Valuing the Introverts in Advertising


5 Suggestions for Managing Them Better.

We keep hearing that advertising has moved from the age of interruption to conversation – listening to and talking to consumers, rather than talking at them.  But do we practice that with each other in our professional interactions in advertising?  Do we listen to the naturally quieter amongst us and give them time and space to speak?

Over the Christmas break I got the chance to catch up on some long form reading (I think they used to be called ‘books’) and read one that really resonated with me: ‘Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking’, by Susan Cain.

The book talks about two basic traits in individuals – extroversion and introversion.  These are two ends of a spectrum rather than an ‘either-or’ scenario, but broadly the book posits that people tend towards one or other trait based on how they take in energy and stimulation from their world.  Extroverts are charged up and energised by social interaction especially in group settings and they find alone time or introspection quite challenging and difficult.  Introverts on the other hand find hectic socialising draining, they prefer smaller sized groups or one-on-one interaction more fulfilling and rewarding and they recharge when they have solitude and alone time.

It took me back to the start of my career in advertising as a graduate, when I joined a full service ad agency (Irish International) and found my first ever office environment a little overwhelming and intimidating.  After years of school and college study, suddenly work was all day long interacting with other people in a hectic and high energy office.  It was a bit of a shock to the system, but I remember my first manager (tip of the cap to Dave McGloughlin) who put the figurative arm around my shoulder and encouraged me by saying – ‘you’ve a great personality, just don’t be afraid to share it a bit more’.  Which was a lovely way to say ‘be a bit more vocal around the place’, without actually putting it that way.  Because right after ‘cheer up, it may never happen!’, is there anything more annoying that being told to be ‘louder’?

Gradually I came out of my shell, I got more comfortable in an office environment and learned how to interact and express myself better.  I’m the richer for having learned to do that and without wanting to be big headed about it, I think advertising is much better off when it makes space for those who tend to reflect a bit more, be a bit more considered and thoughtful before they pipe up.  I can think of lots of colleagues, past and present, who would fit the description of introvert and are hugely valuable to their agencies and clients.  

What can we do to encourage our more introverted colleagues and make space for the great value they bring?  Here’s a few thoughts, borrowed and adapted from Susan Cain:

1. One-to-one time – introverts respond well and open up more in a quieter more private space.  At the end of a department or group meeting when you ask ‘Any questions?  No?  Great!’, there may well be questions that some people don’t feel comfortable asking in that environment, but would really love to ask face to face later.

2. Brainstorming – if given time, introverts will bring great ideas to a meeting, but asking them to fire out half-formed ideas and to express them before they’ve thought them through is really tough (it’s tough for anyone!).  A lot of evidence says idea generation sessions are better for everyone if there’s time given in advance to think about the challenge and bring some ideas to the meeting.

3. Presenting – Introverts can be great presenters, just brief them in time and give them time to prepare.  They won’t get a buzz out of ‘winging it’ like an extrovert might.

4. Feedback – Generally they’ll respond better to encouragement and gentler direction than the hairdryer treatment.  Obviously you can’t dance around people for fear of upsetting, when you have to be firm and direct, then of course you do that.  

5. Sociability – no matter how valuable introverts are, social interaction is crucial to our business, be it with clients, colleagues or suppliers.  Over the years this is something I’ve gotten better and better at and have really enjoyed.  But it take time to learn and you can help, advise and encourage your introverted colleagues to get out there and be more sociable in a way that’s manageable for them.

With people who tend towards the introvert end of the personality spectrum (remember, it’s a continuum), you get the qualities of thoughtful consideration, accuracy, diligence, tenacity, determination and you get great listeners with emotional intelligence.  You don’t think of introverts as natural leaders, they often aren’t, but they can be great leaders and managers and history is full of them: Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Al Gore, Larry Page, Barack Obama, Michael Jordan and more.

When we do Meyers Briggs type tests in company training sessions and we get our personality profiles and colour wheels, everyone wants to score higher in the ‘Red’ colour, because this signifies extroversion, confidence and natural leadership.  But there are all different styles of management and leadership.  We did a session like this in Carat recently with the excellent Insights Discovery company, where I scored the lowest (by a mile!) in the red colour, but somehow am actually the Managing Director of the company, which just goes to prove the point.

To the more introverted amongst you starting your career in advertising, I say – stick with it, there’s plenty of room for you and no limit to where you can go.  To those managing the introverts, especially starting out, I say make room, nurture and encourage them because you need a mix of people and personalities in your organisation and I really believe you’ll see the value and return on that investment.

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