Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Learning To Collaborate

To succeed, clients and agencies need to adopt new rules of engagement, argues Tyrone Tellis.
Published 28 Feb, 2024 03:30pm

In May 2015, Karachi was shocked to hear about the FIA raid on Axact. For years, the company was both shrouded in suspicion and one of the most sought-after employers in the country. The moral brigade cheered the raid as a positive step for the country and its image. I, who had worked at the company from 2011 to 2013, could immediately see that the reason for the crackdown was Bol.

Bol had been taking no prisoners and was aggressively pursuing Shoaib Shaikh’s (the CEO of Axact) goal to become the number one TV channel in the country. In Pakistan, the media is about big money and big egos. Axact was brought down because the CEO failed to embrace collaboration. However, Shaikh was not alone in believing in the importance of beating your competitors. It is ingrained and we even teach this to our children.

A lot of parents are proud when their child is the number one student. In the corporate world, we preach the doctrine of ‘survival of the fittest’ and how one has to be ruthless. Even TV shows and films (remember The Wolf of Wall Street?) produced in the West have, in recent years, been disturbingly glorifying people who want to win at all costs. Pablo Escobar in Narcos, the thieves in Money Heist and some of the characters in Game of Thrones were all about how to fight the competition.

The issue with winning at any cost is that the cost usually comes in terms of honesty, mental health and morals. We need to unlearn competition and practice collaboration. As Simon Sinek wrote, we need to embrace the infinite game and move away from a zero-sum mindset, which has room for only one winner. Unlearning how to compete and embracing collaboration can lead to a better workplace and better mental health for employees. Sinek has pointed out that the people who are quickly promoted because of their ambition and ability to get results are, in fact, bad leaders because of their work practices and lack of morals. Although people do not have to be bad to fail as team members.

Take Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. Some would say that the Greatest of All Time (GOAT) debate is settled now that Messi won the FIFA World Cup. Ronaldo has always believed himself to be the best, yet he could not win because being the best is not good enough in a team environment. And Messi only won when he became part of a team. His brilliance could only take him so far. A leader is only as good as the team he or she leads.

The age-old and seemingly endless debate about whether the client or the agency is responsible for bad work and what the relationship should or should not be, could perhaps be finally settled if everyone were to believe in collaboration.

When you regard another person or organisation as your partner, respect their strengths, and acknowledge your own weaknesses, everything becomes easier. Mutual respect can unlock creativity, and dare I say it, innovation. So, how do you shift from competition to collaboration and override the instilled competitive urge? Children are natural collaborators until we pit them against one another. As adults, we need to establish trust and respect. This can be achieved through vulnerability, but what would this look like in a client-agency setting? The client admitting that they have a problem, the agency admitting that they do not know the client’s business as well as the client does. Sounds simple, but it is not. Years of schooling added to ego make for potentially volatile situations. I have always heard about how one must earn trust and wondered whether that is the best way. Why not start by showing you trust a person and adjust according to how they behave? Why start with a deficit?

Another important facet is empathy. I believe a time will come when empathy will be considered a crucial skill for the workplace. Empathy from a marketing and advertising perspective could be respecting the fact that different opinions can exist about the same problem or challenge. The goal is not to be right but to do what is right. A player often left out in the product development or campaign generation phase is the customer. What are the key customer concerns and how can they be addressed? Customer service and social media are incredible tools for companies to gauge the pulse of their customers.

The next approach is to use negotiation rather than coercion. This requires rethinking how workplaces are structured so that an atmosphere of collaboration can be created and maintained. This means no longer tolerating the ‘I am the client’ or the ‘I am the boss’ mindset. The worst thing leaders can do is to engage in a tug-of-war and then impose their authority. Loosening the reins of power and control is not something that comes naturally but it needs to be done.

We have learned enough, it’s time to learn how to unlearn.

Tyrone Tellis is Senior Manager, Corporate Sales and PR, Bogo.