TAKEAWAY: This is part 15 of my occasional series 40 Years/40 Lessons, which I call a “sort of career memoir” capturing highlights and reminiscing about what has been a spectacular journey for me, doing what I love most. Today’s segment: all about the importance of behaving ethically. PLUS: This front page from Mexico’s Diario de Morelos pleads for peace
Illustration by Ana Lense Larrauri/The Miami Herald
The book of consultants states that it is dishonest for a consultant to engage his/her services with competing clients. It also states that consultants have a responsibility to treat each client with the same 100% effort—whether they are a major brand in a dream city, or a small regional title in some small city with no airport where access is only possible thru camels or llamas. And, one of the most important chapters in this fat guide to a trouble-free professional life as a consultant: always consider yourself a guest in the house of your clients, so don’t meddle on internal affairs, and leave the room diplomatically when a discussion erupts of a rather intimate nature.
Oh, how I wish such a book existed. I am making all of this up, of course, but what is true and that some of these rules should be available for us to consult from time to time.
Nobody comes into the world of consulting with all the answers. Forty years later, I don’t think any truthful consultant will tell you that they retired with all the answers. However, the many bumps along the road of consulting work teach lessons here and there,and some of those I present here.
It is all about ethics, perhaps, but more about using common sense and acting in such a way that you can go to bed each night, put your head on that pillow and not have a care in the world.
First, respect the boundaries of competition and your clients. If you are hired to do project A in city A, make sure you do not offer your services to project B in city A. If two publications compete, then you offer your wisdom/talent/insights to ONE of them. Of course, if there is a comfortable (minimum five years) period of distance between when you did Project A and when you are solicited to do Project B, that, to me, is a minimum.
You see, if you are doing your job right as a consultant, then you are not holding anything back, and, in return, the client must tell you everything that is important to the project, including washing some of the “dirty laundry” that is inevitable when briefing for a project. It is not very ethical for a consultant with such detailed information of how the kitchen of Project A works, to turn around and start cooking a big souffle in the kitchen of Project B. Just not acceptable.
I have faced the situation of two competing publications calling at the same time, and it was always tough to make those choices, especially when the first project to call you was less significant in the overall scheme of things than the second project approaching you.
But, no thanks, has been my answer, and I do not regret it.
Somehow, the clients whom I served eventually found out that I refused their competitor even 7 years after I had worked with them initially, and they called to express gratitude and, of course, to reengage me for further work.
Loyalty is not served to secure business. Loyalty is granted so that we can be happier with ourselves, a lesson my parents taught me. I am happy to say that close to 75% of my business is return business, something that is a testimonial to loyalty. Along the way, I lost out on some two or three high visibility projects that I would have loved to tackle. Regrets? None.
It is not easy to convince a client sometimes that YOU can’t do them because you did the competition. I remember one case where a high visibility client offered to take me to a remote location with three key people of his team, to do some specific part of a project; this project clashed head on with one of my high profile projects.
I said no and the client understood. So I passed on my one chance to see the Maldives, perhaps, or Bali, have no idea what remote island of the globe is where consultants under cammouflage are flown to.
Between us, the world is a neighborhood, and with Twitter, Facebook and instant emails, how can you truly be anonymous in an island and the world not find out?
Anyway, it was not considered, and that was that.
The stealing of talent
The consultant who travels the world KNOWS where the talented people are, from editors, to subeditors, to designers, art directors, illustrators and publishers. Just the way we know where the best canteen for a media house is, or where they make the best mid morning expressos, or where the secretaries know just the way you like your Cola Light in mid afternoon.
But knowing does not mean stealing.
When I fly from point A to B, I usually fantasize about “dream teams” if I could take the editor from A, the art director from B, the publisher from C, and the info graphics specialist from D.
But that is just fantasy. Upon landing, I know that each of these people belong where they are, and if they wish to relocate, they must initiate that themselves. I am not a head hunter. I am not an employment agency.
It is inevitable, however, that people with whom I work directly on these projects get to know me, and, eventually, the question comes: Mario, I have been here 11 years (or 15), and I am ready for other challenges, do you know of a place looking for an art director?
My first reaction: Have you told the boss here? Perhaps if the boss knows, you can be relocated to a different position.
The only way that I help this art director relocate is if the boss tells me that “This person has ran his course here, and we cannot offer him anymore than we have”
That gives me the green light to offer the talents of this person to a different organization, if I believe in the person, of course.
Consultants who discover and steal talent, uprooting it from its source, usually do not last long in this business.
Respect your peers
Finally, and here I go back to my sweet mother, who always taught me to walk in other people’s shoes before taking action.
Don’t do to others what you would not like them to do to you.
This is an industry, like many others, where there is a good amount of jealousy, rivalry, and tearing down of souls.
My take on this is simple: I do not devote time to cutting down the work of other people, as I am too busy devoting time and effort to my own work on a daily basis. I made it a part of this blog’s protocol that it would never be used to do destructive criticism of any body’s work; there are many platforms where this is done with plenty of gusto. The world does not need another one. I prefer to cook caramel custards in my kitchen, not sour wanton soup.
I have great respect for many of my peers and competitors, and a number of them have been interviewed right in this blog, prompting some to ask me: why would you interview and give such play to someone who pitches for the same projects you do?
I do it because I respect them, their work, and, in many cases, they are my friends going back decades. In addition, TheMarioBlog is above everything a teaching tool, a tribune for the exchange of ideas. If someone has a worthwhile idea to contribute, then let’s hear it here.
And because part of what makes me a positive person is that I am proud of the work I do and how I do it, and I respect the individual differences that separate us consultants. There is, I believe, room for the many talents out there waiting to be hired.
But, of course, the “child” in me is taken aback when I hear some of what is going on.
Take, for example, this incident which I have never shared with anyone: the venue was Denver, October 2010 and I was honored with a special reception at SND for my 40 years in the business.
I still have the best memories of that evening, surrounded by friends and colleagues for whom I have the greatest respect and affection.
But, upon finishing the ceremony, as I came down the steps of the stage, a tall man approached me and introduced himself.
The name was familiar to me, and I told him so. Then he proceeded to tell me the following, which left me speechless:
“Mario, seeing this wonderful testimonial to you I now understand so much more about you. I want you to know that I have spent the last 14 years consoling a colleague of ours who claims he always loses projects to you and he can’t explain why? I now now why he does.“
Wow, I thought. How can someone be so consumed by someone else’s work for such a long period of time? Would it not be better to spend that time creating, studying and contributing ideas to a world that needs them? Ironically, I thought, I have never given this person (who remains nameless here) two seconds of my time or thoughts. Or perhaps I took to heart one of my first lessons upon landing in America, from my 8th grade civics teacher:
“America is the land of opportunity and competition. Teams compete; companies compete; it is healthy and it makes our country richer.“
To this day, I confess I am somewhat haunted by that brief conversation in Denver, a pinch on my yellow balloon at a time when I was on a high about the honoring ceremony that preceded that moment.
Tip: If you are passionate about what you do, if you are so absolutely involved in your work, there is little time for thinking of what the others are or are not doing. I dance to the rhythm of the music I hear, and it is not necessarily the one others may hear, or the music that may be trendy. It is Mario’s music, period. Some may not like it. It does not mean they have to stop for even a second to question my liking it or the steps I take when dancing to its tune.
Move forward, not sideways. Believe in what you do and stamp your work with your unique identity. Celebrate, don’t lament. And celebrate your craft and the good things happening in it, even when YOU are not the engine behind them.
The book of consultants would probably do little to turn a negative, rancorous person into a positive one, although God knows that we need one to do just that. If it is any consolation, these people usually self destruct along with whatever talents they may have.
And, in fact, if I had the courage to write The Book of Consultants, I think I would consider the image of a pair of shoes on the cover for it is not so much about ethics but about always walking in the shoes of the other person one may be dealng with. Do that for at least 30 seconds before you say or do anything. It makes life easier and sleeping much more peaceful.
14. The Pitch.
Asking for peace on Page One
Here is a front page that stands out as different, because it is. We received it today from Daniel Esqueda, of Daniel Esqueda Cpnosultores with the following explanation:,
This is today’s front page for Diario de Morelos that we made. It’s been almost a week since the killing of the son of Javier Sicilia (famous writer and poet in Morelos). His son was killed with other seven persons. Today there will be a big demonstration not only in Cuernavaca but in other states in Mexico because of the violence that has been raising in recent months and nothing seems to be happening. I think this is a good way for the newspaper to be part of the community.
We agree. One thing is for sure: regular readers of Diario de Morelos will get an immediate visual message when they get their newspaper. Instead of any news, the front page pleads for peace in a place where people are certainly likely to agree with the editors’ intentions.