Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Vacations Revisited

I also wrote in August about the challenges of vacationing in a wheelchair.

Now that Fall is here, I thought I would write again since people will soon start thinking about winter vacations and next year's time off.  In advertising, as in many businesses, planning for the future is difficult because it is hard to anticipate what is coming next week, no less next year.  One thing is for sure, there is never a good time to take an vacation; nevertheless, taking time off is essential.

What immediately comes to mind is one of the responses which I received a while ago when I wrote about taking a vacation.  This response had a profound effect on me and I have been thinking about it ever since.  Here it is, verbatim:

“Only once in my 30 year career have I taken [one] 2 week vacation,
and that was in 1991. I have never felt so refreshed, relaxed, or
recharged as after that trip. In today's environment, everything
moves so fast that trying to take 2 weeks at a time could
unfortunately be career suicide. I wish we had the same attitude
as the Europeans.”

If taking two weeks off (more than twenty years prior) felt so good, why would someone deny themselves vacation time again? Life is too short. There has been so much research conducted on how productive people become after taking a vacation.  Truth is that rather than granting paid vacation, companies should actually mandate it.
It is sad to me that a person felt that he or she could not take a vacation because of the pressures of their job. The saddest part is that it is all in their head.  The nature of the business is that something often comes up, making vacation time off inconvenient, but if the business is properly staffed the gap can easily be filled for a couple of weeks. And today, with smart phones and tablets, there is very little that con't be handled from afar.  In fact, I really doubt that senior managers really give a damn whether vacations are taken or not; time off is always an issue.  So what? Frankly, I have never heard about a person being fired for taking their entitled vacation.  The attitude of the writer above comes from his/her insecurity.

The irony of all of this is that there are few ad agency CEO's, presidents or ECD's who do not take time off.

I feel so sorry for people who work because they are afraid not to. As I said, life is just too short.  And spending time renewing one’s self (and their significant others) is so beneficial and wonderful that anyone who denies themselves a break is a fool.

On another post about time off, someone commented that vacations were not worth it because he/she had to constantly check their phone to answer business emails and texts and therefore there was no point to time off. Give me a break.  I always work while I am away, as do most senior executives (In the early days of cell phones, I rented a satellite phone, so I could return calls and, negotiate, if necessary.)  Working while on vacation, comes with the territory if you are an executive.  In fact, I am always surprised when I hear a voice mail that a senior person will not be returning calls or answering other communications while away; to me, it is a derriliction of responsibility .  It certainly doesn’t bother me to answer emails, calls or texts, while I am away, if they are timely and important to my business; if not, my voice mail (and auto-response) says I will communicate when I return.  It takes a few minutes a couple of times a day.  So what?  It doesn’t interfere with my time off and certainly doesn’t affect my relaxation.  I simply don’t allow those interruptions to hinder my mood or enjoyment.

The person who wrote that simply used this as an excuse to continue working rather than taking care of themselves.  It is a terrible rationalization.  And it actually makes me, as a recruiter, question their ability to handle responsibility.

It actually takes a full week to unwind and relax. The second week off then becomes pure bliss, which is why two consecutive weeks is better than long weekends or a week here and a week there. 

Everyone owes it to themselves and their family to take time off to refresh and renew.  I beg my readers to plan next year's vacation now and to actually take it when the time comes. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Five Things Advertising Human Resources Does vs. What They Should To Do

Ad agencies often promote managers from other departments into Human Resource positions.  While this is great for their hiring function since those people will have good insights into their previous positions, it also means that they will not necessarily know the other aspects of their jobs.  I have written many times that in advertising, all too often the HR function is defined as recruiting, payroll and benefits.  

Actually, the job of Human Resources should go way beyond recruiting and payroll.  I  thought I would deal with those things.

What follows is very simplistic; the job is and should actually be very complicated with many more parts than I have written about here.  The best human resources people actually go to school to learn the many functions of the position.  The business has a few very dedicated and well trained HR professionals, but often the agencies don't allow them to fully do their jobs. Agency management often loads the department up with so many unrelated tasks (the company picnic, the holiday party, blood drives, managing the sports teams, college recruiting, etc.) that human resources has not time to actually do the remainder of its job.  I know one professional who was hired from another industry to bring some professionalism to a large agency as head of the department.  He quit after 18 months because the agency only gave him time to recruit senior people despite having a department of many.

This is by no means a condemnation of HR, it is merely a commentary on what they are allowed and encouraged to do in ad agencies.

Career Management and Planning
HR should be responsible for ensuring the growth and development of all employees.  Unfortunately, there are few, if any, training programs for juniors.  Some chosen seniors will receive specific training in presentations, marketing and management, but these people are few and far between and these programs are often kept very secretive so as not to offend the bulk of employees who are not included. 

But even without training programs, HR should be responsible for careers, rotations and advancement.  Unfortunately, there are few HR departments at ad agencies which do this.

Once, an HR person, who I had previously liked, sent me an executive who was a star, but whose account was lost; as a result, she had been terminated.  When I asked why if she was such a star, she was simply not rotated on to another business where she would be better than the current person.  The HR person replied, “That is too much trouble.”  Ouch.

Conflict Resolution
When there are problems among employees and supervisors, the subordinate (or the manager, for that matter) should feel free to go to HR to help resolve the situation.  Unfortunately, there are too many stories of the complainer ending up being terminated, disciplined or ending up having an unpleasant meeting with the person they complained about with the HR person not in attendance to mediate.  The result is employees all too often do not trust their HR departments; often, they simply leave their jobs rather than attempt to resolve the situation.

Succession Planning
Smart HR departments plan for career advancement and deal with employee needs, but this does not happen much at agencies.  This is certainly true of senior management.  As Creative Directors, agency Presidents and CEO’s age, only a handful of ad agencies have actually planned the second tier of management to take over.  This is a critical importance and requires complete knowledge of the business and its people, but is often a neglected function.  As a consequence, rather than training transitional senior employees to take over, when a senior person leaves, the agency often has to hire from the outside, which causes morale issues and fosters turnover at all levels.

Performance Management
Performance reviews can serve as a great means of measuring progress in a career.  A less than stellar report can provide guidance for special training or issue resolution.  Unfortunately, most ad agencies (and other companies), merely put the signed review in a file, often only kept for legal reason.  HR neither provides nor supervises any remedial action.  The result is that the employee is left to her/his own devices in order to correct the issue.

Another huge problem is managing salary increases.  This is especially true if a manager leaves, and a new supervisors may be reluctant  to recommend an overdue salary increase to his/her new report.  I have often heard the comment, “How can I authorize a raise if I don’t know you.  You will have to wait six months for me to evaluate you.”  I have known all too many people who, after the six months passes, end up with another new manager, so the whole process repeats; this often leaves an employee without a salary increase for years at a time.  HR should be knowledgeable enough of all employees so that they can step in to make sure that scheduled raises are given out.

HR should know its accounts and people and culture so well that recruiting can be individualized and work smoothly.  Unfortunately, in order to save money from outside recruiters, when there is a crunch (or on a regular basis) contract recruiters are brought in who do not know the culture or the managers causing recruiting to become inefficient. (I have received many jobs from senior executives, especially at the big agencies, who have had jobs open for months with no results.)  Recruiting managers at agencies should be full time employees who know everyone and everything about their company.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Seven Reasons Why/How Ad Agencies Lose Business

The late, great David McCall used to say that the day an agency gets an account they are a day closer to losing it.  A bit cynical, but very true.  As a recruiter, I have asked many advertising agency executives why they lost an account and many client executives why they pulled their business from their agencies.  Here are my observations from the many answers I have received.

1)    Change in client key personnel
No surprise here.  As they say, “The new broom sweeps clean”.  Many a CMO, CEO has fired their agency and hired a new one in order to work with someone they previously knew or a friend who they trust.  Many simply hire a new agency to insure loyalty to them.  It happens frequently and often without warning, but this happening should be at least anticipated by any ad agency if a new senior person joins their client.

2)    Clients who become tired of their advertising
Clients often become tired of their own advertising long before the consumer does; after all, how often can a company show the same commercial to their sales force? All agencies should anticipate this problem and should be constantly working on ways to refresh a current campaign in order to keep the client enthusiastic.  

3)    Agencies do not listen to their clients
I have had dozens of client advertising and marketing executives tell me that their agencies just don’t listen.  Sometimes what the clients want is significant and, ironically, sometimes it is merely the feeling that the agency is not paying attention to their needs.  I had a client tell me that he had been asking his agency to prepare an FSI (Free Standing Insert) coupon ad for both print and digital and his agency simply ignored him.  He hired a new agency to do that and it opened the door for the existing agency to lose the account. 

4)    Agencies become arrogant about their own work
Apropos of two and three above, sometimes the work does wear out.  Many agencies have insisted on not changing the campaign when a new solution is long overdue.  This is very common, especially with long-running campaigns.

5)    Agencies don’t insert themselves into their client organizations
A common complaint is that clients don’t see their agencies except for major presentations.  One client told me that he had actually not seen his agency management in two years (although he had seen his account team). Agency management needs to see its clients, no matter how small, on a frequent basis.  Another client told me that his account team never came to see him on a one-on-one basis.  They only came to see him en masse or for major presentations.  Many have told me that they do not hear from their account teams with regularity.  Account people need to talk to their client counterparts every day, even it is just to say hello and ask if there is anything they can or should be doing.

6)    Agencies that have not learned their client’s business
I have heard about agencies presenting work that is rejected because it is not consistent with the client’s objectives or which is inconsistent with the client’s business situation or issues.  In many cases, the client has not communicated its problems or objectives to the agency, but it is up to the agency as a service supplier to learn its clients’ business, even at the risk of being pushy.

Agencies need to have a constant presence at their clients in order to know and understand their account(s).  They must take the time to learn their clients’ business.  And agencies cannot use the excuse that the procurement people won’t allow frequent visits.

7)    Agency Merger and Acquisitions
Never been sure what actually happens, but from observation, accounts seem to leave agencies once they have been purchased or merged.  Change in management and procedures certainly has a lot to do with it.  All too often, senior account and creative people get moved, rotated or terminated which angers clients because it upsets the status quo.  I have never figured out why one agency buys or merges with another and then completely decimates the culture – causing the very clients they purchased to leave.

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