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Dec06

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Constantinople

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Network shop vs. Independent. If you're in our business long enough, you'll inevitably have the debate-if not with colleagues, at least within your own skull. Truth is, there are incredibly talented agencies populating the world's largest conglomerates. And many who remain outside the gates, with shiny slingshots ever ready to take on the big guys. Great work happens in both camps. There is no clear right or wrong. No black-bearded villains with eye patches. No singing cowboys wearing white hats.

Just different.

That said, I recently had an experience that gave me new perspective on being part of Rodgers Townsend DDB. Somehow (must've been a clerical error in H.R.), I was selected to attend a week-long training course in Istanbul. I'll give you a moment for the understandable eye roll. But the fact is, while I saw very little of this beautiful East meets West destination, I departed Turkey feeling immersed in something bound to have lasting effect.

Starting bright and early on Monday at the impressive Medina Turgul DDB, I met the 17 other participants. Of course, that was after my balmy 45-minute trek, which should've been 15. First lesson. Google Maps does NOT understand addresses like Tuzambari Kasimpasa, Bedrettin Mah. Havuzbasi, Degrimeni Sok. No: 2, 34440, Beyoglu.

Anyway, once the sweaty American from St. Louis settled in, I worked with my initial teammates from Germany, Turkey, Poland and Nigeria. Long first day. With the 8-hour time difference, it started just after midnight and ended about 11 a.m. C.S.T.

Tuesday meant a new assignment with a new team that would spend the rest of the week weighing and debating 300 decisions in a simulation that represented three years running a fictional, though I'm sure based on real events, agency. Geert from Brussels, Matt from the UK, Angelika from Poland and Vesa from Finland. Much respect for these guys, especially the three reading, writing and arguing in their second or third language.

We pitched business, won business, lost business. We made personnel decisions, managed creative egos and stroked too-smart-for-their-own-good planners. All that and then some. But the best thing we did was simply interact and learn from one another. No question about it.

The exercise itself was great learning, but sharing real work or getting an opinion on an idea brewing back home in St. Louis was truly fun. Made me proud. Checking out the award-winning John Lewis work from Adam & Eve DDB or taking a shot at an English translation for a print ad in Helsinki. Over beers we talked about their lives back home, their unique agency situations and how they deal with the universal struggles we face in this business.

So what did I bring back besides some pistachio and fig candies that didn't move very fast in the RT kitchen?

The confirmation that we're already doing a lot right, right here. Renewed faith that if we fiercely protect our product and tirelessly support our people, everything else will come. And a working theory that we're at our best and a contributing member of the family when we maintain our independent spirit and personality that made us attractive to DDB in the first place. We're a network of people. More specifically, people who make things. At our best, special things that move others.

All that makes us different--background, culture and experience building influence for some of the most influential brands in the world--makes us an agency to be reckoned with. In our own red-brick city on the Mississippi or anywhere clients want 360° thinking that widens eyes and raises hands.

I didn't have to travel halfway around the world to learn these things. But now I know I like simit and goat cheese for breakfast. I know how to get lost in a labyrinth of cobblestone streets with names that sound like I'm hacking something up. I know there are 17 customs agents now wearing the Cardinals hats that never arrived. And most importantly, I know some great people with the letters DDB on their business cards.

But man, it's good to be home.

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