Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Adventures In Recruiting: Another Cover Letter Worth Sharing; A Good Laugh

The other morning I came in to find this letter in my inbox.  All I can say is, “Huh?” 

This is it in its entirety, exactly as writter; there was no salutation. Typos are his - or hers. I have no idea who sent this.  He or she actually signed this letter with an initial so I had to respond with  “Dear E.”  
My original academic major was psychology before switching to journalism. I travelled through Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America exploring cultural archetypes, -2°C January isotherm of the "vodka belt" and people—not in the demographic sense, but as flesh-and-bones individuals. I learned the advertising business from the client side working for consulting companies. Inter alia, I had to accompany clients to pre-production meetings and help execs to come up with their own suggestions. 

This industry is undergoing a radical change that will be called the Interactive Revolution—in my opinion, the real golden age of American advertising. As of now, its old model has become what the Bavarians term as Krampfhenne, a pattering headless chicken. Meanwhile, the new model is still breaking its eggshell: spam hijacked 40% of US e-mails but failed to ignite the penis-enlarging trendemic in America. At the same time, decades of force-feeding through the TV-tube begot the super-cynic consumer that won't believe any superiority claims. Advertising idea men search for ways to move this industry beyond its standard practices and deflect their clients from unwinnable price wars.  

My experience in strategic consulting and alternative media helped me to come up with a number of insights in mobile marketing and branded entertainment. Just as important, I am that labor-addicted "lonely man" Leo talked about. I can live off the stress, beat "first-thing-in-the-morning" deadlines and work outside of my work description: studying the specialty brand that wants to become a mainstream success—identifying its USP je ne sais quoi—staring at a blank page until it emits Big Idea blueprints—producing a sales spike that becomes a media case study and collecting real advertising awards—imitators from rival agencies. 

Please let me know if you would like to look at my creative portfolio. 

With best personal regards, 


The consensus is that E. was/is a writer, which makes this cover note all the more amusing.  Can anyone tell me what he/she was talking about?

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Truly Strategic Advertising People Are Essential

I am always hearing from creative people that account people are not strategic (lately, I have been hearing that planners are not strategic, either). I have posted many times about account people needing to be stronger and better trained so as to become strategic partners with their creative department and their clients.

Strategy requires understanding the underpinnings of a brand or even a category.  It is what makes the brand successful and what separates it from its competitors.  The reason why junior account people should do competitive analysis is to come to an understanding about the marketing and selling both of the client’s brand as well as competitors – it isn’t just about who spends what and where.  Advertising – any advertising, whether traditional broadcast or print or digital – should be the manifestation of strategy.  I have always believed that understanding the historical competitive environment (meaning going way back in time) will lead to insights into a brand and a category.  Often, the most consistent brands in terms of messaging and strategy are the leaders in their categories.

Strategy is the foundation of a brand. The strategy for Coke and Pepsi are perfect examples.  Coke has been “America’s soft drink” for generations.  And the “Pepsi generation” – younger and hipper has underlined the brand for as long as I can remember. Despite changes in execution and campaigns, both brands remain true to their basic strategy.

Ironically, clients do not always understand their own brands.  Over the years, there have been many ad agencies which end up being the true protector of the strategy (In some cases, the client is the keeper of the strategy; see below.).  More than one agency has been fired when a new CMO arrives at a company and wrongly wants to change the strategy in order to put his or her imprimatur on a brand. 

And yet, sad to say, too many ad agency people, both creative and account and, possibly even planners, fail to grasp the essentials of their brand’s strategy. I interview a lot of account people, particularly juniors, who don’t “get” their own competitive analysis.  But this all goes back to lack of proper training. Because the training is missing, it isn't surprising that many people in the business don’t understand this essential part of advertising.

Strategy should be everyone’s job. Unfortunately, today it does not seem to be anyone’s responsibility.  Account management, when it comes to strategy, has been replaced by planners, but planners too often define their role as the more limited voice of the consumer or insights rather than strategy.  Creative people are often too busy executing individual ads and campaigns and don’t really get to the true essence of their brand’s strategy.  And account managers are too busy getting the work out.  That is also true of clients. Which leaves no one to watch the brand.

In the heyday of Absolute vodka, Michelle Roux, the genius behind the brand, could look at two executions proposed by his agency, TBWA.  He had the uncanny ability to totally understand which of the two presented ads was the best manifestation of Absolut’s strategy. He was the ultimate keeper of the strategy and the brand.  His vision enabled Absolut to become the number one imported vodka because he kept the strategy intact.  Managing the tone of voice and attitude while maintaining its consistency is essential for the long term success of most brands.

And it doesn’t matter if it is television, radio, print or digital content.  Someone must be the strategic master.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

What Companies Might Do About A Difficult Manager

I am not really qualified to talk about any business other than advertising.  As a single industry recruiter, I have been gathering names for years.  I interview candidates and when they tell me about terrible managers – defined below – I merely keep a mental note of who they are and what makes them poor managers.

What I cannot understand is why companies put up with them. These executives cause excessive turnover, make their businesses less profitable as a result, and help create a negative climate for all employees within their company.  Sadly, many companies, pass this off as simply part of the cost of doing business; their agencies wrongly think that clients are wedded to them and are afraid to upset the apple cart and do anything about the situation.  These managers do more harm than good by creating extensive negative word of mouth about their company.  I can think of one agency senior executive who was so disliked that it became difficult to recruit for the entire agency - at every level, but especially at more senior levels.  I can think of another creative director who was so abusive to women that his agency was sued multiple times. Yet in both cases the agency was afraid to do anything about the situation. 

Bad managers seem to have many traits.  They are ill tempered.  Their standards are often unrealistic and unattainable (even by themselves).  They are intolerant and only accept things done their way.  They take credit for everything and give none (or little) out.  They are often workaholics. They often manage up well, but down poorly. Sometimes they are screamers.  Sometimes they say nothing, but show their disdain by making faces or snide comments. They make co-workers uncomfortable. And often, their actions are reprehensible. 

Why do companies put up with this?  

In advertising, which is a service business, these bad managers often have strong client relationships or may be, in the case of creative people, very prolific and talented. Often, they are perceived to control a business.  Consequently, more often than not, they are left alone by management.  After all, if clients are happy with them, why do anything which might jeopardize an account?  

Ironically, ignoring the problem only contributes to the problem and makes it worse.  Often, these bad managers become worse because they believe they are invulnerable.

I can think of one manager who was a sensational senior account person, but treated everyone under him terribly.  Even so, clients loved him and management respected his abilities. He had a wild temper, suffered extreme mood swings and was generally considered unpleasant by those who worked for or with him. Turnover under him was extremely high.  But he controlled several of the agency’s largest accounts.  Everyone was afraid to confront him or speak to him for fear he might leave and that would jeopardize the business.  Perhaps, if he left, he might even be able to take business with him.

But the truth is, he was costing the agency a fortune in terms of turnover and negative publicity.  Because clients liked him so much, the agency was reluctant to upset the balance.  Then along came a very smart and effective human resources director.  He obtained permission from management to handle the situation and promised that there would be no repercussions.   When confronted properly, the account manager recognized he had a problem and was willing to deal with it.  The HR director sent him for intensive counseling and, ultimately, it worked.  I am not sure, but I believe he was put on mood medication.  And guess what?  Problem solved.  In a very short time the account guy actually became a model manager.  It was a great solution.

I have observed over the years that fear of these employees is often unfounded.  They are not invulnerable and, if the agency is well managed, rarely can take an account with them or otherwise do real damage to the company.

There are many solutions to a difficult manager. Coaching and therapy can go a long way to help the company and the manager.  And it is far less expensive than the cost of high turnover and negative publicity.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Make Sure You Interview For The Job You Came For

A candidate interviewed at a wonderful creative shop for a senior position.  She was doing great until she blew the interview.  Here is the huge error she made.

This candidate was interviewing with the president of the agency; it was her final interview. If the interview went well she would be 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 a traditional ad agency senior account management position.  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 ad agency traditional account job.

Her answer came out of the blue.  They had not discussed PR at all.  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 that. 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. Sadly, she had no idea what she had done.

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. She was shocked when she did not get the account job. I had to explain to her that she blew it when she discussed a job she was not there for.

What she should have done was to tell him that she wanted to advance in the traditional account management area – 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. 

The best advice I can give is to make sure you interview for the job you go for.  Farther down the line she could have revisited the PR opportunity, especially after she was hired and had earned personal equity with the firm.  There is an expression, "Be Here Now" which means that you have to have your mind on what you are currently doing. 
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