The Moment That Changed My Marketing Mindset Forever

The Moment That Changed My Marketing Mindset Forever

My first job, the first adult one anyway, was at Grey Advertising.

Big agency. Offices around the world.

I helped open their first digital office in Canada.

If it weren’t for the explosion of the internet, I wouldn’t have gotten the job.

I was inexperienced, with nothing more than hustle university and a love of technology in my back pocket.

Luckily, some people there took me under their wing and began showing me the way. Teaching me about marketing, storytelling, and writing.

One of those people was a guy named Jeff.

Jeff was a hotshot Creative Director who had recently been poached from another big agency and Jeff was the man.

He was Don Draper without the suit ( no one dressed up in Vancouver ). He led everything in that place and was racking up awards and clients from the moment he started.

Sadly, I didn’t work directly for the man, so most of what I saw was from afar, and in those moments after work, when he’d let me hang out or buy me a beer and talk shop.

One of the reasons Jeff was brought to the agency was to win back the love of our biggest client.

They’d been floundering, and new leadership had come in and, after I want to say, 22 years, had put the account up for review.

And these were big billings; every agency in town wanted this business, and we knew they’d spend whatever it took to get it.

We’d already been told it was likely we weren’t winning the review.

Then Jeff came along.

Everyone in the agency worked on that pitch.

Months of effort, countless ideas, and late nights of tearing work apart and piecing it back together. Strategic plans, PR efforts, new branding concepts, and even digital were involved.

It all built up to the day of the big meeting.

The entire office was on edge.

Pins and needles.

At one point, Jeff popped his head into my office and asked if I had a decent shirt.

I asked why.

He said because I need you at the meeting.

Jeff was a master of making people feel special.

He did not.

But, he did want the quasi-nerd ( me ) around in case any of the technology we needed for the presentation went sideways.

Expect the best, and plan for the worst.

He gave me a front-row seat to watch the presentation.

I was the youngest person there by 20 years.

What I saw that afternoon changed how I think about marketing and advertising.

I saw a true artist and storyteller at work for the first time.

I don’t remember who went before him, but other people spoke before him.

Business things and a retelling of the history between our agency and this bank.

Then Jeff got up.

He did a walk across the room, not saying a word.

Then he walked back to his seat, still not speaking.

He built anticipation.

The first words out of his mouth were:

“I don’t want to pitch you.”

He reset expectations.

He turned to the room and said.

“Even though we spent thousands of hours on these ideas and the materials I have to show you, I’m not going to do that.”

“I just want to tell you about my morning.”

He then told the following story, which I’ll paraphrase a little, though I remember most of it.

“As most of you know, I’m not from here. I came to Grey eight months ago from Toronto. A place that was my home, where my children were born, and that I loved very much.”

“I came here for a job, as you do, and it’s a job I love.”

“For most of this new role. I’ve worked on this presentation. Building out the ideas and concepts that we believe will make you successful. That will grow your customer base and make you more money.”

“But I have to be honest with you. None of it hit home for me until this morning.”

“This morning, as I was trying to take a quiet moment for myself. A moment to ready myself for this important day. I sat, having a coffee on my front porch. The sun was coming up, and I had the city’s most spectacular view from up on the north shore. And I thought, what a beautiful place.”

“I looked around, saw toys scattered across the lawn, and thought about how much my kids loved it here and the amazing things they were able to do in a place like this.”

“I thought about the people I was working with and how they all came from other places to be here. To live in a city that allowed them the lifestyle they dreamed about.”

“And then I thought about all of you, your bank, your customers, and how much you do to support this community. How long you’ve been here and what you mean to the city.”

“It was in that moment, looking out over the city that I was overcome with this feeling, this sense, that it's alright here.”

"That it's"

“It’s all right here.”

“It’s all right here.” ( the tagline at the core of our strategy and said slowly, letting each word hang in the air for a moment ).

As if he’d just discovered it in the moment.

“It’s all right here” was how he and we felt about the city.

It was reassuring. It covered a bunch of things in just four words.

It planted the idea that the bank was there not for financial services or competitive rates but to be what you, the customer, needed, whatever that was.

One simple and succinct phrase to show people you had their back.

Four words to tell the story of care, comfort, and compassion.

Everything we’d prepared supported this.

The team hadn’t designed billboards showcasing low interest rates. No, they showed a small business owner on opening day, the young woman driving off in her first car, and the couple walking into their first home.

He told the story in a way that made me believe he’d made it up on the spot.

He didn’t sell.

He didn't pitch.

He was human. He was honest.

And he took those people on a journey.

He also made the bank feel important—not another choice in an otherwise crowded field, but essential and part of something bigger.

I’d never seen anything like it.

The bank had announced that they’d take two weeks to decide.

Two hours after we left that presentation, they called to say they wouldn’t be making a change.

They couldn’t imagine working with anyone else.

Tell stories, my friends.

They bring us together; they make us feel a part of something.

And Jeff, wherever you are these days, thank you for letting me be a witness to your work.

I think about it often.

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