Are You a Timex or a Rolex?

…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.

339718cf3fd94eb36317bbfb19ace32e_mI 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? images

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.

7 thoughts on “Are You a Timex or a Rolex?

  1. paulkorel

    Interesting article and metaphor Mike. Personally, I consider myself somewhere in between a Timex and a Rolex. Like a G-shock, or something of the sort. Frustratingly, what happens to a lot of Timex’s as they continue along in their journey is they get replaced and forgotten about. Much like in life, Rolex’s continue to bask in their self-proclaimed and rather pretentious glory, yet somehow increasing their worth and value along the way. (There sure are a lot of Rolex’s these days running ad agencies and creative departments living the high life, while sadly many Timex’s just tick away somewhere trying to make a living.) Now that I’m grown up and a father, my over-analytical self now if left trying to figure out if it’s better to be a Timex or Rolex long term.

    As always good article. Thanks for making me think.

  2. mikepalma Post author

    Thanks for reading, Paul. There may be a median category: the “value premium” — a Swiss made watch at $250 with some character and special significance — like a Limited Edition branded watch. If you’re gonna be middle-of-the road, you better be different. There’s a Salt-of-the-Earth beauty to ticking away, doing your well.

  3. Steve

    When did u become so insightful??? Excellent POV! Btw… Does anybody really know what time it is?? Does anybody really care??

    1. mikepalma Post author

      Just yesterday I got a call from a friend and it opened the insight floodgates. So about 24 hours. “As I was walking down the street one day
      A man came up to me and asked me what
      The time was that was on my watch, yeah…And I said…”

      1. Mark Goldman

        Interesting take MP. I will take some exception to the Timex vs. Rolex debate. Like many things in life, you get what you pay for. So, while Timex will tell time, does it do so with any emotional benefit? If all I needed was the time, I might just use my smart phone. Oh, speaking of which … don’t you own an iPhone? I might argue that you can get smart phone benefits from phones/devices halp as expensive. But, the iPhone offers far more than simple functional benefits. It’s beautifully crafted, and it provides a level of efficiency that doesn’t come with less expensive phones. And, what about the game we love. Do we play Noodle golf balls? Nah. Titileist Pro Vs of course. And, while I love a good value Petite Syrah, hard (for me) to compare to a brilliant (and, inevitably more expensive) Chauteneuf de Papes from Beaucastel.

        So … sometimes pricing stratgey does equate to better.


      2. mikepalma Post author

        Thanks for reading, Mark. Sometimes we need validation that something we like is truly stylish. That moment came for me when I saw Timex Weekenders for sale at Sid Mashburn’s store (twice the price of the Sears website, BTW). If a Noodle performed as well as a ProV, I’d play it. The real question is: is a Rolex 200x better than a Timex? Or is a Beaucastel 10x better than a Petite Syrah? I’m not sure… but I do know that a ProV1 is twice as good as a Noodle.

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