Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Good Candidates Get Gobbled Up Fast

Despite the slowly declining unemployment rate, the job market for marketing executives – advertising, marketing, public relations, etc. – continues to be sluggish.

Existing employees are overworked and, often, understaffed.  Often, they are so busy that they have no time to interview the very people who could ease their burden.  So the interviewing process can drag on, often for weeks, sometimes for months.   The problem is, that when people take too long to finish the process, the people they liked at the beginning of the process may have taken other jobs in the interim or they may simply have lost interest based on the inactivity.

The manager who doesn’t know how to recognize good talent and insists on meeting too many candidates often loses the best ones because of their indecision. A good manager must hone their own instincts and they need to trust the human resources and recruiters who are working on their behalf. If those people have been properly briefed, the people they send should be fully capable of doing the job.

If managers are really busy and overworked, their first priority must be to hire the person or people who can relieve them.  While getting the day-to-day work out is essential, managers must make the time to interview. There must be nothing worse than meeting and liking someone only to have them take another job because the manager debated too long and the candidate lost interest.
Over years of recruiting, I have observed that successful companies tend to be egocentric, or, if you will, corpocentric.  They often believe that everyone is dying to work at their company and will therefore wait for them.  I have actually had people say to me, “Why would he/she not wait for me.  This is a much better company.”  And while that may be true, not everyone is committed to working there.

We’ve seen instances where hiring managers sit on résumés of excellent candidates for days, even weeks, before agreeing to interview.  Even candidates who are excited to interview at that company may lose their enthusiasm.  Or, at the very least, they question the commitment to hire and wonder about the focus of the manager who is to meet them.  We’ve seen good candidates actually talk themselves out of taking a job because the process took so long the candidate became discouraged and lost interest.

Every recruiter – including corporate recruiters – knows that there is a certain momentum to the hiring process. It is important for that momentum to be maintained. When good candidates show up, it behooves the company to get them through the system as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

An Advertising Story: Who Says Account People Have Nothing To Do On A Shoot

Account people often forget that they have a significant role to play while shooting commercials. It goes beyond just taking care of the client; it even goes beyond making sure the storyboard is covered.  This is a true story of an invaluable contribution an account person made to his agency and his client.

There was an account guy on a frozen French fry account.  The product was called Tasty Fries and it was extruded potatoes with crinkle edges, much like the way Nathan’s fries are cut.  The edges got crisp in the oven while the inside stayed moist and delicious.  The commercial that was being shot showed a demo of the fries cooking in an oven (time-lapse) with the crinkled edges browning.

The production house had to rent the only specially constructed glass oven that worked and could be shot through so the fries could be shown cooking. It was expensive to rent and essential for the time-lapse in this commercial.   When the senior account guy got to the set after the lighting was complete, it was about 11am.  He asked to see the oven. 

There was no oven.

The account guy was assured by the agency producer that the oven did not matter; they figured out that they could cook the fries in the studio kitchen and shoot them as if they were in an oven through some kind of stop motion, time-lapse photography to show them cooking.  That is where the account guy became assertive and told the producer, the art director and the production house people that there was no way they were going to fake a demo.  They assured the account person that no one would know and that he shouldn’t worry.   The account person told the production house manager and the agency producer that the shoot was over.  When they got the oven, they could re-shoot – at their expense.  Suffice to say there was a big argument, but the account person remained quite adamant.

I was the account person.  

I was cursed and yelled at and told I didn’t have the authority to cancel a shoot.  You bet I did. The production house didn't meet the terms of its contract.  I high-tailed it back to the agency as fast as I could; I barged into the executive creative director’s office and told him what I had done.  Of course, he agreed with me.  Within minutes the art director and producer showed up in his office, mad as hell at me.  They were screaming and ranting about the fact that I had no authority or right to do what I did.  The ECD calmly asked if the oven was there.  Of course they said no.  Then the ECD told them that I was 100% right and that they should have known better.  He also pointed out that I was doing my job.

Had they fudged the demo, we could have all gotten into huge trouble with the FTC.  Fraudulent demos, even if they are a real representation of the truth, are not allowed. (All advertising people should be familiar with the FTC/Campbell's Soup lawsuit  in 1968 or what happened to Volvo in the early 1990's.)  And someone would have had to sign an affidavit as to the authenticity of the demo.  And that someone, in those, days would likely have been me.  And there was no way I would have attested to the the demonstration.

Incidentally, the shoot was rescheduled a week later and went without a hitch, oven and all.

Who says an account person doesn’t have a great role to play on a shoot?  Now, this may be a once in a lifetime occasion, but one never knows.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

How Successful People Fail In New Jobs

I have seen really good people fail miserably in new jobs.  Jobs where by all rights they should have been successful.  Their failure is generally because they did not understand their new environment and had no personal equity to build upon.

The hardest thing to do in a job is to build personal equity.  It takes a very long time for people to know and appreciate someone’s style, learn their strengths, and, most important of all, learn to trust them.  Trust is a major component of equity. And new employees simply aren’t trusted until they start to prove themselves.  

Part of building equity and trust is learning how to operate in a new environment.  It is critical to learn where the bodies are buried, know who can be counted on (both above and below), to know the do’s and don’ts of the new company and to understand how decisions are made and work gets done.  

Without this knowledge, it is easy to fail.

When people fail in a new job, despite success in the previous job (or jobs), it is because they haven't properly studied and learned the new culture.  It is actually easy to fail, even when a new job is similar to a previous position. It doesn’t matter whether one is the chairman, president, CEO or just a lower level employee, when starting work they lack personal equity.  Everything they do is subject to second guessing and there is no benefit of the doubt. Success is built one day at a time.  It is essential to learn how to operate effectively in a new environment before taking significant action.  

What worked before many not work the same way now.

I have seen people go from one company where they were successful and move to another similar company and fail miserably.  I can think of a president of a highly successful creative ad agency who went to another creative agency as president and made a spectacular belly flop.  Why?  Because he didn’t take into consideration the culture of the new place and he didn’t take the time to define the problems and learn how to solve them within the context of his new environment. He tried to operate as he did before.  Unfortunately, the people below him did not know or trust him and they responded to him poorly because his style was so different than his predecessor.

There is a book I would like to recommend to everyone who is changing jobs.  It is by Michael D.  Watkins, “The First 90 Days” and it should be mandatory reading for every mid-to senior level executive who changes jobs.  While the book is somewhat professorial and academic, Mr.  Watkins’ entire book deals with understanding new cultures and how to function effectively within them. It gives wonderful insights into how to succeed.  It is great reading no matter if you are a boss or not.

There have been spectacular failures of new CEO’s, like the recent debacle at J.C. Penny with Ron Johnson. Mr. Johnson’s failure was in misreading the marketplace and the customer; his people followed him but his strategy was off. While this colossal misjudgment caused him to fail, this kind of failure is actually rare. 

More common is the person who starts a new job and tries to do exactly what he or she did in a prior company (they may even have been hired for that exact purpose) and finding that the culture of the new environment is resistant or even hostile. This happened to the agency president mentioned above. Without understanding the nuances of the environment, it may be difficult to accomplish anything (Most of Mr. Watkins book covers this.).  Many an ad agency has hired a guru to save an account, only to find out that the person was an abject failure.  And often that lack of success was not that their ideas were wrong or bad, but rather that they failed to take into account the nature of their new environment and they couldn’t get their ideas accepted and acted upon, either internally and/or with their clients.  I won’t name names, but everyone knows people who have been through this.

One of the smartest agency presidents I know (he ran two agencies), always started his new job by spending his first days at his clients - he talked to everyone who dealt with his agency - until he understood their point of view of his company and its people.  He then went back to his agency and spent an extraordinary amount of time with each of his key people just talking about the agency and the business. His first six or eight weeks were spent building trust and equity.  Consequently, he was always successful.

Personal equity requires cultivation and understanding so that when decisions are made, people will follow the leader.  Leadership requires vision as well as understanding; and essential to that is a willing constituency. 
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