Monday, April 14, 2014

Six Lies Told To Candidates While They Are Interviewing

Companies and hiring managers often don’t tell the whole truth to candidates while they are interviewing.  Often the lies are unintentional, merely a convenience.  For instance, when a person resigns and gives two weeks’ notice; the easiest thing to do is to dust off the old job description and use it without thinking of how the job (or the company) may have changed and evolved since the job was last filled. 

Sometimes the lies are told to try to quickly attract people to an open job.  Sometimes companies believe their own B.S. They really do. Like the president of a well-known sweat shop who told me, with a very straight face, that people at his agency were so turned on and happy that they actually wanted to work late and on weekends.

Here are some of the common lies I have heard. I am sure you can add to the list.

 Our clients loves us
We have heard this story too many times.   We can only guess that it is said because the hiring company or hiring manager likes the candidate and does not want to scare him or her off.

The truth is often quite the opposite.  Corporately, the client management  may love the agency, but it turns out that the brand or day-to-day people really do not like the agency or the work.  This clash between corporate and operations is very common and makes the account difficult.

We rarely work too late and we have summer Fridays off
I had one candidate tell me that a noted sweat shop actually said this.  The truth was people rarely left before 9pm, often worked in the office on the weekends and, while the office closed on summer Friday’s at 1pm, they were still there most Fridays at dinner time. And on the rare occasions when someone wanted totake the afternoon off, it was discouraged.

We are like a family here
Oh, yes, we all know that family. It is the one where no one talks to each other.

We have several candidates interviewing for this job
This is a favorite ploy of many hiring managers and human resources people when the candidate it is said to is the only one interviewing.  I suspect the reasons are two-fold.  First, they don’t want the candidate to know that they may have salary negotiating leverage and second, they think it gives the agency the upper hand when making an offer.

Business is really good
This has been said to many a candidate immediately following massive layoffs due to loss of business.  Worse still, many candidates have been hired to work on an account which is practically out of the door.  Often, people are hired to try to shore up a weak piece of business, but the new person is not told that the account is on shaky ground.

There is about 20-40% Travel
I once placed a candidate who was a newlywed on one of the largest accounts in the world. As an account supervisor she was told there would be a lot of production, which she loved, accompanied by twenty percent travel.  Once she was hired, she discovered that the account was in production virtually all year and she was expected to travel at least three to five days a week.  She left at the end of six weeks when she had not been home for a single weekend.

The truth is that there are lots of people who love difficult situations. They actually thrive on the adversity.  If a recruiter knows, they can screen for it.  If there is no recruiter, candidates should be told the situation on the first interview.  It saves a lot of aggravation later on. 

Being honest with candidates up front, saves a lot of problems down the road.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Creative People Are The Soul Of Advertising

I am shocked at the number of account people I see who never mention creative work or creative people they have been involved with.  I guess it is very easy to forget that the engine that runs all of advertising – traditional, digital, media, planning, etc. – is the creative department. Without them, the business doesn’t work. 

With few exceptions, creative people work longer hours than others in the business.  It is your friendly creative director, who, under deadline pressure, edits commercials until four in the morning.  It is the creative team who must have the work done for tomorrow’s presentation and they haven’t gotten enough input from their account group. Consequently, they are on their own.  As a result, and I am not supposed to be saying this, they create their own strategy to fit the brief and then they do the work.  And it is usually the creative team that presents the work to the client.

It is they who are standing in front of the room, naked, so to speak.

Writers and art directors are demanding, because, sadly, few account people fully understand what information the creative department needs to do their work. I once had a creative partner, who couldn’t do  anything until he fully understood every nuance about the company and the assignment.  Sometimes the smallest detail would affect his ability to do the work well.  But once he understood, the work was magic.  (I wrote a Tribute to Ned Viseltear several months ago.)  He really taught me, after many years in the business. how to motivate and work with good creative talent.

Creative people take pride in their work.  After all, the results of their work is the public face of the business.  It doesn’t matter if they can’t work without proper input. It doesn’t matter if the planner’s insight and direction is slightly off.  It doesn’t matter if the client pushes them to do less than perfect work. It is still their work.

Some creative people are more difficult than others.  Some are totally committed to winning awards at the expense of selling.  Some are just pig headed and some are both pig headed and brilliant.  

The rest of us feed the engine.  Our feelings matter less. I remember once working at a highly creatively driven agency.  The ECD (executive creative director) once said to me as I was going out the door with a portfolio of photographs from a shoot, “Don’t come back unless you get the client to buy our recommended choice.”  It was a really great comment because that portfolio contained his soul.

Media people just don’t feel the same attachment to their media plans.  Few account planners care as much about their insights. And account people learn not to have big egos attached to what they do.

Once upon a time, and it was a long time ago, the creative department was loaded with eccentricities.  Creative people had water fights.  They had dartboards in their offices. Creative people came in late to the consternation of clients (it still happens).  But all the while they were thinking about their craft and trying to make great work for their clients.

It may not be what the rest of us do, but it is the most essential part of the business.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Leaving Gracefully After You Have Been Let Go

Companies terminate employees for all kinds of reasons.  Budgets get cut, accounts get lost, new people come and they want their own team; sometimes business is just bad.  Sometimes the cutback is foreseen and occasionally it is a complete surprise. But if you are terminated, for whatever reason you are given, you must leave gracefully. Never lose your temper, no matter how angry you are.

There are two critical factors in a termination.  The first is severance and the second is references.  Both are usually negotiable to some extent.

Most larger companies have policies which govern the amount of severance allowed.  Sometimes an outgoing employee may be able to negotiate for more, depending on the circumstances.  Companies will generally stick by policy, at least initially, but, if pushed, can be persuaded to grant a longer period of pay, especially if they are approached in a friendly, non-confrontational way. 


For some senior employees, a friendly, non-threatening lawyer’s letter may do the trick (A lawyer’s letter is a lawyer’s letter, no matter how nicely it is written.  There is always an implicit threat in a letter from a lawyer. However, what is not wanted is to push the company to the wall because the company inevitably has deeper pockets than you do).  The truth is that corporate management actually understands this tactic.

But, in the long run, upon exiting a job, the most important thing may be negotiating for references.  References may determine your ability to get your next job.  Even if you have not liked the job or liked the person you reported to, asking for a reference should be something which every departing employee does, regardless of the circumstances of the termination.

Now, there is actually some legal mumbo-jumbo which, in New York State, prevents a reference of any kind.  The law basically says that you cannot prevent someone from obtaining employment.  So the way companies handle that is that they periodically tell their staff that they may not give references of any kind – good or bad.  Most managers disregard that entirely, especially if they know and like the person asking for the reference. 

However, a departing employee must negotiate with former associates and managers for references, regardless of the corporate policy about giving them. 

The time to do it is while still physically there, if possible.  It is important to have a face-to-face meeting to determine what people will or will not say about your employment and your skills. 

Regardless, it should be done immediately, not weeks or months later.

The one thing which is most essential is not to ever trash the company or its people.  I just heard a story about a gentlemen who was terminated. His firing came as a surprise to him.

So, when he was being terminated, he lost his temper with the president of the company.  Rather than smile as best he could, he proceeded to yell at the president and spew out all the venom which had built up during his employment. The result of the tantrum was that he was not given planned severance and he certainly will not get a good reference. 

I know this happens with some frequency, but allowing your temper to get the best of you, is career suicide.  People have long memories.

The best policy is to swallow hard and suck it up.  Your well-being is at stake.  If, in the case just mentioned, the fired employee had discussed the situation in a calm and friendly manner, he might have been able to determine what would be said to potential employers.

Also remember, while people will call your list of references, they may also just call people not on your reference list, including your previous employer.  And one of the most important references may be your previous company.

Leaving gracefully is smart business.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Five Ways For Companies To Keep Employees And Lower Turnover

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a very popular post entitled, “Five Reasons Why You May Leave Your Job.”  This post is the opposite. Turnover is way too high at ad agencies.  They should do everything possible to cut back unnecessary employee loss.  In the long run this saves money.

1 - Never fail to give raises when due
Every employee knows that if they are valued, all they need do is get another job offer and they will get their raise, no matter what.  

One thing is for sure, employees do not understand the ebb and flow of business. The problem is that wage freezes have become so usual that management takes them for granted.,  When there is a legitimate reason for a wage freeze, employees need to hear it from the people running the company, not from finance or HR. Preferably, management will have a staff meeting and do it in person and not by email. In person meetings show care and commitment.  If there is a legitimate wage freeze, then when the freeze is lifted, salary increase should be given retroactively to when it was due. This will increase morale substantially and generates employee loyalty. 
Giving raises only once or twice a year is an inexcusable policy.  This is done only for the convenience of administrators. While it may simplify procedures for a few, it is demoralizing to the many.

New supervisors refusing to approve raises is also inexcusable.  That is why companies have performance reviews and that is what human resources is for.  Companies and managers that don’t allow raises are considered callous. 

2 - Communication Is Essential
While management has many priorities, especially in a crisis (as when an account is lost or when a key employee leaves or when a significant client undergoes a change in management, etc.), failure to communicate with employees causes extreme anxiety.  Staff emails or a staff meetings can go a long way towards keeping employees involved and motivated.

3 - Allowing Difficult Managers to Continue Unfettered is Poor Management
Over the years, there are many jobs which I have filled multiple times due to difficult managers.  The fees paid to recruiters and the high cost of retraining new employees is not justified. If a difficult manager is essential, then companies should get that person counseling. 

I can think of one manager, a notorious screamer who got help and became a model boss.  I can think of another well known, award winning creative director who was sued, along with his agency, multiple times because he had a habit of improperly touching and making advances on female subordinates.  When he was finally terminated, the agency lost no business.

4 - Re institute a Policy of Rotations
A huge percentage of the people who go to a recruiter do so because they are bored. Once upon a time, most agencies had a system of rotations.  Those changes were policy. Clients knew it would happen and expected it. Keeping employees motivated and challenged is critical.

While managing rotations is time consuming and costly, it is less expensive than the cost of replacing bored employees.

Training goes hand in hand with rotation. Training should happen at every level.  It needn’t be expensive or complicated.  And training shows commitment to employees.  Once, an HR professional confessed to me that 75% of the people in the training program left anyway.  I told her that it was thee 25% who remained that the program was for. She was also was honest enough to say that the agency did not give out raises or promotions easily.  No wonder so many people left.

All of these five elements are interconnected and each goes with the other.  If ad agencies are looking to improve margins, these suggestions should help lower overhead.
Creative Commons License