Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Why Titles Are Important

The truth is, we all know that titles are unimportant.  Right?  What really matters is the function, the authority and the importance of a job. Money, too. The title is immaterial.  Or is it?

Most of my readers won’t remember the advertising agencies Wells, Rich, Greene or Messner, Vetere, Burger, Carey (The original name of what is now Havas, but even most people who knew Messner, do not remember Walter Carey, their original partner).  But both companies tried hard to make titles unimportant.  It was a really good try, but, ultimately, they had to give in.

At Wells, Rich, Greene, the iconic Mary Wells tried to make titles trivial.  Originally, everyone had a different title.  On one account, an account executive was called just that. On another, he or she would be an account manager and on a third, the title would be client liaison.   The same thing happened with more senior titles: one would be management representative, another would be management supervisor and a third would be group director.  The same thing followed in the creative and media departments.  As the agency grew, they actually ran out of titles and had to duplicate.

That lead to the real problem: people at comparable levels became jealous of each others title and it caused major issues among executives. And, on top of that, when employees prepared a résumé, their titles were so arcane that no one knew what their title meant.

At MVBC, they had no titles at all.  They patterned themselves after law firms, I had no issue with it but employees did. They felt they needed to tell their friends and family what they were.  When people wanted to look for a job, I would ask their money and we would create the title for their résumé that most fit their salary.

And therein lays the issue with titles.  It isn’t complicated: people need to have the reassurance that their friends, relatives, acquaintances and others know who they are and, possibly, what they do by their titles. That certainly includes those who might receive or review their résumés.  

I used to say to people who were leaving Messner, if you are making $50k you are an account executive.  If you are making $60k and someone works for you, you are an account supervisor (that is 1989 pricing). If you are making $200k you are a group director, which was their function anyway.  I would send out a résumé from WRG and the person’s title was account representative and the first question I would be asked was, “What does that mean?”  I would have to reassure my client that I was sending an appropriate candidate.   Years ago, the famous Chicago Ad Agency, Leo Burnett had few titles.  Account executives could be very senior.  Account supervisors had salaries which ran into the low $100s (high for that title, even today).  When a Chicago person came to New York, which was rare, I always had to explain to New York hiring managers or HR people what the Leo titles were and meant. It was always a problem.

Today, with the heavy emphasis on digital recruiting, titles are even more important because résumés may be read and screened by junior people who don’t know what an offbeat title is or means.  Or worse, résumés are often read by scanners which are programmed to look for specific titles and cannot interpret an offbeat title or one not programmed.  As a result, companies that do that often lose out on very good people.

In advertising, different titles may mean the same thing.  For instance, while account director is the most common title today for the level above account supervisor, at some agencies, the next level is a management supervisor or management representative.  Creative titles are also confusing.

The point of all this is that we are all human.  And everyone is not familiar with every organization or culture.  At virtually all law firms, juniors are associates, the next level up is associate partner and seniors are partners or senior partners.  When one looks at a legal résumé, it is not difficult to figure out the seniority of the person it represents.

In New York City, sometime during the 1990’s and the Koch administration, the city passed a tax on all corporate officer’s salaries.  Companies actually paid an extra tax on the salaries of their vice presidents.  To avoid these taxes companies dropped the officer’s titles. That is how, at some organizations, Ogilvy is a good example, the titles, “partner” and “senior partner” were born – they were not taxed.  That tax has subsequently been repealed, but many organizations still are reluctant to bestow officer titles.  People used to joke that in advertising, everyone was a vice president.

I have a number of clients, in and out of advertising, whose titles do not match common equivalent titles.  Believe it or not, it is very hard to recruit for them.  Someone who is seven or eight years in the business expects to have achieved a certain title level.  Someone who is a senior vice president, is reluctant to go to another company without a comparable title. Many people refuse to accept a title which lower that what they expected, despite the money, despite the function or authority.  It is most certainly understandable.

So titles may not be important within a company and a culture, but they are very important outside that company.  When creating titles, companies need to take recruiting into account.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Adventures in Advertising: The Lost Art Of Store-Checking

On my post about the need for strategic account people, I received a comment about store-checking.  I realized that store-checks have become a lost art.  But, once upon a time, visiting stores, counting facings, checking competitive products and talking to consumers as they bought yours or competitive products was part of every account manager’s job (clients, too and I don’t think they do it anymore, either).   

I can think of two stories I would like to share which illustrate the benefits from visiting stores and understanding distribution.

The first is the true story of the success of Pampers.  

I am not sure when P&G introduced Pampers, but sometime in the 1950’s.  The standard until that time was cloth diapers.  If families had the money, they had a diaper service which would pick up soiled diapers and deliver new ones each week. If not, diapers would be washed at home. Yuck.  But despite their obvious benefit, Pampers, the first paper diaper brand, did not do well.  As I understand it, Proctor actually considered dropping the product.  

Then, an account person from the Pampers’ agency, Benton & Bowles (subsequently D’Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles – DMB&B – now Publicis) was determined to figure out why they were doing so poorly.  He took a week to do a store-check across the country.  He observed that while Pampers had good distribution, its location within supermarkets was unfocused – it could be found everywhere and anywhere in the store without consistency - paper goods, convenience goods, drug products.  Sales were sluggish, probably because it was in a different location in every store, even within the same chain. The account person observed that every supermarket carried four or five brands of baby foods; most of these brands had identical product selections (strained peas, beans, carrots, etc.).  He made this observation and recommended to his brand manager that Proctor should try to get the stores to put Pampers in the baby food section, even if it meant removing one brand to make room.

Guess what?  When put next to baby food, sales soared.  That was in the early to mid-1960’s. The rest is history.

The second true story involved Eno Antacid in Canada.  

Eno brand antacid was number two behind Alka-Seltzer (they were/are similar products).  I forget what their share was, but it was significant. Suddenly, Eno share of market started growing in French Canada.  With each subsequent Nielsen report, sales and share kept increasing; this was highly unusual behavior for any well established and significant brand.  Warehouse withdrawals skyrocketed, but with no explanation. Neither the sales nor marketing people had any idea why this might be happening. The manufacturer couldn’t understand it and needed to find out why and what could or should be done about it  

The agency account manager and the client marketing director went to Montreal and Quebec City to figure out what was happening.  Three days of store checking in Montreal revealed nothing.  Store managers and clerks had no idea why sales were increasing, but store shelves showed considerable product movement. 

Then, in Quebec, on the fourth day, they got their answer.  

In a small independent drugstore, a grandmotherly looking lady was carrying about six packages of Eno.  They immediately asked her why so many.  Her response was incredible: “Why monsieur, it is a wonderful aperitif.” Eno had become a fad drink among people of a certain age.  The client and agency got their answer.  After some discussion, it was decided to let the fad run its course, rather than to try to advertise it (It would have been way off strategy).  And sure enough, after about eight or ten months, the fad was over and sales started to decline.

I was the account guy. And we got our answer through store-checking.

I am sure there are hundreds of stories about positive things that happened as a result of a store check.  Understanding sales and distribution was part of the strategic underpinning of the client/agency relationship.  It helped agencies to have a complete understanding of their brands and it helped build credibility for the agencies to sell good creative work.  But most important, it contributed to making agencies and their clients partners.

Agencies need to start doing this again. 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Twelve Kinds Of People I Don't Like In Advertising

1.  Account People Who Don’t Learn Their Client’s Business 
Sadly, too many account people – at all levels – simply execute but don’t learn and think. They don’t think because they haven’t learned enough about their client’s business to be able to offer smart input and direction. I have occasionally met people who work on a brand and actually don’t buy or use it.

2.  Creative People Who Belittle Account People
It amuses me that when those same creative people decide to open a business, their first hire is always an account person.  Granted, there are bad account people, but good account managers are indispensable.

3.  Account People Who Don’t Listen To Their Creatives
Good creative people are inherently good strategists.  They should always be listened to. It isn’t a contest of wills. It is about selling products or services.

4.  Creative People Who Think They Have All The Answers
Good solutions can come from anywhere.  Sometimes, even clients have the answers.

5.  Client’s Who Don’t Listen To Their Agencies
Clients make products or services.  Agencies make ads and communications. To paraphrase David Ogilvy:  Listen to your agency; if what they recommend doesn’t work, get another agency.

6.  Agencies Who Don’t Listen To Their Clients
Clients don’t always know what they need, but they say what they want.  Strong account people should always listen to their clients and then reinterpret what they have been told so that their clients get both what they want and what they need.

7.  Planners Who Think That An Insight Is A Strategy
Insights sometimes make great executions or campaigns, but they are rarely a long-term strategy.  There is a difference and good planners should know it.

 8.  Account People Who Think They Are Strategic But Aren’t
Too many account people think “Tastes good” is a strategy.  Strategy is the underpinnings of a brand. Account people must learn strategy.

9.  Creative People Who Won’t Listen To Their Account People
There are many creatives who won’t listen to their account people simply because they are account people.  These kinds of creatives should not be in the business.

10. Agency People Who Do Bad Work
Last year I wrote about my creative partner, Ned Viseltear.  He had a wonderful expression: “If you don’t do bad work, bad work can’t get done.” If clients asked for stupid work, he would not do it.  Rather, he would do good work and explain why it was better.  He always got his way.

11. Agency Management Who Don’t Get To Know All Their Senior Clients
All too often I hear from senior people at agencies about their client getting a new CMO.  They tell me that unfortunately, the agency relationship stopped at the CMO level and now they are vulnerable  because they have no senior champion. Agency management should make itself invaluable with every level of client senior management and every client of the agency – large and small.

12. Management Who Don’t Know Enough To Back Off From Certain Clients
When I was in the agency business, I used to tell my creative partners that some clients would like them better than me. When it comes to keeping clients, there should be no egos.Clients should deal with people with whom they are comfortable. After all, it is a service business.  No agency manager should force him or herself on a client.  I can think of one huge account that was lost in the last few years, partially because the agency chairman forced himself on the client.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

What Do You Do If Your Company Learns That You Are Looking For A New Job?

One of the inherent dangers if you are looking for a job is that your company may find out.  It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen. The worst case scenario is that no one says anything and one day you find yourself terminated and they tell you that they know you are looking for a job.  I have only heard of this happening once or twice.  The best case is that they confront you; but that, too,  is uncomfortable, but it does give you an opportunity. 

The way companies find out is that that someone at the company you are talking to believes that they have a relationship with someone at your company and call them thinking that their confidence will be kept.  Aside from the fact that doing that is taboo, believing that their confidence will be kept because of their relationship is naive. If you know that someone where you are interviewing knows someone at your current company, it is permissible and necessary to ask them to keep your interview confidential.

That I know of, this has occurred only a few times during my years as a recruiter.  I remember the first time it happened like it was yesterday, but it was actually during my first year or so as a recruiter – I got an hysterical call from a candidate who was confronted by his boss.  The person he was interviewing with actually called the guy's supervisor to ask for a reference.  No permission was asked or given.  I called the hiring manager and he told me that the president of the candidate’s firm was a good friend.  That is a terrible situation. 
At any rate, here is what I told my candidate to say. I use some variation of this advice whenever this happens.

First and foremost, I don't believe in lying.  But the truth can be stretched.

I told my candidate to tell his boss that he received a call to meet this company, which is true. I told him to tell the supervisor that he did exactly what his boss would have done in the same circumstance – he agreed to go talk to see what the company wanted.  It doesn’t mean he is looking for a job, but it does mean that he is willing to explore an opportunity if presented. 

It worked.  The boss was satisfied with the explanation.

When my candidate was offered the job, he turned it down.  As well he should have. I was proud of him; he told the offending hiring manager why he was turning it down; the call proved that he was not a trustworthy manager.
If confronted while you are looking, don’t deny it. I never recommend lying, but you can use the situation to your advantage by saying that you, like any other smart executive, are always open to finding out about a good opportunity.  And this is or should be the truth.  On several occasions, I have heard about this actually resulting in a raise or a promotion.

(Just remember, that most of the time raises and promotions do not eliminate the true issue that caused you to look for a job in the first place.  Counter-offers are counter-productive.)

However, if you are actively looking and your company does find out about it, you should consider yourself vulnerable and increase the speed of your search. If you are working with recruiters, be honest and tell them the situation.  They will work doubly hard for you.

Creative Commons License