Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Adventures In Recruiting: The Bad Seed – A Strange Tale Of A Liar

There once was a superstar account executive.  I placed her at a great small agency.  Margeotes, Fertitta Weiss.  It was a really good placement because she was destined to become a big star; she had come out of a big agency with all the requisite background .  For this post, we will call her Meghan.

Meghan was well liked and doing a great job.  She was at the agency for about six or seven months and called me to ask advice.  She had been approached by another recruiter to go to the agency that then handled Revlon; she would be an account supervisor..  She told me it was her dream account.  She told me how much the job was paying (of course naming the highest amount she was told, which was probably 50% more than she was currently making) and asked me what she should do.  I told her that I did not think she had enough experience to handle Revlon which was a very difficult account; I believe she had been an account executive for under two years.  I also told her she was doing very well where she was and that in about another year she would be promoted and be making at least the money that this job was supposedly paying.  I also explained to her that Revlon was very difficult and notoriously fickle, changing agencies frequently.  I did tell her that if it was her dream account, she should probably take one interview, but that I did not want to be involved as it was awkward for me since I placed her at the agency and was not involved with this situation.  I also asked her not to discuss it with me.  I knew the recruiter who called her and told her to work with him and not me.
Nevertheless, she kept calling.  She called me to discuss every interview she had and every discussion she had with her recruiter.  It was a little odd and I told Meghan again that I was uncomfortable with the conversations since I had nothing to do with this.  I mostly just listened politely, but don't remember saying anything beyond that she should be talking to her recruiter.

A few weeks went by and early one morning, out of the blue, her boss, George Fertitta, called me and asked, “Is there any reason why I should continue to work with you?”  I was shocked and I asked him what he was talking about.  He told me the Meghan had told him that I recruited her and sent her to another agency and that I got Meghan an offer to work on Revlon. I was dumbfounded.  Recruiting out of a company a recruiter works for is a no-no and highly unethical. I immediately got into a cab and went to the agency so I could have a face-to-face with George.   Meghan saw me and ran to her office and, literally, locked herself in and would not open her door or talk to me.  Through the door I asked her why she told her boss that I was her recruiter, but no response.  It was bizarre.  George told me that he would like to get to the bottom of the issue, but that never happened.  Meghan never again took my calls.  (Incidentally, for some reason, she did not take the job and remained at MFW.)  

I lost the account…temporarily.

Meanwhile, I had placed another senior person there.  She, too was a star; her name was Susan.  Meghan worked for her. 

Strange things started to happen to Susan.  She would find the client in a conference room, but did not know about the meeting. There would be creative meetings she knew nothing about.  It was still before computers and people sent out memos.  While Susan’s name was on memos, many were never delivered to her. Consequently, she missed meetings, deadlines and important information. The agency thought she was disinterested and after many similar incidents, Susan was terminated.  It left her dumbfounded.

Then, one day, George saw Meghan in the hallway and asked her about something having to do with a client.  It was one of those innocuous hallway meetings we have all had.  Meghan told him a whole long story about her conversation with the client just the previous day, including that there would be a meeting with the client the following week, but she had not yet sent out the memo. Her conversation was filled with many details.  Later that morning, by sheer coincidence, George was speaking to the client and said something about Meghan's conversation and the upcoming meeting.  The client told him that he had no idea what George was talking about – he had not spoken to Meghan in about a week.  George was incredulous and questioned the client about the conversation and its details.  When the client expressed no knowledge of any of it, George Fertitta realized that he had been lied to.

He thought about the situation and, then, connected all the dots and said to himself, “Oh my God, Paul and Susan.” He realized that Meghan was a congenital liar and immediately fired her.  It was too late to rehire Susan, who was now gainfully employed elsewhere. 

George called me and asked to have lunch; on the phone he gave me a brief explanation of what had happened.  The purpose of the lunch was to apologize to me.  I felt vindicated. And to this day, George Fertitta is the only person who has ever apologized to me for a mistake.  I continued to recruit for him until he sold the agency and retired.

But the end of the story came about two years later, when a friend who was the new president of an agency called me to replace a non-performing executive.  You guessed it – Meghan. 
Now in two years Meghan had gone from being an account executive to, what was then the next level above supervisor, management supervisor.  The president felt she was not performing to her title; he had spoken to her several times but she did not or could not improve her performance. In fact, she parried every criticism, blaming the issues on people above and below her.  I explained that the reason why was that she was the only MS in the business who had probably never been an account supervisor.

Suffice to say that Meghan lost her job and, to my knowledge, never worked in advertising again because of her bad references.   

I recently looked her up on line. She is now in real estate, but on the website, I saw that she even lied about her titles and success in the advertising business, claiming that she was an EVP at this last agency and there far longer than she actually worked there.  Hard to believe, but very true.  Pity her clients.  I can only imagine what she tells them about properties she is showing.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Adventures In Recruiting: The Candidate Who Could Not Make Up Her Mind

Not long ago, a recruiter friend of mine told me this story.
It seems that there was an account supervisor working on a cosmetics account.  She was underpaid and her responsibilities were actually below her experience level.  As a result, she was vulnerable to being recruited to another job.  Through the recruiter who told me the story, this account supervisor received an offer on a competitive cosmetics account, still as an account supervisor, but for about 50% more than she was making.

She accepted immediately.  It was a great offer at a good agency on one of the most visible accounts in the category. When she went to resign, her agency came right back at her telling her how much they valued her and asked her to wait a couple of days.  In a day or two they came back at her with a counter offer.  They promised that they would give her a title of senior account supervisor (the agency had no such title) and give her a raise to meet the other agency’s offer. Both the salary increase and the title would occur in six months.  The recruiter told the AS that she was playing with fire and that six months was ample time for her to be replaced. And because nothing would happen for half a year, the agency would have no additional expenses.

I have written many times about not accepting counter offers.  This story illustrates what can happen. A counter offer that meets the new salary is not a counter offer; a counter offer, if it is a real counter, should actually be higher and better than the new offer. It should be immediate and not in the future, especially not in six months. Offers for more money from a current employer may be flattering, but do not resolve the underlying issues for wanting to leave in the first place.

Well, nevertheless, this account supervisor accepted this non-counter offer to stay with her current agency.

The recruiter told the new agency and they were very disappointed.  The new agency really liked her and added another $5,000 to their offer and a promise, which they would put in writing, of a promotion within six months.

So the account supervisor again accepted this new offer, agreed to a new start date and then again told her existing agency she was leaving.  They came back to her and agreed to meet the new agency’s promise of title and salary in three months. It was clear that the existing agency was just buying time.
The recruiter warned her not to take the counter offer and to move on.  Of course, the candidate figured that the recruiter was only trying to make a placement and was exaggerating the negative aspects of staying where she was.

In effect, the account person played it badly with both agencies. Why she would stay at her existing agency was incomprehensible.  Not surprising, both agencies were furious.  Her existing agency saw her as disloyal; the new agency realized that she was wishy-washy. 

The recruiter was so angry that she actually called many other recruiters as well as other people she knew who worked on cosmetics and tried to blacklist this person.

Well, guess what? The candidate was replaced and terminated about six weeks later.  She actually called the second agency and asked if the job was still available.  Very correctly they would have nothing to do with her.  The recruiter who was involved told this supervisor that she would never again work with her. Surprise.

As told to me by the recruiter, this account supervisor was out of work so long that she had to take a job that was paying less than she was making when this whole business started.

When I heard the story about a year later, she had lost her new job when the agency lost the account she was working on.  She ended up leaving the business.

The whole point of this post is that once you make up your mind to leave your job and you get a good offer, you must leave.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Adventures In Advertising: How Business Was Once Pitched - And Won

Once upon a time, long before new business consultants conducted paid searches for companies, new business was quite different.   If an agency wanted to pitch an account, they had to figure out how to get to the person in charge of the account; usually the president or chairman of the company.  President, chairman or other CEO's were totally involved in their company's advertising.

I love this story.

As many of you know, my dad and his brother had an agency, Lawrence C. Gumbinner Advertising (It later became known as Gumbinner-North).  By the 1960’s it was the twentieth largest agency in the world.  This is the story of how they won the business that helped get them there.  They were fairly small, but aggressive. Shortly after they started, they contacted the legendary George Washington Hill, who was president of American Tobacco.  They were the manufacturers of, among many cigarette brands, Lucky Strike, which actually had about a 20% share of the tobacco market. It was one of the world’s largest advertisers.  Mr. Hill was notoriously difficult and highly successful.  Nevertheless, he agreed to meet my dad, my uncle and Milton Goodman, who was the creative director.

They had an idea for one of the company’s smaller brands. They made whatever kind of presentation they made in those days. It was only to Mr. Hill.  There were no other client people there as was common in those days.  Mr. Hill was impressed.  Unfortunately, he told them that their agency was too small for the account. It was not an unexpected response.  Apparently, they had pitched one of the company’s smaller brands, but Mr. Hill said no, their agency was just too small.  Milton Goodman looked at him and, as my dad told the story, said, “Mr. Hill, the difference between a small agency and a large agency is your account.”

He thought for a moment and then, on the spot, Mr. Hill rewarded the agency with a brand of cigar, Roi-Tan. (“What this country needs is a good 5¢ cigar”). 
The campaign ran for over 40 years (eventually becoming 10¢). Over time, the agency was given other brands and eventually was given Tareyton cigarettes which was a multi-million dollar account. During the time that they had the business and Mr. Hill was president of the company, they always had full access to him and he approved all the advertising, there were no issues between them despite his reputation for being difficult.

I doubt a story like that could happen today.
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