New Biz Lessons From ‘Idol’

For eight years, McKinney has had an American Idol pool and, admittedly, many around here take it seriously, including me. Not missing an episode yet, it’s occurred to me the judges’ critiques apply not only to a singer’s performance, but to successful new business performance as well.

For one, agencies, like Idol contestants, are seldom in the judges’ seats — except for those moments when experienced honesty means more than shallow flattery. On Idol, it doesn’t matter what Randy, Kara or Ellen say; the only opinion and feedback that counts is Simon’s. Based on his success in discovering and building stars, his honesty is what the serious contestants want to hear. They understand they don’t know everything about the business and need to be pushed and challenged to be more successful. As agencies, we, like Simon, have the knowledge, experience and credibility to challenge a client. Don’t be afraid to respectfully disagree about its target audience or aversion to social media if your expertise is telling you it’s the right thing for its businesses. It shows you care about their success.

But after your turn at the table, you, as a contestant, also need to show you’ve listened to feedback. The Idol judges like to see that their input isn’t falling on deaf ears. Their goal is to help each contestant grow and get better with each performance. I’ve noticed, however, that they also don’t like to be taken literally. One week, Kara suggested a particular song for one contestant. When the contestant came out the following week singing that exact song, the judges were turned off. Clients are experts on their business and their organization. They have valuable input and want to know they’re helping to shape what we’re creating. Make sure to demonstrate you listened during the pitch.

Do something to stand out. “Change it up.” “Make it your own.” “Take a risk.” The judges often use these words because they don’t want to hear copycat performances of Kelly Clarkson or Stevie Wonder. They want to experience something new and different. How many times have we heard Simon say a performance was “forgettable”? Help clients make their decision. By being the agency that did that memorable thing, be it having a monkey at the final meeting or making a bar the venue for your work session, you’ll make them take notice. It just has to be relevant.

Remember to be true to who you are. All the judges, especially Randy, give props to the contestants who know what kind of artist they want to be and don’t waver from that. Clients are looking for the same thing. They don’t want to waste their time or yours if it’s not a good fit from the beginning. Be honest about who you are and how you’ll work together. If there are issues of importance such as budgets or ownership of ideas, don’t hesitate to discuss. You’ll be respected and seen as confident, which is what every client wants in their agency.

And be sure to choose the right song and to sing it from the heart. Song choice is probably the most difficult yet critical part of a contestant’s Idol performance. And even when they pick the right song, if they don’t feel the emotion of it while performing they get dinged. Whatever you choose to present to a client, love it and sell it. Clients know you’ve been working in a false environment and there are no expectations to nail it. They want to see the passion you have for what you do and for their business.

Finally, let them get to know you as people. The contestants start sharing their lives with the judges and the voting public as early as the audition stage. Assuming the talent is there, the ones that open up the most, sharing the birth of a baby or a humble upbringing, are the ones we end up wanting to succeed. Clients hire people, not agencies. The more they feel like they know you and can work with you, the easier it is for them to choose you in the end.  

Publish date: May 17, 2010 © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT