6 Things I Learned From David Ogilvy

There may not be a more recognizable name in advertising than David Ogilvy’s. The man created immortal ads and built one of the world’s most successful agencies, transforming the industry along the way.

I’m about halfway through Kenneth Roman’s The King of Madison Avenue: David Ogilvy and the Making of Modern Advertising. The book tells the story of an eccentric individual with a varied set of life experiences and a penchant (and talent) for showmanship.

David Ogilvy was indeed a creative genius. However, his knowledge and talent should not be explained away by some divine bequest nor limited in scope to advertising. Below are six things I have learned from David (we’re BFFs) so far:

1. “Ogilvy was indefatigable, routinely working until 7 pm, then packing his unfinished business into two briefcases to finish at home.”

To reach the pinnacle of success and truly become a master of your craft a la Ogilvy, there’s no shortcut. Put in the time, make the necessary sacrifices, and work your ass off.

2. “An ordinarily purposeful person might follow up an idea with a second note or call; the more dogged might come back several times before moving on. Ogilvy never gave up.”

This is especially important in sales but entirely relevant to just about anything in life. Grit is one of the most highly correlated character traits for success. No surprise the advertising legend had quite a bit of it.

3. “If you can’t advertise yourself, what hope do you have of being able to advertise anything else?” – Ogilvy

The logic is pretty simple: If you can’t effectively sell yourself—presumably the “thing” you know most intimately—how can you be trusted to sell someone else’s products, services, or brand?

4. “Any service business that [gives] higher priority to profits than serving its clients deserve[s] to fail.” – Ogilvy, relaying advice from Marvin Bower of McKinsey & Company

Prioritizing profits is shortsighted and can lead to ill will between you and your most powerful advocates—your current clients. Prioritizing clients is an investment in the long-term health and success of your company and reputation.

5. “If you hire people who are smaller than you are, we shall become a company of dwarfs. If you hire people who are bigger than you are, we shall become a company of giants.” – Ogilvy

Hire people that are smarter than you. Have them hire those even smarter. Eventually, you’ll have a company of giants. Do the opposite, and, well, you’ll suck.

6. “Great hospitals do two things: They look after patients, and they teach young doctors. Ogilvy & Mather does two things: We look after clients, and we teach young advertising people.” – Ogilvy

All service companies should strive to become the teaching hospitals of their industries. Nurturing both the relationships with your clients and the talent of your employees ensures the long-term success of your organization.

*Yea, I used the British English variation. Deal with it.

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