Sunday, April 25, 2010

There Is Too Much Fear In The Business

I have observed fear in the advertising business. 

It manifests itself in many subtle ways.  A good friend of mine is a career coach. She uses my office occasionally to interview. This week she was here to see a confirmed appointment.  But she got stood up.  She called both her client's cell and office.  She sent a text.  A day later, her appointment told her that there was a business emergency that was so critical she didn’t have the time to call to cancel. Huh?

Some would pass this incident off as merely rudness and lack of manners. It might be so, but it happens so often that I believe it is more than that. This week I had an 9:00am appointment with a reasonably senior account manager.  I received a text at 11:30 the night before (I got it when I woke up) saying the client had called her for a 9:00am meeting. Again, huh?  A client called her in the middle of the evening?  She allowed it because she was afraid to say something to the client about calling her at that hour for ordinary, non-emergency business.   When I mentioned this to her, she said, "I cannot do that". 

What is going on in business that a client would call late into someone’s evening and demand a first thing in the morning meeting.  I believe it is a control thing on the part of the client.  And I also believe that the account person could have earned a lot of points of respect both for herself and her agency had she said something (I would have told the client not to call at that hour unless it was an emergency and the would have been in my boss's office at 8:30 to tell him/her what I had done.  I would have also told the CEO of my company.).

This is not a rare occurance.  And it doesn't just happen with clients.  We often get stood up by executives who have scheduled a lunchtime meeting. They often call later in the day. Their explanation is always the same – they felt they did not dare excuse themselves from a meeting in order to make the call that they couldn't make it. This doesn’t just happen with junior people; I have seen it with $250,000 senior executives. What is it that could possibly scare people so much that they don’t dare announce that they had had a lunch date and have to excuse themselves for a moment so they can call and cancel? Who would not forgive this kind of common courtesy? Surely employees are allowed to take lunch.

This leads to a bigger issue.

If people are afraid to excuse themselves from a meeting for a few minutes, they surely must be afraid to stand up to clients when it comes to the work. Or even to stand up internally to argue against an idea they don’t agree with. Disagreements generally result in better work that the agency can believe in and in better thought out rationale for that work. Which enables agencies to fight for it with their clients.  But if people are afraid to speak up, unresolved issues perpetuate themselves into bad work.  And that work becomes, "The Emperor's New Clothes", so to speak.  The only way people and agencies can gain respect both internally and externally is by standing up for themselves and the work. Strength always wins.

Just remember Bill  Bernbach's famous line when a client complained that the copy in an ad was too long saying, "Only ten percent of the people will read that copy".  Bernbach's response was, "Then that copy is for the ten percent who read it."  The client approved it.

Agencies need to fight for their work, encourage dissention and discussion.  Fear of retrebution only causes unhappiness and excessive turnover.  Respect is earned, not granted.  And for goodness sake, when meetings are running long, allow people the sense that if they need to cancel a lunch, it is acceptble.

I would love to have your thoughts as to why there is so much fear and what can be done about it.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Where is Jim Peck?

When I was first an account executive, I worked on an account for a wonderful senior account guy named Jim Peck. I was twenty-two or three and he must have been forty. I thought he was very old.

After a month or so, I was given the Canadian division of my client to handle, all on my own. Jim accompanied me on my first trip to Toronto. My client was the advertising and marketing director of the company and had worked there for many years. He really seemed old and was close to retirement. I was concerned that he was too old to relate to me. I had a presentation to make of some new creative work. I told Jim of my apprehension and he reassured me. He rehearsed me and I made the presentation all by myself. I was scared to death of both Jim and my client. They were adults and I was merely a year or two out of school.

We stayed overnight and had dinner with the client. Jim ordered wine. I bonded with my client. I had never done a client dinner before. It was cool. Jim paid for dinner. I felt adult.

But I thought to myself, what does Jim really do? He didn’t present. He didn’t say much. And naively, I didn’t think he added much value. I was happy he paid for dinner, though.

I remember Jim liked to play golf and was always doing that with clients. He participated in meetings, offered suggestions, but I rarely saw him doing actual work. Those were different days then. That’s what senior executives did. He did a lot of golf and lunch.

It took me many years to realize that Jim worked really hard. He managed. He directed. And I learned that on that first trip to Toronto, he had pre-sold me to my client, more important, he pre-sold the work I was presenting, which allowed me to establish my authority and expertise. Ultimately, what he did enabled me to become friends with my client. I went to Toronto about once every six weeks, but Jim never went back to Canada with me again (except for one major presentation, and even then I did the presenting). I had a great relationship with my client and, seven years later, when I was well into another job, I was invited back to Toronto for his retirement party. Jim had enabled that. And it was actually the last time I saw either Jim or my client.

Today senior executives have been sucked into the day-to-day of the business. But the smart ones still figure out how to spend social time with their clients and manage their people for growth and success.

So the next time you think that the senior person on your business is not doing anything, remember, if he or she is any good, they are enabling your agency to keep the account.

And maybe, just maybe, they are enabling your growth.

Do any of you have a Jim Peck in your life?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Once You Accept A New Job, Never Accept A Counter Offer

If you are offered a job and go to resign and your company suddenly tells you how much they love you and want you to stay, don’t believe it. And don’t do it. It is a trap.

All employees should be aware that once you commit to leaving a job, that commitment should be kept, because when it is over, it is over. In most cases, counter offers only forestall the inevitable. If an employee accepts a counter offer, chances are good they will end up out of work at the next round of layoffs or account loss. My observation, based on years of recruiting, is that 75% of the people who accept counter offers will be gone within twelve to eighteen months. Most of the remainder will be gone within two years.

Most Counter Offers Are Not Counter Offers
Ironically, rarely is a counter offer a true counter. In order to be a counter offer, your existing employer has to come back with more than what your new company proposed. If your current employer offers to meet the offer, it is merely at parity. In other words, if someone is making, $50,000 and is offered $65,000 and their existing employer agrees to meet the $65,000 that is not a counter offer. A counter offer would be $70,000 or more – and it should come immediately and not be promised in the future.

A real counter offer happened to a candidate of mine last summer – he was a group account director making $175,000 at a small agency. When he resigned, his existing company apologized for not recognizing him sooner, and offered him $225,000 and made him the head of the office. That is a real counter offer. Truth is, he came to see me six months later and said he should have accepted the other job.

Counter Offers Cannot Change Your Environment
The reason most people leave jobs for reasons of culture and environment, not money. Counter offers don’t change those reasons. A bad boss cannot be cured by a raise. A poor work environment is not corrected by a few thousand dollars. And being overworked and under-appreciated cannot be fixed by a new title with the same job. The company remains the same as it was no matter how much they pay you.

Never Go Shopping In Order To Get A Raise
If you are shopping around to determine what you are worth on the open market, you are merely feeding your ego. That is bad form and a waste of everyone’s time. All you need to do is contact a trusted recruiter and he or she will tell you what you are worth somewhere else.

Counter Offers Are For The Convenience Of Your Current Employer
A counter offer is an inexpensive way for a company to buy time in order to find your replacement. Resignations never come at an easy or convenient time. It is always flattering to hear from a company that they like you enough to offer you money or a title to stay. But it is often false flattery. Once you show your current employer that you are disloyal, you instantly become vulnerable.

Most of us are overworked. Most agencies are understaffed. When someone resigns, inevitably there will be a void and work will backlog and pile up. Two week’s notice is rarely enough time find a replacement. Resignations cause a huge hassle for the existing company. Often, when candidates resign, they tell me that their supervisor will beg them to stay an extra week or two because they are concerned about having to fill the gap which will be caused by the departure.

My best advice is to leave immediately and don’t fool yourself into thinking that the company suddenly loves you.

Taking a new job is always frightening. But remember why you wanted to leave. And if your new job is not what you thought it would be, the change in environment will probably be good for you anyway. If your old company really liked you enough, going back at some point later in your career is safer and more beneficial than accepting an initial counter offer.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

So, How is Business?

Everyone is looking for good news. We all want the economy to be better. We want our businesses to improve. We want to be able to hire and be hired.

The first question every client I speak to and every candidate who calls or comes in asks is, “how is business?”.

I wish for all of us that I could give a better answer, but unfortunately, this remains a jobless recovery.  The stock market seems to be up; consumer confidence is up; the GDP is growing again.  Surely jobs will follow soon. 

Many years of recruiting has taught me that recruiters are a perfect barometer for the economy. I sensed the beginning of this downward slide in the Spring of ’07, long before the pundits were saying negative things. I could see the number of jobs we carry declining. In the same way, I can see when recovery is beginning – the number of our jobs steadily increases. Unfortunately, unless things are drastically different from other recessions, the recovery has not started yet.

But there are positive signs. We do have more jobs now than we did a month or so ago. We have jobs in all disciplines – General advertising, digital, direct marketing in account management, media, planning and strategic planning as well as corporate marketing and advertising. We even have jobs for account executives, something we have not seen in over two years.

But will it last? Or is it a spike. In three years we have seen a number of these hiring spikes, but after six or eight weeks, they peter out.

National unemployment remains at 9.7%; I believe advertising unemployment is upwards of 15%. When the national numbers come down, advertising and marketing will begin to hire again.

So all we can do is wait and keep our fingers crossed, and watch the numbers each month.

In the meanwhile, there are still wonderful candidates out of work. And for those of you who are doubting Thomas’s, just look at McCann this past week. They cannot possibly absorb all the excellent account people who were working on Verizon. And that leaves an opportunity for me to have a cache of great candidates.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Which is better: A good account at a small agency or a second tier account at a big shop?

Candidates are always calling me to ask this question. It is an interesting one and the answer is not as simple as it would appear at first. Given the poor economy, especially in advertising, more often than not, candidates don’t really have a choice; rarely, these days, are there two offers. But the question is often asked directionally. Which way should someone who is out of work go?

I have seen desperately out of work people take the first thing that comes along, often at a smaller agency on an unknown or small piece of business. In the last several years I have seen excellent people make this choice, which is perfectly understandable – they need to support themselves and their families. Unfortunately, many of them end up out of work within a short time, either because their new job cannot afford them or because the smaller agency has gone out of business, or is close to it.

On the other hand, there is no guaranty of employment at a bigger agency either. These days, when clients cut their budgets even on a big brand, there is absolutely no certainty that the big agency will rotate even the best of people on to a new account.

Which brings us back to the question of which is better? The answer is that it depends. I have seen a vicious circle started in this economy. A person with a stellar career is laid off. After many months out of work, they take a job at someplace they may not have considered previously. Then that job falls apart. So they are forced to take another job at another place they may not have normally considered. Then, an opening occurs at a well known shop and the first question asked when they see this person’s résumé is, “They seem to be bouncing around a lot”. Or, “Their career appears to be on a downward spiral, why should we consider them?” It is a terrible Catch 22.

The answer to the question of evaluating a place and an offer is dependent on a lot of factors. First, it depends on a person’s ultimate career goals. Second, it depends on where one is in their career. And finally, it may depend on where one is in the job-hunting cycle.

It is hard to be objective about one’s own career. Often it takes a professional to look objectively at a résumé and to be able to tell a candidate what a move may mean to their future. Big agency people – the majority of the business – might immediately tell people that they are better off at another big agency no matter what the account. However, we all know that the big agencies have A, B and C teams. The B and C teams at some of the bigger shops are often dead end jobs and they rarely promote people off of them on to their A accounts.

At a smaller agency on a well known account there may be fabulous job satisfaction and the ability to grow into management. I know an account director who went to a smaller agency and who instantly hated the fact that they were no longer involved with issues of worldwide importance which they had at their previous big agency. But they soon discovered that they were able to influence and help their new, smaller clients in a way which actually could never happen at the previous big shop. Their job satisfaction actually increased significantly. 

The bottom line is that there is no right or wrong choice. A career is like a roadmap. You have to pick a destination and then figure out the best route to get there. And that route is a very personal thing with lots of possible detours on their way. In one of my Ad Age columns, I wrote that a résumé has to make sense when you look at it. The moves should almost be self-explanatory. So the answer to the question of which is better – big shop second tier account or small shop, great account – depends on your own personal goals and aspirations and how it fits in to the direction you want to take your career.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

A Tribute To Grey

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Each morning as I walk to work past 777 Third Avenue and 49th Street, I cannot help but thinking that Grey is no longer there. Somehow, it seems empty as I walk past.

Grey was a wonderful and peculiar agency. While it became one of the icons of the business, it never achieved the kind of respect from the advertising community it deserved. Perhaps it was because through all its years, Grey was an account person’s agency, despite its protestations to the contrary. And it was always that way, even during the heyday of the creative revolution of the sixties and seventies.

Grey was an enigma. While many people who went there hated it, it had, perhaps, the greatest employee retention of any advertising agency. I believe there were more people there who worked there longer than any other agency. I knew an assistant account executive who went there to work on General Foods (before Kraft). She came from Wells, Rich, Greene where she worked on an airline account. Every other week she called me to get her out. I begged her to stay to get the package goods training she needed. After about three months of these calls, I told her to stop swimming upstream; Grey was Grey and would never be Wells. Then one day the calls stopped. She retired from Grey some fifteen years later to raise a family. She had become a senior vice president. Her last call to me was to thank me for enabling her to stay at an agency she came to love.

Was Grey right for everyone? Absolutely not. I knew that the people who went to Grey fell into three groups – a third would hate it and leave in under two years; another third would be ambivalent and stay for two or more years. The final third would go to Grey and stay forever. The problem is that I never knew which group anyone fell into. Incidentally, I am not sure that those thirds are any different than at any of the big ad agencies. It is just that people who left Grey took delight in knocking it.

And in the meanwhile their clients stayed. No agency trained its people to service its clients better. And the clients stayed because their work was acceptable to them.

The problem was the business looked down its nose at Grey.

A couple of weeks ago I went to the opening party at the new Grey offices in the Toy building on 23rd Street. Grey today is a different agency. It is bringing in new accounts. It has dramatically cleaned house. It is winning new business and has not lost any business in quite a while. It seems to have retained the essence of its ability to service clients and combined it with a renewed sense of creativity and purpose.

And suddenly, people are no longer looking down their noses at Grey.

So, here is to the new Grey. May it succeed and flourish. And build on its heritage. But I will still miss the old Grey.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Who Am I

I love advertising.  When I was in college, my love of the business got me in trouble.  I took a public speaking class.  I was terrific.  But each time I spoke about ads and advertising, despite what my fellow students said, I got C's.  I finally went to my teacher who told me that as long as I talked in favor of the business which sold people things they didn't need, he would give me poor marks no matter how well I spoke.  Fortunately, he said it in front of the class and I went to my advisor and got my grade changed. 
But I have been a defender and proponent of the business ever since.

I love to share my stories about advertising, about ad agencies, about advertising people and about the industry in general.  The advice I give is based on a long career in advertising and recruiting advertising people. 

My dad had a very successful ad agency, which during the mid-twentieth century, handled many famous brands.  So I am a second generation ad brat.  And both my kids are in the business.  It runs in our blood.

I would be happy to hear your stories, comments and suggestions.
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