Council Post: Key Lessons 15 Agency Pros Will Carry Throughout Their Careers


Working in an agency can be a demanding yet highly rewarding career choice. As professionals navigate this fast-paced and ever-changing industry, they often learn important career lessons along the way that not only help them succeed in their current roles but can also be applied in future endeavors.

The members of Forbes Agency Council have learned significant, vital lessons that helped shape their approach to growing a business and their careers. Below, 15 members each share a lesson that has stuck with them and explain why it has been key to their long-term success in the field.

1. Delivering Value Is Key

Focusing on delivering value and genuinely helping my clients has helped me scale beyond imagination. When we focus too much on “growth, growth, growth,” we often forget about the bigger picture—in which our job is to solve problems and empower others. That’s the reason we started our entrepreneurial journey in the first place, and reminding oneself of this continually is the key to real, lasting success. – Mohamed Elhawary, BeUniqueness

2. People Won’t Remember Everything

In our first call on our first day in business, the CEO told me, “We’ve learned the customer doesn’t remember what we thought we told him.” It highlighted that people only remember a little. We’ve built our company on teaching our clients how to influence what a listener hears, believes and remembers. It sounds like common sense—but too many people are still thinking, “What do I want to say?” – Merrie Spaeth, Spaeth Communications

3. Business Is About Human Connection

In my 20s, I was invited to pitch a global development organization. My CEO asked, “What do you want them to remember?” When I mentioned the case study I had prepared, he politely said “Wrong! You want them to think, ‘Hey, I like this guy,’ and, ‘Wow, I didn’t know that,’ and ‘I’m going to go do that right now!’” It still reminds me that business is about human connections and inspiring experiences. – Eric Gilbertsen, REQ

4. Setting Realistic Goals Is Crucial

Trust the process and let your PR team get to work. Clients and agencies should set realistic goals from the beginning. Most agencies take an active role in planning an effective strategy and plan. The agency should provide realistic timelines for all projects so that the client can walk away with a crystal-clear understanding of what to expect during the partnership for a successful relationship. – Durée Ross, Durée & Company, Inc.

Forbes Agency Council is an invitation-only community for executives in successful public relations, media strategy, creative and advertising agencies. Do I qualify?

5. Assuming Others’ Intentions Are Good Helps With Problem-Solving

I was at a conference session on the psychology of leadership. The speaker asked us to reframe our mindset and assume that everyone’s intentions are good—they just need help adjusting the execution. This changed how I approach individual challenges and allowed me to focus on improving the execution, versus assuming there was a negative intention. – Lindsey Groepper, BLASTmedia

6. Audience Perception Is All That Matters

Know your audience. Your and your collaborators’ opinions about a marketing message are meaningless—unless they are developed through the lens of the audience you are trying to reach. So many times, I’ve heard, “I don’t like the message” in advance of launching a successful campaign. My go-to response in those situations is, “What does the audience think about the message?” – Rodney Mason, LTK

7. Change Is The Only Constant

Nothing is forever; change happens without warning. There isn’t a point where you are “there” and can relax. If you’re an entrepreneur, you have to constantly understand the changing environment you are in, then flex your strategies and services to remain relevant. This applies both personally and in your business. It’s kept my marketing agency around for 23 years, and I love it! – Megan Devine, cat[&]tonic (formerly d.trio)

8. You Are Stronger And More Resilient Than You Think

Early in my career, I came into day two of a job to learn that my boss was on leave and I was suddenly running the entire department. It was scary and stressful, but I got through by relying on my team—and most importantly, learning to rely on myself, too. That experience taught me my own strength and resilience, and I always look back on it when I find myself being tempted by imposter syndrome. – Danielle Wiley, Sway Group

9. Quality Work Is Not The End-All, Be-All

I naively believed when starting my firm that quality work was the end-all, be-all. My mistake was focusing on the work more than my relationships. Today, relationship management is my main priority. I manage up when serving my clients, equally with my business partners and down when leading my team. I’ve learned that earning trust and respect from all directions is critical to getting great work done. – Monica Alvarez-Mitchell, Pulse Creative, LLC

10. Everyone Is Replaceable

It was a piece of advice from a mentor: “We are all replaceable.” At the time, it seemed so foreign and impossible. A year later, a client with whom we had an excellent strategic partnership parted ways with us due to a new executive team and focus. The experience taught me the importance of humility and the need to earn trust in every interaction in both existing and new relationships. – Ray Lansigan, Publicis Groupe

11. Failure Is A Learning Opportunity

It’s okay to take risks and fail because it’s a learning opportunity. By analyzing the situation and understanding what went wrong, you can gain valuable insights into how to improve your skills and decision making. Failure teaches you resilience, determination and the importance of perseverance in the face of challenges. – David Phan, PHANERS

12. Don’t Push A Client Too Hard

I once made the mistake of pushing a client too hard to make what I thought was a necessary change to her marketing. Since I misinterpreted her silence on the matter, I kept bringing it up. My persistence irritated her so much that she had me pulled from the account. The lesson: Even if you’ve earned a client’s trust, your priorities may not be their priorities. Know when to drop the subject. – Scott Greggory, MadAveGroup

13. ‘Selling’ And ‘Providing’ Are Not The Same

Learning and understanding the difference between “selling” and “providing” has been monumentally significant to my career in marketing and sales. I never seek to sell products or services, but I do look to provide potential customers with something that will improve an experience or make their lives better. It’s easier to connect with them this way, and I’m able to remain authentic in my marketing. – Scott Keever, Scott Keever SEO

14. Your Pay Is Proportional To The Problems You Solve

One valuable piece of advice I received from a mentor early in my career was, “You get paid in proportion to the level of problems you solve—the bigger the problem, the more money you can make.” This stuck with me throughout my career and helped shape my business decisions. My agency was founded on this principle, and we solve the massive pain of advertising bans. We did $18 million in revenue in the first year! – Rohaan Khan, Orange Trail

15. Know The Value Of Your Work

Acknowledge the worth and value of your work. This is what a former client turned friend and mentor advised me when my storytelling business was growing. One of my biggest roadblocks was finding the right price point for our services. What is too much or too little? Figuring it out wracked my nerves, but ultimately, it helped me discover the right clients and talent, many of whom are still around after years. – Samantha Reynolds, ECHO Storytelling Agency

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