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The Side Dish

Lessons Learned In 2018

Marianne Guenther, Chief Executive Officer / 12.31.2018

2018 has been quite a year! BIG YAM has grown both in terms of our team size (20 percent growth) and in revenue (15 percent growth). We have had challenging times (teammates departing), busy times (Black Friday campaigns) and fun times (culture events such as Spring Training, Easter Egg Hunt, Gary Busey Birthday Party and Holiday Bowling Party).

As I reflect on all of those times to determine what I’ve learned and how I’ll apply these experiences to next year, I have boiled my learnings down to three primary categories plus a couple of minor lessons. My hope is that from my challenges and wins, you can leverage them for yourself, so you can strongly march into 2019 with all that it has to offer.

My hope is that from my challenges and wins, you can leverage them for yourself, so you can strongly march into 2019 with all that it has to offer.

Communication … the finer details

This past year, I have learned the importance of being in the listener role more often than I had been – and by more often I mean deeper/longer conversations. I had operated under a process of listening then planning and implementing. These past months have taught me to spend even more time during each conversation in the listener role which has allowed for the finer details to come to light. These details, which in the past didn’t seem critical to decision making, have shown to be the most important aspects of figuring out how to move forward. By spending more time than I had felt comfortable within that listener role, the various teammates at the agency have shown that they are magnificent problem solvers — they just needed someone with which to bounce off their ideas!

Resource allocation and new biz … a fine balance between earning new work and using our intellectual property wisely

I know that our most precious resource at the agency is our teammates. And knowing that, I had created a strong line that we would not participate in RFP processes. In 2018, I broke that previous promise to myself and my team. What resulted should not have surprised me – but it did. We spent many dozens of hours compiling, creating and presenting on proposals for potential clients that had said they really liked what we had to offer, but needed us to go through the formal RFP process before starting the relationship. In the end, we did not win a single one of those new clients. I have re-strengthened my resolve on this front as we go into 2019 – we will not be participating in RFPs. We have seen so many wonderful-to-work-beside clients come directly to us, engage with us and sign up with us. Those customer-agency relationships are the best that I can imagine and every one of them resulted from natural conversations and understanding that their values and priorities aligned with ours.


It has taken us a tremendous amount of effort to build a team that I think is one of the best that has been built. It is a team that trusts each other, has each other’s back, is comprised of some of the most talented industry folks around and one that simply has a lot of fun together. We also have challenges.

My lesson here is that we must talk through our frustrations and challenges sooner than we have been. Sometimes we fear that we will hurt someone’s feelings if they aren’t keeping up with their team in terms of quality or quantity of outputs, or if they have a different approach to a problem then we do. Perhaps they are simply having a cranky couple of days and need to talk through it – but by delaying what needs to be spoken about, we have created weak points in some of our inter-team relationships.

The other lesson for me on this front has been that I’ve continued to learn that ‘urban legends’ take months, if not years, to debunk. I consistently push back on statements that fall within the urban legends’ bucket to ensure statements are backed up by facts. It’s the only way I’ve learned to hold people accountable and to move past them. My job is to fiercely protect this team, and one way I can do that is to encourage open, respectful dialogue. We have those discussions, but we need more of it and to have them sooner in the process.

Now here are a couple of random thoughts…

Cologne Commercials

Since when did cologne commercials start to look like trailers for upcoming movies? That was exactly what I thought the first time I saw the recent JOY ad. I was sitting comfortably in my theater seat waiting for Green Book to start (which is the best movie I saw in 2018 – go see it!) when Jennifer Lawrence appeared on screen and I thought to myself ‘hmmm, this could be an interesting movie,’ only to later think ‘what the heck was that!’ Since then I’ve seen commercials for Dior Sauvage and Louis Vuitton each sharing that same long format theme. #strangetimes #expensiveproductions

The. Best. EVER. Pajamas

I don’t know if they are a new brand or have been around for a while, but they are new to me this year … MeUndies. They make some of the softest, most comfortable PJs. I highly recommend you check them out!

Lessons learned in 2018

Armed with these observations and lessons, I am ready for 2019. I know it will be an exciting year, with challenges that test us to perform at even higher levels then we have in the past. I hope it has all these elements because for me, that’s what makes it fun. Bring it on!

It is in my spirit to help so I hope that you took away at least one interesting nugget from this blog (at the very least, it could be new pajamas).