Tuesday, January 29, 2013

What's The Most Important Job You'll Ever Have?

There is a saying among recruiters and human resources people that a candidate is only as good as his or her last job.  That is why your most important job is the one you have now.

When looking for a job, all companies, not just ad agencies, are looking to see how successful you are likely to be if you join them.  They measure your potential based on your previous successes, including your current job.  You have to be successful where you are now – even if you hate it. 

If  it turns out that you are in the wrong place, you must do the best you can do where you are.  Never give up.  You must build a record of achievement.  And, most important, you must be able to describe that success as you interview. (It is why people who just complain and are negative on an interview get dinged.)

Even if the job has been misrepresented, your boss is an idiot, your client is impossible or all of the above, you must achieve success where you are and be able to articulate those achievements.  You should be able to tell why you are looking in just a few words, without being negative, but at the same time tell what you have accomplished, even if you have been there only a short time.

The trick in moving forward is to know what you want and to be able to make connections between what you have previously done and what you are looking for.  If you want something that you don’t have, e.g. if you are on the client side and want an agency (or vise-versa), you know that ad agencies are reluctant to hire you.  However, if you connect what you have been doing to the essence of what you want, you may find yourself with a job offer.  For instance, if you are a client, it isn't enough to say that your favorite part of the job is working with the agency; you must be able to convince agency people that you belong on their side of the business.  Or, in another instance, if you want package goods and don’t have it but are able to relate your strategic experience to the account you are interviewing for in very specific terms, you stand a far better chance of success.

I have written (ranted and raved, actually) about the bugaboo of category experience.  But if you can make what you are doing now relevant to where you want to go, you may succeed in getting a new category.

The trick is to articulate what you do in a successful manner and relate it to the person/account you are interviewing with.  Making difficult changes can happen by the force of your personality.  I have known many people who have done the almost impossible – moving from client to agency, from non-package goods right to Procter or Unilever, etc.  They do it because when they interview they are definite, sure of themselves and can convince their interviewers that taking a chance on them is no risk at all.  The way they do it is by articulating the connections between where they are, what they accomplished and where they want to be.  They make their successes relevant to the potential new job.

Sometimes, it has to be a multi-step process.  I have known people who have taken a step back in their careers, both in title and in money so that they get what they really want.  I have always believed that in a career, there is an important thread and that one thing leads to another.  

However, in evaluating any new job, every person must ask themselves these questions: "What if I hate this job and leave it quickly? What will it get me in terms of my career?  Where will it lead me?"  And, finally, ask yourself if you can succeed.

Just remember, even if you hate your current job, it is critical to your future that you do it to the best of your ability.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Why Are Most Advertising Agency Websites So Dreadful?

There, I said it.  

In September, 2011, I wrote about agency websites, but at that time I was being tactful.  Many months have passed and I cannot hold back any longer.

I assume that the first place any potential account, search consultant or potential employee looks for information about a company is its website.  The website should make people want to work there, hire the company or at least think positively about it.

Instead, the essential information people are looking for is almost never there.  Once upon a time, the only source of agency information was the Redbook.  This essential reference is still published and contains most of the information that anyone would want to know at a preliminary glance.

scratching_head.jpg image by Pangaea_Interior_Design
When I look on an ad agency website, I want to know the following:  Who are the principals?  What are their accounts?  How big is the shop?  If it is a big firm with multiple offices,where are their offices, what accounts and what people are in which office?  What is their address?

Sadly, most web sites are missing some of this information.  I came across one well known agency where there is none of it.

Ad agency websites should be easy to navigate. Yet when one logs on to the sites of most ad agencies, at 99% of them, their essential information is either buried or, if it is there at all, it is almost impossible to find, often hidden behind some obscure reference.


Typical of the issues:  One agency lists its principals, but one cannot determine which offices they are in. Another, lists its accounts under "key players", but doesn't tell who the principals  (I presume they are the "key" players).  Sometimes, I have found agencies that don’t even bother to list their address; they merely give an email address to get more information so that you have to contact them to get simple facts. Why don’t most agencies list their senior executives?  Are they worried about headhunters like me recruiting them? (Don’t worry, I am professional and experienced enough to find anyone and I don’t need the website to point me to them.)

I went on one website of a creative New York agency today and found mostly gibberish.  It contained quotes with irrelevant personal rantings by their unidentified executives.  But I could not find the name of the CEO.  I finally found what I think are their accounts, listed as partners. Nice to call clients partners, but they aren't and might even cringe at the thought of being called partners.

I have been trying to find out why there is a disconnect between the website and the Redbook listing and I think I have figured it out.  The Redbook information is delegated to either the financial or the HR department.  Those people simply answer the questions provided by the publisher and fill out the appropriate Redbook supplied forms.  On the other hand, the website design is generally given to the head of digital or, worse, an outside design company.  These people have no idea what the site is really used for or how it is used so they become “creative”. The result is that site design overwhelms content.

Websites, if I may say so, should be exciting, loaded with usable information and be a reflection of the philosophy and strengths of the company posted.  Instead, I truly believe they are mostly The Emperor's New Clothes.  If I were a client or potential client, I would think twice about hiring a communications company which cannot project itself in a cogent and easily navigated format.  After all, if they can’t sell themselves, how can they sell a client's product or service?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

What Does Open Plan Seating Accomplish?

Last week I wrote about why tearing down walls doesn’tintegrate agencies. It gave rise to my own thoughts on the subject of open plan seating.

                                                                    File:Redbox Office.jpg

There are pros and cons with open plan seating.  I could take either side, but I think my preference is for most people having their own private space.  My daughter, Liz Gumbinner, who is an EVP creative director at Deutsch, says that I am old fashioned because almost every ad agency has open plan seating in one form or another.  And it has been this way for many, many years.

On the pro side, agencies save money by not constructing and having to move walls.  They tell me that clients and new business prospects like to hear the hum of the office which is far more evident when there are no walls.  Popular wisdom is that ad agencies believe open plans foster more interaction and therefore, more creativity.

Creative people have always worked in teams.  So when they work, mostly they go to some private space where they can create without interruption.  And therein lies my issue.

I believe that open plan seating originated in Japan.  As I recall, the first agency to employ open plan seating was the old Chiat/Day. When Jay Chiat did this in the 1980’s, it was quite an innovation here in the States.  Its purpose was to foster interaction between people and to generate more creativity.  His agency always pushed the boundaries of creativity and open plan was a major innovation and a reflection of that philosophy.

But the U.S. is not Japan.

Japan is a homogeneous, highly structured society.  Open plan was an effort to get workers there to talk to each other and to interact together – something which may not be necessary here in the U.S.  Whether we have walls in our offices or not, we are much more open than the Japanese.

Open plan was adopted, first by the more creatively driven agencies, and during the last decade, as the big agencies have had their leases expire and they have moved to new space, they, too are moving to open plan. What was right for Chiat/Day in the 1980’s, may not necessarily translate to all agencies.  Especially today.
I honestly believe that tearing down walls does not necessarily generate creativity or even good ideas.  It doesn’t foster interaction among people, except those immediately adjacent to each other.  Interaction is something which has to be in the DNA of a company and in its people.  

If I were an account person today, I would still not want to listen to my cohorts talking to their clients or their friends.  I would not want to hear the hum which accompanies open seating.  I would want the privacy to think, to strategize – to create.  

I am curious to know whether you think that open plan seating works for your agency and, if so, does it work for all departments?

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Tearing Down Walls Does Not Integrate Agencies


A couple of weeks before Christmas, I had a candidate say a remarkable thing to me.  It rang true and is worth repeating.  We were talking about ad agency silos and integration.  Here is what he said:

            “My agency has spent a fortune tearing down walls and making our offices into an open-space plan.  The place looks great.  But there is one problem. The walls may be gone but the agency is not integrated.  It is  interesting, but the traditional  [above the line] people have some interest in learning digital and interactive.  But the digital people haven’t the slightest interest in learning traditional advertising."

And therein lays the problem.  If I had said it myself, I could not have said it better.

Agencies are wracking their heads trying to integrate and end the silos.  Some of the silos are financial and they cannot be broken down until each discipline no longer has its own balance sheet.

But the silos are also real in terms of psychology.  Integration is an attitude.  It is a way of thinking about the business. This attitude must come from the top down, but sadly, the people running ad agencies (both traditional and digital) mostly come from one discipline or another.  By training, they are not integrated and media neutral.  And despite talking the talk, many do not walk the walk.

While the majority of agency CEO’s understand the need for integration, they are not necessarily yet integrated in terms of their own thinking.  And that has to happen before the walls come down.

The traditional agencies are still trying to figure out how to make money on social and mobile media.  Meanwhile, the media agencies are usurping this realm from both the traditional and digital shops.

The holding companies may be partially to blame for the lack of integration – after all, their interest is in revenues and profits and if their own media companies can do it more efficiently than their other agencies, it makes no difference to them.  There is so much financial pressure put upon the traditional agencies by the holding companies that it is difficult for them to invest in new media.  Ironically, traditional agencies are in the best position to integrate in the most beneficial way for their clients, but my observation is that they continue to fall behind due to financial pressures, which are preventing them from investing in the future.

I hope that in 2013, ad agencies figure it all out.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Ten Wishes for Advertising People And Agencies In 2013


1)  I wish everyone a banner year, filled with new accounts, profits and great work.

2)  I wish that agencies figure out how to negotiate with clients so that they can make enough money to insure a fair profit and to service their clients in a manner which maximizes the relationship and the work.

3)  I wish that agencies were confident enough to say no to clients when necessary and yes when it is sensible to do so.

4)  I wish that agencies would hire the best people for the job, regardless of their background.

5)  I wish that agencies figure out how to truly get to know their clients’ business so that they can once again become marketing and sales partners.

6)  I wish that agencies practice what they preach: their only asset is people.  People need to be valued, coddled and nurtured.

7)  I wish raises for all those executives who are long overdue.

8)  I wish that the truly best agency is hired at the end of every pitch.

9)  I wish that the silos truly came down and agencies learn to become integrated and media neutral.

10)  I wish that agencies should go back to the system of executive account rotations which were in effect years ago.  This would lower turnover by eliminating the need for executives who feel stale to have to seek new jobs in order to renew themselves.
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