Tuesday, November 15, 2011

If You Want Employees to Succeed, They Have To Know What They Are Doing And Why

Lately, when I see rather junior candidates (AE’s to AS level), I have been asking a simple question:  What is the marketing issue on your account?

Not surprisingly, few candidates can answer this; they generally answer with a description of the advertising they are doing and I realize that they haven't a clue as to what it is all about.  It makes me cringe.

Evey employee has to know what they are doing and why they are doing it.  That knowledge will motivate them to succeed.
Once people have a real perspective on their jobs they will perform better and more efficiently.  And, of course, they will grow faster.

What motivates people is a sense of mission.  Getting work out on time is not enough.  Account executives and account supervisors must be brought into the loop. Even the administrative people have to know why they are doing what they do.  They have to understand the bigger scheme of things and where what they are doing fits in.  Everyone on an account should be given access to the results of research and focus groups, copy testing and the like.  If they understand, they can and will learn. But without learning there is no growth. 

No matter how busy any manager is, he/she must make time to explain and to teach.  I have written about the dearth of relevant training programs.  That is an industry wide problem.  For the most part agencies have walked away from real training. 

Years ago, when I got into the business, training programs were real internships.  In my first job, I spent a month in print production, a month in media, a month in broadcast production and then was assigned to an account.  I then spent a month with my client on the road with a salesman.  After about five months I finally got to work as an assistant account executive.  Mostly, my job was crunching numbers doing analysis of client sales, market share, research documents and budgets.  But I was also involved with every creative meeting and many presentations; I was also taken on shoots, both print and television.  When, after about a year of this, I was promoted to an account executive, I had a really good grounding in the business. 

Those were the days of commissions when agencies had the luxury (and money) of training. Clients willingly went along with it because it was good for their business (and I suspect that clients liked the fact that I was trained in the basics). Today, if agencies cannot bring training costs into their overhead and client fees, then they must find a way of bringing people up to speed. Within each group at an agency, every manager must make the time to insure that all the people working on a business have a complete understanding of what is going on.

Not only will this motivate people, but it will result in better work.


  1. I'd guess the lack of training today has to do with the facts of disposable employment, corporate accounting, and right-to-work-ness. Still, nothing - nothing - is worse for business.

    I have to laugh when I'm in meetings with others who didn't benefit from the Y&R and DMB&B training like I did, like the integrated Ogilvy kind you mention above, Paul. Because I feel like I inhabit another dimension.

    Positioning? Brand and account planning? Creative strategy? Customer focus? Essential message? Creative brief? Emotional appeal? I'm stared at like I'm a Martian. Such strange terms, strange thinking....where am I from? A weird planet...? Far, far away.....? Few even know what other associates do or are supposed to do. Amazing.

    Until clients begin actively wretching, and refusing the 75-page Powerpoint bashings the minions of newly-bred morons foist on everyone, and leaning towards those who're genuinely qualified and interested in hearing what the clients need and need to do, it'll be more rejection from the wet-nosed and arrogant. Ah, well....I'll wait....


  2. I like how you've placed the responsibility on the manager vs. the junior employee. Having been in both roles, I can tell you it's not the junior employees fault, as they have so much minutia on their plate that they have, in a sense been stripped of the capacity to think big-picture. I'd say the same goes for mid-level executives. Unfortunately, client budgets have been squeezed to the point that agencies are squeezing their employees to the point that we as agencies are no longer strategic partners but vending machines. And you can't blame a vending machine for not thinking strategically can you?

  3. Anonymous - The machine works best when all the parts function together and move in the same direction. Every manager, at every level must insure that the people working for them know what they are doing and why.

    Agree, however, with your analogy. It is a pity.

  4. Not much of a surprise since the big holding companies now view account people as project managers. They don't care if they're clueless in terms of strategic acumen about their clients' business. People with that kind of knowledge are too expensive and cut into profit margins. Sad that most junior account people these days don't even know what they don't know...it's not even their fault.

  5. Chris, I think it goes beyond that. The holding companies think all employees are fungible except the most senior and longest tenured ones. Imagine making $300k a year and discovering that you have no seat at the table. I think that is why the mid-size and smaller agencies will be having a renaissance in the next decade. Fingers crossed.

  6. I love this latest "view" and the comments made to date. In my early years I recall spending time "on the front lines" with the client's sale people; in one such case that included living on dairy farms in Wisconsin to understanhd what motivated a farmer to use a computer to manage his business.


    I cannot imagine being able to do that today.

    Another issue that wrankles me: Does anyone know what market positioning is vs. sloganeering? I wonder, sometimes aloud.

  7. A positioning represents how you want your audience to perceive you, what position you want them to hold about you in their mind. A slogan can, even should, illustrate that position but it doesn't need to if the position is strong, unique and well known enough to stand on its own. Or if the slogan promotes some nuance, subset or derivative of the positioning idea. What's wrong is a slogan that conflicts with the positioning.


I would welcome your comments, suggestions or anything you would like to share with me or my readers.

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