Monday, July 26, 2010

Fear Hurts Creativity

Why Is Everyone So Scared?

I have observed fear in the advertising business. I am sure advertising is no different than most other businesses, but it is what I know best.

Everyone is afraid. Agencies are afraid of their clients firing them. Employees are afraid that their agencies will fire them. Senior executives are afraid of their holding companies.  The sad part is that fear enables bad work to be concieved, sold and produced.

Fear manifests itself in many subtle ways. A good friend of mine is a career coach. She uses my office occasionally. Recently, she was here to see a confirmed appointment. She got stood up – no call, no email, no text. A day later, her appointment told her that there was a business emergency that was so critical she didn’t have the time to call to cancel. Huh? How long would it take to send a text or email?

Some would pass this incident off as mere rudeness and lack of manners. It might be so, but it happens so often that I believe it is more than discourtesy - it is fear. Last week I had a 9:00am appointment with an agency senior vice president. On the morning of the appointment I received a text message timed at 11:30 the night before, saying the client had called a 9:00am meeting. Again, huh? A client disturbed her in the middle of the evening? When I met my candidate we discussed that the client called her at home. I asked her why she didn’t say something to her client since the meeting was not an emergency. She told me that she was afraid to say something to the client, “After all, we are in a service business.”

My candidate missed the point. Being in a service business does not mean that we have to allow clients to walk all over us and be rude and uncaring. Calling an account person at home in the middle of the evening is a control thing. It shows a complete lack of respect for the agency and its people.

It reminded me of an incident when I was an account person. At the time I worked for a wonderful agency, McCaffrey and McCall. We were pitching an account and I was the account lead. True to this client’s reputation, the director of advertising actually called and woke me at 2 am with an idea; we didn’t even have the business yet. He wanted me in his office at 8:30am to discuss it. I agreed to go, but I also told him that calling me in the middle of the night and scaring me half to death was off limits. After my meeting, I went straight to David McCall and told him what happened and how I handled it. He agreed that I handled it correctly, but was incensed that someone would call me in the middle of the night. He immediately called the prospect and told him that if they wanted to hire us, we would love the business, but that he could not call people at two in the morning. Those who knew David will know that this was right in character for him. (We got the business and subsequently turned it down because no one wanted to work on it.)

I believe that the account person who sent me a text at 11pm could have earned a lot of points of respect both for herself and her agency had she said something to her client. I presume her agency and her management would have backed her up just as David McCall supported me.

Sadly, the fear that prevented this account person from standing up for herself is all too common. As a recruiter, I often get stood up by executives who have scheduled a meeting with me. They simply don’t show up. This often happens at lunch time. Their explanation is inevitably that a last minute meeting was called or they felt they did not dare excuse themselves from a long-running meeting in order to make call to say they could not make their appointment. It is fear that prevents someone from excusing themselves to make a quick call.

This leads to a bigger issue.

If people are afraid to leave a meeting for a few minutes, they surely must be afraid to stand up to clients when it comes defending the work. And they probably don’t stand up internally to argue against an idea they don’t agree with.

Ironically, disagreements often result in better work because it forces everyone to rethink the work. The only way people and agencies can gain respect both internally and externally is by standing up for themselves and the work. Strength always wins.

There is a great Bill Bernbach story that illustrates the point. A client once complained that the body copy in an ad was too long. The client said, "Only ten percent of the people will read that copy". Bernbach's response was, "Then that copy is for the ten percent who read it." The client approved it.

All ad agency people know that there are many clients who will only approve the safest work, work that will not get them in trouble and work which, while probably not as effective as it should be, will not cause any criticism. Clients who are afraid of criticism never learn to trust their ad agencies. But that trust has to be earned and can only be brought about when there can be open discussion with give and take on both sides.

Ad agency employees need to be encouraged to be strong. That is the only way they can establish mutual respect with clients. If an account person or creative person is strong (they also have to be right) the work will get better. That can only happen when there is no fear of retribution and no fear of being fired.

When that happens, there will be no more clients calling people at home in the middle of the evening. And recruiters won’t get stood up because someone was afraid to excuse themselves from a meeting.

I would love to have your thoughts as to why there is so much fear and what can be done about it.

Monday, July 19, 2010

How To Work With A Recruiter

The market seems better and, for the first time in several years,  people are actively looking for new jobs.   Job seekers are are calling and being contacted by recruiters.   So I thought it appropriate to republish an article I wrote that was originally published in Ad Age on February 10, 2009.  What surprises me, even after all these years, is that a huge percentage of people haven no idea as the the value of a recruiter or how to work with one.

Build a Long-Term Relationship for the Greatest Value

A few weeks ago I wrote about what to do when a recruiter calls.  The gist of it was that you should try to establish a long term relationship.  Many people mistakenly thank that recruiters are a short-term solution to getting a new job now.  They couldn't be more wrong.  The current economy affords you an opportunity to find recruiters who can help you now and in the future.  So you;be answered the pone and made an appointment.  what's next?

Here are 10 basic rules you can follow when dealing with a recruiter:

1.  Work with a recruiter whom you like and trust.
Make sure your recruiter really understands what you are looking for in the short term and in the long term.  A good recruiter can help you create a road map for your career.

2. Work with more than one recruiter.
You might consider having a close relationship with more than one recruiter.  We all recruit for different companies, and even where there is duplication, different recruiters get different job orders.

3. The best time to see a recruiter is when you are not looking.
When you are not pressured, you will be more candid and honest, and your real personality will shine through. 

4. Be honest with the recruiter about everything.
Reputable recruiters do not gossip or break confidences, so tell the truth.  Don;t exaggerate your salary - you will get caught.  If anyone knows exactly what companies pay for what job, it is the headhunters.  If you exaggerate, you could price yourself out of a perfect job. If you are out of work or know you will be out of work soon, say so.  It can only help you.

5. If a recruiter has you interviewing, keep him or her totally informed during the process.
you should be briefed before every interview and debriefed after every meeting.  an effective recruiter can help you overcome hurdles or issues behind the scenes and can be an excellent advocate for your candidacy - but he or she has to be fully informed.

6. Stay in touch.
A recruiter generally has way more candidates than jobs available, so if you want to stay top of mind when the right job comes up, it helps to check in every so often.  In the long term, the more a recruiter gets to know you, the better he or she can help you.

7. When you change jobs, more or change contact information, call your recruiter.
If recruiters can't find you, they can't help you.

8. When you are given new responsibilities or experience a major life change, call your recruiter.
Promotions, new assignments, raises and new titles can impact your career in big ways.  Over the years there have been a number of perfect opportunities for candidates I have known, but I didn't know that they had acquired the background to match a client's job specs.  Similarly, if you  have just gotten married or had children, let your recruiter know; it can help him or her gauge your willingness to relocate or travel for work.

9. Join business and social networks.
Recruiters monitor sites such as LinkedIn to see what their candidates are up to.  It's a great way to stay top of mind and to update a large group quickly with resume or contact-information changes.

10.  If you need advice - about anything - call your recruiter.
The ability to talk with a smart, objective professional is invaluable.  Recruiters can help you choose between offers (even if they haven't gotten them for you) and can help you evaluate people and places.  If they really know you and understand you, that information can be truly helpful.

If you have any comments or suggestions, my readers would love to hear them.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Adventures In Recruiting: The Worst Cover Letter

My son, Jeff Gumbinner, runs a very successful political direct marketing firm in D.C., Gumbinner & Davies.  He received this cover letter last week.

Remember those visual puzzles from when you were a kid, "How many things can you find wrong with this drawing/picture?"  Well, I was going to mark this letter up, but I thought it would be more fun for you if you counted the number of errors.  How many errors can you find in this letter?  It is printed below verbatim.  Have fun with it.

Re: Resume for [Name withheld]

ATTN: Human Resources

Attached is my resume that outlines my skills and accomplishments over my professional career. I hope that you will find that I have the talent and expertise needed to add value to your organization.

I am very hard working, light hearted professional person who enjoys the since of accomplishment and I always thrive to grow and get better everyday. I know that I would be a valued asset to your company and Sales team.

I think that in order to be great sell person one has to been in tune to his or her clients needs good, bad or indifferent because I believe that’s there is always and opportunity the make that relationship better, strong, faster, LOL sorry had a 6 million dollar man flash back.

A Little bit about me, I am college educated Professional who grew up in a small town in West Virginia, with country morals and big city dreams, my grandparents are my hero’s, my 8 yr old daughters in my joy and my reason to do better and to be better. I end by saying;” where you start in life doesn’t mean that’s where you will end up”.

Please do not hesitate to contact me at the numbers listed below if you have any questions or to schedule an interview. I look forward to speaking with a representative from your company.


If you have saved funny letters or documents that you would like to share with my readers, please post them or send them to me so that I can share them with my readers.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Managing Salary Expectations During The Interview Process

As a recruiter, I have learned one thing about salaries: When I speak to a candidate to tell him/her about a job, I always tell them what the job will pay. I do this by giving a range. What I have learned is that no matter what number I say, no matter how much I stress the range, the candidate will only hear the highest number.

Unfortunately, very often when giving out an assignment, companies will provide a salary range that they want to pay.  Ultimately, when the job comes through, and they want to make an offer, the salary offer is often much lower than originally stated, sometimes even below the lowest number stated originally by the client. It happens frequently.

Here are a couple of examples which have happened recently:

• A divisional president’s job in the southeast was specified at $200-225; the initial offer came in at $180.

• A head of digital at a small agency: Job specified at $160-175, but the offer came in at $155.

• An account supervisor at a major NY agency is given to me at $75-80.  Job offer is made at $65.

• A fee paid search is given to us at $260 - $275 and the offer comes in at $250.

When an assignment is given to a recruiter (either an independent like me or an internal recruiter) the first thing we do is check our database. Inevitably, we will look for candidates making less than the low end of the specified salary, but we will also look at candidates whose salaries go up to or even slightly exceed the top end (this is why it is important for candidates to tell the truth and to keep recruiters apprised of raises).

During the interview process, candidates will psychologically lock themselves into the highest number while the company becomes wedded to the lowest. When offers are made at the low end of the spectrum or, worse, lower than the originally stated amount, there is often anger and disappointment – by both parties. Don’t blame the recruiter or HR person.

I thought it important to explain how this scenario develops and to propose a simple solution to the problem.

When a job is a replacement position, most hiring managers assume that the salary range will be what the previous person was making. If it is a new position, HR and senior managers will generally look at what other people in comparable positions are making and provide a range. In larger companies, there is often an approval procedure with the finance department.

The initial finance department approval is rarely final. On long and complicated searches, the time lapse from beginning to end may be such that there is a change in company finances necessitating a lowering of the new position’s salary level, often not discussed with the hiring manager, human resources or the recruiter during the candidate screening process.  But financial people don't really approve the hire until the candidate is selected.  It is only then that companies closely examine their budgets in order to approve the final salary.

There is one other factor which may affect the job offer.

I believe that many companies assume that candidates and recruiters are exaggerating salaries. I know that there are many candidates and recruiters who do that, but it only works against them. When offers are made at the lowest number, some companies do this as a test, while others do it as a hedge so that there is room to negotiate it upwards. This is one of the reasons why it is important not to overstate salaries.

The simple solution to this is that both recruiters and hiring managers (and HR, of course) should discuss and reconfirm salary expectations frequently during the interviewing process.  As Holiday Inn used to say, "The best surprise is no surprise."

A good recruiter can manage the salary expectations, provided companies stick to the original job specs. When companies are straightforward with recruiters (or candidates), the negotiation is usually easy and fast.

As always, I would like to hear your stories about offers which came in to low. I know my readers would enjoy reading them.
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