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Often Wrong, Never in Doubt
The Self-Entitlement Injection Theory
The key to success is not purely who's the smartest, who's the best, but also who can say with conviction, "I deserve it." The entire concept is wrapped up in one phrase: Why not me?
Why not me? You can't just say it, you've got to own it.
In order to pitch $10-million accounts, you've got to say, "We should be pitching." Who's going to get that $10-million account? Why not me? Why stop at $10 million? Or $100-million accounts? Why not me? Whenever I say those words to people, they laugh. They hear their own wheels turning, they realize how far they are from acting on that kind of question, and they laugh.
How'd I figure this out? Richie Kirshenbaum taught me without even knowing it.
Richie Kirshenbaum was the first guy I ever hired. He was maybe six months out of Syracuse University, working for a small agency called Korey Kay & Partners. If I was thirty he was twentysix, a clever, funny, fast-talking guy. He had a lot of fun headlines in his book, so I hired him.
We got along great. I was the main front guy; Richie did a lot of the writing. It seemed to be working.
After two years David Deutsch Associates was starting to make some inroads. We weren't seen as one of the hot shops, the sexy, bigger-name creative agencies like Chiat/Day or Ammirati Puris. We didn't have a lot of notoriety; we were this little boutique print house that had been around for fifteen years that was making more noise than we used to. We were a small, high-end creative shop and we were known as a small, high-end creative shop.
Richie could havebeen a Borscht Belt comedian. He was great with one-liners, a fast-talking storyteller not unlike early Woody Allen. A typical neurotic, self-deprecating Long Island Jewish guy. I thought of him as my protégé, my sidekick, and we had a lot of fun together. When, after two years, he left to go work at J. Walter Thompson, I understood. He was going to a bigger place, more money, more responsibility. Time to move on. No big deal. We remained friends.
About six months later I heard that Richie was going to start his own agency with some guy I'd never heard of. I laughed and dismissed it. "Boy, he's certainly not equipped to start an ad agency." Lot of balls, that kid. "Oh yeah," I said to myself, "that'll last a week."
The first campaign they did was for Kenneth Cole shoes. Very controversial, political ads. Not about shoes at all; about the attitude behind the shoes. It was an immediate hit. They did a couple more controversial campaigns. In those days everyone read Bernice Kanner's advertising column in New Yorkmagazine. One week Kanner wrote a two-page spread about how Richie Kirshenbaum was running the agency of the moment. Here was this little pischer, a couple of months into it, he'd done a few nifty ads and positioned himself, and he had the hot agency!
I got insanely jealous.
That lasted about a minute. Then my jealousy turned to "Ah ha!" Wait a second, I figured; here's a guy who I actually know. Richie and I have worked side by side. I think I'm smarter than this guy. I think I'm a harder worker. I think I've got a bigger set of balls. I lived with this guy for two years; now I'm reading about him. What's wrong with this picture? How did this happen? What's Richie got that I haven't got that's making him so hot?
No bells started flashing, no lightbulb went on over my head, but it didn't take long for me to figure it out. Richie had a fully developed sense of entitlement. He'd clearly said to himself, "Why shouldn't I have the next hot agency?" Richie was looking to make his mark on the world. His answer was, "I should."
What hit me was that Richie went into his new company saying, "We're going to be the next hot agency," and worked back from there. "What do I have to do?" He'd figured, "If I want a hot agency, I've got to do a specific type of work that not only pleases the client but is also going to get a certain kind of attention."
Me? I wasn't even dreaming that David Deutsch Associates would get written up in New York.We had been grinding all along but never thought it was possible. Million-dollar clients? Out of our league. If someone had asked me, "Why shouldn't you have the next hot agency?" I'd have had every answer in the world except the right one. Richie Kirshenbaum showed me I was wrong. Why couldn't we do work like I was reading about? That could be us. That shouldbe us. We could pitch anybody. But first we had to own it. If we wanted to be written about, we'd first have to create the kind of ads that garner attention. Why not me? From then on I started to do ads that would make waves.
It also didn't hurt that I now had someone driving me crazy. It's good, in business, to have someone to shoot at, someone you want to knock off his pedestal. Makes it personal. I didn't hate Richie—I actually had a lot of affection for him—but I hated his success; we were still bigger, but he was the agency of the moment, the agency du jour. He had no business getting the kind of attention that was coming at him. I used that as a tool. My guiding principle became: Why Not Me?Often Wrong, Never in Doubt. Copyright © by Donny Deutsch. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.