Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Adventures In Recruiting: The Worst (And Dumbest) Rejection Of A Candidate I Submitted

Recently, a contact posted a quote on LinkedIn; it was from the great Steve Jobs.  It is a quote which everyone in HR and everyone who has ever hired someone or will hire someone should live by:  “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”  It reminded me of the very first referral I ever made to an employer.

I was not yet a recruiter, I was merely a young account executive at a very hot and growing creative agency.  I had a friend who worked for another agency in a job which really doesn’t exist anymore.  His title was Radio/TV Business Manager.  In that job he was responsible for all traffic, job control, broadcast talent cost (residuals) and talent negotiations. The producers reported to him and he was responsible for all estimating for broadcast production.  (It was a long time ago, long before project managers and outside vendors keeping track of talent and residuals)  I knew this person well and also knew that he was highly regarded, both at his existing agency and in the business as a whole. He had been working at the same company for many years, since he graduated college – he was not a job hopper – but he was bored.

My agency was looking for a similar person.

I sent him to the person who he would be reporting to at my agency, the director of operations.  On the day of his appointment, he came first to my office and then I brought him to the operations director's office and introduced them. Their greeting was cordial.  My friend told me he would come to my office after the interview.  I expected to see him in a half an hour or so.

But ten minutes later he was in my office.  He told me it did not go well.  I was incredulous and asked what happened.  He said that the very first thing the director of operations asked him was, “What are you looking for?”
Here is the conversation that followed:

Candidate:  “I know you are looking for someone to be the TV/Radio business manager.  Paul told me about the agency and the job here and what you are paying.  It sounds perfect for me now.”

DO:  “What do you want to do with your career?”

Candidate:  “Well I would like to do this until I am totally familiar with the agency.  Then I would like to move up, do other things and eventually become director of operations.”

DO, who became exasperated:  “That’s my title and my job.”

Candidate (realizing he had given the wrong answer):  “Well it would enable you to move up, but I would not be a threat in any way. This is a growing agency and I hope to grow with it.”

DO:  “I am certainly not interested in hiring you. Why would I hire you knowing that you wanted my job?  It would put too much pressure on me.”

End of interview.

I was truly mortified for both of them.  The director of operations was a beloved employee.  Sadly, he was never was promoted and, eventually retired at the same title.  In retrospect, I realized that his attitude probably held him back.  I was only in the business a few years and realized that hiring aggressive and smart people was a smart move and I knew, intuitively, that it was and is a great way to get promoted.  It was something the director of operations didn't know or understand.

Soon after this happened, the candidate’s agency was bought and merged.  He started at the merged agency at the same title but because it was much larger, he actually was in a bigger job.  He worked there another twenty or so years until he retired, so essentially, he spent almost 40 years at the same company.   

The irony is that in about two years he became the Chief Operating Officer.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Adventures In Advertising: The Primary Reason Why Clients Dumb Down Agency Work

I was thinking about all the bad work that I see on television, in magazines and online.  There is a plethora of work that all of us want to know how it could have possible gotten presented, approved and produced.  Gone are the days of the creative superstars who knew how to create, sell and produce excellent advertising.  They could attract clients who wanted good work, who approved it and let it run.  It would appear that there are now too many clients who are now afraid to approve new ideas, new campaigns and breakthrough work.

When I was in advertising I had a client reject work he actually liked.  I thought I would write about it to provide an insight as to how and why companies almost insist on bad work.  In this case it was because the client was afraid to approve it.  Here’s why.

I was an account supervisor on a major account.  The client encouraged us to do breakthrough work.  But when it was presented, he wouldn’t buy it.  

We had a great, friendly relationship.  So much so that he was always honest with me and took me into his confidence.  Here is what he said after he saw the recommended new work.  “I would love to do this kind of work.  It is really breakthrough.  It is interesting, on target and it is excellent.  But I cannot allow it to go through.”  I told him that what he just said made no sense.  His response was profound and has always stayed with me.

“What we currently run is boring.  But it is what my management is used to.  In fact, it is similar to everything in the entire industry.  If we ran something else, it might actually be far more effective.  But what if it isn’t?  I cannot take the chance.  If we run a new campaign and it fails, I will lose my job for recommending it or approving it.  But if I run the kind of work we have been running, my management and my board will not complain. In fact they will not even notice it because it is what they know and are used to.  I cannot take the chance that new work will fail.  I want to keep my job.”

And there it is.  It is the reason why we see so much bad work.  Clients are simply afraid.  Most are unwilling to be responsible for making significant changes.  

No is always easier and safer than yes.  That is why copy testing was invented – it took the onus off of any individual for approving work and it resulted in homogenized creative.

Because approving new creative work is more difficult than rejecting it, the people in the presentation chain ask for too many changes. It is true of the chairman or president who is afraid of his/her board of directors. It is also true of the new marketing director who recommends a new agency with people who he/she knows and is comfortable with.  The known is always safer than the unknown.  It takes bravery to approve new work.  

I suspect that is why some bad work just goes on and on.  Flo and Progressive ran its course many years ago.  So did some of the Geico work.  And don’t get me started on most of the DTC pharma stuff that keeps going and going and going. 

Clients have forgotten David Ogilvy’s sage advice (to paraphrase):  Hire an agency and listen to them.  If their advertising fails, hire another agency.  Now this may be simplistic advice for this complicated day and age – Mr. Ogilvy wrote it in his first book which was published more than fifty-five years ago, but honestly, it is great guidance.  The best story I know is when the Energizer Bunny started running and there was research conducted (probably a tracking study) which showed that there was a tremendous amount of brand confusion.  But Chiat\Day insisted that the client continue the campaign, despite the threat of losing the business.  And, to their credit, the client listened.  That was about twenty five years ago and the campaign is still running.

Too much good work goes by the wayside because clients are afraid to approve it or make so many changes that what ends up is barely recognizable.

But then again, the late, great Ned Viseltear always said: “If you don’t do bad work, bad work can’t get done.”
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