…or are you just doing time?
The pace of these prosperous times in the agency business is frenetic. There is no such thing as a gradual uptick in advertising. We’ve gone from glacial to mercurial seemingly overnight. Why does everyone seem so overworked and pressed for time these days? Well, for one, agencies have had to adjust their comp to the point where lean and mean became the new modus operandi. But, for the first time in over a decade, talent is at a premium and top value talent is almost non-existent. That’s because we ate our young in 2009, the worst year in the history of the American advertising economy. We stopped hiring and training entry-level folks (as did most industries). Well, it’s four years later, the economy is booming and there is now a dearth of mid-level talent in the workforce.
So what do we do now? Hopefully we adjust and invest in our only commodity: people. If we’re the “idea business” that we claim, it’s obvious what we need to manufacture the best ideas: bright people. I’ve yet to find a computer or an app that can generate an original idea by itself. The biggest challenge facing agencies moving forward is to break the bad hiring habits caused by the recession: namely job boards and other shortcuts driven by cost control. There are a lot of bright kids out on the block (not just at the Portfolio Schools) still living with their parents. The good news is: they can help you. The bad news? They would prefer to work at Google, Microsoft or the emerging technology companies like Zynga and the like. If it weren’t for the nostalgic portrayal of our industry by Mad Men — we’d be out of the consideration set altogether.
So how do we evaluate this new breed of “value talent?” One needs to look no further than their wrist for a metaphor.
I think there are two types of talent: a Timex and a Rolex. The Timex Weekender is currently $38.85 on the Sears website. It looks great, is astoundingly accurate, illuminates, takes a beating, and is anxiety free. There is no buyer’s remorse associated with the watch. The lack of pretense that it conveys externally and instills within screams out admirable qualities: responsible, efficient, accountable; or, the exact qualities we look for in our employees and new hires. Value + Performance.
The Rolex, on the other hand (sorry, couldn’t resist) is conspicuous consumption. It’s ostentatious, ridiculously expensive, petulant and delicate. It has good days and bad. It requires ongoing maintenance. Sure, it looks good but like a BMW, is a little dorky and instills a bit of envy in those around us. Envy is way out of style in these politically correct times. The Rolex embodies all that we try to avoid when evaluating talent for new hires. And go ahead if you wish to apply this metaphor to the bigger picture: do clients perceive your agency to be a Timex or a Rolex?
Either way, it’s getting late no matter what watch you wear and it’s time for you to crawl out of your cubicle and get a life. Do something. It will give you the inspiration you need to generate original ideas — the only currency in our business that matters.
I own both watches — the Timex tells better time and makes me feel better. So that’s the one I wear. If anyone wants to buy a used Rolex — ping me; I’ll give you a good deal.