Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Six Ways People Inadvertently Hold Themselves Back In Their Careers

I often meet people who, I assess as I am interviewing them, should be farther ahead in their careers.  Some are actually quite senior, but could be doing better.  Some are more junior but are directionless. I have looked at the ways why this happens and have come up with these six.

1)    They push their salaries too high, too soon
For whatever the reason, most people think they are being paid too little, especially early in their career.  They may push themselves up by changing jobs and often take positions they are not yet qualified for. They talk themselves into getting hired for jobs that they should not be in.  Consequently, they are unable to perform up to the expectations of the job and often get fired. Then they take a second job at a too high a salary (because they become accustomed to living on what they have been making) and the same thing happens.  Their career spirals downward and they end up with poor references.  It may take many years for them to get back to where they should be.

2)    They take jobs they cannot succeed in
I was once warned not to take a job at a bad agency, but the title (head of account management) was appealing.  I honestly believed I could change the place.  I could not.  Part of maturity is realizing that you cannot do everything.  If a company tells you that they want to change, you must question this with all the company's principals at length to make sure that they are all on the same page and whether they will give you the tools necessary to accomplish the change – otherwise you cannot succeed.  You also must find out what criteria will be used to measure your success.  If success eludes you, it is difficult to get back on track.

3)    They stay in jobs too long
Many people are change averse, so they stay and stay and stay, even though many know that they are underpaid.  It is vital for career building that we get new experiences on a frequent basis.  (This doesn’t mean job-hopping ever six months or a year.) Unless you are in a job where you get promoted and get salary increases on a very regular basis, it is important to change jobs.  It is also important that you realize whether promised raises and promotions will come on a timely basis.  Discretion is the better part of valor and leaving may be good for your career. Most potential employers want to know that you can function in a variety of cultures and situations.  Many people who spend ten, fifteen or twenty years at a company cannot adapt well to new situations.

4)    As they take new jobs they do not ask themselves critical questions about their new jobs
Many people become so anxious to leave jobs that they fail to evaluate the impact of a new job on their career. The questions you must ask yourself before accepting any job are:
“What if this job is a dud?  What will it give me that I did not have before?  And, what will it give me that a new employer would want?” As a result of not asking these questions, jobs often prove to be a dead-end because other employers are not interested in the experience.

5)    They have not thought out or planned their careers
When an interviewer asks where you would like to be in five years, there is no right answer, but the answer to the question indicates whether you have plotted out your career. A career is like a road map.  You can make all kinds of stops and detours, but if you don’t know where you are going you cannot get there.  For each person, that road map may be different.  I knew I wanted to run an ad agency; I also looked at the successful people in the business and knew what kinds of experiences they had so that I could imitate where appropriate for me.  I created a formula for myself and went for it.  Sadly, many people tell me what they want to do and go, but don't have a plan and are unable to take actions to get themselves there.

6)    You must have savings to sustain you if you are out of work
Savings are critical to people’s success.  In this economy, everyone gets terminated at one time or another.  People who do not have enough savings – six months, minimum – rush into new jobs because they need the money.  They often do not think about the impact those jobs might have on their career.  See 1 through five above. Think of savings as an expense.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Changing Careers May Be The Right Choice

I got a call recently from someone who admitted that he was really unhappy; he no longer liked what he was doing.  I suggested to him that it might be time to change careers.  His reaction was that if he changed careers he would have to take a cut in salary (he was making a substantial income) and that his family might think he was a failure. He also didn’t have a “Plan B” and had no idea what to do. 

Here is what I told him.

First and foremost, some of the most happy and successful people I know are in their second or third careers.  Beyond that, he had to change his attitude.

To try and to not succeed is not failure.  Failure is not to try at all.

One of the hardest things to do in life is to decide that you don’t like what you are doing.  That revelation, for most people, comes slowly.  For others, one day it hits them like a locomotive.  But in either case, deciding to change professions is a difficult decision, especially if one is established and making a good living.  Starting over may require considerable sacrifice and difficulty. But everyone should develop a “Plan B”.

There is no shame in changing careers. In fact, in this day and age of “rent an employee” mentality at companies, it may be a necessary step.

Sometimes changing careers is a natural evolution – I went from advertising account person to advertising recruiter.  That transition was brewing for many years and I have not regretted this move for one second.  And it wasn’t as if I didn’t like being an account person, but I was bored with it, frustrated and wanted to work for myself.

I wasn’t miserable, just unhappy.  It took me a long time to admit to myself that I was not happy and did not have to do what was expected of me my entire life.  That realization was difficult.  After all, my dad had a very successful ad agency and was well known in the business.  I had followed in his path (notice I did not say footsteps).  But the path, for me, had come to an end.  I had been very successful, started and ran a well-known small agency, but I was finished.  When I announced that I was going into recruiting, those who knew me well thought the change was perfect.  It was an easy transition once I had made up my mind to do it.

Most people have no plan B and have no clue as to what to do next.  But it is a mistake to keep doing the same thing over and over if it is not working.  I think that is accepted as the definition of insanity.  It may be necessary for people to seek outside help.  Coaching, career counseling or even career aptitude testing are all possibilities. (I would recommend Johnson & O’Connor Research Foundation – I have actually had people share their test results with me and they are both true and impressive.)

I told the person who called me that there was no reason to be miserable in life.  In fact, as a recruiter, I told him that I had seen dozens, perhaps hundreds of people who decided to do what they wanted rather than what was expected.  And they became not only happier, but far more successful socially and often financially. 

I can think of one man who was in his early fifties, who had been let go multiple times.  He sold his too large house in Wilton, Connecticut and moved to one of the Carolinas.  He used the proceeds of his house to buy a smaller home on a golf course and then open a bookstore.  And despite the problems faced by independent book sellers because of Amazon and the like, he is making more money than ever, and is far happier.  I also remember a woman who was an account executive at an ad agency who decided to go into magazine sales.  Her friends at her agency told her that media sales people were flunked-out ad agency people, which of course is nonsense (be careful, your friends will get you into more trouble than your enemies because they mean well)  She made the change.  She has loved sales.  And today she is a publisher of a major publication and is a big deal in her category.

It is often difficult to change directions.  But if one is determined, one can do it and be successful – and happy.  

Go for the brass ring,

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

How To Negotiate The Salary You Want In A New Job

This post is adapted from a post made on October 21, 2011.  I thought it worth repeating with a bit of updating.  

I have literally negotiated thousands of salaries and jobs over the past thirty some odd years.  I can only think of a handful of cases where a negotiation failed to produce a happy candidate and a happy client.  In order to be successful in negotiating, you have to approach an offer and potential negotiation with the correct mind-set.  In almost all the cases where there was a failure, either the candidate (usually) or the company (occasionally) approached the offer as a take it or leave it affair.

Start with a premise.  There should be no winners and no losers in a negotiation.  A negotiation should merely be a buyer (company) and a seller (prospective candidate) who are looking towards the same goal - a successful hire.  The buyer wants you to work at his or her company; the seller wants to work there.   While I recognize that there are bean counters, some HR people and some candidates who insist on “winning”, they are approaching the negotiation in the wrong way.  I always think that an offer should be accepted with the company thinking it is paying a bit too much and a candidate feeling that he or she is making too little. (I have never understood why a company will give me a job with an initial a salary range and then come in with an offer at the low end of that range (occasionally, they offer a salary that is below the original range); at the same time, candidates always want more than they end up making. I always give the range, knowing that the candidate will generally only hear the highest number.) If one approaches a negotiation as a win or lose situation, it will result in a less than happy hire.

The truth is that by the time a company decides to hire a specific candidate, they are very much committed to him or her.  And, at the same time, a candidate who decides that the company is right for them is equally committed.  So why should it be unpleasant with winners and losers?

The ideal negotiation, if there is any, should go like this: the company offers x, the candidates wants y and they meet in the middle.  It should not be protracted or difficult.  And there should never be ill will.

Candidates sometimes actually have to give themselves permission to accept a job. What I mean by this is that the candidate has committed to himself or herself at a certain financial or title level.  They may have even told themselves or their spouse how much they think they are going to get (often, far more than may be realistic).  And with that number or title in mind, they go job hunting.  When an offer comes for less then they previously thought they should get, they have to find a way to accept the job and not lose face to themselves or their family. There are lots of ways to do this.  Scheduled salary reviews, signing bonuses, guaranteed bonuses, guaranteed salary increases, extra vacation, better titles, spousal accompanying on business trips are all methods companies can use to get people to say, “Yes”.  These things should be part of a negotiation. 

Once an offer has been made, one of the best ways I know for candidates to get more money, a better title or other perks is to tell the company (or recruiter) that you really want the job but that you need more and if they give it to you, you will accept on the spot. This commitment before actually accepting works 90% of the time.

One of the perplexing things about recruiting is people who have been interviewing at a company for weeks, even months, who then receive an offer and ask for the weekend (or longer) to think about it.  They have had the entire time they have been interviewing to think about it already.  I certainly understand discussing an offer with a spouse or family.  Hopefully, that has been done long before an offer comes in so that accepting is merely a formality.  Accepting with enthusiasm is a positive way to start a relationship.

Telling a company you are waiting for another offer and want to compare them is not a smart move.A candidate who only comes for money will also leave for money.

One piece of advice.  Before resigning, you must have an offer letter.  The letter should spell out the full agreement of employment – title, responsibilities, salary, reporting structure, bonus, reviews, and any other understanding of the job which was discussed that is be relevant.  An offer letter is not a contract but it spells out your mutual understanding of the deal.  Remember, if it isn’t in the offer letter, it isn’t part of the deal.

When the negotiation is over, both parties should be happy and positive. 

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Eight Advantages Of Independent Vs Publically Owned Ad Agencies

There are fewer and fewer large independent ad agencies. That is possibly due to the fact that as an independent agency matures and the owners are looking for an exit strategy, selling to one of the publically owned network agencies is an obvious and easy choice. Unfortunately, if you ask any former owner of an independent agency, they will tell you that they happy with the payout and are unhappy by the constraints placed upon them by their new owners.  This is especially true if the agency was successful as an independent; suddenly having someone poking through the business is difficult.

David McCall (McCaffrey & McCall) sold out to Saatchi (at that time WPP).  He confessed to me that he would give them back their money.  He hated the idea that he couldn’t even hire a senior administrative assistant without Saatchi’s permission.  While his agency had been immensely profitable, with the restrictions placed on them, he was actually making less money than before and with no incentive to make more.   Independent agencies can make profit and loss decisions with no consequence except to the owners. David McCall lasted through his contract and then retired.

Here is what I have observed about independents vs network owned:

1) Fear of Being Fired
If an independent agency loses an account, they do not necessarily have to cut staff.  When Deutsch lost the profitable Tri-State Pontiac Dealers in the mid-1990’s, prior to being owned by IPG, they kept the staff on hand and used those people to help them pitch several automotive accounts until they finally won Mitsubishi.  There are many examples of that kind of horse trading.

2) Freedom to Hire and Give Raises
Independent agencies don’t have absurd restrictions about hiring or giving raises.  The networks have dictated the timing and amount of salary increases that can be made. While those rules are breakable under certain circumstances, the HR department and management rarely do so unless a candidate gets an offer from another agency.  When that happens, there is generally an available budget to make counter-offers. The network agencies have ridiculous salary restrictions on hiring; most have to get specific permission to hire candidates at pre-ordained salary levels.  WPP, for instance, will not allow its agencies to hire people above $150k without specific permission.  That permission requires time-consuming paperwork and can often take weeks to complete. Meanwhile, both clients and the agency suffer.  These arbitrary rules hinder agency operations, and in some cases have actually affected the agency and client relationship.

3) Control of Expenses
Independent agencies do not have restrictions put on them for new business or other expenses.  Just last week, WPP asked its agencies to cut back on spending for non-billable expenses, including Cannes.  Cannes?  Give me a break.

4) Control of the Culture
Face it, the holding companies only care about the bottom line.  There is no real concern for culture.  That is why so many agencies have been bought and disappeared.  As I have often said, one plus one is often far less than two.

5) Less Fear About Clients Being Bought
Independent agencies may be limited to only domestic U.S. accounts – the international affiliated independent groups are only effective on a very limited basis. And big, worldwide brands tend to be handled by the big worldwide network agencies.  But, on the other hand, unless and until their client brands are sold to the international conglomerates, they are pretty much protected from corporate shifts in marketing policy – consolidation vs. decentralization, which occur constantly with the huge multi-nationals. This is all true unless, of course, their client companies are bought or sold.

6) More Objectivity
Independent agencies probably give better, more objective creative and strategic advice to their clients because they are not under pressure to keep an account.  I have heard many stories about holding companies forcing agencies to retain bad accounts for any number of reasons.  Independent agencies don't face this pressure.  I can think of Cramer-Krasselt resigning Panera Bread a few years ago because they did not agree with the client. It was great for the agency and may have also been good for the client.

6) Better Access to Senior Clients
Somehow, independent agencies seem to have more access to the management of their accounts.  One former independent agency owner whose agency was taken over by one of the top five holding companies told me that their agency had far more contact with the top brand people when it was independent. I am not sure why this is, but it is.

8) Better Focus on Creativity
Most of all, as agencies grow and get absorbed, the work tends to become homogenized as well.  Jay Chiat had a wonderful quote.  He said, “I wonder how big we will get before we get bad.”  Truer words have rarely been said. I have written many times that I believe that culture is everything.  It is interesting to note that the agencies which remain independent or which are part of smaller holding companies, tend to be more creatively focused – Wieden+Kennedy, RPA, David & Goliath, Cramer-Krasselt, Droga 5, etc.  When they get bought, they tend to have to conform to whatever network has purchased them and often get merged and submerged into oblivion.

In the past decade, there have been many ad agency start-ups, especially in the digital arena.  These independent agencies have grown well and, ironically, have been able to attract many big-name multi-national clients who are looking for better work.

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