Rising to the challenge Featured

8:00pm EDT October 28, 2006
 One look at Marcus Thomas LLC’s Web site tells you the company isn’t a normal advertising and public relations agency.

The site features a game in which visitors can match pictures of employees to their dogs, evidence of managing partner Jim Nash’s ability to get the job done while keeping a fun-loving company culture intact. He also showed that ability by leading the company through the economic downturn that hit the industry “as hard as anything has ever hit it.”

“We stood up to the challenge by pushing hard to communicate with our employees our mission to serve our existing clients in a way that no one else could,” he said. “We also redoubled our efforts to attract new clients to fill voids left by failed companies.”

Through that adversity, the company has made annual growth gains of 10 percent to 12 percent, and had 2005 billings revenue of $70 million.

Smart Business spoke with Nash about how he creates culture that fosters fresh ideas.

How can a leader maximize a company’s productivity?
Hire bright people who really want to achieve the same goals that you do. I always hire people I can trust, and I surround myself with hardworking people who complement my strengths and make up for my weaknesses. Also, pay attention, because you’re going to make mistakes. Learn from them and make yourself better. Don’t be comfortable with people telling you, ‘That’s the best we can do.’

If you’re not satisfied with your results, push a little harder on yourself and on your team. You’d be surprised what people can do when they’re challenged by new things, or they get outside their comfort zone.

How do you find quality employees?
First and foremost, we look for honest, hardworking people. We also like to see folks with an entrepreneurial attitude, which provides a general restlessness with the status quo.

Also look for people who have unique abilities other than those we have in the agency. Something they can bring to the party, so to speak, or add to our current capabilities.

Equally important, we look for people who have an aversion to office politics. We want people who are focused on the clients, not on getting a step up on somebody in the agency. We want people who aren’t afraid to make mistakes, who aren’t afraid to take a little bit of a risk with a particular challenge.

How do you minimize office politics?
We don’t reward the behavior; we’ve even asked people to leave the agency when we see that behavior exhibited. We ask people to be pretty open and honest about where they want to be with their careers and put a development plan in place for their career.

It keeps their career out in the open and under their control in a way that doesn’t have to be divisive. Having that environment fosters open communications and the ability to make a difference in their own career, and that’s good, because if they can push their career along at a pace they are comfortable with, it’s really healthy for them and healthy for our clients and the agency, too. They’re making a difference in their career and in the client’s business too.

How do you communicate your vision to your employees?
I have a tendency to take a backseat to most of our people and support the individual and the department and the agency overall. Treat everyone as your client. In our business, it’s seen as an agency/client relationship. We try to look at our employees as clients, as well as our vendors, media and friends of the agency as clients, as well. It provides for a pretty flat management style that doesn’t have a lot of barriers, doesn’t have a lot of hierarchy.

When you come out of journalism school, you’ve done work in newspapers, radio, PR, you’re trained in certain disciplines. While we have all disciplines at Marcus Thomas, we want to make sure everyone understands all the disciplines for an integrated agency to perform. Someone in PR knows what’s going on in advertising. What we try to do is make sure that silos don’t develop in the agency and that we continue to cross-function and work toward our clients’ best interest.

What are some leadership lessons you have learned about business and life?
Always have a contingency plan. You always prepare for a flat spot or a bad time in the business. It’s easier to prepare for the good times. It’s easy to work and grow in an expanding market but to have your management team working toward preparing for contingency is always good.

Try to maintain the balance between the needs of family and the demands of business. It’s certainly a balance. It’s pretty well integrated, in a way I’m very comfortable with — it meets my clients’ needs as well as my family’s needs.

There are times when you need to work late through the night, and there are times when you need to be with your family. It’s an ongoing balance, one that is difficult but that can be achieved.

How to reach: Marcus Thomas LLC. www.marcusthomasllc.com, 888-482-4455