmas.

All of these things are just good examples of practice that you wouldn’t be particularly happy if it happened to you, right? Most of them are just good manners.

And it works on the flipside too. Don’t bullshit your clients. Don’t set false deadlines. Don’t sell work for your benefit, not theirs. Don’t chase awards. Don’t treat clients like children who need to be ‘managed’. Tell the truth and play with a straight bat.

Mutual respect.

Management and employees

A lot of managers/leaders tend to forget exactly how it felt to be treated with zero consideration by people above. So, try to remember how you felt when you were ‘down there’ not ‘up here’.

Don’t tell lies (spinning is lying too)

Don’t treat staff like idiots.

Don’t pay people as little as you can get away with for as long as you can get away with it.

Don’t wait until people are so at the end of their tether that they resign before you give them a minor pay rise that they should have had anyhow (and have often been promised).

Pay your interns.

Management (and especially, leadership) is not just about fancy titles and checking your share options.

It is a responsibility and a privilege.

Treat it like one.

Men and Women

This is the easiest one of all. The Golden Rule would pretty much eliminate most appalling practices that we have, thankfully, had a light shone on in the last few years.

Don’t discriminate or exclude based on gender.

Pay people what they’re worth, not on whether or not they’ve got a pair of testicles.

Don’t be a bully or take advantage of your position.

Don’t be a sleaze (both men AND women).

Keep your hands to yourself.

In short, don’t be a Twat (I think this might actually be the 2019 version of the Golden Rule but you’d never get it printed in Leviticus).

To be honest you could apply it to most areas of diversity (not just gender diversity). If you applied the ‘golden rule’ in businesses then no one could ever be excluded based on their gender, race, age or sexuality because it wouldn’t be very nice if that happened to you, would it?

I find it hard not to get really ranty when I think about this because it seems so bleeding obvious. There are some basic practices and principles that we should all follow every day in our interactions with each other, suppliers, clients, agencies, management and staff. I think they simply come down to a list of five words:

Manners.

Reciprocity.

Responsiveness.

Consideration.

Gratitude.

They don’t seem like big things to ask, do they? I’m not asking everyone to take on some Sisyphean task. Just to act like a decent human being. I think we’d all find the world a better place to live and work in if we did.

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