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Why We're Always Open



Bullfrog CEO Dalton Henshaw shares why full transparency is better for business, and more importantly, for people.

Why We're Always Open

Full transparency: I'm not an ad man. I got my first taste of advertising after founding The Tailored Man – this was back when blogs were bigger than Instagram. 

Working with brands every day, I started noticing a disconnect between how they saw themselves, and what their audience saw. Something was getting lost in translation between the brands and their advertising. 

Being a digital publishing platform, we only saw the end of the brief – and I wanted to be there from the start. So I started an ad agency, called Bullfrog. 

Breaking the ad bubble 

What drives Bullfrog forward is admitting that we don't know everything. And that’s a powerful thing to hold onto, because it opens you up to different kinds of creativity. 

With no agency background, I had (and still have) a lot of questions. I had to surround myself with people who knew more about the industry than I did. And now we need to open ourselves up to new perspectives outside the ad bubble. 

We've brought on an advisory board of experienced, non-industry execs to challenge the leadership team. They hold us accountable, help us sense-check business decisions, and open us up to unconventional ways of rolling. 

Yes, opening yourself up to advice will get you… a lot of advice. But the trick is to ask the right people the right questions. Then, like any mentorship, it's up to you what you get out of it. 

Some people are afraid to ask questions they don't know the answer to. They see it as a weakness. But looking someone in the eye (whether they’re a client or employee) and telling them you don't have the answer – but you will find it for them – that's strength. 

Showing the scoreboard 

Call me naïve, but Bullfrog's early success has only come from being completely honest with our clients. There can be a temptation to keep clients at arm's length. But if they’re not allowed into our process, they’re unlikely to understand the value of what we do.

And it can be just as exclusive inside agency walls. 

Advertising seems to operate on a need-to-know basis. Whether it's closed-door conversations in the c-suite, creatives competing in secret or surprise 'restructures', the industry has turned its ego inwards, creating a culture of information hoarding. This leaves all but a select few playing the game without knowing what the score is. 

At Bullfrog, we made a conscious decision to share it all. New leads, revenue, recruitment, budgets, business goals – everything. And not just because we want Creatives to understand the importance of timesheets (although it helps). If we expect our people to take ownership of their work, they deserve to understand their individual impact. And for that, they need to see the scoreboard. 

Welcoming criticism 

I used to think that having your shit together (or appearing to) was the goal. But now, the worst thing I can think of is becoming someone who others are afraid to question. 

There’s an assumption that the more senior you become, the fewer questions you need to ask. And many leaders will resist asking for feedback because it might derail their plans. And it's true; the minute you ask, "How am I doing?" you open yourself up to critique. But it also shows you how you can improve, if you're open to it. 

We’re always in reflection mode at Bullfrog, asking ourselves: "Will this work for the business and our people?" It can be as easy as encouraging new starters to co-write their job descriptions based on their strengths and what motivates them. Or as difficult as turning down new business that doesn't align with our values or capacity. 

Being brave enough to be vulnerable to feedback will only create better work, and a stronger culture that people want to be part of. 

Un-blurring boundaries 

Hands up if you've ever worked 24 hours straight. 

Building a people-first, successfully run, profitable business is a challenge – especially in an industry notorious for not looking after its people. We've had to think long and hard about what an agency really needs, avoiding a model that wastes resources, overworks staff, and relies on inflated retainers. 

Nobody is suggesting we prevent passionate people from giving their all to the work. But if you burn the candle at both ends, you're going to burn out. And we’re building a team who are in it for the long haul. 

I know it's just business, but I do take it personally. The hardest (and most rewarding) part of being a leader is making sure your people are not only happy, fulfilled, and motivated, but empowered to fiercely guard their lives outside of work. And you absolutely have to lead by example. 

So, leaders, leave loudly. Let them see the scoreboard. Let your guard down. And never stop asking questions – especially when you're afraid of what the answer might be. 

One of my biggest fears is being too transparent. But it's not about me, is it?

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Bullfrog, Thu, 15 Sep 2022 00:43:26 GMT