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A Note Regarding the Value of Placement at The Richards Group

One hallmark of a Richards Group career is the “total compensation package” – discussed at our annual profit sharing meeting, again at our annual year-end stairwell, and again (!) at each employee’s annual review.

We’re constantly reminded that our base salary is merely a portion of our overall income. And for good reason: The company has some pretty handsome benefits, not the least of which is a 15 percent annual profit sharing bonus. I’ve stayed at The Richards Group for over a decade largely because of these benefits.

But throughout my tenure at The Richards Group, an additional component of my total compensation package has edified my life as much as any nest egg ever will: I’ve had the distinct privilege of sitting next to the brightest, smartest, most focused, most talented woman in the world of advertising: Diane Fannon.

When I say, “sitting next to,” I really mean NEXT TO. Since our agency’s migration to a benching system in 2015, the only thing separating Diane and me has been a 20-inch partition and the occasional pair of noise-canceling headphones.

And when I say, “brightest, smartest, most focused, most talented woman,” I do so without the slightest hint of hyperbole. In fact, on my proverbial bookshelf of wisdom, Diane Fannon outranks even the best-selling authors Sandberg, Frankel, and Huffington.

As a woman in the still male-dominated creative side of our industry, I’ve read countless pages of literature, listened to endless hours of podcasts, attended multiple seminars, and heard earfuls of advice on female leadership, breaking through the boys’ club, and managing the work/life balance. Yet nothing has taught me how to navigate this field better than the mentorship I’ve enjoyed simply from observing my neighbor at work.

The lessons have come not via scheduled coffees or intentional interviews but simply through everyday actions, overheard conversations, and tiny moments of seemingly trivial exchanges. Here are a few of my favorites:

Delight in the details.
Diane once promptly discarded (well, donated) an otherwise lovely Kate Spade watch simply because she realized that its face bore a misused ellipsis. For me, there’s no better example of her affection for perfection in the little things. But it isn’t just Diane’s disdain for those three little dots, her solid understanding of gerund usage, or her MENSA-dwarfing vocabulary that I admire. I also think fondly of how she remembered to send me an encouraging email the morning of my wedding. How after finishing an important call with some Fortune 500 business leader, she promptly dialed an intern to tell him how much she admired a headline he tossed out in a meeting. And how no matter how busy she was or where she was traveling, she always kept her (free!) jar of Peanut M&Ms fully stocked.

Fail gracefully and graciously.
Years ago, upon hearing that we were about to lose a very large piece of business under less than fair circumstances, Diane gathered the team and said, “I am not happy about this situation, but I am not stupid. And I am definitely not unprofessional, so we are all going to proceed with dignity and the utmost integrity.” And we did. That’s all there was to it. There was no grumbling or bitterness or blame-gaming. We could have wasted so much time and energy lamenting our fate, but instead, we accepted it and moved right on.

Check your gender at the door (but also play to your strengths).
Diane is wickedly smart and highly persuasive. She can go toe-to-toe with anyone – male or female – and triumph. But I don’t think she’s ever aspired to be “one of the guys.” She knows she doesn’t have to. Her unique brand of leadership exudes an empathy that I firmly believe is native to her second X chromosome. Ultimately, her signature mix of impeccable standards and playful professionalism begets a leadership that is universally appealing. When I look at Diane, I do not see a woman who has managed to break through the glass ceiling. I see someone disinterested in dignifying its very existence.

Work to live.
The only time I’ve ever heard Diane raise her voice on the phone was when advocating for her mother. (Some idiot had tried to take advantage of Sally. I pity the fool.) This unyielding dedication to family, husband, cats, and Rhode Island cottage is an amazing example for anyone who commits to a life in advertising. Because while Diane has taught so many of us how to excel in this business, she’s also showed us how to excel as people. So it’s fitting that she’s again leading by example and hanging up her official career cap in exchange for an SPF 200 golfing hat.

I will carry these – and countless other – DF lessons with me until the day I pack up my own desk and retire. I will remember the importance of standing one’s ground without stomping all over somebody else’s, the art of disagreeing without discord, the ability to handle conversations firmly but never forcefully, the efficiency of ordering all your Salvation Army Angel Tree gifts immediately through Amazon Prime, and the mantra, “If your hair grows during work hours, it should be cut during work hours.”

When I first learned that Diane would be my bench mate, I was terrified that my proximity to such a high-ranking agency leader would be the end of me.

Today, as I shamelessly looted all the desktop odds and ends Diane will no longer need in her out-of-office life, she said, “You didn’t know sitting next to me would be so incredibly lucrative.”

Truer words have never been spoken.

Categories: Advertising, Industry, Jobs, LinkedIn

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