Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Visible Tattoos, Weird Hair Color and Nose Rings On People In Advertising

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A few weeks ago I saw a terrific young man who had his sleeves rolled up and he had tattoos on both forearms.  I was very much taken aback.  That same week I saw a discussion somewhere on the internet  where someone asked recruiters about sending out people with tattoos.

These two things are the genesis of this post.

I realized after I saw this account person, that in all my years of recruiting, I had never seen a man with visible tattoos.  I have seen a few account men with earring holes (they generally take them off when they see me, but not always) and a few women with small, innocuous tattoos on their ankles, but never a guy.  I advised the person I met to keep his sleeves rolled down, just as I advise men with earrings to take them off for their interviews (a sharp interviewer will see the pierce holes, anyway).

Account and creative people have to deal with clients.  Some clients are pretty loose.  Some are conservative.  An account person always should make his clients feel and look good, and I am sure that a tattoo on a man’s arms is not socially acceptable with all clients.  I suspect that is why most advertising account people don’t have them, at least those that show easily.  Somehow, it is more acceptable for a woman to have a small tattoo on a foot, which most people don’t notice, anyway.

I remember years ago meeting an account executive who had dyed her hair bright purple. She was looking for a job for a long time and found that she had to remove the dye before she could get a new job.  Some months later, I happened to be talking to the person who hired her (not through me). By the time she interviewed for that job, she had gotten rid of the purple color.  However, he told me that in her references, although people liked her and her work ethic, the subject of her hair color was brought up by everyone.  She was told in her new job not to dye her hair again.

Most creative people don't have outrageous hair color.  I have seen some who do, but these are, for the most part, not people who have a lot of client contact or, they have become so successful that they can get away with it.

We also don't see too many people with nose rings,  pierced lips or the like.  Although we occasionally see an innocuous nose stud on women.  Guys with ear rings occasionally show up, but rarely on successful account people.

It could be argued that what people do with their bodies is no one’s business, but most ad agencies, no matter how creative or innovative their product is, are basically socially conservative.  People who don’t have client contact are more likely to be acceptable with body art, purple hair and nose rings.  But I have walked the halls at many agencies and I just don’t see too many advertising people who have these things.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

A Tribute To Ned Viseltear, One Of The Great Creatives In The Business

Most of my readers will not know of Ned Viseltear.  You would have to have been in advertising during the sixties, seventies and eighties.  Ned was a brilliant and unsung copywriter; he was also my partner when I had my agency.

Ned passed away recently.  I didn’t want his passing to go unnoticed.  Ned was one of the true, unheralded greats in the business; he had won every possible award and was well known in the creative community.  His obituary is worth reading. As my daughter, Liz Gumbinner, posted on-line yesterday, this obit is the kind of thing we all would like written about ourselves.  But I would like to go a little farther and share a couple of stories with you.

Ned was one of the most talented writers in the business.  His ability to cut through issues in order to come up with a solution was astounding.  He was also the fastest copy writer I ever worked with.  Ned could be difficult, strange and demanding, but that was part of his charm.

Ned made me a better account guy by demanding that I knew my accounts at least as well as my client.  The reason he was so good was that he needed to know and understand everything about a client and its situation.  He couldn’t put it together unless he had the entire picture.  I can remember many times trying to explain strategy to him when he just didn’t get it; it was my fault. But I learned to spell things out completely because if he was missing one part, he could not arrive at the whole.  He was simply asking of an account person what every creative needs in order to come up with great creative solutions.

I won’t list his campaigns or ads now, because they have long since been forgotten.  What is important is that Ned was known throughout the industry for his brilliance and his eccentricity.

Ned was truly eccentric.  He couldn’t write if his office wasn’t perfectly clean and in order. I remember him once obsessing about his inability to work because he was out of Kleenex.  He didn’t have a cold, but he could only work if everything was in its proper place.  On that particular day he had a deadline to meet and our office manager had been tied up doing something else and hadn’t had a chance to go get his tissues.  I realized that it would be easier for me to go get it myself so that he could start work. Within a few minutes after his tissues were placed precisely on his desk, he delivered what he was supposed to.
Ned was the fastest writer I ever worked with.  He was so fast that he often came up with solutions within moments of agreeing upon direction.  He would then have me wait four or five days before telling the client that what they had requested was ready – he didn’t want to spoil clients into thinking he could always produce so quickly.

Ned could be outrageous. There were several stories about him in Jerry Della Femina’s book, “From Those Wonderful Folks Who Gave You Pearl Harbor” (must reading for anyone who loves this business and wants to know what it used to be like in the Mad Men days; the book is still available on Amazon).  What I am about to describe happened, but Ned was always embarrassed by it and often denied its truth because he was as honest as the day is long.  In the days when both Ted Bates and Benton & Bowles (subsequently, DMBB) were located at 666 Fifth Avenue, Ned, who worked at one of them, took a job at the other.  When he went to resign, his boss was on vacation and the boss’s boss was out.  Ned never resigned and just went to work - at both.. He worked at both and got away with it for almost a year because the agencies were on different elevator banks. He never missed a deadline or meeting at either agency. Ned eventually got caught and was fired from both agencies.  But he put a ton of money away in the interim. 

Ned, always kept his sense of humor.  There is another story in Jerry’s book.  It is the story of how Ned worked at Grey for three hours, but was taken out for lunch by the creative director of another agency to celebrate his new job.  During lunch he was offered a job at higher pay, a better title and on better accounts.  Ned accepted on the spot and went right to work at the new agency immediately after lunch..  He called Grey and asked for personnel (not human resources in those days).  He told them he had worked there for three hours but was resigning.  He also wanted to know if he had accumulated any vacation time and, if so, would they send him a check.  The personnel person was speechless. It is true.

As a partner, no one could ask for better. He always kept his sense of fun, no matter how serious things were. We had two Texas clients, one in Houston and one in Dallas.  Not coincidentally, I had a girlfriend in Houston.  One Wednesday, I got a call from my Dallas client asking me to have dinner with him the next night in Dallas; I thought we were going to get fired).  I immediately called Paula in Houston to ask if she could see me for the weekend.  Unfortunately, she was busy.  So I flew to Dallas and waited at the revolving restaurant at the Hyatt for my client.  It was before cell phones and I waited for over an hour and he never showed up. I didn’t know what to do because I didn’t have his home phone and he had left the office.  At 8pm, when I was at my wits end, in walks Paula with a big grin.  Ned had sent me away for the weekend.  Even the client was in on it.  That was Ned.

I still keep the portfolio of his work (our work). If anyone wants to see stunning creative but highly strategic work, come to my office and I will share it with you.

Ned will be missed for his good humor and great work.  He was a lifelong friend.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

What's Wrong With HR?

Human resources is the most misunderstood, overworked and underutilized department in every ad agency.

People make negative comments to me all the time about HR.  They say that Human Resources doesn't  necessarily handle difficult situations in the best manner.  They aren’t trusted to confide in about bad supervisors or about rotations for new assignments; and they are not able to resolve those and other issues.  But is it their fault and why do these comments get made?

First, you need to understand the nature of HR, particularly in the advertising business.

Most people get into human resources with the best of intentions.  They want to help people, but at many companies, not just ad agencies, they learn by example and their mentors don’t necessarily know more than they do.  Why is that?

Advertising is a creative business and, as a HR friend of mine points out, most good HR people are business oriented.  The two are not necessarily in conflict, but since agencies are creative by nature, the creative side dominates.  At ad agencies, unfortunately, human resources is mostly defined by two aspects of HR – benefits/compensation (the people who handle payroll, healthcare and other benefits and, in the largest companies, those who handle reporting and statistics) and recruiting, which is mostly now defined as finding and interviewing.  There are many other aspects of human resources, most of which are not evident at ad agencies.

I can remember a really fabulous  HR director who was hired out of one of the major consumer goods companies where he headed all aspects of HR – policy, succession planning, employee relations, labor relations, training, compensation, performance management, and a long list of other aspects.  He was hired by a major agency because they said they wanted to upgrade HR and install those disciplines.  Sadly, he resigned two years later because all he was allowed to do was to handle recruitment, which took the majority of his time. 

In addition, at many ad agencies, HR is given the jobs that other departments don’t want or can’t handle – the blood drives, the Christmas party, summer picnic, the baseball team, filling seats at events where the agency has to take tables.  They are even the coordinator of the phones and of moving.  And, when there are lay offs, they have to handle most of the terminations. The list goes on and on.  All these things take huge amounts of time - not leaving them free to do the things that they need to do and want to do.

There is very little training for HR.  Even in terms of recruiting, very few professionals understand how to write an actionable recruiting job spec or even to ask the right questions of the hiring managers.  (Often, an agency which handles multiple brands from a large parent company will give us job specs for a person on one of those brands,  but they cannot tell us which brand it is – even though they want us to find category experience!)  Most advertising HR professionals have never worked in account management, creative, media or planning.  They also have never even shadowed those people so it is difficult for them to fully appreciate their jobs and recruit for those disciplines. 

Most agency management  is creatively driven (even the account people) and have only worked for ad agencies and have never seen a high-functioning, business-oriented human resources department and therefore have no understanding of how all the other aspects of HR can be utilized within their company.  Sadly, even things like succession planning don’t really happen at most agencies – succession generally goes to the person who controls the the biggest accounts, whether that person is the most qualified or not.  Management training to bring along the top succession candidates is, at best, limited.

My observation is that most HR Departments are not utilized to their fullest, nor are most human resources specialists given the tools they need in order to function fully to everyone’s benefit.  It is a shame because they really try and are overworked.

The worst part of it is that every agency boasts that its principal assets go up the elevator in the morning and down the elevators each evening.  HR is needed to take care of those assets.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Changing Jobs Within The Same Advertising Network

Last week I posted about the Publicis/Omnicom merger.  The comments I made about this merger further limiting talent movement had unintended consequences.  They generated a lot of discussion about the possibility of moving from one holding company agency to another agency within the same network.  I thought this subject deserved additional discussion.

Until a comment was made on my post, I was unaware that any network encouraged its employees to move from one of its agencies to another through jobs posted on its website.  Apparently Publicis does, which is a good thing.  I am not sure it exists anywhere else, or at least I haven’t heard about it.  However, I am sure that the fear of being discovered and fired for disloyalty hinders response to this website.  Getting fired for responding on line should not be an issue for human resources since most HR professionals would not break the confidence of their own employees.  But the websites are public within those agencies – or at least they are perceived to be public (I have no idea if they are or aren’t), so the fear persists.

Most of the holding companies actually discourage movement between their agencies; some pay lip service to it..  I have heard that at one network, if an employee goes to their human resources department and to their supervisor and obtains permission from each, that such an inter-agency move can be made - but they cannot even interview without approval..  This requires a long leap of faith by an employee.  It is hard enough for most employees to request a rotation to another account at their current agency and not incur the wrath of management.  Asking permission to go to a different agency within the network is perceived as asking for trouble.  And perception is reality.

The possibility of moving within the network does exist for employees who have suffered cut-backs or loss of accounts since all of the networks maintain human resources departments which, in theory, know of all the openings within the network.  This system is probably most successful for long term (five plus years), high visibility employees and senior people (maybe, $200,000 +).  But in fact, few employees are able to move within the same holding company.  One former employee, a senior vice president, told me he had to wait over a month to see the holding company internal recruiter.

With this latest merger, despite the excellent policy by Publicis, the possibility of movement does become that much more limited because of the huge number of companies which will be under the same roof.  It is a shame since different agencies, even those within the same network, have different cultures; someone who is unhappy and even unsuccessful at one may be wildly happy and successful at another within the network.

I would propose that recruiters be given the incentive to make these kinds of moves with employees by offering them reduced commissions to move them.  A recruiter who is trusted can deal with human resources to bring about the move with no issues.  A verbal or even emailed introduction by an objective third party is much more likely to be kept confidential and probably would not put an employee in any real or perceived danger.  Besides, finding a way to allow this would improve the speed with which harried HR people could fill jobs.

Every company seeks the best talent they can get.  And every agency and holding company should seek to maximize the loyalty of its employees.  Making inter-network movement easier should be the goal if the right talent for a job - any job - is somewhere within the network.  The prevailing thinking is that moving people would be counter productive since it might hurt an account at one of the agencies. One person moving rarely hurts an agency client relationship and if an employee is unhappy, they will probably leave anyway.  So, if they are productive and well liked, allowing them to move would be a very good thing.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Happy To Be In The Wall Street Journal Today

The Wall Street Journal Quoted me today in an article about the changes in the ad business.

I find it interesting that by the end of last week, five days after the Publicis/Omnicom merger had been announced, there were a few staff emails and a couple of department heads, but most people still felt unsettled.  I wrote about fear in the business in April of 2010.http://viewfrommadisonave.blogspot.com/2010/04/there-is-too-much-fear-in-business.html  It is only getting worse.

Agency management needs to be able to take care of its own – even before handling Wall Street. 
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