For Jim Signorelli and his team at ESW Partners, stories continue to be the most powerful communication tool there is for persuasion. The team at the advertising agency believes that the truth is always found, never created.
“Hard as we may try, we can’t convince someone to believe in something they aren’t already predisposed to believe in,” Signorelli says. “That idea is at the heart of why some stories are classic novels while others are page-turners. It also explains why some brands resonate better than others.”
Signorelli was named one of 2010 Smart Leader honorees by Smart Business and U.S. Bank. We asked him how he overcomes challenges, innovates and gives back.
Give us an example of a business challenge you and/or your organization faced, as well as how you overcame it.
I started ESW 11 years ago with blind ambition. Wanting to quickly put a stake in the ground, we judged any advertiser a potential client even when Lotto posed better odds. Looking back with cringing regret, even the slightest "yeah-call-me-next-week" interest by a prospect would launch everyone into full PowerPoint regalia.One day, an individual approached me with accounts she had been servicing for a number of years. Her proposed deal was to join our agency in return for creative support and a new home for her clients.
After pinching myself, I checked out her clients and did see she represented sizable billings. I announced the “great” news to the staff. I was expecting a Gatorade bath. Instead, I was met with a lot of questions and reserved glances.
Our new employee wasted no time staking out her turf. She quickly declared our copy machine too old, our IT capabilities inadequate, and our secretarial support inefficient. The complaints mounted daily as she expressed frustration over everything from our choice of coffee to the hand soap in the ladies room (she thought it smelled bad). What’s worse, I noticed more closed doors and fewer laughs around the office.
About midway through her contract, I unexpectedly faced an even greater challenge. I don’t know how I managed, but when she announced that she wanted out, I had to severely restrain myself from doing a Tiger Woods’ fist pump while running through the hallways shouting “YES!!” She had lined up a new deal with another agency. Supposedly, there was a “better fit” and maybe some nicer smelling hand soap.
I think of this story each time I am presented with a “growth” opportunity. Each day I’m in business I am laying down a bet on what will help us grow. This incident has helped me decide that the best bet is our culture. People working together in place they feel comfortable enough to do their best work yields the greatest return, by far. It has to be protected at all cost.
In what ways are you an innovative leader, and how does your organization employ innovation to be on the leading edge?
Actually, I think I’m better at excavating than innovating.
I’m in the advertising business. Certainly, technology continues to change the rules of the game. And we have to keep up with the latest technology has to offer. But invention for the sake of invention doesn’t cut it. Being “the first on my block” is never as important as being the best.
You can Facebook it, Flash it, or Four Square it, but a brand is still a brand. And a brand always tells a story. Whatever form the brand comes in, it can tell a story about status, love, safety, fun... you name the human value, there’s a brand for that. And unless I’ve been living under a rock, stories continue to be the most powerful communication tool we have for persuasion.
So, while moving forward with invention, we are also moving backwards as we delve into what makes the age-old story work. We’ve learned a great deal that we’ve been able to apply to branding.
So, while we’re reading Wired or Gizmodo, we’re also catching up on the art of storytelling, something that hasn’t changed since the caveman talked about the Wooly Mammoth that got away.
How do you make a significant impact on the community and regional economy?
Anyone in Chicago knows that we have a major problem with violent crime in the inner city.
One day, while attending a speech by Mayor Daley, he said something that continues to ring true for me. He said that we all have a responsibility to putting a stop to crime by ending our “code of silence.”
I approached him with an idea on how to do that. Subsequently, we started working with the Chicago Police Department on a campaign to promote the use of cell phone texting to anonymously report crimes before they happen.
Mayor Daley is right (and he’s not running again so this isn’t an unpaid political announcement). We all have the power to do something about ending the code of silence that keeps us from speaking up about what we currently fear to be unspeakable. The campaign is themed “Stay Silent, Stay Scared” and will soon be running as Public Service Announcements on TV stations that agree to run it.
How to reach: ESW Partners, www.eswpartners.com
In October 2010, Smart Business and U.S. Bank recognized nine business leaders for their commitment to business excellence and the impact their organizations make on the regional community. Treated to a keynote address by Middleby Corp. Chairman and CEO Selim Bassoul, these nine leaders composed the honor roll: