Tuesday, August 27, 2019

How Human Resources Gets In The Way Of The Hiring Process

When I started recruiting almost 35 years ago, except for a few of the largest ad agencies, I could work directly with the hiring managers.  Dealing with them was faster and, for the most part, far more efficient than working with HR.  The reason for this is that, while most hiring managers did not know how to write a job spec, they could be questioned to determine who they were really looking for, what skills and attributes would drive the hiring process. During the process I got to know them well and was able to make placements quickly.

Over time, Human Resources departments expanded and took over the whole hiring function. As this started to happen, it became obvious to me that many HR people, especially at the larger companies, did not know or really understand their own culture or people. Often they refuse to tell recruiters essential information, such as who the hiring manager was.  And if I did find out who he/she was, HR would get angry with me if I called them to clarify the assignment.  In advertising, I discovered that many HR people had never seen their own agency’s creative reel and didn’t have a clue about their own accounts or culture. In one case I actually arranged for the HR person to spend a day with a senior account manager since she did not know what an account person actually did.

(I received many assignments for someone to work on, say, General Mills, but the HR person actually did not know if the job was on cereal, food or snacks.  They often told me it didn’t matter.  The problem was that it did matter to the candidates and to me.  There is a difference between Pop Tarts and Cheerios. In fact, there is a difference between Cheerios and Cocoa Puffs – some candidates did not want to work on sugary cereals.)

I always asked what problems the hiring managers wanted solved.  I cannot tell you how many of HR people were annoyed with the question and vehemently told me that there were no problems. It became obvious that the worst of them wanted their recruiters to know as little as possible.  (No question that some on the corporate side were afraid of unscrupulous recruiters who would recruit their own people out. An ethical recruiter will never actively solicit people from their existing clients.)

Over the years, many senior executives have given me assignments that bypass HR.  I once had a confidential assignment to find a department head.  I was given the assignment by the agency president who made it clear I was not to discuss this with anyone, including human resources. I worked with the president for several months until we came up with a finalist.  As I was negotiating the terms with the finalist candidate, the HR director found out that I had this assignment.  She angrily called me to complain that I should have called her and told her; we had worked together successfully for several years.  I told her that since the job was confidential, between myself and the president, I could not have done that.  Then she actually confronted the president.  A major argument ensued. This HR person actually resigned her position (the president told me she would have been terminated anyway.  (The HR person moved to another ad agency and would never return my calls.)

Sadly, in advertising, HR is primarily defined as recruiting (or benefits) and most people in that department learned their jobs and functions with no real training.  And, as I have written before, the HR function goes way beyond recruiting.

That is not to say that there aren’t some excellent, professional human resources practitioners. In fact, there is excellent higher training in the HR world. It is called SPHR or Senior Professional of Human Resources; the step below is just PHR; these designations require a lot of study and work to achieve, but they generally mean a well-trained HR person.  There are also many HR people who just naturally “get it” without formal training. 

The real problem is that in advertising and marketing (and probably in other fields) many executives are promoted into human resources from other departments, often because these executives really want to help people.  Unfortunately, they learn HR through on-the-job training, mostly from people in the department who also don’t know their jobs either. The result is that well-meaning people are trained to become ineffective.

On top of all this, more often than not we get assignments with incomplete information.  When we are sent job specs, most are merely a description of the job, rather than a complete guide describing the job and the skills that the appropriate candidate should have.  (A recruiter or another employee at the company should be able to read the specs and have a good idea, right from the get-go, of whom to look for.)

I used to do seminars at ad agencies on how to interview and hire efficiently (I actually did this as a 4A’s podcast). The syllabus for these seminars started with how to write an actionable job spec. I was generally asked to do these talks by the president or other senior executive.  Unfortunately, I was forced to stop when HR complained to their management that I was impinging on their job. The irony is that after preventing me from speaking, I cannot think of a single case where HR actually conducted classes for their managers. 

When negotiating, often many HR people cut recruiters out of the process.  Some will not discuss offers or allow the recruiter to make the offer; many refuse to send recruiters a copy of offer letters or other information.  (I can generally get this from the candidate directly). These actions are an indication that the HR people do not trust their recruiters.  The solution is, of course simple – use recruiters they trust.

To be clear, there are a number of HR people I have worked with for many, many years.  Others, not so much. The bottom line is that a good HR people simplify rather than complicate the process.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Adventures In Advertising: The Most Expensive Client Dinner

This is one of my favorite family stories.  Back in the day, my dad and his brother had an agency. In those days it was called Lawrence C. Gumbinner (subsequently it became Gumbinner-North and then it was gobbled up by Interpublic).  Their biggest account was Tareyton cigarettes.  In the late 1950’s they spent, as I recall, about forty  million dollars to advertise the brand, making it a huge account, one of the biggest accounts in the country. (Remember, in those days agencies had about ten people per every million dollars in business – that meant four hundred people worked on the account.)

My dad and my uncle took the president of American Tobacco and his wife out for a luxurious dinner.  The dinner was at the now long defunct Forum of the Twelve Caesars.  Before I tell the story I have to explain the restaurant since there was nothing else like it before or since. The interior of the Forum was designed by a noteworthy architect and designer. It was opened by the Brody Company, which opened very elaborate restaurants at that time – including the Four Seasons.  At The Forum, the room won many awards for its grandeur.  Everything in it was themed along the lines of ancient Rome, including the wait staff uniforms, the menus and, of course, the food.. The table settings were immaculate and awesome; they included, salt and pepper cellars which were a sterling silver elephants with salt and  pepper on their backs. The room exuded power, wealth and opulence.  Caviar, which apparently was served often, came on a huge and elaborate ice sculpture which was wheeled to the table and then served elaborately (in those days a service of Beluga cost about $6 or $7).  Dinner, in those days, with wine, cost an unheard of $25 or so per person – an outrageous sum of money in the late 1950’s or early 60’s.  The food, the menu and the prices were extraordinary, probably the most expensive in the country.

They obviously had a wonderful dinner.  When the bill came, my father took it.  Instead of costing $150 or so, there was a $100 item on the bill, making it about $250 (to put it in perspective, this is equivalent to.over $1,800 in today's money)  My father called over the maître d’ and discretely asked what the outrageous item was.  The maître d’ whispered to my father and nodded in the direction of the client’s wife, “It is for the salt cellar which is in madam’s pocketbook.” My dad was floored but paid the bill without saying anything.

Knowing my dad, he spent the rest of the evening fuming. 

Shortly after arriving at the office the next day, my dad got a call from the president to thank him for the lovely dinner.  As my dad told me the story, he had no intention of saying anything about the salt cellar, but he was so angry it just came out; my father regretted saying anything since it was such a large and important account.  The president was gracious and apologized profusely. 

But, no kidding, about twenty minutes later, a messenger arrived with an envelope.  My dad opened it and found a personal check for $100.


Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Adventures In Advertising: Why Creative People Don't Trust Account People

Historically, in advertising there has always been a conflict between account managers and their creative counterparts.  Creative people accuse weak account people of caving in to their clients and account people accuse their creative teams of not executing agreed upon strategies and excluding them from the creative process.

A creative director recently told me this stunning story; it completely explains why creative people often don't trust their account people.

Two agencies merged, the bigger taking control; the bigger agency had a creative reputation while the smaller agency, while worldwide, was primarily known as account dominated.  The EVP creative director of the dominant agency supervised a new campaign which was to be presented to the smaller agency's biggest client.  It was a  major brand name, world wide account.  The account person had worked with this client for a number of years before the merger and had a good relationship with the client. When the creative director showed the work to the account person, it was accepted enthusiastically.  The account person called the client to set up a presentation.

The creative director presented the work and the meeting went well.  In fact, the client was effusive in their praise of the work. Everyone went back to the agency happy and excited, as happens after a great meeting.

The next day the account person came into the creative director’s office.  At first she hemmed and hawed.  Finally, she told the EVP that the client actually hated the work.  She also admitted that she knew that would happen, but never said anything because she did not want to offend the creative director on their first assignment together..  The creative director was furious. It seems that the weak account person, after accepting the work, had actually called the client and torpedoed the campaign prior to its presentation.  She told the client that the new creative director and her people were sensitive and that, in order to keep the creative group enthusiastic, the client should feign enthusiasm.

The creative director was furious.  She explained to the account person that she had intentionally ruined any relationship she might establish with the client in order to protect her own relationship with the client.  But then the CD did something completely unexpected.  With the account person sitting in her office, the EVP Creative Director called the client on the speaker phone.  She took matters in her own hands by explaining that it was her job to sell the client’s product and that she didn’t get to be the creative director without having a lot of work approved – and a lot rejected. She said that she was a big girl and could take rejection and criticism.  She explained that if the client had an issue, they could speak up and their problems would be immediately addressed. She told the client that they were partners and asked the client what the issues were.  The client explained their issues and it turned out that the desired changes actually were minor and could easily be accommodated.  

At most agencies, the account person would have been fired, but in this case she was kept on the account with a stern warning. 

Within a short time the creative person established a great relationship with the client.  The account person became minimized.

This is a perfect story about why and how account people can sell out the creatives.  When I heard this story, it confirmed something that I think happens frequently because many account people are weak and don't know or understand their own jobs. 

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