Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Small Ad Agencies vs. Big Ad Agencies: Which Are Better?

I am often asked about small vs larger agencies.  There is no good answer because I can argue out of both sides of my mouth.  However, a couple of things need to be pointed out.

Once upon a time, I used to recommend big agency training and resources.  Today not so much.  There are virtually no training programs and all the senior people are doing all the work, leaving the juniors at the big agencies mostly doing menial and clerical work.  On the opposite side, the huge brands, particularly those that are worldwide remain with the big shops.  But there are other issues.

In terms of people, training and advancement, the reality of today’s advertising world is that if one wants to work at one of the top 15 worldwide ad agencies, movement among them is somewhat limited.  A person working at an IPG agency cannot go directly to another Interpublic agency, which means, for instance, one cannot move from McCann to Deutsch.  Same is true for all the network owned ad agencies; they each preclude employees from moving directly from one of their agencies to another. (Most have a mechanism for moving among - but that assumes that an employee is willing to get permission from their supervisor(s) and has stellar performance reviews.  And even then, this rarely happens for obvious reasons.) This whole policy is nonsense and designed to save money, but  since these agencies often compete with each other for accounts, why not compete for people as well?

However, if you work for a smaller shop, you can go anywhere – if they will have you.  The issue is that ad agencies tend to hire résumés, not people.  If you are lucky enough to work on a major name-brand account at an independent, smaller shop, you may be able to move easily to one of the big agencies.  But even if you work on a highly strategic account, or at a well known smaller creative agency on a regional or little known brand, it is harder to move to a big agency.  (To put it the opposite way, hiring a person who works at  DDB or Y&R is, in the mind of the big shops, a safer hire than hiring someone from an agency that employs sixty people.) The people doing the hiring or screening at bigger agencies may be unfamiliar with these smaller agencies as well as their work. I often meet people who are at the smaller shops or are from out of town who can run circles around their big agency counterparts, but they have trouble being hired. It becomes even more difficult if that smaller agency is in New Jersey, Toledo or San Jose, despite their ability to do great work.

In fact, the irony is that at smaller shops, the people who work there often tend to actually be better trained of necessity.  The big agencies gave up on real training programs years ago.  At some of those agencies, for instance, an account person by policy may not attend a television production shoot until they are at least an account supervisor, which means four or five years in the business.  At smaller agencies, such constraints rarely exist.  

People who come out of the independent shops get exposed to more, do more and get involved in the nitty-gritty of the business much faster.  To tell a quick story, when I went from a smaller agency to a large multi-national as an account executive, one of the first things I was asked to do was to try to resolve a billing issue for a client. Apparently, it had been going on for weeks with no resolution. This is a common task for an account person.  I knew enough to simply go to the billing department;  I the the biller and resolved the issue after a short discussion. My supervisor was amazed.  He actually did not know that there was such a person as a biller. I knew who to go to from working at a small agency.

Not that billing is the be all and end all.  But it is a vital aspect of the business, which I had learned at smaller shops.   At smaller shops, people are more apt to learn the business of the business.

In terms of the work, the principals at smaller agencies tend to be more available to solve problems and issues and to be sure good work gets done.  They are apt to know their people better and can identify and nurture the star performers.
The biggest difference in size is resources.  Big companies have far more of them, which comes from their larger spending brands. At smaller shops, employees often have to figure out how solve problems on their own. Despite this significant advantage, many big companies are reluctant to hire out of smaller agencies, falsely believing that big agency people know more.
The irony is that if you come out of a big, name agency, you are more attractive to smaller, creative shops. The perception is that people who are from big agencies are better trained and more strategic.  Perception is reality. 

Big agencies have advantages in terms of size and resources.  Small agencies can often do better work because they are less bureaucratic.  Neither is right for everyone. 

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Ten Mistakes You Are Probably Making With Email

Emails are forever.  People use them as a record of their actions, but tend to forget that email is a very impersonal medium.  Consequently, it is very easy to overlook and misuse emails.  Most of us read emails once they have piled up and there are many in our inbox.  As a result, they are very easy to take for granted. I, too, am guilty of breaking some of these rules.
Expecting action based on an email
If you send an email, you must follow up with a personal visit or phone conversation.  Don’t assume that just because you sent an email that the person it was sent to will follow-up.

Using emails to make an assignment
People just get too many emails to pay full attention.  Assignments are best given in person, which allows for questions and discussion. Discussions via email are often disregarded.

Not responding so people know you got their note
A simple response, goes a long way. Saying thanks or that you got it, will avoid another email asking if you got the first one.  It is a discipline that I have had to force myself to learn.

Giving bad news in an email
It is hard to give bad news.  However, sending an email is both rude and cowardly.  Telling someone that they did not get a job via email is too impersonal.  Telling someone that their work was rejected is cowardly.  If you are an effective executive, giving bad news in person is a tough thing, but much more acceptable than sending an email.

Expecting that your email will be read
Many people receive hundreds of emails a day.  Busy people often either skip the stuff in their inbox or put a follow-up flag on it and then promptly forget to look at the flagged email.

Assuming that because it is "only" an email, it can be sloppy
Anything with your name on it is an ad for yourself. Typos and bad grammar are unacceptable and will indicate that you are careless and do not pay attention to details.  Details do matter.

Writing long emails and then expecting that people will read them
Like any other form of communication, emails should be to the point and readable.  I get cover letters with résumés that go on for multiple paragraphs.  I simply don’t read them and go right to the accompanying résumé.  You cannot sell effectively via email.  That is why following up in person is more effective.  Ironically, few people email me and then follow up with a call.

Sending too many emails
Sometimes I receive five or ten emails a day from one person.  They all say the same thing, so after the first three or four, I stop paying attention.  That happens all the time at work. If you have to keep following up or adding information, you did not give the first email sufficient thought.

Neglecting to use the BCC
Everybody does not have to know who you sent your email to.

Replying to “All”
Most of the time, copying people is a courtesy to let them know you have contacted someone or followed up on a previous communication.  However, when you respond, everyone on the list usually doesn’t need to see your response; there are times when this is actually a big mistake.  This falls into the category of sending too many emails. Everyone is guilty of sending a response to someone who should not have seen the communication.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Dysfunction Of The “Creative” Agencies

When people are looking for jobs from the creative-oriented ad agencies, the complaint I hear most is that they are disorganized and often dysfunctional.  Raises and promotions don’t come on a scheduled basis, reviews are not formalized, account people and planners are by-passed by the creatives.  Creative people belittle the account group and change strategy and executions without informing the account people or the client.  All this is probably true by the very nature of creative shops.  

Before I deal with this, I would first like to address a term I do not like and never have – “Creative” Agencies. By their very nature, all advertising agencies are creative.  Some just more so than others.
In the 1960”s and 1970”s the smaller agencies that were turning out great creative work were called boutiques by the big agencies and the trade press.  It was actually a pejorative term.  The intention of the bigger shops was to belittle the agencies that were turning out great work.  The top ten or fifteen agencies were highly process oriented and prided themselves on their ability to turn out work based on solid strategy and which scored well in copy testing.  All advertising people know that there is a difference between effective work which scores well in testing and good creative work. One of the big agencies, no name here, but if you are over forty, you know who it was, used the slogan, “It isn’t creative unless it sells” which was an apology (in my mind) for its bad work. It was a put-down of the creative agencies.

The myth has been perpetuated that if an agency is small, it cannot be strategic. It just isn’t so.  What happens is that as agencies grow and attract larger, more disciplined clients, procedure and process begins to interfere with their ability to do cutting edge work.  The late, great Jay Chiat had a wonderful saying, “I wonder how big we will get before we get bad?”.  That about sums it up.  Most of today’s successful agencies started out small and then figured out how to keep process from interfering with their creativity.

There is and always has been a degree of dysfunction at all good ad agencies.  That dysfunction is worse at smaller shops, by their very nature.  Ad agencies are generally started by entrepreneurial creative people who come out of larger agencies.   Their initial emphasis is only on the work and not on the functioning of these agencies and, consequently, these agencies often lack form and systems. As their agencies grow, of necessity, they add systems and process, but their emphasis is always on their ability to bypass the bureaucracy which prevents good work from getting done. To put it a different way, at the huge worldwide shops it is much easier for bad work to slip through.

The largest agencies have all kinds of departments.  I was shocked when I went from a smaller boutique to a big agency as a young account executive.  The big agency had all kinds of separate units which I had never seen – a music department, casting, strategy, research, a promotion department, even what was then called personnel.  There were set processes for everything.  At the smaller agencies, all that work was accomplished by the principals or by people who reported to them in the general course of their business.  They spent most of their time servicing clients and handling creative tasks and paid little attention to the processes of their business.  Best example is Mary Wells.  Anyone who knows knew Wells, Rich, Greene, knows that there were no systems whatsoever.  Raises might not be given for two or three years, but if an employee was doing well, they might get a 75% increase; the percentages which exist agencies today simply did not exist at WRG.  There is one story of a person who was distraught about his car dying and the next day a brand new Ford was delivered to his home, a gift from Mary Wells (they had the Ford Corporate business).

All smaller agencies have tended to be somewhat disorganized, especially compared to the big shops.  This is neither bad nor good. It is just a fact which can best be summed up by a comment made to me by an account executive who had gone from Grey (the old Grey, not the current incarnation) to Chiat/Day. This was in the early days of Chiat in New York. Computers and open space and the elimination of administrative assistants was just coming into being. This account person called me on her second day telling me she was leaving (I had not placed her).  When I asked why, her comment blew me away, “I can’t believe it,” she said, “I have to do my own Xeroxing.”  I said to her that if Jay Chiat could do it, she could.  She told me that she did not get a college education and train at Grey so that she could do this kind of menial work.  She left and went back to Grey.  

If process and structure are what drives you, stay at the big companies.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Some Thoughts After 30+ Years of Recruiting

As I look back on 30 years of recruiting, much has happened. I have posted on my blog about many events and observations, but there are some additional thoughts - mostly about people - I would like to share.

I have met a lot of wonderful people over the years. I regret that I have not been able to place every one of them. And I have written several times that when a recruiter does not place somebody, it does not mean that they do not like them. In fact I have not placed some of my favorite people; their wants and needs may not be in line for opportunities that I currently have at the time they are looking. Often, when I find the right opening and I call them, they have moved on and are not now interested.

Because I meet between 5 and 15 people each week, sometimes more, I regret that I cannot keep up with all of them. There are just too many people that I like or that I think are very talented and placeable.  I wish I could call all of them to check in on a regular basis.

Over the years, I have played a game with myself. As I meet people, I try to guess early on in their careers, who are the superstars. Who will be successful? And whose career is going to crash into a pile of mud? One thing that I have discovered, is that I am often wrong. I don’t believe there are any predictors of success, at least not that I have discovered.  So much of major success has to do with place and time, much of which is almost random.  As a result, some of the least likely people become highly successful and some of the most likely people, who I thought would be fabulous, just kind of fade into oblivion; some by their own choice, others by the coincidences and chances of their careers.

As I think back, I see a few people who were potential superstars who, for reasons only known to them, just pulled themselves back from the brink of success. Some did not want to pay the price of huge success and pass by money and fame and choose, instead, family and lifestyle. I respect them immensely.

Some people make terrible decisions which cost them dearly. I actually regret that I could not help them and those decisions. It's not that I am always right, but I do have a good track record for being correct about people and jobs and what will work and what will not.

Many people whose careers where on the verge of success make very strange short cuts, thinking that those choices would more quickly lead them to greater success.  This often happens to people who are on a great track at the big, prestige companies who suddenly decide to take jobs at smaller agencies or to move out of town to take a big title.  These jobs often fail to be the short cut that the employee was looking for. Many times, these new companies have been made promises which will not be kept. (I can think of one mid-size agency where the president/owner has been on the verge of retiring for years promising to leave his company to a new hire – sadly, it simply isn’t going to happen, Ask the half dozen former presidents.)   As a result, the careers of the people who made these moves tend to crash and burn.  Once out of the mainstream, it is hard to get back on track.  From my point of view, as much as I want to place these people in a great new job, the companies that they subsequently want to go to often won’t hire someone who has taken a wrong turn in their career. 

I wish I could have helped all these people.

Then. I have also seen some people who have middling careers, but end up on a growing piece of business and they rise with it or have other circumstances which propel them forward and upward.  God bless.

I still love it all.
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