Lesson 5: Get Your Hands Dirty

Lesson 5: Get Your Hands Dirty

This column is part of a 2024 series celebrating learnings from NST’s 50 years in business.

A learning and teaching culture has always been core to NST – and there is no better way to learn than to get your hands dirty by rolling up your sleeves, immersing yourself in your clients’ work and experiencing first-hand the principles often initially learned from a textbook or the accounts of others. The importance of this experiential learning is especially true in the early years as we hone our skills and plant seeds that grow into expertise.

Right out of school, I was immediately humbled by a red marker over my first media advisory, noting mistakes I learned never to repeat. Soon thereafter, I was interviewed on a local television station unexpectedly when a client didn’t show up for an early morning segment. The importance of media training had never been more apparent. A few years later, Kerry Tucker sat down in the middle of a planning session and told me to finish it, tossing me the metaphoric keys when he was tasked with leading the group to consensus. In all those instances, my first reaction was far from gratitude. Today, I recognize those lived experiences – and countless others – helped me become the practitioner and strategist I am today.

Those of us in the agency business know that learning never stops and there are no substitutes for learning by doing. In fact, it’s continuous and “getting your hands dirty” often means going to great lengths to understand our clients’ businesses and their target audiences. Earlier this year, we talked to dozens of cranberry growers one-on-one to understand what it’s like on the bogs. Last month, we joined the WD-40 Brand innovation team as we met future machinists and welders and watched them apply their skills to better understand their challenges. And later this year, we’ll serve meals to families in need at Ronald McDonald House Charities of San Diego. All these hands-on experiences allow us to better understand and serve our client partners.

More than two decades into my career, I’m always on the lookout for opportunities to continue learning by getting my hands dirty. Importantly, I’m also looking to create opportunities for team members to do the same, in ways they feel supported. In doing so, we not only grow our skillsets but also create memories and stories that enrich and make us better.