Tuesday, October 20, 2015

A Brief Look At How Agencies Headquartered Elsewhere Can Do Well In New York City

Let’s face it, New York City is the advertising capital of the country, if not the world.  While there are wonderful agencies that do fabulous work all over the country, in this day and age of computers, Skype, Go-To-Meeting, FaceTime and other electronic wizardry one can do business anywhere, except, possibly, New York.

Looking back historically, few agencies headquartered in other cities have done well here unless they buy an established New York shop or move their headquarters here.

N.W. Ayer was one of America’s oldest and largest advertising agencies. It was established in 1869 and by the early 1970’s, it had achieved number ten or 14 in size (depending on sources), but it was located in Philadelphia. It closed in Philly and opened in NY in 1974 and then achieved number six in size.  But that growth required both a change in headquarters and the purchase of Cunningham & Walsh, a major NY Procter agency. (N.W. Ayer was eventually bought by and merged into DMB&B, which subsequently became part of Publicis).

Most people don’t realize that Publicis existed in New York for years.  It was mostly, as I recall, a small business to business agency. Then it purchased The Bloom Agency in 1993.  Bloom was a mainstay in Dallas, run by a legendary Texas adman, Sam Bloom. His son, Bob, inherited the agency and purchased a successful New York creative agency, Mathieu, Gerfen & Bresner in 1982 (I am abbreviating history for the sake of brevity). This enabled Publicis to establish a real New York presence once it purchased The Bloom Agency. The purchase of Bloom, followed shortly by the purchase of Saatchi & Saatchi and propelled Publicis into the giant it is today.

Hill Holliday, headquartered in Boston, tried for years to achieve major success in New York, but never achieved mass, despite hiring fabulous talent and, at one point, having the Revlon business in NYC.   When they purchased a New York Shop, Altschiller & Reitzfeld, it finally achieved success and critical mass here.

Chiat/Day, started in L.A. Once Jay Chiat opened the New York office and, after a short time, moved here himself in the mid-eighties. New York actually did well here.   After Chiat’s win of Nissan and their success with Apple in Los Angeles, the New York office was always eclipsed by L.A., despite Jay Chiat’s presence here (he was frequently out on the west coast). Even today, so strong was the brand that, TBWA/Chiat Day is mostly referred to, especially in L.A, as Chiat.

Arnold Worldwide, a Boston powerhouse, had to buy Jordan, McGrath in New York before really establishing a presence in New York City.

Leo Burnett, Wieden + Kennedy and a host of others have all opened branches in New York, often initially to facilitate television production here.  Most of these agencies have an anchor account in New York,  but their New York offices have never achieved the growth that I believe they should have or that they were expecting from their presence here.

Why is this?  Advertisers who want a New York agency, want to be where the principals of that agency are.  If they are located in another market, what is the sense in choosing their New York shop when they could almost as easily hire the headquarters agency? Jay Chiat realized that when he moved to New York.

To illustrate my point, before buying Altschiller, Jack Connors hired fabulous people to run his NYC outpost, but the agency never achieved real size on its own.   Buying an existing agency with well-known principals, allowed HHCC (Hill Holliday) to achieve success in New York.  

Ironically, some New York based agencies like DDB, Ogilvy, BBDO have succeeded in other cities, particularly Chicago, but agencies from those cities have not been able to grow and continually attract new business here in New York; the best example is Leo Burnett, the quintessential Chicago agency.

The advertising landscape is littered with agencies that have been successful elsewhere but which have either faltered in New York or closed because they could not attract enough business or lost too much money.  

On the other hand, the Brits have had some luck in New York – BBH and Mother are good examples. .  But I believe that is a different situation.  Americans seem to have a love affair with London advertising and things British do well here (although many have failed here).   But American’s don’t really have a love affair with Chicago or Portland or Dallas advertising.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Eight Absurd Feedback Comments Received From Clients After Interviewing Candidates

I try to always tell the truth to my candidates.  It is one of the reasons why people like me.  However, there are times when it is necessary to either outright lie or to skirt the truth.  That happens when giving feedback that is negative.

Why hurt someone?  Especially, when there is nothing that can be learned from the negative feedback.  If I hear negative things which are correctable, like the way someone dressed or the way someone answered (or didn’t answer questions), I will always be honest.  

Occasionally I get feedback from clients which, if told to my candidates, would be cruel or absurd.  I don’t give that kind of feedback. There is nothing to be gained from it.

For instance, I recently had a person who was an EVP, Director of Client Service, talking to another, actually smaller and, in my opinion, less sophisticated agency.  The human resources person who did the interview is really good.  She told me that she thought that this EVP was not senior enough for his particular job.  I thought it a bit strange since the job the EVP currently had was bigger and more complicated. (The new job was in a different city, where the candidate’s wife was being relocated.).  I learned a long time ago that, in recruiting, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. So why would I give my candidate that feed back? There was absolutely nothing to be gained from telling him that he was not senior enough.  It would have provoked an argument and ill will towards the interviewing agency, so I merely told him that it was not a good match.  

That is a good response and is the truth.  And it gets away from the negatives, which, in this case were inexplicable.  I thought I would share with you some outrageous feedback that I have received over the years.

I have had clients tell me things, which shouldn’t be repeated.  For instance…

          -   “She is slovenly and fat.” (Neither is true; I know the candidate for many years.)

           -   “We thought he is stupid.”

           -   “His New York accent precludes him from working here.”

           -   “She is southern and her accent won’t play here.”
          -   “He comes across like a hayseed. He looked like a mortician” (Said of a perfectly well                 dressed candidate who happened to wear a suit on an interview.)

          -   “She has a foul mouth and said the ‘f’ word too many times.” (True, but the company                 was forewarned, but I though this person could do the required job. And, in this case I                   told the candidate who told me, “Tough Shit”.)

          -   “…Doesn’t fit the job because he is too inexperienced for this role” (Said of a former
                President of a major ad agency, interviewing at a smaller agency. Huh?)

          -   "We didn’t like the agencies he has worked at” (They had the résumé in advance, so why                 did  they see him?)

This kind of feedback is actually not helpful or constructive since it provides no direction to me (or to the candidate, for that matter).  You can debate whether it should have been said to me at all.  I have always believed that feedback should relate to the job and the needs of the company. In that way, I can be more specific when I do give feedback to candidates.  Every candidate understands when they don’t have some qualification that a client is looking for.  They also almost always understand when it is not a good "fit".

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The Difference Between In-House Recruiters And External Recruiters, Like Me

Most candidates have never been placed by a recruiter.  Most companies network before hiring a headhunter, which makes perfect sense.  I read years ago that recruiters only accounted for about 20% of all placements.  Most of the other jobs were through networking.  I am sure that given the fact that many companies have now hired their own in-house recruiters, that number is now considerably lower.  But in-house recruiters are not the same as outside recruiters like us.

Outside recruiters who have really good relationships with companies can perform an invaluable service to both their clients – the companies that pay them – and their candidates. Over time, I have worked consistently with many ad agencies and corporations.  I have a very good understanding of their culture and know who succeeds well and who does not. And because I am a single industry recruiter, I often know many of the hiring managers and their preferences  That is invaluable information and enables us to make placements with relative ease because we know who works and who doesn’t at every level from juniors up to the executive suite.

In-house recruiters, on the other hand, rarely get to know the culture of their agencies well.  That is not to say that there aren’t excellent in-house people, but most are generally hired as a Band-Aid when there is a hiring crunch. When the crunch is over, so is their stint.  They are hired guns, brought in to bring in people quickly and without real knowledge of the companies they are working for.  Some actually last a couple of years but only a few are full-time.  Those that are full time work on the current assignments for the agency but only have a limited view of the company, its culture and its business.  They are almost always considered hired guns.

I know and like many of these recruiters.  Some come with a Rolodex of candidates they have met or placed and tend to recycle them from company to company.  Some are just networking demons.  I know one such person who prided herself on hiring twenty-six people in six weeks. Many boast of even greater records.

My observation about internal recruiters is that most rarely meet or interview candidates.  Mostly, they collect résumés (from whatever source), pass them on to the hiring manager and if the manager wishes to meet the person behind the résumé, they then coordinate the interview process. They are paid to get job applicants in and through the system. That isn't really recruiting.  It is merely processing.  Most internal recruiters (not all) neither meet their candidates nor do extensive phone/Skype interviewing.  The issue is that I wonder about the longevity of the hires made by internal recruiters.  I would love someone to do a regression analysis of how candidates from a trusted outside recruiter compare in terms of cultural fit and longevity to the in-house people who, mostly, come and go.

As an aside, I am not sure that most companies actually really care.  If someone is hired, even by the wrong person, the job is filled and off their plate. Then it is on to the next assignment. This is particularly true of juniors – defined here as people with under ten or twelve years’ experience.  In advertising, at least, these executives have become fungible; they mostly satisfy a staffing plan, particularly at the larger network agencies.  The internal recruiters are constantly filling that well and that is what they are paid to do.

I like it when my candidates stay and thrive.  I have long-term relations with many of them.  Just today, I was working with a candidate who I met over twenty years ago.  I wonder how many in-house recruiters establish those kinds of relationships?
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