Salzman: 10 Lessons for Business and Life

In my head (never mind the wrinkles on my forehead), it seems like only yesterday that I was an eager, bright overachiever, dressed in a blur of designer labels—the Lower East Side and Loehmann’s still spelled fashion bargains—and thrift-store finds, lapping up insights and tips from the likes of my former boss and mentor, Jay Chiat. Twenty-odd years, literally millions of air miles and a career switch (from advertising to PR) later, the tables have turned.

I’m still an obsessive learner, but these days I’m the one mentoring and sharing stuff I’ve learned along the way, probably with the same impatience Jay and his A Team displayed when we wallowed in the reinvention of the third spoke of the wheel.

Here are some lessons that are top of mind for me as I prepare remarks for the American Association of Advertising Agencies’ Public Relations Conference, where I will trace my journey from Madison Avenue to Mars and back, mostly aboard Spaceship Cyberspace, the most extraordinary vessel and journey anyone could have.

1. Pack a light rucksack each morning and never overpromise as to where you’ll be tonight and tomorrow. With a 24/7 news cycle and 24/7 clients, there’s no telling when you’ll get a call that takes you to another city, state or country. As you’re rushing to make travel connections and managing business on the fly, you really don’t want to be hunting down personal essentials or making apologies at midnight—especially by SMS.

2. Subordinate your brand to the brands you steward. An important part of my work is understanding how to attract media interest. After thousands of appearances at conferences, in traditional media and increasingly in digital, I think I’m getting the hang of it. But it’s not about personal promotion. In all my media appearances I’m thinking in terms of furthering my employers’—and especially my clients’—visibility and interests. Particularly in this age of celebrity mania, bosses and clients need to be sure they’re not just funding the further development of Brand Me. If my visibility doesn’t help my agency win business and our clients’ brands thrive, I’m in major trouble. For me, sighting the “metrosexual” trend was at times troublesome because there were moments when it stopped making sense for the client (Peroni), my agency (Euro RSCG Worldwide) and my career (if I don’t have another major success, I’m doomed to having “Popularized metrosexual” on my tombstone; how’s that for pressure?).

"Men, no longer masters of all they survey, will need to adapt to being depicted either as stay-at-homemakers or sex objects for working women."" -President, Euro RSCG Worldwide , Marian Salzman

3. Always know your third place. There’s work and there’s home, and in our media-enriched world there’s now a third space that you inhabit, sometimes overlapping with the other two, sometimes in parallel, and sometimes separately: It’s where you choose your own stuff—what to read, hear, watch, create and discuss. Your third place is totally and uniquely you. Ultimately, it’s what will mark the territory for your personal and unique brand proposition. So think UBP. It’s a big deal. (And yes, you should still look after your personal brand; I said to subordinate your brand, not neglect it.)

4. Mix conventional and unconventional. People pay attention to whatever is a little out of the ordinary, but most shy away from anything downright weird. The trick is to be unconventional enough to stand out but not so much as to be left out. This raises the question: Conventional for which group? A dress code, language and style that are a little edgy for pharmaceutical marketers will be so last century for youth marketers. Ideas that fire up a tech audience might scare a finance-industry crowd. In any group, you need to understand the fringe (true innovators), the alphas (experimental novelty seekers) and the bees (keen to copy and share). You need to understand where you fit and where you perform best. It took me a long time to realize I will never be a hit with alphas; my audience is early adopters, aka bees.

5. Don’t remake yourself, but always renovate yourself. I’m not a fatalist, but as I see it, by the time you’re grown and working, your basics are in place and pretty difficult to change—you’ve got to make the best of what you’ve got. Going for a total ground-up rebuilding of mind and body might seem like an option in the Land of Second Chances, but it costs a packet of money, effort and time, and the results probably won’t justify it all. On the other hand, you absolutely must keep renovating yourself—learn new skills, acquire new habits, embrace a new look or even adopt a new lifestyle. My career renovated from consumer insights to new media, to new business, to newsmaking, with an overdose of social along the way.


6. Pick your boss wisely, because you’ll be spending a lot of time together, often in stressful situations. As with any committed relationship, it’s no good starting with serious doubts about your boss and hoping things will turn out well. It’s a matter of both personal chemistry and curation. Pick wisely and look after the relationship, and you’ll both reap rich rewards in your work together and long afterward. Finding the right boss for you can be a life-changing experience that feels like you’re accessing superpowers. I’ve been stunningly lucky with my bosses, from Jay and Bob Kuperman and Ira Matathia, to Alasdair Ritchie and Ed Vick and Linda Srere, to Bob Schmetterer and Ron Berger, to Bob Jeffrey and Lew Trencher, and now to David Jones and Donna Murphy. Life is always a growth experience, and usually a lot of fun, when you pick your bosses well.

7. Recognize your Kryptonite and adjust accordingly. Even Superman loses his powers when there’s Kryptonite around. Sometimes new factors enter the equation and sap your superpowers. Sometimes, even with the best of curation, you and your boss evolve in different directions. Sometimes things just get stuck. The key is recognizing the difference between temporary sticking points and truly immovable objects. You need to cultivate the social intuition, or your skills with tea leaves, to pick up on what’s happening with your workplace and co-workers. And if it’s time to fold ’em and move on, do it with grace.

8. Don’t graze; focus. For social and intellectual butterflies, the Internet might look like a realm of infinite possibilities, but it’s actually a trap of infinite distractions. One moment you’re clicking on a social media link, and three hours later you resurface like a zombie, wondering where the time went. Money comes and goes, but time only ever goes; it’s valuable, and you have to invest it rather than fritter it away. Focus is the key, especially in networking. It sounds so calculated, but it’s smart math.

9. Commit yourself to one or two extracurricular activities and engage deeply. Even with an insane work schedule—in fact, especially with an insane work schedule—your health and sanity will benefit if you commit to one or two non-work activities that feed body, mind and/or soul, whether it’s sports, music, community service, the arts … whatever hits the spot for you. When you’ve outgrown the challenge, move fully to the next without leaving ambiguity around your departure or next steps. Head out, move on and don’t look back.

10. Learn the world. I often hear people advising each other, “You’ve got to learn to say no.” Maybe that works for some who don’t mind missing out on big chunks of what the world has to offer, but the approach I’ve embraced is to never say “no” before you say “maybe.” And be prepared for that “maybe” to morph into a “yes” when you realize the possibilities. Sure, there are downsides—discomfort, exhaustion and a nonexistent work-life balance—which is why people advise what they do. But there’s a lot of world to learn about and experience, and you’re going to get more out of it with maybe than with no. This from a woman who found herself in South Africa and China in 1996, in Indonesia and China in 2003, and pretty much the world over when the ask came.

Perhaps the hardest, smartest “yes” I ever said was packing up me and my 9-month-old golden retriever and moving to a house I rented on the Internet in 1995—in Amsterdam, in a country I barely knew. From Holland, the world was my oyster, and AIM was my carrier pigeon.

“No” would have been the smart answer; “maybe” was the honest one; “yes” changed my life forever.

Marian Salzman is CEO of Euro RSCG Worldwide PR, North America. Named one of the world’s top five trendspotters, Salzman is best known for launching metrosexual mania in 2003, but she also created several other buzzes, including “the rise of singletons,” “It’s America Online,” Europe’s cyberspoon, globesity and “sleep is the new sex.” Author or co-author of 15 books, including Next Now and The Future of Men, she currently blogs on the Huffington Post, for the World Future Society, and at and