Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Adventures In Recruiting: She Almost Got A Job

When you are sent to interview on a specific job, you must interview wholeheartedly for that position.  If the company believes you are right for something else, they may have, they will tell you.  This story illustrates that point.

A candidate recently interviewed at a really good agency for a senior account supervisor position.  She was doing great and would have gotten the job.  But then she gave the absolute wrong answer to a question.  Here is the huge error she made.

This candidate was on her final  interview with the president of the agency. If the interview went well she would have been hired.  She was with the president for almost an hour. She felt comfortable; there was good camaraderie between them and she was able to joke with him.  She could tell he really liked her.  Then he very casually asked where she saw herself in five years.

She is one of the few ad agency executives who started out in public relations and moved into advertising.  She was interviewing for an advertising account position on a specific account.  So how did she answer?  She told the president she really wanted to go back to PR. 

Not smart when you are interviewing for an account job.

Her answer came out of the blue.  They had not discussed PR at all and there was no context for the response..  The president told her that he had just made a proposal to a client to obtain their PR and corporate communications efforts.  For the next fifteen minutes she told the president how and why she could do the public relations job. The president was more than willing to consider her for this assignment should they win it.  But, as a result, she completely talked her way out of the account job.

And, of course, if the agency does get this public relations and corporate communications assignment, the president told me he would seriously consider this candidate but would like to meet other corpcom and PR people.  She, naturally, thought the interview went perfectly and he would hire her one way or another.

What she should have done was to tell him that she wanted to advance in the account management arena – after all, that is what she was interviewing for – and, because of her background, she would love to find a way to possibly combine her two disciplines sometime in the future.

There is an old Hans Christian Andersen parable about a dog crossing the river on a bridge with a bone in his mouth.  He looks down and sees his reflection and thinks he is seeing another dog and another bone.  He wants the bone.  He starts barking and loses the bone in his mouth.  When he looks down, the other dog no longer has a bone either.

That is exactly what this account supervisor did.  The best advice I can give is to make sure you interview for the job you went for. Farther down the line she could have revisited the PR opportunity, especially after she was hired and had earned personal equity within the firm.

Incidentally, the agency, not surprisingly, did not get the PR account.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

How Ad Agencies Grow and Retain Their Culture

Back in the late 1980’s, in Chiat/Day’s heyday, Jay Chiat had a quote which I loved.  He mused: “I wonder how big we will get before we get bad?”

It is really good food for thought. And it lead to this post.  Can companies, especially ad agencies, grow and retain their culture?

I have observed that some companies, as they grow, keep their essential personality – Wieden Kennedy is a good example as is Goodby, Silverstein & Partners.  Their success is built into their corporate DNA, especially since the principals remain at those agencies. Their corporate culture is clearly defined as is their mission; in fact, their culture and their missions are intertwined. There are other agencies, which, as they have grown, have kept their essential culture based on carefully grooming second and subsequent generations of management. 

Successful ad agencies are well defined.

There are agencies which have grown with the times – R/GA is a perfect example.  So is Grey, which has morphed into a very different culture than what it was only ten years ago; it was recently named global agency of the year – something which would have been impossible a decade ago.  These agencies have done it by the force of will of their leaders who have very clear vision and communicate it and insist on it being carried out.

I have seen small agencies turn into giants – Deutsch is a good example. And they did it by adhering to the principles with which it was founded, but setting the tone for their growth with careful nurturing of their culture.  Crispin Porter is another great example.

Kirshenbaum Bond is an agency which changed from a brash, upstart creative boutique when it started in the 1980’s, into a smart, strategic, but creatively driven shop which maintained much of the passion which Richard and Jon had in the first place. It grew mightily until 2009, when Jon Bond left, the agency. 

There are some agencies which find it impossible to grow.  My observation is that often their founders diverge and bicker or that their founders believe themselves to be indispensable and fail to develop the next level of talent.  Clients sense these things in new business presentations; former employees confirm it.  And the ubiquitous search consultants, who often control new business, know it. 

I have written about why many mergers are not successful – simply because the merged companies fail to maintain the personality and culture which generated their individual success in the first place.  I could name them, but everyone who reads this blog post can name them.

As the market place evolves, change and evolution is necessary and inevitable.  If there is no change, there is no growth.  Companies who fully understand who they are and how they fit into the marketplace tend to succeed over the long run because they can adapt but remain true to their principles. Look at BBDO, they are a perfect example of success and growth; they have remained true to who they have been for decades and yet they have evolved, but still adhere to their basic principles. When employees or clients go there, they know exactly what they will be getting.

Every good marketer knows that they cannot be all things to all people. To paraphrase Jack Trout and Al Ries, the essence of positioning is sacrifice. Knowing what that position is and acting within it makes room for growth and change.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

What Your Office Environment Communicates

There are two kinds of environment in business.  The office where you work and your own personal space within it.

The uniformity of most of the open plan offices leaves much to be desired.  For the most part they are big, personality-less spaces.  But some offices are over designed.

In the mid-1990's, when the wonderful Agency Ammirati & Puris was merged by Interpublic into Lintas, which became Ammirati Puris/Lintas, the Lintas offices were completely redone at the behest of Ralph Ammirati and Martin Puris.  What they did became legendary.

The new offices copied the Ammirati offices, but were very different from Lintas. Everything was white.  Everything was precise.  Furniture was uniform and specifically chosen – no one could have their own favorite chairs unless pre-approved. Personal artwork, to be placed in private offices or on the walls of people’s cubicles, had to be pre-approved. Picture frames were regulated.  There were even clear dots on the sides of window frames indicating the level of where blinds had to be placed; they could not be higher or lower, even those offices on the east and South sides of the building which got huge amounts of sun.  There were actually office services people who policed the offices every day, including the blinds.

The first time I ever heard of this was when I visited CBS.  CBS had just moved into the offices it occupied on Sixth Avenue and Lou Dorfsman, the design guru who developed the CBS eye logo, dictated what could and could not be in offices,  all of which, like Lintas’in the mid 1990’s, were painted white. CBS offices were uniform and stark.
I once worked in a firm that was run by a protégé of Lew Dorfsman and he went so far as to tell executives that their desks were too messy, even before they went home. When clients visited the offices, he was tyrannical about neat papers on desks.

I always felt that this kind of graphic dictatorship was antithetical to creativity. In fact, at ad agencies, my opinion is that this kind of uniformity is boring and sterile.  I never did ask a client how they felt about it, but I heard from a lot of creative people about the absurdity of the design edicts. And that applies to personal offices as well.

Then, recently, I read a study which was reported on the web by MSN (which is my home page) which proved my thoughts and feelings right.  It appears that, according to the study published in Psychological Science the conclusion was that it is better to have a messy desk at the start of a project (a clean one at the end).  The messy desk, among other things, promotes creative thinking and new ideas.  Sounds right to me.

I would extend that to personal offices which are cluttered and well worn.  Those who know my office know that it is homey and loaded with my “stuff” and exudes my personality.  It also allows people to be comfortable and open with me when I am interviewing them.

 My Office
Not surprisingly, most people don't decorate their office space.  But for me, an office is where I have to spend eight to twelve hours every day, so I make it my second home.  I have done this my whole career, even when I was an account executive (occasionally it got me in trouble, but that is another post).  People always complimented me on my space, even when I was young.

If I were a client looking to hire a new agency, I would look for an agency which exudes energy and creativity.

What does your office say about you?

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Should Advertising Executives Be Entitled To Overtime?

I heard an amusing story which I would like to share with you. 

An account supervisor making $72k works on a worldwide account; as a result she has to keep long hours.  She often has to come in to the office at 6am to do calls with European contacts.  She also sometimes has to stay very late in order to have conversations with Asian counterparts and clients.  She has been employed since the beginning of 2013, but less than a year.

She recently went to her SVP, group director, and demanded (not asked for) overtime.  The group head reminded the supervisor that before she took the job, her hours were spelled out.  The account person had agreed because she wanted to get the worldwide experience; she also wanted to get the product category experience..  She is in her mid-to-late twenties.  When the group head told her that she would not be getting overtime, the account supervisor asked for a $20,000 raise.  That too was denied with the explanation that she had not been at the agency long enough to have earned a salary increase.

The account she is working on is a worldwide excellent package goods account.  The SVP explained to the supervisor that she was making an investment in her future because this experience, which she did not have before (either the package goods or the global experience), was excellent and bankable since she is working on a name-brand global business.

The SVP who is my friend, told me that this account person was, maybe, slightly above average, but her sense of entitlement was extraordinary.

Certainly, long hours have always been part of every advertising agency account manager’s job.  Most account people I know work close to sixty hours.  Creative people work longer. We all think we are underpaid, but long hours are simply part of the business, especially on worldwide and international accounts.

How do you feel about this request?

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Never Bring Coffee On An Interview (Part III) – Especially To A Restaurant

I have posted several times about not bringing coffee to an interview at someone’s office.  My premise is simple, if it turns off only 5% of the interviewers, then why take a chance?  A couple of weeks ago I came to a new realization – people actually bring coffee into restaurant while interviewing.                                       

I met a friend at Maialino in the Gramercy Park Hotel, which is a great place for breakfast and a very good place for interviewing since the tables are reasonably spaced.  I was early so I was chatting with the maitre d’.  I noticed a gentleman sitting at a table with a Starbucks coffee cup.  I couldn’t believe that someone would actually bring their own coffee into a restaurant.  I remarked about it to the gentleman I was chatting with.  He then told me that what surprised him most was the huge number of people who brought coffee into the restaurant while obviously being interviewed for a job.  I was blown away by this realization.

It is one thing to bring coffee into someone’s office, and while I don’t approve, it is relatively harmless.  However, bringing coffee into a restaurant interview is not only rude, it is an outrageous.  After all, that is how a restaurant makes its money.

As a result of that encounter, I have been taking a quick survey at restaurants which are open for breakfast and asked about the frequency of this.  To my shock and dismay, I find out it is very common.  One hostess told me that on any given morning, I would find half a dozen people with their own coffee, many of them on interviews.  Yiikes.

I can only believe that the rudeness in unintentional – people are so used to their morning routine of buying coffee on the way to the office, that when they go to a restaurant, it never crosses their mind not to buy and bring coffee into the restaurant.  Mostly, I believe that they don’t even realize that they have done so because it is so much a part of their routine.

I can’t think of a faster way to blow an interview. If the candidate is unaware that bringing coffee is a no-no,  I guaranty that whoever is interviewing them is aware of the brought coffee.  If bringing coffee into someone’s office turns off 5% of the people, bringing it into a restaurant has to offend 95%.  If I were in human resources or was a hiring manager, I would never hire anyone who is that unthinking about their environment, no matter how inadvertent it is.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Adventures In Recruiting: Asking The Wrong Question On A Final Interview - By The Interviewer

This is one of my favorite recruiting stories and I can’t believe I never wrote it.

Many years ago when the prevalent senior title in the ad agency business was Management Supervisor, I had a candidate interviewing to run a significant account at a mid-size agency.  She had been all through the agency.

She had met the group EVP on the business, the creative director, the research director (agencies used to have that title). Everyone loved her and she was about to get an offer.  Prior to the offer, she was asked to meet the Vice Chairman and told it would be a necessary courtesy.

She had a very pleasant fifteen minute chat with this gentleman.  At the end of her quarter hour, he looked at her and told her that he thought she would make a great addition to their staff.  As a courtesy, he asked her if she had any questions.

She thought for a second and said that she really didn’t have any, but she said to him, “Gee, maybe I should see the agency reel.”  This was a perfectly reasonable and normal request.

With that, the CEO exploded.  Here is what he said, as best as I can remember.  “Reel?  You want to see our reel?  Why would you even ask that?  You should know this agency by now. We do shit!  Our work sucks.  We don’t compete on the basis of our executions. We compete because we are strategic and smart.  If you want to see our work, you don’t belong here.”

That was it.  

I thought at the time that he was crazy.  I still do.  I confronted him and he told me that he thought it was a dumb thing for her to say to him. I told him that I thought it was a perfectly fair thing for her to say (in those days, before the internet, every agency kept a reel and proudly showed it to candidates), after all, she should know about the agency’s work .  He told me I was the wrong recruiter for them and I never worked for them again.

Several years later they were purchased and merged out of existence.  This vice chairman was "retired" but is still around consulting with agencies, primarily in the new business arena. Go figure.
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