Years ago, when the ad agency Scali, McCabe, Sloves had lost Volvo, Marvin Sloves called me to ask me if I could take care of one of his long-term account people. The person had been with them for almost his entire career. Marvin was worried that there might not be a place for him at the agency if they did not replace the account immediately. He told me that he would protect him for as long as he could. Now that is loyalty. (And he kept this account person there for about 18 months until the employee found a new job.)
Where is loyalty today?
I just interviewed a woman who had spent 19 years with a company and lasted there through four mergers. That is a pretty good run, to be sure. The fifth merger just happened and they finally got her. It only took one week after the merger was complete – not even enough time for her to meet the new management or to be evaluated. She was just a line on an accounting form. It wasn’t as if they were closing the office. It was merely that the acquiring company replaced her with its own people, regardless of client consequences. Her old company made no effort to explain or to apologize. They never even talked to her (or her clients, for that matter).
That is callous.
Sadly, it is not unusual in this climate of mergers and acquisitions. Past good deeds are quickly forgotten, if they are remembered at all. There aren’t many like Marvin Sloves, who actually take care of their people when an account is lost or in a merger. I used to get lots of emails and letters from senior managers when someone had to be let go. Those emails always enclosed a resume and said something nice about the people. They also asked me to help those people get a job. I don't see these kinds of letters much any more. I think part of it is that people being let go is the norm, not the exception.
The result of the lack of loyalty is that the second there is a rumor about a merger, acquisition, account loss or, even a poor quarterly performance, résumés hit the street. As well they should, because there is no sense that if the worst happens, the company will be loyal. And, as a result, companies no longer expect loyalty from employees.
I remember my dad telling me, when he sold his agency, that he was most concerned about the “lifers” who had worked for him, especially in support roles. He made a handshake agreement to protect as many as possible and was furious when the people who took over his business did not keep their word. That was in the early 1970’s, and he warned me way back then that business was changing.
When I was an account person, it never occurred to me that I might be fired if my agency lost an account. It just wasn’t part of my employee psyche. Today, it is something that every employee lives with, no matter how senior or junior, no matter how well they have performed.
And it isn’t just advertising. It is something that pervades the entire economy. That is truly a pity. It is an essential change in the way all companies do business.
I guess we have come full circle. I remember seeing old movies where in the 19th century, people joined a company and stayed for life. Today, companies hope an employee will stay two years. And employees hope the company will allow them to stay just as long. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average tenure of a job is 4.4 years. I am sure that among advertising and marketing executives it is far less.