Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Dumbing Down Of Account People

I recently interviewed a terrific account guy who worked at a forty-person ad agency.  While never having worked at a big agency on a major brand, he could run circles around many of the account people at his level at the big agencies.  He has been at his agency for four years. In his role as an account executive he does everything – budgets, project management and traffic, strategic development, complete client contact, presentations and management, all kinds of production – he does the estimating, bidding, attended and managed the shoots (television, content and print).  

As an account executive, he had interviewed at one of the large network agencies and they told him that while he had the skills to be hired, they would not give him the freedom to do all the things he has been doing.  He was also told that if he ended up there he would not attend shoots because that was reserved for account supervisors and above.  Strategic development was entirely the providence of account planners and, except for competitive analysis, he would not be presenting to clients.  He would only see his clients for major meetings – if he were allowed to attend.

Of course he did not want to work there or, now, because of this, for any of the larger agencies.   He took a pass.  One would think that a major agency would be anxious to hire an account person with these skills and experiences.  There is nothing at a big agency he couldn't learn in a few weeks or months.

Ironically, he reminded me of account people I used to know.  When I was an account guy, I attended client meetings and shoots from the time I was an assistant.  I managed print production as an AAE and started managing television production shortly after.  I was always involved with strategy, and drafted my first client marketing plan when I was an AAE (do account people even write marketing plans anymore?). Even as a junior, I was always made to feel that the accounts I worked on were totally mine and I was absolutely responsible for them, even if there were several layers above me who had to oversee and approve my work.
Why are agencies taking this kind of responsibility and sense of ownership away from junior account people?  Why do ad agencies limit their enthusiasm and their growth and development?  It makes no sense.  It is almost like the big agencies are beating the enthusiasm and passion out of their people.

Now I understand that different accounts, like Procter, have rules for who can do what and what each level can and cannot do.  I understand that an AAE or AE or even an account supervisor cannot attend a shoot in Argentina.  But wherever possible, agencies need to insure that the enthusiasm and training of its people is maintained at high levels.

I don’t think that the policies that limit account people are necessarily  intentional.  I think the client fee and procurement system is such that they limit people's time, even if they are 100% allotted to the account.  But I do think that the administration of these rules has been misinterpreted and it is easier for agencies to adopt a one size fits all policy, which is easier to administer (e.g. assistant account executives do not attend shoots, even if they happen to be around the corner from the office). Agency management must put its foot down and pay attention to the development and training of its people.  If they did, it would lower turnover by increasing enthusiasm and commitment,  which, in turn, would increase profitability.

Account people, who are the first line of client contact, should be allowed to have as much responsibility as they can handle.  It would also help clients to increase their respect of agencies and the people who work there.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

How Corporate Culture Dissipates, Especially In Advertising

This is actually the third piece I have written about ad agency corporate culture.  In December I wrote about how ad agencies grow and can maintain their culture. And just a few weeks ago I wrote about defining corporate culture This post is an extension of both posts.

Maintaining corporate culture is an arduous and difficult task.  First and foremost, it requires that the culture is defined, articulated, understood and agreed upon.  Management must be totally committed to the agreed upon mission and then it must be disseminated to all employees and clients. It has to be an integral part of new business.   

Maintaining culture is an arduous task and requires a total commitment on the part of management.  I call this my theory of 10%.  It goes something like this: Two people go into business together.  They can agree on 99% of everything.  Then the business grows and they have to hire.  They screen as carefully as possible, trying to hire someone just like themselves.  And they can find someone who is 90% like them.  And then they grow some more and then the person they hired has to hire.  And he or she can find someone 90% like themselves.  And now that person has to hire….

Well  what happens on about the fourth or fifth generation of employees, is that the initial partners make a not so surprising discovery – that fifth generation person is only 50% like them.  They simply don’t share the same corporate values.  And when that happens, the culture can dissipate and get away from them. 

That is why it is so critical for senior management to carefully interview everyone who gets hired, first and foremost to insure that those people fit within the culture.  An agency president told me a story of rejecting a potential account director because she couldn’t imagine that this person could possibly fill in for the group account director if she was unable to attend a meeting.  The president’s attitude was that her account directors should have enough “chops” to be able to fill in for the next level up.  Ditto every level.  The president felt that the group director was merely being expedient and that the person they wanted to hire was not strong enough for the level.  I agreed that she did not fit within the culture.

Quite simply put, that is how cultures defuse. It requires an immense amount of strength to hire appropriately for the culture and not let the exigencies of day-to-day business take precedence.  Everyone in a company must have the same values and management has to work hard to instill their values in every employee.  This is particularly important in advertising where the product is open for interpretation and opinion.  In the long term, maintaining the culture, enables and facilitates growth because it insures that everyone is marching to the beat of the same drummner.

But in order to do that, the culture has to be defined, agreed upon and fully understood by everyone in the organization.  In a previous post, someone commented that the CEO is the sole determinant of the culture.  While that is partially true, the mission has to be fully embraced by all employees.  For instance, if it is a creatively driven culture, all account people and planners must fully understand what they can and cannot do vis-a-vis the creatives and the work. (One example: at the old Grey, account people often got away with simply changing copy;l today that could not happen.)  In every culture, account people must know their clients.  That doesn't mean blindly accepting assignments or rejecting work which might be rejected by the client..  Assuming that the account people fully understand their clients' businesses, the account people have to know how to give direction and evaluate the result, including working with the creative department to develop an agreed upon execution which is within the purview of the assignment.  When this doesn't happen, agencies end up in trouble with their clients.

Again, to quote Jay Chiat, "I wonder how big we will get before we get bad."  There are agencies like Goodby, Wieden, Fallon, BBDO which have gotten big without losing the essence of who they are, but it requires a lot of work and belief by everyone.  And it requires clients who believe in that mission.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Do You Live Your Business?

Like many recruiters, I do work for all kinds of companies and ad agencies.  There are very few ad agencies which I have not heard of or don’t know something about. Most of the companies I work for are well  known.

Now, I don’t expect everyone to know every agency, nor to know as much as much as I do about companies and agencies, but I am always surprised when I call people about a job or the name of an agency comes up in conversation and the person I am talking to is unfamiliar it.   Recently, it happened with Droga5, M&C Saatchi and 72andSunny.  All these agencies have been in the news and each is doing well.  Someone recently didn’t know what DDB stood for and admitted to only vaguely know of Bill Bernbach. Ouch.  That tells me a lot about their knowledge of and commitment to the business.

When I call an account person or planner or media person and they don’t know who the players are, I realize that they probably don’t read the trade press.  And to me, someone who doesn’t follow the trades isn’t committed to the business.  I find the best, most upwardly mobile candidates are totally familiar with the business and its players.  They read the trade press constantly.

Now, frankly, I find subscriptions to Ad Age and AdWeek overly expensive.  But their on-line editions are less expensive - and are updated every day, often more than once.  It is inexcusable for anyone in the business not to read the trades press every week and to check out the daily updates on the net.  Reading the advertising trades should be mandatory for everyone in the business,  especially since some sites like Agency Spy and Media Bistro are free. Lawyers read the Law Review and food executives read Supermarket News.  Agency people should do the same.
  The trade press certainly will help keep people up to date on media, technology and the business in general.  My attitude has always been that you never know one day if a client will ask your opinion about something in the business, and you damn well better have enough knowledge to have an answer.There are new avenues of communication popping up virtually every week which the trades cover.

All agency people should know who is doing what.  I wonder how many advertising people actually follow advertising awards.  I love to troll the net to see new work.  Every account person should make it their business to know who is winning what in print, outdoor, digital, television.  Not that the awards are all that important, but what is important is getting a sense of who is doing good work, both agencies and clients. Over the years, I have interviewed many people who brag that they don't watch television (I rarely pass them on). 

The wonderful thing about advertising is that it is still an exciting and all-encompassing business.  I still love seeing new and exciting work, reading about campaigns and why they were created and seeing the changes and advancements which take place almost daily.  I love looking at commercials and read the ads in magazines before I read the editorial.

Successful people have an enthusiasm which goes beyond their individual accounts and agencies.  It should be part of your life.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

How Long Should A Résumé Be?

Over time I have written a lot about résumés.  That is why I am surprised at myself for not writing this sooner.  Most résumés I receive are the right length, but many are way too long and contain too much information.  I saw something on television last week that said a résumé should always only be one or two pages.  That isn't necessarily correct, either.

When I get a résumé from someone only two or four years out of college and it runs to two or three pages, it is too long.  Most of the length is taken up with unnecessary verbiage and descriptions. If one is changing jobs within the same profession, résumés should never tell the obvious – most résumés, especially from junior account executives, say things like, “liaison with the client” or “handle budgets” or “responsible for job status reports”.  Those are things which are taken for granted by anyone who knows what a junior account person does; they are also easily addressed in an interview.  More important is to put down what you actually accomplished or did that you are proud of and what is important.  The sign of a successful executive is one who can separate the wheat from the chaff, so to speak.  And your internship during high school at Dairy Queen, unless relevant to your career is unnecessary (it can always be brought up on an interview if necessary).

I wrote several years ago that résumés need to only contain where you have worked, how long you were there, what you worked on and did, and maybe a brief accomplishment or two.  Sadly, the average person who reads a résumé will only  spend six seconds on it;  that's right, only six seconds.   That is why  it is important that résumés be no longer than they have to be.

For most careers two or three pages is sufficient.  Occasionally I receive résumés from senior people that go on for five or seven pages. No one cares what you did fifteen or twenty years ago, unless it is totally memorable and momentous.  I see plenty of very senior people – presidents, EVP’s and senior vice presidents – that have only only one page résumés, which is often sufficient.

There is one exception.  It comes from format which came to my attention many years ago.  In his excellent book, “Rites of Passage at $100,000 to $1,000,000” author John Lucht, described a wonderful format which works best for senior executives.  It is a narrative, starting with current job and working backwards.  But it starts out (I am paraphrasing), “I was hired to….” And then goes on to describe what was done and how it was accomplished.  This format can run to over a dozen pages for a senior executive.  It isn’t too long if it is well written.  This is a particularly effective format if you are considering a change in career into a completely foreign field. The book is worth reading for anyone who is considering changing jobs, even within their chosen field.

However, for most people who are staying their current course, shorter is better.  Remember, one of the principle uses of a résumé is as an interview guide, so put down what you want to be asked about.  And keep it to a page or three.
Creative Commons License