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Suzanna Bierwirth at Prototypes, Process & Play 2017 (Podcast)

This podcast features Suzanna Bierwirth, Chief Creative Officer of The Mars Agency, and her Lightning Talk, “Managing Up, Down & Sideways” from the design leadership conference Prototypes, Process & Play on August 11th, 2017.

Prototypes, Process & Play presentation podcasts are sponsored by Balsamiq – with Balsamiq Mockups, anyone can design great software.

Suzanna Bierwirth – Lightning Talk

Chief Creative Officer of The Mars Agency

Consumer-first through-the-line thinker. Empowering Leader. Passionate Business Builder. Mother. Maker. Instigator.

Raised and educated as a visual artist in Germany, I am relentless in my pursuit to make work that is meaningful, memorable and beautiful. I am left and right brained, and continually deploy both art and science, to create programs that engage consumers, change minds and evoke behavior. I believe there has never been a more exciting time to be in marketing. I love that we have to move faster and be more intuitive and inventive than ever before. And with the lines now blurred between all disciplines and channels, I know anything and everything is possible.

Managing Up, Down & Sideways

Congrats–you finally got promoted! You𔄩ve gotten your seat at the table and now you𔄩re learning that it𔄩s no longer just about the work. It𔄩s also about the politics within your own organization and the clients. These tips are what I have learned over the years–from Junior Art Director to Chief Creative Officer–and none of them involve kissing ass or sucking up. It𔄩s all about empathy.

Presentation Transcript

Please note:

Podcast transcript below.​ Please note: Transcription was recorded live; there may be errors (typographical and contextual), as well as omissions or other content gaffes.

​Additionally,​ there was microphone feedback that happened in the room from time to time, and we did our best to minimize it in the podcasts. We apologize for any disruptions to your listening experience that this may cause.

Suzanna Bierwirth:

I managed to become the CCO. – I think anybody here that isn’t managing, ask yourselves if you really want to become a manager. And I’ve seen that mistake over and over. That I promote people – I’m going to promote you. And they get all quiet. I don’t want a promotion. I don’t want to become a manager.


– And making everybody better. He said okay, I can do that. – So Russ asked me to give some hard core tips. So I wanted to start with how you’re going to manage yourself once you are a manager. – From now on everybody is going to judge you on how your team works. And do your team a favor and – you got to let it go to help them get there. And sometimes it’s really hard to train people. Because in the end you will be judged by everything that comes out of your team. So again delegate.

And then the first thing I think – more responsibility, managing people is find the core team, your inner circle. People you can totally trust. You need somebody who can call your bullshit. Somebody you can fully trust.

– I took over, the first thing I did, I trained them. I didn’t have to worry about it. They know how I work. And then the last thing is don’t change yourself. Don’t think you have to be perfect.

Don’t change that. Just perfect that. – If you are a project manager, don’t think – Don’t waste your time on trying to be someone you’re not. Take what you are, make it work, and perfect yourself. Does that make sense? – How much time do I have?


Ten minutes.

Suzanna Bierwirth:

Okay. Manage your people. Managing your people is the most fun. You got to know why they are there –

The second one is, yeah, the last one is actually – it’s your responsibility. So if your team doesn’t meet the deadline – because you don’t give them enough resource to make the deadline. – E‑mail. How do I want to receive information? – to think about. Not memos this is how I want to receive information. It’s never going to happen.

And the last one is don’t leave me hanging. I have a boss, too. If some bullshit happens, get to me right away. I like texts. If something happens, send me a text. So I can tell my boss when my boss comes into my office and says “What the fuck.”


I already have ideas on how we can make it all better. The next one is don’t come crying, oh my God, I don’t want to do something. Just come to me and say – information, are we going to do this or that. I don’t know if we should do this or that. What do you think? That helps me a lot better than you coming and dumping a whole load of shit on my plate. Because it would be nice if – so I can help.

Russ, isn’t that true? Are you testing if she can understand my accent?


She’s okay.

Suzanna Bierwirth:

I always get the weirdest messages on this translation. So no problem with our solution and no surprises ever. But then the other one that I noticed is when you come to me or when I go to my boss, I kind of have a plan. I don’t just go there. And what do you really want to have happen when you go there? Like last week I went to – and there were more people. – and I would have gotten nothing. So what I did is I went and – there was so much more that we could do for this client. But I don’t have enough people. Oh my God. Did you run it through finance? Of course I ran it through finance. We’re using X‑amount of dollars. –


And I said – I made him feel really good about himself. – always make them feel it was their idea. I know I should fight that. Just dealing with it.

Those are my management tips. And do I have time for questions?


Two questions.

Suzanna Bierwirth:

Two questions. Anybody?


Is that what they call a shit sandwich?


Nice haircut.



So my question is how do you get feedback as “the boss.” Because I’ve been in situations where my boss has asked me for feedback and it’s hard to navigate the right feedback and the right tone. How do you have confidence that you’re getting feedback as a leader, a manager, sort of higher up in the food chain? How do you ensure that you’re getting?

Suzanna Bierwirth:

Giving or getting?


Getting. It’s harder to get feedback.

Suzanna Bierwirth:

Feedback from my boss basically.


Or from your team.

Suzanna Bierwirth:

Well feedback from my boss because I know what my boss is up against. I know what keeps him up at night so I know why he is saying what he said. Feedback from my team, I have my trusted advisers that I know when they’re telling me I did that wrong. I trust them.

You have to earn that trust. But there is always a little bit of truth. So I do think we are – So my team set me down.


One more question. Anybody? Okay.


When you talk about people – do you have advice on how to find the right balance?

Suzanna Bierwirth:

What I do is I tell them something that they might not know how to do – actually enjoy doing. And I don’t try to persuade them. Unless it’s completely stupid. Why not? Everybody wants to try – But what I see is people –

I’m done, right?


You’re done!


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