Media Perspective: Empathy is a quality that's all too rare in the agency bubble

Particularly attentive readers of Campaign will have noticed that I will soon start a proper job with a proper agency - dialling down the solo mucking about (though not entirely abandoning it) and signing papers with a large communications network.

I'm rather looking forward to it. It's been a long time since I've done a long, sustained piece of work, since I've been part of a properly global organisation and since I've felt the disciplined thwack of a timesheet on my back.

But I thought, before I re-entered the workforce, it might be useful to jot down some of the things I noticed while out of it. And then I thought: hang on - you write a column for Campaign, why not jot them down in there?

I've worked in a number of ways in the past few years. I've been a client, I've worked as a freelancer for agencies and clients, on media, design, brand, advertising and projects, for big companies and small on most of the continents of the world. I've done training and consulting. I've been a writer and a creative. I've run my own small business, I've raised money with VCs, I've hired developers and venues. And, in every thing I've done, there's been a moment when I've seen into someone else's professional life, when I've looked over the fence to somewhere I used to be and I've seen all the stupid mistakes I made while working for an agency. I'd like to think I'm going to remember those failures in my new job.

And that's probably the biggest single lesson I've learned living outside the agency bubble - the importance of empathy.

Most of the failures I've seen have stemmed from not thinking about what life at the other end of the phone, pitch or presentation might be like. We get trapped in our own agenda and forget that the people we're dealing with are, in fact, that - people. I remember countless times in agency life, working on some much-delayed vital project, endlessly repeating the mantra: "In six months' time, they won't remember the work was late, they'll remember that it was brilliant."

How I shuddered the first time, acting as a client, that the work was horribly late. Because it's not just about that meeting and that context. It's about the consequences up, down and across the organisation; it's about the fact that, maybe, that particular piece of work isn't as important as the agency thinks it is and, crucially, it's about not getting home in time for the school play.

So, that's what I'm going to try to write about for the next few weeks: what life's like in other people's shoes, so we can spread peace and understanding across the media world.