Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Dysfunction Of The “Creative” Agencies

When people are looking for jobs from the creative-oriented ad agencies, the complaint I hear most is that they are disorganized and often dysfunctional.  Raises and promotions don’t come on a scheduled basis, reviews are not formalized, account people and planners are by-passed by the creatives.  Creative people belittle the account group and change strategy and executions without informing the account people or the client.  All this is probably true by the very nature of creative shops.  

Before I deal with this, I would first like to address a term I do not like and never have – “Creative” Agencies. By their very nature, all advertising agencies are creative.  Some just more so than others.
In the 1960”s and 1970”s the smaller agencies that were turning out great creative work were called boutiques by the big agencies and the trade press.  It was actually a pejorative term.  The intention of the bigger shops was to belittle the agencies that were turning out great work.  The top ten or fifteen agencies were highly process oriented and prided themselves on their ability to turn out work based on solid strategy and which scored well in copy testing.  All advertising people know that there is a difference between effective work which scores well in testing and good creative work. One of the big agencies, no name here, but if you are over forty, you know who it was, used the slogan, “It isn’t creative unless it sells” which was an apology (in my mind) for its bad work. It was a put-down of the creative agencies.

The myth has been perpetuated that if an agency is small, it cannot be strategic. It just isn’t so.  What happens is that as agencies grow and attract larger, more disciplined clients, procedure and process begins to interfere with their ability to do cutting edge work.  The late, great Jay Chiat had a wonderful saying, “I wonder how big we will get before we get bad?”.  That about sums it up.  Most of today’s successful agencies started out small and then figured out how to keep process from interfering with their creativity.

There is and always has been a degree of dysfunction at all good ad agencies.  That dysfunction is worse at smaller shops, by their very nature.  Ad agencies are generally started by entrepreneurial creative people who come out of larger agencies.   Their initial emphasis is only on the work and not on the functioning of these agencies and, consequently, these agencies often lack form and systems. As their agencies grow, of necessity, they add systems and process, but their emphasis is always on their ability to bypass the bureaucracy which prevents good work from getting done. To put it a different way, at the huge worldwide shops it is much easier for bad work to slip through.

The largest agencies have all kinds of departments.  I was shocked when I went from a smaller boutique to a big agency as a young account executive.  The big agency had all kinds of separate units which I had never seen – a music department, casting, strategy, research, a promotion department, even what was then called personnel.  There were set processes for everything.  At the smaller agencies, all that work was accomplished by the principals or by people who reported to them in the general course of their business.  They spent most of their time servicing clients and handling creative tasks and paid little attention to the processes of their business.  Best example is Mary Wells.  Anyone who knows knew Wells, Rich, Greene, knows that there were no systems whatsoever.  Raises might not be given for two or three years, but if an employee was doing well, they might get a 75% increase; the percentages which exist agencies today simply did not exist at WRG.  There is one story of a person who was distraught about his car dying and the next day a brand new Ford was delivered to his home, a gift from Mary Wells (they had the Ford Corporate business).

All smaller agencies have tended to be somewhat disorganized, especially compared to the big shops.  This is neither bad nor good. It is just a fact which can best be summed up by a comment made to me by an account executive who had gone from Grey (the old Grey, not the current incarnation) to Chiat/Day. This was in the early days of Chiat in New York. Computers and open space and the elimination of administrative assistants was just coming into being. This account person called me on her second day telling me she was leaving (I had not placed her).  When I asked why, her comment blew me away, “I can’t believe it,” she said, “I have to do my own Xeroxing.”  I said to her that if Jay Chiat could do it, she could.  She told me that she did not get a college education and train at Grey so that she could do this kind of menial work.  She left and went back to Grey.  

If process and structure are what drives you, stay at the big companies.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Some Thoughts After 30+ Years of Recruiting

As I look back on 30 years of recruiting, much has happened. I have posted on my blog about many events and observations, but there are some additional thoughts - mostly about people - I would like to share.

I have met a lot of wonderful people over the years. I regret that I have not been able to place every one of them. And I have written several times that when a recruiter does not place somebody, it does not mean that they do not like them. In fact I have not placed some of my favorite people; their wants and needs may not be in line for opportunities that I currently have at the time they are looking. Often, when I find the right opening and I call them, they have moved on and are not now interested.

Because I meet between 5 and 15 people each week, sometimes more, I regret that I cannot keep up with all of them. There are just too many people that I like or that I think are very talented and placeable.  I wish I could call all of them to check in on a regular basis.

Over the years, I have played a game with myself. As I meet people, I try to guess early on in their careers, who are the superstars. Who will be successful? And whose career is going to crash into a pile of mud? One thing that I have discovered, is that I am often wrong. I don’t believe there are any predictors of success, at least not that I have discovered.  So much of major success has to do with place and time, much of which is almost random.  As a result, some of the least likely people become highly successful and some of the most likely people, who I thought would be fabulous, just kind of fade into oblivion; some by their own choice, others by the coincidences and chances of their careers.

As I think back, I see a few people who were potential superstars who, for reasons only known to them, just pulled themselves back from the brink of success. Some did not want to pay the price of huge success and pass by money and fame and choose, instead, family and lifestyle. I respect them immensely.

Some people make terrible decisions which cost them dearly. I actually regret that I could not help them and those decisions. It's not that I am always right, but I do have a good track record for being correct about people and jobs and what will work and what will not.

Many people whose careers where on the verge of success make very strange short cuts, thinking that those choices would more quickly lead them to greater success.  This often happens to people who are on a great track at the big, prestige companies who suddenly decide to take jobs at smaller agencies or to move out of town to take a big title.  These jobs often fail to be the short cut that the employee was looking for. Many times, these new companies have been made promises which will not be kept. (I can think of one mid-size agency where the president/owner has been on the verge of retiring for years promising to leave his company to a new hire – sadly, it simply isn’t going to happen, Ask the half dozen former presidents.)   As a result, the careers of the people who made these moves tend to crash and burn.  Once out of the mainstream, it is hard to get back on track.  From my point of view, as much as I want to place these people in a great new job, the companies that they subsequently want to go to often won’t hire someone who has taken a wrong turn in their career. 

I wish I could have helped all these people.

Then. I have also seen some people who have middling careers, but end up on a growing piece of business and they rise with it or have other circumstances which propel them forward and upward.  God bless.

I still love it all.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Giving Two Weeks’ Notice Is A Courtesy, But It Is Also B.S.

The common expected norm of a departing employee is to give two weeks’ notice.  I have no idea where this procedure came from, but, frankly, it is a crock, both for the candidate and, especially, for the company.

While two weeks’ may allow the departing employee to complete some of the projects he or she has been working on, once someone resigns, they no longer have their heart in it.  The two weeks does allow the just resigned employee time to get his or her head around the new job. 

Two week's notice does little for the company.  Here is why.

Most companies fail to react to a resignation immediately.  Truth is, especially in larger firms, it takes about a week to recover from the shock, gather everyone together and come up with a plan.  If a counter-offer is to come, which I never recommend for either the company or the candidate, it generally takes until well into the second notice week to decide to make a counter offer. Most of the time, those offers get turned down a day or two after they are made.  So the search for a new employee does not really start until the end of the second week or, more likely, third week, when the former employee is gone.

Every recruiter, contingent or fee-paid, gets assignments which are “urgent”.  Over the years, I have had many assignments where the company tells me they have to identify and hire a candidate within a few days; it rarely happens. I found information on line: statistically, it takes many weeks to find and fill a job.  A recent study from Bersin by Deloitte found that the time it takes to fill a position has increased over the last four years. In 2011, companies filled vacant positions in 48 days, but now Bersin has found that it takes an average of 52 days to fill an opening - that is more than seven weeks.   
When client companies tell me that a search is urgent, I tell them that it will take a minimum of a month - or longer - to fill a job. Here’s what happens; it is common sense: Even for a single-category recruiter with extensive industry files, it may take several days or longer to identify and contact an appropriate candidate, it may take more days to schedule an interview. (A good recruiter will always re-interview a candidate they have not seen in a while.  They have to determine if the candidate is right for the assignment.Assuming that they identify and qualify a candidate within a week, they have to then reach the hiring company, which, surprisingly, may take a day or two. We are now well into the second week. The company has to then schedule multiple interviews with its own executives.  This may take a minimum of a week, but often much longer.  Assuming they like someone they have met and want to make an offer, it may take another week for the candidate to negotiate and say yes.  Then, assuming that they are currently employed, they have to give two weeks’ notice.  All this time may take four to six weeks, or longer.

The point is that the two weeks’ notice period is long gone by the time a new employee can be found.  Over the years, I have seen many companies try to “guilt” a candidate into staying for more than two weeks.  This is a bad strategy.  Why have a disenchanted employee stay to finish up work which they are not into?  It is purely for the convenience of the company.  I advise candidates not to do this, both for their own sake and for that of their new employer.

This is all not to say that a departing candidate should not give two weeks' notice.  It is common practice and courteous, but it does not really accomplish its intended goal for either the employee or the company.
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