Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Creatives Posting Unapproved Advertising Work Online Can Be Dangerous

On May 18th AdWeek posted a very interesting, and perhaps important, article, How Agencies Are Cracking Down on Creatives Who Post Unapproved Ads. This is an issue that bears more thought on the part of ad agencies and its employees.

Traditionally, creative people have put together portfolios of their best work, which includes both commercials and digital content.  (Account people used to do that as well,  but that is a different story.) These portfolios are published on websites with easy access for prospective employers and, in some cases, the general public.  Art directors, copywriters and producers have always had two choices with their portfolios. They can post the approved and final versions or they can post work which they consider superior, but which may not have been approved, like a spec ad for a new business pitch or what has always been known as “the agency cut.”

This was never an issue until the internet made work accessible to everyone, including clients.
The fact of the matter is that the work was most likely created under contract for a client and therefore the client owns the work.  Consequently, publishing it is a violation of copyright law.  It becomes a bigger issue if the work finds its way online in public forums. The AdWeek article cited a couple of notable cases where this has happened.  Clearly both the agency and the creator are liable because they are posting work which does not belong to them.

Should this be so?  One could argue it several ways.

If an agency version of an ad is published on-line, it may be a violation of law (or at least of a client contract).  But does it really do the company harm?  I think not.  First, people who are looking at it will probably pay full attention to it – more so than if they were casually looking at the tube or screen, so there is a client benefit.  It may be a more effective communication than the approved version. It can even help the client by gaining more attention to it, without so much as a penny spent on it.

This is something production companies have known for years, which is why directors reels are filled with extended director’s cuts or alternate versions that are entirely re-cut or re-scored.  Just as directors do this to put themselves and their work in the best light, creative people to do the same. 

In the current creative climate, the best work often doesn’t make it through the process, but whatever work is finished, the client paid for and owns.  If the unapproved work does not align with the brand or even the marketer’s vision of the brand, the marketer has a valid case against the agency and its team.  We all know that edgy print headlines are often not approved by clients, despite the fact that they may be better and more effective.  This work often makes it into the portfolio, but it rarely, that I know of, causes a kerfuffle.  

I am entirely sympathetic to the need for creative people to post spec work that they believe shows their skills in the best light. Many creatives have been hired, not because of their approved work, but because of the spec work in their portfolios.

All this said, few creatives ever truly think about legal ownership or intellectual property. They believe that the work is theirs since they are the creators.  They rarely consider the consequences since the posting is purely selfish (with good reason) to show off their creative skills. 

I wish I could agree with David Lubars’ assertion in the article that agencies which fight for the best work will always get it approved.  He was quoted in the article as saying, “Do the brilliant thing for the client, and then that is what runs and that’s what you enter inn shows.  It’s that simple and that challenging.”  

We all know that it doesn’t always work that way. 

We all know that BBDO would often produce four or five spots for the Super Bowl before selecting the one that would run.  Those creatives did sell great work to the client, but, often only one spot was approved, the others may have found their way into a portfolio or be saved to run at another time.  And, frankly, every creative person is not so lucky as to have a champion as strong as David Lubars to fight for their work.

So what should be done about posting unapproved ads?  Should creative people throw caution to the wind?  Should clients ignore it unless the work reveals a confidentiality or otherwise hurts the brand?  Should agencies turn a blind eye?  In this litigious age, when procurement and legal departments are looking for every penny they can get, creatives have to weigh the benefits versus the risks of posting unapproved work on line.

What do you think?

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Eight Things Every Candidate Should Do To Prepare For An Interview

I can’t believe that in all my hundreds of posts, I never wrote about this before.  My apologies.

There are common things to do to prepare for every interview.  Some of these may seem to be merely common sense but should never be taken for granted.  For instance, I cannot tell you how many people have come in to meet me for an interview (yes, meeting a recruiter is a real interview) and have never looked at my website (www.gumbinnercompany.com) or read this blog, despite the fact that both or linked on my signature, making seeing them very easy and convenient.  Not looking at them shows indifference and a possible lack of interest – as it would with any interview with a potential employer.  Yet, so many people don't do their homework that, if I eliminated them all, I would have few candidates to send out!

Here is my list of best practices.

1.    Research the company
This is rule number one.  I have had candidates actually tell interviewers that they haven’t had time to go to their website.  It is a reason for immediate rejection.  Spend time on social media – all of it, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and Tumblr.  Potential employees should be subscribing to those feeds those feeds for companies they will be interviewing with.  They can always unsubscribe later, but while interviewing they should and can read the company’s posts and blogs. (Corporate managers constantly tell me that they can always tell when a candidate has not looked at their website - for an example, see my post of March 31 on Interview Feedback). Google the company and spend time on its website. Find out if it’s senior people write on social media and read what they have written.  Familiarize yourself with their senior people on LinkedIn; if the person you will be seeing is on LinkedIn, familiarize yourself with her/him also.

And, even more important, research the trade press to see what has and is being written about the company recently.  What the trade press writes is good fodder for questions.

2.    Determine the background and interests of those you will be meeting
Between Google, LinkedIn and your friends, you should have a sense of who you are seeing long before you walk in the door.  The first rule of selling is to know your audience.  If you know something about the person or persons you will be seeing, it puts you that much further ahead.  Try to find out how long the person will spend with you so that you can time your responses and then you can talk to them about their interests.

3.    If it is for a specific job, try to obtain the job specs in advance
You are allowed to ask your recruiter or the HR person or the hiring manager you will be meeting with, if they have job specs (they often don't).  Getting them will allow you to know if you are really right for the job; it will also allow you to frame answers to questions so as to match the job description with answers that are relevant to the position you are interviewing for.

4.    Know how to dress for the interview
Believe it or not, there are many companies where a suit is still in order.  There are also firms, especially in creative businesses like advertising, branding or design where a suit would be out of order.  You want to blend in.  Once, many years ago, I had a candidate rejected at a highly creative ad agency for wearing a dark, somber suit - he was rejected for not doing his homework on their culture.

5.    Know where you are going and how to get there
You do not want to be late for your interview.  If you are unfamiliar with the location, better to take a practice run.  If you are taking public transportation, you may need to take a practice run to determine how long it takes. (An HR person at Ogilvy, which is now way over on Eleventh Avenue,  far from public transportation, told me that a huge percentage of people are late to appointments because they mis-judge where they are and how to get there.) If the meeting is out of town, a practice run is surely necessary; better safe than sorry. 

6.    Be on time
Showing up late, even by a few minutes, is a no-no.  Showing up more than five or ten minutes early is also wrong.  If you are too early, go buy yourself a cup of coffee, but do not bring coffee on the interview.

7.    Observe the people while in reception; read displayed company literature
Don’t get on your cell phone the second you are seated in the company reception.  Observe the people, the energy and measure the vibe. This is especially easy in open plan offices.  By observing the people and the level of activity and energy you will learn a lot about the culture and the demeanor of the company.

If there is literature about the company, read it (rather than looking at your cell phone); if it is an advertising agency and there are commercials on monitors or print ads on the wall, look at them.  (By the way, smart receptionists often report your actions while in the waiting room – so reading literature may be reported back as showing interest while looking at your cell phone may be reported as disinterest.)

8.    Prepare to ask good questions
Not asking questions is considered a sign of lack of interest.  You should have questions prepared (but for goodness sake, do not pull out a list).  Here are just a few:
    -       If I get this job, what could I do that hasn’t been done before?
    -       If I get this job, what problems need to be solved immediately?
    -       Is there anything in my background that we have not discussed that you think might be 
          relevant to this job?
    -      What would my likely career path be?
It may seem obvious, but do not take this advice for granted no matter what level you are or how many times you have interviewed.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

When A Boss Demands That You Do Things Which Are "Extras"

I heard an outrageous story from a candidate that I thought would be worth sharing.  A young lady, barely three years out of school, came to see me.  She had only been with her ad agency about two months. When I asked why she wanted to leave her company so soon, she was reluctant to tell me, but I pressed her because she had been there for such a short time. Ultimately, she told me. It seems she reported to a very senior executive who asked her to do things which went way beyond her job spec.
After several uneventful first few weeks, aside from doing a slew of personal errands (laundry, dog walking, grocery shopping, getting lunch etc.) almost every day, she was also handed credit card, taxi and shopping receipts and asked to complete this executive’s expense reports every week. She was told to be creative and put it all down to various clients – my candidate’s choice. After the first week, my candidate told this executive that she was uncomfortable doing the expenses for obvious reasons.  In no uncertain terms, she was told that it was part of her job and if she told anyone or refused to do them, she would, "suffer greatly".

She also told me that the personal errands could take between an hour and three hours every day and this diversion caused her to both work late and to be late in getting her work done. And the boss  actually criticized her for being late.

Tough situation.

I didn’t think this stuff actually happens any more. But apparently it does. 

My advice to her was to look for a job immediately.  In the meanwhile, she is worried about being blamed for fudging this person’s expenses, which will surely happen if someone questions the expense reports.  The problem is that if she tells finance or her boss’s boss she will be fired and she cannot afford to be out of work.  She is damned if she does and damned if she doesn’t.
Further, I told her not to worry about the personal errands, as long as she is looking for another job.  Doing a boss’s personal work is not that unusual, unfortunately, and, in this case, it is not the priority.

Does anyone have any experience with this kind of issue?  I actually wasn't sure what to tell her to do or how to handle.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Media Agencies Are Getting What They Wanted And Deserved

Media guru and friend, Mike Drexler of Drexler Fajen & Partners, sent me an email the other day with a very good thought piece on media rebates.  In it, he briefly outlined the history of media agencies.  It got me thinking and I would like to expand on this subject (without joining the discussion about rebates). 

Years ago, the media agencies started as media buying firms.  In those days the big agencies turned their noses up at them.  After all, the media buying agencies were cutting into the business of the big agencies by going to clients and offering a value proposition: they could buy better and cheaper than their current agencies at no additional cost to advertisers, since, ostensibly, they merely worked on the commissions offered by the media. They generally took about 5% in commissions, as I recall.  In actuality, they made their money by not only taking commissions, but by making deals with the media and, as I understand it, they did not necessarily divulge their true costs to advertisers. They got this “spread” in addition to the commissions they earned.  Clients mostly didn’t care because they were paying what was budgeted and the media agencies did deliver, in most cases, more gross rating points (GRP’s) than their normal agencies would or could. 

So media agencies started out as a way for advertisers to get more for their money.  Gradually they started adding services and attracted more and better brands and companies. As they grew, the media agencies became more and more “legitimate”.  In the 1990's the holding companies spun off their individual agency media department to form what is now the various media agencies and the original buying services were were gobbled up by these firms.

It was an inevitable transition because traditional agencies always had an issue with media.  Media people were perceived by their agencies as second class citizens because creative was king.  How many times did the media plan or media discussion not get presented at client meetings because media generally went last and there was no time for them?  Media always demanded a seat at the table, which they rarely got. That is, until they came into their own.  Ironically, good media people were always good marketers and strategists and could contribute a lot to the creative process, if allowed.

The media department was also where entry-level account people went when they could not get their initial jobs in account management.  After a couple of years media training, many media planners moved into account work.  Media people always complained about this movement, saying that media should be its own profession.   They were right.  Media planners often made really good and effective account managers.  There used to be a lot of movement between media and account work, but today there is almost none because traditional and digital agencies don't do media and there is no demand for that skill.

When, in the late seventies and early eighties, advertisers started cutting commissions on network buying, the snowball started rolling until it became an avalanche. Advertisers determined (with the help of certain outside consultants) that agencies made excessive profits on network buying.  After all, it only took a couple of people to plan, negotiate and buy the bulk of most advertisers spending. Big advertisers forced agencies to cut commissions on network.  Shortly after that, they started cutting commissions on spot buying, although there was recognition that spot buying was more expensive to handle than network.  Print followed and then once they started to negotiate page rates and the rate card that they used to charge pretty went out of existence.

Soon after that, the procurement departments of advertisers started cutting commissions on creative work.  The 15% commission system died and the fee system as it exists today was born.  When the the holding companies started spun off their media brands, it became a boon to advertisers and hurt the creative agencies by eliminating a huge source of income and profits from those agencies.

We could debate the significance of separating media from creative.  There are many arguments that this separation has hurt the business, but that is beside the point of this discussion. Today, we have come full circle.  Ironically, media agencies have begun expanding their services into territory which was historically the bailiwick of the creative agencies – strategy, account management, traffic (project management) and even creative.  On top of this, theThe media agencies/companies tend to be far more integrated today than the traditional creative agencies, which remain very siloed.

The media landscape has become incredibly complicated. There are hundreds of cable networks and radio stations, magazines, newspapers and a huge diversity of digital media opportunities, not to mention sponsorships, events, and all kinds of promotional opportunities.  The media agencies have proven themselves mostly up for the challenge to put all these elements into a cohesive whole.

Procter and Gamble’s announcement in April that it will be cutting fees by a whopping half a billion dollars while at the same time demanding that all its agencies find ways of better integrating can be debated. However, what is clear is that this will change the advertising landscape forever.

Creative agencies have lost their ability to lead the communications business.  (If you don’t believe this, just ask yourself this: name five advertising campaigns which are cutting edge, creative and come anywhere near the creativity of the sixties or seventies.)  

Media is taking over –  and the tail now wags the dog.

Creative Commons License