Tuesday, May 31, 2011

How Is The Job Market?

With unemployment hovering around 8.5 - 9.0% nationally, we all understand that this is a jobless recovery. When the economy collapsed, officially in 2008, advertising went into a tail spin. But I started to see advertising jobs disappear far before the official start of the collapsing economy. In mid-2007 I saw the number of available jobs going down. My estimate was that by the end of 2008, advertising unemployment was somewhere around 15% - far greater than the economy as a whole. To date, there has only been a slight recovery in advertising.

As a recruiter, I have always been able to take the pulse of the economy very quickly. I can tell by who is hiring and how many jobs are opening. I mentioned that we started to see the number of jobs in ad agencies beginning to close down over a year before the economy collapsed. Conversely, recruiters see the recovery first. In 1992 I was able to predict the improving economy long before the economic pundits did. Ditto in 2002/3 after 9/11.

Unfortunately, I have yet to see a sustained current improvement in the advertising business. 2009 remained poor. 2010 started poorly, but last summer there was a significant positive bump which lasted right through September. Then in October through this March of this year, advertising hiring flattened out and business was fair. It picked up again in April this year coinciding with a .05% drop in national unemployment. Lest anyone think that advertising is different or immune to the national numbers, think again. Business is better, just like the economy is better, but it is not yet great – just like the economy as a whole.

There are a lot of reasons for this. We all know that companies are doing more with fewer people. I am sure that per person productivity is way up, even as agency incomes have declined. Every agency has been affected by clients cutting budgets and cutting fees.

The good news is that some clients are increasing budgets and there is some slight upward movement in fees. This has not happened in any great numbers, but it has happened. As the economy continues to improve we will see more expansion jobs (most jobs now are replacements).

My predictions are positive for now through the end of the year.

Even in the worst economy there is generally an increase in job openings to mark certain events: the New Year, the beginning of the summer, and right after Labor Day all mark times when there is a bump in hiring. This increase in hiring generally happens about two or three weeks after the event; for instance, about two to three weeks after Memorial Day we will get jobs orders from agencies who basically want to hire for the second half of the year. The bump after Labor Day is because companies need people to cover fourth quarter spending.

So, I have my fingers crossed about what happens in a week or two. I would like to see a sustained recovery that lasts more than a couple of months. We all would.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

When Does An Interview Begin?

What many people don’t understand is that interviews begin the moment contact is made with a company.  Interviews definitely do not start when you show up for a meeting.

If you are working with a recruiter and they have introduced you to a company, your interview starts at that moment.  The speed with which you respond to emails or phone requests is indicative of your level of interest.  Observation has taught me that no matter how busy someone is, if they make time to respond, they are very interested.  If their response is delayed by a day or more, they are showing either disinterest or ambivalence. 
Everyone understands that people are overworked.  Clients show up unexpectedly, sometimes for days at a time.  Management is forever calling last minute meetings.  All of these things interfere with your ability to be responsive and communicate.  But emails can be sent at any hour of the day. Calls can be made to voice mail anytime.  If someone sends me an email or calls in the middle of the night telling me that they are on a shoot and with the client 24/7, I fully understand.  But when calls are not returned and I hear nothing, or worse, the interviewing company hears nothing when someone is supposed to be setting up an interview, I assume there is at least some degree of indifference.  People who really, really want to interview, find a way of making time to work out schedules. 

Calling for an appointment is a great time to start the ball rolling in a positive direction.  Being positive, upbeat and self-assured on a voice mail is an indication of who you are and your degree of interest.  Being the same way with an administrative person who is setting up an appointment is even better.  More than one admin has said to his/her boss, “boy, John sounds great on the phone”.  And don’t forget to introduce yourself to the admin when you arrive at an appointment.  That chit-chat could be critical to your success. 

Also, what you do in a reception room could be important.  I wrote about this last month. Paul Kurnit, former President of Griffin Bacall, wrote an important answer to that posting.  He wrote that he used to go to reception himself to greet people interviewing and that he decided whether he liked them before they got to his office.  What he was referring to was both demeanor and attitude.  If you are sitting there on your Blackberry and have to finish reading or emailing while your interviewer is waiting for you, the interview may be over before it starts.  Your body language and non-verbal communication may communicate more than you think.

All of these things may play a role in your ability to land a job.  Just remember that the interview may be anticlimactic. All the other things - your responsiveness, your attitude, your demeanor, how you handle yourself in reception and with other you meet -  may account for 30-40% of your "score", so to speak. 

Just last week, a candidate showed up twenty minutes late for an interview.  In and of itself, in this city that is no big deal.  But he didn't call.  And, when he arrived, he neither apologized nor gave an explanation.  His interview really was dead before it began. 

Friday, May 20, 2011

Why Every Advertising Executive Should Admire Lady Gaga

I have been thinking about Lady Gaga.  She is fantastic.  I wasn’t a fan of Lady Gaga – until the Grammy Awards. 

Actually, I am a big fan of CBS 60 Minutes and Anderson Cooper’s profile of Lady Gaga was a perfect preface to her on the Grammy Awards.  I never got her or particularly liked her until I watched her that Sunday evening.

In watching the Grammys, the other performers I saw did not particularly surprise me.  There were dozens of singers, all pretty much alike.  Oh, many had really good songs, most had great stage presence and I liked them, but I suspect most of them will fade away over time.  Except Lady Gaga.

What she knows and readily admits to, is that, in order to make herself stand out from the others, she has developed her own brand of outrageous.  She has gone from music to performing art..  She has become a fashion statement who has gone way beyond the insanity of Madonna wearing her bras outside of her clothing.  In the sea of sameness that has become pop music, Gaga has become a standout.   I couldn’t wait for each of her appearances on the Grammys.   

It doesn’t matter if you like her music or not.  It doesn’t matter if you even like her.  She has become an icon in just three short years.  And I believe that if she wants to, she will build a long, successful career.

Lady Gaga is to music what Braniff Airlines was to adverting and marketing.  She is no different than when Mary Wells had Harding Lawrence paint his planes bright colors and dress its flight attendants to match.  It made people want to fly Braniff.  Just the same as Lady Gaga makes me want to watch her.

I believe it was Roser Reeves who said, “If you can’t sell the steak, sell the sizzle”.  It is something which smart advertisers understand.  Budweiser does it brilliantly most of the time and Coca-Cola almost always does it perfectly.  If clients really understood how to build their brands, they wouldn't spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on research which merely enable their brands to be average.  Most great advertising would not have stood up to the scrutiny of copy testing.  I suspect that two or three years ago, focus groups would have rejected Lady Gaga as being too outrageous.  Ditto Coke's classic, "I'd like to buy the world a Coke..."

That's why advertisers would do well to leave their agencies alone.  Because left to their own devices, most agencies are quite capable of breaking through and possibly turning brands into icons, given budgets that are big enough and brands that are important enough.

Will I ever buy a Lady Gaga album or download one of her songs?  Probably not. Will I ever go to one of her concerts? Also, probably not.  But I don’t buy Budweiser either.  But I sure do admire them.

And I can' wait to see her on Saturday Night Live tomorrow!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Standing Up A Recruiter

People missing appointments is part of business.  It is annoying and costly. That is why your doctor calls to confirm appointments.  Restaurants do the same so that their tables don’t go vacant.

When I first started recruiting, I was appalled at the number of no-shows.  As I became better known, the percentage went down, but it still happens.  Three times last week, which is unusual, but why I am writing this post.  The truth is, when it happens during the daytime – between nine and noon or between two and five – I don’t mind so much.  I just keep working.  But when it happens before nine, especially when I have come in early to meet someone, or during lunch or after five, I get aggravated because those are prime interviewing times and someone else could have come in.  It is especially irksome when it happens at six or later because it means I have stayed late waiting for someone.

Late appointments (after 5pm)  get cancelled at the last minute all the time.  I fully understand, but I don’t forgive.  Once upon a time I was a working account guy.  And, come four or five in the afternoon, everyone starts rushing to complete the day’s work so it doesn’t get put off until tomorrow.  When it comes to outside appointments, I understand what happens – inertia takes over.  So does social life.  And seeing a recruiter is not always the top priority, even when people are unhappy in their jobs.  But that doesn't excuse simply not showing up or only calling ten minutes before the appointment.

Years ago, a friend of mine, not in the business, asked me a fair question.  He said, “Who in their right mind would stand up a recruiter?  I understand cancelling on your doctor for a routine appointment, but you could influence their whole life.”  I fully agreed.  But many people simply look at a recruiter as a temporary solution to a current problem.  Others are just plain rude and uncaring.  They don't see us as a trusted long-term adviser. 

In 2008, I called to meet a candidate.  He stood me up twice without a call.  About a week ago, he called me to meet.  He missed his first appointment but emailed an apology and rescheduled.  Then he missed the second appointment with no phone call and no email. Of course, he is completely off my list and it is noted in my records.  Despite his seniority in the business, I cannot believe that he has the excellence that his title or position would indicate.

I understand that people get called into last minute meetings. Or bosses demand that someone stay at their desk through lunch.  And I know that clients call.  It happens.  But no phone call or email?  No explanation or apology?  I wrote about fear in the business a while ago.  It is pervasive.  Who would ever preclude a subordinate from making a phone call to cancel an appointment?  And if they did, or if things were so intense that one cannot dare to excuse themselves for a minute, who would want to work for that person or in that kind of environment? 

Anyway, now that I have vented.  Here is my question.  What if I were to bill candidates for my time when they stand me up?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Ad Agencies Should Hire More Clients

The following was one of my columns and originally published in Ad Age on September 21, 2009.  It bears repeating.

I meet a lot of client types - advertising managers, brand and marketing people and others - who tell me that they would like to work at an ad agency.  Some of them once worked on the agency side and genuinely want to go back.  But 90% of the client-side marketing types I meet should not be at an agency.  Some are desperately out of work and are looking for any employment they can get and simply don't belong at an agency.  Others just don't have the right temperament for agency life.

But the few (10%, maybe) who actually could do well at an agency are often rejected out of hand, without even being interviewed.  Agencies of all types - general, promotion, digital/interactive, even event-marketing agencies - just will not talk to them.  Or they pay lip service to former clients or colleagues and interview them, but it goes nowhere.  When asked, agencies rarely give a cogent answer as to why they don't like to hire marketing executives.  It may be some kind of unwritten rule that has been handed down from one agency executive to another with no apparent reason.

The best rationale for not hiring brand people or marketing executives seems to be twofold.  The first is that clients, ultimately, can tell their agencies what to do.  Therefore, client types may lack the finesse that agencies require in order to negotiate through the complexities of dealing with creative.  The second is that client may not be hands-on enough within the context of creative development and don't know enough about the intricacies of managing that process.  While both comments may have some validity, agencies' unwillingness o meet and hire qualified, advertising-savvy marketing people is unfortunate.  Some, indeed, would make great agency executives.

As an ad agency recruiter, when I ask client-side candidate why they believe they can succeed at an agency, the inappropriate ones generally respond with something like, "Because I have been a client, and I know what clients need."  Wrong.  That response shows a complete lack of sensitivity or understanding of advertising agencies and the creative process.  Appropriate candidates exude passion for advertising development and have always been fully involved with agency creative people during that process; good clients do indeed know how to negotiate through the intricacies of agency life.  Often the best references for these candidates are agency creative and account people with whom they have worked.

A fabulous brand manager who was ultimately successful on the agency side once asked me, "Don't you think that in-house creatives, packaging and promotion people consider themselves to be just a creative as their agency counterparts?"  Many marketing people deal with in-house agencies and other creative people on a regular basis.

The real reason agencies are reluctant to hire marketing people is that there is an inherent fear that ex-clients will always side with the client against creative.  Truth is, a good former brand or marketing person may know how to sell work more effectively because he can frame arguments from the client's point of view.  This does not mean they will simply give in.

There is another important point to be made.  We are constantly seeing studies that show that agencies and their client lack mutual respect.  Clients accuse their agencies of not understanding their business, and, given the nature of fees, that is often true.  The client budgeting and compensation process rarely leaves enough room to allow agency account (and creative) people to really dig into their business.  Client purchasing departments have squeezed agencies to the point where all they can do is execute, leaving little or no time for the partnerships that should exist.  Agency people rarely, if ever, go on sales calls with their clients, account people don't do store checks, and few agency people ever get real client-side training (yeas ago, I worked on a cosmetics account and went through cosmetology training and learned how to apply lipstick, mascara and eye makeup).  The result is a crisis of confidence.  But hiring the right people from the corporate side can help create mutual understanding, respect and interaction.  A former client may well be able to enable an agency to do and sell better work.

The critical factor is that they have to be the right people.

When I have this discussion with senior agency people, they often point to the few public and massive failures some client types may have had on the agency side, especially at senior levels.  My response is that if those jobs had been specified correctly, the people who failed would not have been hired in the first place.  There are plenty of wonderful, non-agency executives who have succeeded at ad agencies.  Their success has been predicated upon appropriate hiring.

The key is to define the real problem and hire executives who can resolve those issues accordingly.  Could there be a period of adjustment to the agency side?  Of course.  There is a period of adjustment for every new hire.  But it's worth repeating:  The overwhelming majority of client types do not belong at an agency (just like the same number of agency people who don't belong at the client), but the few who are right could be worthwhile and productive hires.  These people should never be summarily dismissed simply because they have not worked for an agency.  Agency creative departments have often hired people with no advertising experience because they know that thinking out of the box may be the best solution.  Account management departments might consider doing the same.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

"Promised" Raises Can Send Employees Scurrying When They Are Delayed

Virtually every day I hear from candidates at all levels who have been promised raises that never seem to happen.  The result is almost always that the employee loses interest in their job and their company.  Within a month or so they become vulnerable to recruiters and other job offers.  I believe a lot of good people are lost because companies fail to administer raises and fail to manage the perceptions of their employees.

The issue is that sometimes raises are promised by supervisors who have no business promising them.  But even when they are not specifically promised, employees have a mind set that they will be given.  Often, employee manuals list the time periods in which raises may be given, but no one remembers the may and assumes that they will be receiving their expected raise within a reasonable period in that time frame.  Employees who are given a formal annual evaluation on a regular basis (say, annually) expect an increase within the time frame specified in the employee handbook.

With senior people, most agencies have policies which dictate how often a raise can be given.  Some are eighteen months, some are thirty.  Inevitably, as the time approaches, the employee begins to look forward to the additional money.  My observation is that the raises rarely come on time; They often happen (if they happen) two, three or six months later.  And all too often it is not in the expected amount (“Well, things are rather tough now and this is the best we could do.  But your raise is more than most at your level.”).  That’s just B.S

Among juniors, the raise can be life saving.  A huge percentage of recent (two years or so) college graduates are still supported or subsidized by their families.  They often have to have multiple roommates – a situation actually worse than what they had in college. And to top it off, many are paying college loans.  It is damn hard to make ends meet at $30-40 grand.  When the expected or promised raise doesn’t come, all too often, these people are forced to look for a job and become soured on their current employer.

What a waste.  This kind of turnover is expensive and, frankly, unnecessary.  There are many ways around the issue.

I have always believed in spot bonuses.  It doesn’t have to be much – even $1,000 for a junior – just enough to pay for some new clothes or a trip to see friends in Florida.  But it does wonders to keep employees enthusiastic and happy.  And in the long run, it helps keep employees loyal and motivated.

I also believe that small raises, given with greater frequency are a great motivator and may actually cost companies less money in the long run.

Once a raise is promised it has to be given. Not three or six months later, but when it is due.  However….

I would like to share a story of a wonderful raise.  There are very few agencies around like Wells, Rich, Greene. (Those of you young enough not to know them should click on the link.  They were one of the great agencies.  WRG closed in 1998.)  I will make it very brief.  It happened a while ago and I know that the person it happened to is one of my readers, so my details are purposely fuzzy.  An account executive was told by her boss that she would be given a raise in January, along with a promotion to account supervisor.  She was making $35k, which was a good salary for an AE in the late eighties/early nineties. She got her promotion, but of course January came and went with no raise.  So did February, March and April.  The employee kept being told her raise was in the works.  At one point, she asked me what to expect.  I told her she should be brought to $45, but more than likely would be in the low $40’s.  The summer went by, then September and October.  She was ready to look for a job; she hated her agency.  Then November came and she called me saying, “Holy, s---!”  Her raise came.  It was retroactive to the previous January.  Her check was so big she couldn’t figure out what her raise was.  Then she called me back.  They increased her to $55! And the difference was all in one check.  That was Wells. And employees who worked there knew that things like this happened.  But, alas, there are no more Wells Rich Greenes.  They were an extraordinary exception.

When a raise is due, it should be given.  Wage freezes and stalling are a too familiar subterfuge.Why chase employees away?
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