Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Adventures In Recruiting: An Uncooperative Candidate

Every once in a while, recruiters come across uncooperative and difficult candidates.  When that happens, of course the candidate can be sure that the recruiter will never send them out.  This is the story of one such candidate.

A young man called me (I did not recruit him).  He was obviously angry about being cut back and I could detect his obvious rage on the phone, but since I believe there is no such thing as a wasted interview, I agreed to meet him.  I scheduled his appointment a few days later, hoping that the time would ease his fury.  He came to my office, took off his coat, but kept his scarf on hanging over his shoulders.  I thought it peculiar, but paid no attention.  

His previous agency was one of the top ten and he had been there only six months. I knew that there must have been a performance issue because this agency did not terminate people easily; I thought I would explore it with him.  He was in his late twenties, about six years out of college.  He had worked for a couple of ad agencies and had okay credentials, not great but not bad either.  On paper, he might have been placeable.  In person, he was a disaster.

He sat down (more like threw himself down) on my couch and before I could ask a single question, he angrily crossed his arms over his chest, looked at me and said, “Okay, so what jobs do you have available?”  I told him that I would have to interview him, find out his interests, determine his strengths and then determine what might be available, if anything. He threw one side of his scarf around his neck, almost violently, and then again crossed his arms across his chest and belligerently said, “What do you want to know.”  

At that point I had crossed him off my list, but thought I would continue the interview – just for my own amusement.  I asked him a couple of innocuous questions and then asked him about his current salary.  I was totally stunned by his response, “If you are so smart, you tell me.”  He was serious.
I explained that it I was not a clairvoyant.  He looked at me and said, “Why should I answer that? It is private information.”  I decided that I did not owe him an explanation of why a recruiter might want to know a candidate’s salary.  I was almost laughing, but with a smile on my face, I told him that I could not deal with him and asked him to leave.

He got up and left.  He was out the door before putting his coat on.

Two days later he called and asked if he could come back and promised he would be more cooperative.  I refused to see him again.

A day or two after that I got a letter from him.  I wish I had saved it.  But in essence he told me I was a terrible recruiter and that I was rude.  He was going to tell all his friends how horrible I was.  

It is strange behavior for someone who is out of work and needs help.  However, I never heard of him again and I am quite certain he never got another job in the business.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Adventures In Advertising: The Client Who Caused His Agency To Quit The Pitch They Had Won

Barneys was once a powerhouse advertiser.  Most creative agencies wanted the account because the work could be spectacular.   During the seventies and eighties and until the Madison Avenue store opened in the early 1990’s, Barneys ran wonderful, compelling television advertising in order to get both men and women to shop at its flagship store, which was located at Seventh Avenue and 17th Street. In those days, that Chelsea location is not what it is today and people had to be convinced to go there to shop.  

As a result, much of the work that ran was award-winning work. At the time, most agencies, including mine at that time, would have done anything to get into the pitch because the work that was produced was so good. However, few agencies kept the business more than a couple of years because the account was so demanding.

The reason the work was so good and the agency tenure was so short was Barney's Advertising and Marketing Director, Milton Guttenplan. Mr. Guttenplan was a fabulous advertising executive, but at the same time he drove his ad agencies crazy.  No detail was too small for him to double-check; he was infamous for calling photographers and TV directors to double check their pricing and to get their opinion of the agencies that hired them.  After a shoot, he would question them at length about their recent experience with his agency on his business; he rarely went on shoots unless they were in exotic locations. Despite being difficult, He had great taste and encouraged his agencies to do great work.  And indeed, agencies were able to do award-winning work on the account.  Barneys advertising won multiple Clio’s, Andy's as well as every other advertising award.  But in the process of doing such good work, Mr. Guttenplan was difficult to tolerate. 
A good example of his difficulty is what happened to me and my agency during our pitch for the account.  At the time of this story, I was a Senior Vice President at McCaffrey & McCall.  We were pitching the account and had made it down to the finals against other very good agencies.  We didn’t have it yet, but one morning as we approached the decision, my home phone rang at two in the morning.  It was Milton asking me to come to his office at 8:30 the next morning, to discuss an idea he had.  This was a little unusual during a pitch.  He thought nothing of the hour and did not apologize; it was the way he did business. Right then and there I realized that, despite the good work, I did not want to work on the account.

The meeting in his office was totally unnecessary and could easily have been a phone call.  When I got back to the agency I told David McCall about the phone call and meeting.  David was an amazing leader.  He called Fred Pressman, then the owner of Barneys, who was the source of our pitch and David’s friend.  Fred agreed with David that it was poor form to call someone at that hour, but told David that Milton was a trusted employee who had carte blanche to run his department.  Fred made it clear that we would have to find a way to deal with Mr. Guttenplan; it was a hint that we were close to winning the account.

I told David I would do the pitch, but I didn’t want to work on the business.  

Meanwhile, before we finished the pitch, we actually made at least one significant contribution to the retailer.  Barneys was a huge, complicated store which, as I recall, ran most if not all of its block.  It had multiple floors with tens of thousands of men’s suits. There were literally dozens of departments and shops within the store, each dedicated to a style or designer. It was very difficult to know where to shop; there was no other store in the city with that kind of selection. I was working with a creative director, Royal Bruce Montgomery.  We were in the store one day trying to figure it out.  Bruce took out a pad and as we walked the isles, he sketched the entire store; it was a map that showed what was in every nook and corner. A few days later, we presented it to Milton. The map was to be a hand-out, available as customers entered the store and it simplified the shopping experience. The map was actually used, in one form or another, until the store closed many years later and Barneys moved to Madison Avenue.

However, once the map was presented, the client, as was his habit, insisted on calling Bruce with questions and comments;  he bypassed me.  Bruce, too, went to David McCall and told him that he did not want to work on the account.  It turns out that Mr. Guttenplan even called the type man, Marty Solomon, to see if he felt that Bruce was doing a good job and to double-check the prices in our estimate. (In those days, before computers, type was sold by intermediaries.) As a result of selling and producing the store map, we knew we would win the business.

Like Bruce and I, almost everyone who had anything to do with the pitch was not enthusiastic about working on the account.  When David heard that few people wanted to work on the business, he called Fred Pressman and told him we would pass.  That is the kind of leader he was.

Those were the days when almost all agencies were independent and could do things like that.  It garnered respect from clients and great enthusiasm for the agency among employees.   In this case it gave us all great relief, despite the fact that we would not be doing the really good work that we could have done on the account.  

I guess the point of the story is that it is better to quit while you are ahead.  The agency that eventually won the account kept it only a short time before either resigning it or being fired.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Ten Misconceptions About Working With Recruiters

After 30+ years in the business I realize that most people don’t have a clue as to what recruiters do or don’t do or can and cannot do for them. Most don't really know how recruiters work.  I thought I would clarify by debunking ten misconceptions.

1      Once your résumé is with a recruiter, they will sends it to their contacts
We constantly receive emails from candidates who request that we send their résumés out and then let them know if people want to talk to them.  We receive these instructions from even the most senior executives. 

A recruiter should never send your résumé out without your express permission.

Every candidate should maintain control of his or her résumé.  It should never be sent to any company without specific permission, in that way candidates know which companies have it.

    Emails are an effective means of communications; interviews are not necessary
Many candidates at all levels of seniority, simply feel that by sending an email with an explanation of their situation will be sufficient for a recruiter.  Truth is, smart candidates always talk to their recruiters to bring them up to date.  

If you have a previous relationship with a recruiter, you should be re-interviewed every three or four years, especially if you have had new experiences during that time. (It works both ways: beware of a recruiter who does not want to interview you.)

3      If a recruiter tells you about a job and you express interest, it is okay for them to send your résumé, even before that recruiter interviews you
Sometimes recruiters are under pressure to send résumés.  As a result, they shoot first and then aim.  You should interview with them before they send your résumé out.  During that interview you can be fully briefed on the job. You must be sure that, a) you know all about the company and the job, have read or discussed the job description and, b) you feel the job is commensurate with your goals and ambitions and, finally, c) you like and want to work with the recruiter.

4     Your recruiters will “market” you
Most recruiters work on assignment only.  They will only introduce you to a company if they have a specific assignment that is appropriate for your background and interests.  They will not just send your résumé out and see if someone responds (see # 1 above).

5     Once introduced to a client, the recruiter has done his or her job. It is not necessary to keep the recruiter informed during the process.
This is a very common error and it is made by many candidates.  A good recruiter can be your best ally while you are interviewing.  They can help solve issues and get answers to questions which may best come from a third party.  If familiar with the company, they can and should brief you on the people you are seeing. They can facilitate scheduling and, when appropriate, help negotiate agreements and contacts. 

Frankly, I hate it when a candidate goes on an interview without telling me first.  And it can be embarrassing if the client calls me to ask for the candidate’s feedback.

6     Recruiters are not lawyers and should not be involved with contract negotiations
When it comes to contracts and negotiations, many senior candidates assume that since they are dealing with a lawyer, they no longer need their recruiter.  Wrong.  A good recruiter is not a lawyer, but has lots of experience negotiating and resolving issues. They know what to look for in a contract and may be very familiar with the company you are negotiating with, often knowing what the company will or will not do, and knowing how far they can be pushed in terms of your needs.

       If a recruiter doesn’t send you out, he or she does not like you
That is nonsense of course.  You may think you are qualified for a job, but the recruiter is working against specifications that may not match your background, personality, experience or education..

It is also possible that they do not have an assignment which is appropriate for you at the time you meet them.

I have called many candidates for the first time months or even years after meeting them.

        Once you get a job, you no longer need a recruiter
Smart candidates keep in touch with their recruiters.  They give them complete information when they get a new job, including their salary, the details of their assignments and new experiences (I love people who send me emails telling me that they are taking a job, but give absolutely no detail, even the company that just hired them.  This makes it difficult to update their records and keep track of them).  Keeping recruiters up to date enables them to constantly reevaluate your background.. Many a recruiter has called and placed a candidate ten years after first meeting them because during that time they were kept up to date by the candidate.

9      Recruiters are only interested in making a placement and not in the needs of their candidates
Good recruiters work for their clients, but they cannot do a good job for their clients unless they do a good job for their candidates.  A good recruiter is mindful of the needs of the people they are working with.

1    In These days of social media, recruiters are not necessary
The problem with on-line recruiting is that you never know who is reading and screening your résumé.  Often the screeners are very junior and cannot interpret your experience.  A recruiter who has or knows of an assignment and has a personal relationship with the hiring company, may be able to enable you to get an interview.  There is no question that networking (which would include social media) has always accounted for the majority of jobs.  However, a good recruiter who knows you and the company can provide invaluable insights.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Three Things To Think About Agency/Client Fees

Everyone knows that fees have cut agency profits causing a lack of bonuses and profit sharing, elimination of training programs and lack of staffing.  But there are other, less obvious ways fees have hurt the business.

My dad ran a big agency.  Gumbinner-North was, at one point, the twentieth largest agency in the world.  After he retired, he warned me about fees.  In those days most agencies were still on commission from media. His words were quite prophetic. He told me that there were three problems with fees.

First, there is always someone who will undercut the fee an agency is receiving in order to win an account or keep an account.  There are many stories about agencies winning at any price and then discovering that they could not afford to service the business. (Under the commission system, there was minimal income cutting among agencies since all of them got 15%.  Fees came into being when major advertisers, particularly those that spent all or most of their budgets on network television, decided that it was unfair to be charged 15% since network was less labor intensive than other media.)  

Additionally, clients now often choose agencies based on price rather than the work or the relationship.  Sometimes new agencies are chosen based on a point or half a point, which could be considerable for a huge account.

Second, clients don’t understand fees (true to this day).  If the fee is paid monthly (most are) and there is a quiet month, clients don’t really understand that this is offset by a busy month.  Most clients don't understand how agencies work.  Consequently, many advertisers, believe that their agencies are overpaid. Most significant, under the commission system, agencies were technically paid by the media, so an agency's income did not show up as a line item in a budget.  Advertising budgets used to be set up as media and production.  Today, in addition to these two budget lines, fees are also a line item, often higher than production and it sticks out, constantly reminding clients how much money goes to their agencies and enabling clients to constantly nit-pick what is paid to their agencies.

Third, and most critical, under the commission system, agencies were paid by the media, not by their clients.  This helped keep agencies objective about their client's business and they could service their clients according to their needs.  Commissions enabled many agencies and clients to be true partners in both marketing and advertising.  Agencies could hire the best possible people to service an account since a few thousand dollars in salary was insignificant.  In fact, agencies often functioned as the marketing department of their clients.  

Today, fees have actually put clients in charge of their own business.  This is of like a lawyer representing himself.  Although my father never thought of client procurement departments, the purchasing group, sometimes over the objection of their company’s marketing and advertising people, dictates how the client should to be serviced and by whom.  I once had an account director who was about to be hired by an agency do a courtesy interview with the client.  After the interview, the client told they agency that she was too senior and they wanted to downgrade the position.  

Most fees are calculated on what is called a blended rate, the average of all the people servicing a particular client.  There can be little deviation for this amount unless the agency is willing to enter into a renegotiation.  Making matters worse, there are many cases where senior creative, account and media people are actually spelled out by name and salary in the contract. This has pretty much put the client in charge of its own business.

I am not advocating a return to commissions.  Rather, I am simply pointing out the things which should be taken into account when negotiating fees and client contracts
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