By Michael Willard
Self-proclaimed music outlaw David Allan Coe, who I interviewed many years ago, sang a hit tune about pickup trucks, moms, trains, prison, and drunks and called it the perfect country and western song.
It went like this:
“Well, I was drunk the day my Mom got out of prison, And I went to pick her up in the rain,
But before I could get to the station in my pickup truck,
She got run over by a damned old train.”
In the spirit of accuracy, it was not written by Coe but by two of my favorite songwriters, the late Steve Goodman, and the more recently late from COVID-19, John Prine.
A few years ago the song inspired me to write the world’s most perfect personnel — should we say pluperfect — manual while at the same time making it the shortest such document — most likely — in history.
I realize that such a boast can’t be proven, but stick with me on this one and see if you don’t agree. It was written for my former advertising and public relations agency of about 90 people in Kyiv, Moscow, and Istanbul, The Willard Group.
For the record, my positioning statement for our band of rebels was “Risk-Takers. Rule Breakers. Opportunity Makers.” It was during this time we took on a mega-agency, Y&R, and pretty much clobbered them.
The Willard Group Employee Manual
Preamble: Every agency says it is creative, strategic, and gets results. If everyone is doing it, then this is just being average. We must be better.
Section 1: Imagination
Use your imagination. We are in the imagination business and the idea business. Our people — all our people — are imagination engineers, even the fellow who keeps the computers humming.
Section 2: Judgment
Do your best, and use your best judgment. If we all do this, The Willard Group will succeed beyond our dreams. Judgment, though, is not a relative term — always stay on the right side of doing right.
Section 3: Difference
We will be strategically different. Calculated risk is part of the fun and interest of being in business. Be a little weird sometimes. “Progress depends on the unreasonable man (or woman)”- George Bernard Shaw.
Section 4: Our business
We are not in the advertising business. We are not in the PR business. We are in the client problem-solving business, and often that takes great advertising and PR solutions, or some variation thereof.
Section 5: Human Resources and Benefits
We will be imaginatively ad hoc as it relates to time off, salary, and benefits. We will endeavor to surpass all other agencies in our pursuit of a better life for our best employees. The others need to strive to be best. Effort counts. Success counts more.
Section 6: Change
Don’t be afraid of it. Hold on to your hat, and enjoy the ride. Better yet, be an agent for change. It’s inevitable — but let’s make it our inevitability and own it.
Section 7: Mistakes
Make a few. If you don’t, you’re not using that imagination. Don’t make the same mistake twice. But, if you do, we don’t have a penalty box. We will be instructive. The same mistake a third time? Well, three strikes you’re out.
Section 8: Dress
We don’t believe in casual Fridays. We have no dress code.
You have joined a professional organization. So, it would stand to reason you would want to dress professionally, especially if you come into contact with clients who are dressed for the business day.
I refer you to the section on judgment. But, yes, we do have exceptions. Creative directors can have green-spiked hair and wear nose rings.
Finally, remember, weirdness in the pursuit of creativity is no vice. It’s a holy virtue.
(Photo — Checking the temperature in the spa at Willard’s Creative Village in Kyiv, Ukraine)