Writing this blog post has sat at the top of my to-do list for months. Ironically it kept falling to the bottom for one simple reason: client work always takes priority—almost a testament to the topic of this blog itself.
But, taking a step back and thinking through the nuggets of wisdom I’ve gotten over the years, all roads lead to Rand.
Rand Harbert, that is—the EVP and Chief Agency, Sales, and Marketing Officer at State Farm.
For those who know Rand, he is a gregarious, whip-smart, sophisticated, kind person, leader and marketer. And for those who don’t know Rand, it will take only one meeting to feel like old friends.
Rand’s philosophy can be boiled down to two simple areas: passion and compassion. Be passionate about what you do and who you are. Be compassionate for those who work with you and for you. He’s led his life and his career by these standards.
Rand is the reason I work in advertising and recently (okay—several months ago), I had the opportunity to sit down with him to discuss the principles of the client-agency relationship.
And, it really is a relationship, which means there are endless cliches and cheap metaphors that can be employed to describe how it works. But a quote from Atticus in To Kill a Mockingbird kept rising to the top as I reflected on the dynamic:
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… until you climb in his skin and walk around in it.”
Or, as Rand puts it, “ideally, you’re finishing each other’s sentences.”
In our conversation, a few key themes bubbled to the top for navigating the client-agency relationship. Maybe not groundbreaking, but as one Don Draper would say, they’re simple but significant.
Trust is the single most important thing to have with your agency. And trust needs to be a two-way street built upon mutual respect. Rand needs to know that his agency understands his business needs, goals and his vision for success. And then he needs to trust the agency can bring the creative chops to solve the challenge.
“I have to trust that my agency truly has my organization’s best interest in mind. And not only do I have to trust that—I have to believe it to my soul because only then if you’re on my side do I see what you’re going to tell me is your best work and believe you.”
Rand also noted how important it is for the agency to trust the client—trust that they’ll push for great work, trust that they’re open to recommendations and partnership.
The “Get it” Factor
Building on trust, Rand says he looks for the “get it factor” in his agency. The “get it factor” is about not only knowing the business and challenges, but also anticipating opportunities, blocking out potential headwinds and adding that extra creative polish that pinpoints the vision of the brief. It means he doesn’t have to repeat himself because he’s got a team that can keep his pace and be ahead of the curve.
“You make me go ‘wow.’ Not only is that what I had in mind, it’s way better than what I had in mind.”
In Sync, Not an Echo Chamber
Rand desires a shared creative wavelength where you’re literally able to finish each other’s sentences. But he doesn’t want an echo chamber. Importantly, it’s not just about playing back his words to him—he wants honesty that will make the work, the situation or the solution better.
In fact, for his own team, he’s looking for talent that are so in sync with each other and State Farm’s collective goal, they too finish each other’s sentences.
Be a Human
Giving of yourself personally, professionally and still saving time to mentor and pay it forward can be exhausting. It’s no shock that most in the workforce have experienced burnout some time in their career.
Rand’s antidote? Be your authentic self in every facet of your life. You can’t sustain energy if you’re being something that you're not. He’s the same Rand at work as he is at home with his family.
For agencies, it’s the reminder that clients are human too (duh). They’re looking for partners who bring authenticity to the job they do and the work they create.
Finally, while not a direct client-agency tip, Rand ends with his true passion: “doing for others.” It’s a mindset he believes everyone should employ in business and life.
“Compassion and doing for others is really my north star.”
Rand believes in being an energy giver and fostering talent for the future of his team and beyond. It’s the simple reminder that you don’t have to save the world—you can do small things every day for those in your life to make a profound impact.
His impact on me and my career is a wonderful example. And as he taught me, I will continue to pay it forward for my clients, co-workers and mentees.
Okay. Back to client work.