Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Making The Case For Stronger Advertising Account Management

Recently, I read an article in Ad Age that was disturbing, but should serve as a wake-up call for all adverting agencies.  It was about the growth of in-house ad agencies based on an Association of National Advertisers’ survey.

Given the tight economy, it is not surprising to find that clients are pulling some services previously performed by their outside agencies in-house.  What is shocking is the finding that the development of creative strategy is moving in-house.  The article blamed this movement on cost cutting.  But I would propose that if ad agencies were truly offering services that the advertiser could not do on their own, that this would not be happening.  It is a simple question of value added.

The trend of moving services in-house has been developing over a long period of time.  I honestly believe that it started twenty-five years ago with the advent of planning.  Yes, that is right. Planning. Planning, as it has evolved, may have inadvertently hurt the business. (I am not denigrating planners.  I believe in them.)

Until about twenty five years ago, the development of strategy was part of the account function.  The original reasoning behind planners was to strengthen the creative product.  At that time, there was a school of thought, particularly at the creative agencies, that account people were too busy servicing the logistics of the business including traffic, billing and other daily duties.  Planners, originally, were to obtain consumer insights and ostensibly replaced the research function as well as to partner with account people in the development of strategy.  Over time planners have displaced account people from the strategic function which has now left account management responsible to simply get the work out.

As a result, account people are no longer trained to delve into their clients’ business. Planners get the insights as to how and  why consumers buy and use products and services.  So account people no longer spend time doing sales analysis, going out with client sales people, doing store checks and, in short, becoming fully conversant with their clients’ marketing and sales.  The marketing function has now been fully taken over by most clients and, in my observation, most account people rarely are involved with significant internal client marketing meetings..  At the same time, procurement has cut back on servicing and slashed agency compensation to the point where senior people are actually doing the day-to-day work including the things that were once relegated to more junior account people. Procurement cost cutting has made it difficult for account people to do the very things which they should be doing in order to provide a value-added service to their clients.

And now, social media is beginning to replace some planning functions because so many consumer insights can be gained for relatively low cost on line.

As a result, everything is starting to move back to the advertisers themselves.  Because in-house people are right there, under the thumb of client marketing executives, agencies may no longer be providing anything other than creative execution.

A few months ago, I published a post on how agencies had been keeping and saving accounts.  It all amounted to strong account people who got their agencies fully involved with their clients. In every case, strong account management leadership contributed to winning or saving accounts. It is time for ad agencies to strengthen their account groups and to reinvest in them by allowing them to learn their client’s business so that they can make a true contribution to client marketing, strategy and advertising.  Agencies once received commission.  I always said the purpose of the commission was to buy objectivity.  Clients respected that point of view.

Most clients still respect a strong and informed point of view from their agencies.  Account people must be responsible for that once again.

There is absolute proof that this strategy is successful and profitable.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

How To Accept A Job Properly

                              shaking hands photo: shaking hands shaking_hands.jpg

The other week, I received a cc of a note sent to a client by a candidate who had just accepted a job.  It was one of the best such notes I ever saw.  As a result, it occurred to me that a lot of people don’t know how to properly accept a job.

All too often I will accept a job for a candidate, call the client and agree on a start date and then tell the candidate it is confirmed.  All too often, I have to tell my candidates to call the client to thank them and tell them how happy they are.  Very often, that suggestion is met with a, “Should I?”  The answer is always a resounding, " yes".

The thank you note this candidate sent follows. It was not prompted by me:

            “I'm thrilled about this position and will sign the paperwork and email it back to you this 
            evening. I'm certain we'll do great things together and I'm looking forward to starting next week.
            “In the meantime (after I sign appropriate paperwork), could you please send me any 
            relevant decks and background documents in preparation for the [client] meeting on 8/12? 
            I like to hit the ground running.

            “Thanks again,”
I wanted to share this with you because it is short, well written and absolutely communicates the enthusiasm the candidate has for his new job.  It is a really good way to start a relationship.  I am actually amazed that over the years I have seen few emails like this. 
Should anyone need coaching, here are the things you need to do when accepting a job.
            1)  Say yes to whoever offers you the job. Work out a start date.  Ask for an offer letter.
            2)  Call the hiring manager (don’t email) who will more than likely be the person                                                you will report to.  Thank them for the opportunity and tell them how excited                                          you are.  Reconfirm your start date (often HR and the hiring manager are not in sync.)
                 Ask if there is anything you should be reading or doing until you start.  Send an email
                 like the one above.
            3)  email others you have met at the company to express your enthusiasm and thank them.

It is surprising how many people don't do this, certainly not the third point above.  Starting on a positive and enthusiastic note, is a really smart thing.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The State Of The Advertising Job Market, Fall, 2013

The question I am asked most often, particularly at this time of year, is: “What is the job market like?”  Everyone wants to know.

The truth is that there are mixed signals.  On the one hand the economy is getting stronger. There are even reports in the trade press that advertising revenues are up slightly.  On the other hand, there still don’t seem to be a lot of jobs at any level.

While the economy is getting stronger,advertising seems to be lagging.  Last week’s job report showed unemployment at 7.3% a slight dip, but the dip is attributed to fewer people actually looking for jobs.  In advertising, although the unemployment figures are not reported, I believe unemployment is slightly higher.  However, over the past five to seven years, huge numbers of people have left the business.

Corporate profits continue to be strong.  Analysis of the balance sheets of the Fortune 200 still show that companies continue to hold cash.  There is pressure from Washington to start spending that money on research and development, staffing and marketing.  An increase in R&D means that new products spending will go up in the near future.  In the past, that translates to more work for ad agencies, both traditional and digital, the media and other marketing companies.

The commensurate bad news is that procurement continues to put pressure on ad agencies to cut their blended rate (blended rate is the average cost of all staffing on an account).  Agencies are also under pressure todecrease the margins made on their accounts despite having to do more work with fewer people.  As a result, hiring is, at best, sluggish.

Despite all this, I fully believe that this trend will ebb and hiring will begin to pick up in the fourth quarter.

Why?  Because previous cuts have been so great as to leave too few people to do the work. Every agency president I speak to is aware of this issue and complains that the holding companies continue to pressure them not to hire.  I honestly believe that there will be a reversal of this policy within the coming months because agencies need more people to do the work. In fact, there is some evidence that ad agencies are beginning to push back against the procurement policies of their clients.

I tend to be Pollyanna-ish. But I honestly believe that there will be surge in hiring late in the fourth quarter and at the beginning of 2014.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Adventures In Recruiting: I'll Tell Off The Company

I save funny, amusing and strange letters.  I do it just for fun.  The following email exchange was sent to me by a client.

I always tell candidates that if you want a job you have to go after it.  But some job seekers feel that the company owes it to them to be in constant contact.  This is one such letter.  Incidentally, the candidate did not send a thank you note after interviewing. 

            Dear (All the principals of the agency):

            As you may recall, I came into the office on [about a month prior]for an interview
            For the…account position.  I had not heard anything for over five weeks,
            so I emailed Nancy today to ask for an update on the status of my
            application.  Nancy informed me that I was not chosen for the job, and the
            position has been filled.

            I completely understand that often times there is a candidate who is a
            Better fit for the position – this is the nature of the job hunt.  But when
            Someone takes the time to send in a cover letter and résumé for the
            Position, and then arranges their schedule and takes the time to come
            Into the office for an in-person interview, you should at least extend the
            courtesy of informing that person that you are going in another direction,
            And that the position has been filled.

            My interview was over five weeks ago, and the only reason I know the
            position has been filled is because I asked Nancy about it this morning.
            No one bothered to contact me, and I don’t know if they ever would have. 
            I wasn’t even extended the courtesy of a generic form rejection, let alone
            A personal email.  Not informing candidates of the decision after they
            Have come in for an interview is very unprofessional behavior, and it
            reflects very poorly on the firm.
            To be honest, if this is the level of professionalism I can expect from
            [company], I am happy I was not offered the position.

I thought the response that the company emailed this candidate was a subtle but nice putdown:

            I am totally sorry this has been an unpleasant process for you.  To
            be clear, we only hired someone for the position that you interviewed
            for last  week.  For your own benefit, after an interview, it’s really
            incumbent on you to follow up with the person who interviewed you.  We
            had several candidates for the position do this and we were happy to
            give them an update whenever they contacted us.

Now, I have always preached that companies should at least email people who interview with them to thank them for the interview, but it rarely happens; so it is incumbent on candidates to follow up.  It is rare that any company informs a candidate that they were not chosen.   

And telling off the company is not a good way to win friends and influence people in a small industry.

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