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What today’s talent wars mean for ad agencies

Don’t bring a pocket knife to a gunfight

If you haven’t noticed on your LinkedIn feed, every day hundreds (if not thousands) of people are hired by advertising agencies. Folks I couldn’t get arrested last year are being scooped up by both global and regional shops. If you can fog a mirror, you’re hired!

“Hire me!”

There is only one precedent for this kind of hiring activity in my 33 years of recruiting experience: the dotcom boom/tech bubble –caused by excessive speculation of internet-related companies in the late 1990s; a period of massive growth in the use and adoption of the newly born worldwide web. Back then, even mediocre talent got big raises. Fast forward to the post-vaccine Roaring ’20’s.

Well, those then-fledgling tech companies grew up and a few are now the most valuable entities on the planet. So, I have a feeling this bubble will sustain a good bit longer than one in the late-90’s. Get used to that hiring feeling. Why? It’s simple math. According to The Wall Street Journal, ad spends are up 19% (26% in digital). That’s a total of $750 billion.

But really, why? We laid off and furloughed so many people in 2020 — combine that with the increased workload that comes with nearly 20% industry growth and…you get talent wars.

Signs of a talent war:

  • Increase in counteroffers accepted
  • Significant decrease in jobvite and online applications
  • Inflationary salary expectations
  • Swollen salaries
  • Workplace concessions
  • Live/Work balance demands
  • Remote considerations

So, what does it mean for ad agencies?

  • They will have to charge off the inflation to the client or take the hit themselves
  • They will have to get better at the art of recruiting and stop treating hiring top talent as an HR function
  • They will have to go after talent that’s not in the “job market” — actually recruit talent instead of waiting for it to fall into their laps
  • They will have to pay real and specific bonuses and incentives
  • They will have to convert the workplace to a live/workplace
  • They will have to go outside of the industry for creative, strategic & account service talent
  • They will have to accept remote and hybrid employees as a partial solution

In an era of free agency, it’s a player’s market, not an owner’s market. That’s the way it should be in an industry with no certification, licenses or inventory.

Palma Group Adds Headhunter Ryan Farinella

Young gun hired to help win agency talent wars

Palma & Farinella

The Palma Group today announced that Ryan Farinella joined the company as National Recruiting Director & Partner effective May 15, 2021. 

Farinella, an SHRM Professional, arrives from Trade School, the content agency spin-off of 22squared, where he served as Director of HR, Finance & Operations since late 2019. Prior to his tenure there, Farinella performed in a similar role at Blue Sky Agency. He brings over ten years of ad agency recruiting experience to Palma’s team to help contend with the fierce ad agency talent wars.

Most recently, Farinella fueled headcount growth at Trade School by more than 150%, hiring over 40 full-time employees and managing relationships with over 50 freelancers. Additionally, Farinella adds deep expertise in agency business models, service offerings, employee benefits and compensation. He was partner to agency management in all people initiatives, including employee feedback, team building, training & development.

“I have known Mike Palma and The Palma Group for over a decade, admiring his business model, innovation and success in growing client revenues and advertising careers,” said Farinella. “My first two weeks here have been incredible – we have so many great jobs to fill. Helping people and agencies realize their potential is my passion. This is the best place for me to do that.”

Company Founder Mike Palma said, “The talent wars are real. We’ve added Ryan with the intention of winning them. He’s one of the best recruiters in the Southeast and will soon become one of the best in the country.”

“He’s a great fit because he prepped for this role at two of our best client firms: 22squared and Blue Sky. Having worked with him at both agencies, he knows and fits our unique style,” added Palma.

How to engage with a headhunter: Candidate Edition

Casper Palma

Well, now that most of us have survived and are fully vaccinated, we can focus on the business of your career/vocation. 2020 was hard on many advertising careers. The deluge of candidate inquiries to our Hot Jobs posts on LinkedIn far exceeded any other year in my 32-year career as a headhunter for creative agencies. As a result, I learned so many valuable lessons in the Year of the Pandemic.

If you follow your LinkedIn feed, you’ll read a lot about “recruiter ghosting.” I understand the desperation and frustration of talented folks whose careers are derailed by unforeseen forces. Recruiters don’t want to be “ghosts” (unless it’s Casper the Friendly Ghost). We want to help our clients, do right by candidates and make a little bit of dough.

So what are the best practices in engaging a headhunter? Since you’ve all asked, here’s my opine:

  • Don’t assume we keep up with our LinkedIn message inbox. Use email.
  • Do not text a recruiter. Better to call and leave a voicemail than text. Text is for friends, families & clients.The definition of “client” is “someone who pays you.”
  • Manage your expectations accordingly. Most good recruiters are straight-commission (even those that work on retainer). We’re trying to make a living too. We want to do the right thing (I think everyone does), but our job is to serve our clients.
  • Be memorable and humble (a tough balancing act). The best candidates have a humble swagger.
  • Stick to the two-minute drill. All communication, written and verbal, should not exceed a two-minute format.
  • Get a designer to do an infographic for your resume.
  • Make a 30-second video commercial for yourself.
  • Did I mention be memorable AND humble?
  • Do your homework on the recruiter to whom you are reaching out. Nothing more exasperating than candidates asking basic information available on profiles and websites (“Where are you located?”)
  • Be positive and apolitical. Obviously don’t whine about your predicament.
  • Trust your talent.
  • Be specific, not broad. Say, “I want this kind of job in these kinds of cities for that kind of money.” Not, “I’m open to anything.” Don’t chase a job you don’t want to do just because you need money.

We expect great things in our industry for the rest of ’21 and beyond. We seek top talent looking to make a move. Thanks for reading. Help us help you…thanks.

7 habits of highly effective creative people

Creative people think they defy convention. They believe they are anomalies — each one an intricate, complex web. They remind me of dungarees — a badge of non-conformity until everyone conforms to them. Most people in the communications industry think they are creative; except for the bean-counters. Ironically, it is the CFO’s and Controllers that have had to be the MOST creative people at the agency these days (figuring out how to conform their PPP loans).

jack Kerouac

The real problem is that true creativity is on the wane. This is not exactly a watershed era for artists, writers, poets; and not just admen and women. Where’s the work? Where’s Mona Lisa? Who’s our Beethoven? What’s the new Great American Novel? Who’s the next Jack Kerouac? F. Scott Fitzgerald? What’s the great ad tagline of this century (“We Have the Meats!”)? And what in the hell has happened to rock and roll? Does it even exist anymore? Could it have some inextricable link to technology? Does technology cause us to use our creative minds less? What will we call this creative generation? The Googlers? The Facebook Age? Generation WTF?

What I’ve learned is that truly creative people tend to downplay their “creativity.”  And pseudo-Creatives tend to overplay it — even dramatize it. But this post is not about attitudes or cerebral posturing. Intelligence is relative and subjective, anyway. I believe that the smarter you think you are, the dumber you really are. Columbo always cracked the case by playing dumb. This post is about habits — proactive habits. Things creative people DO; not think.

Of the many myths about creative people, the notion of “eccentricity” is most often assimilated with creativity. Creative folks often have a peculiar trait or two, but no more so than the average schmuck. We just pay closer attention to the creative Shaman and become smitten with their oddities.

Another myth is that creative people are “deeper” — they’re heavy — more sensitive to the human condition. At least I know I’m shallow — an inch deep and a mile wide, a dilettante. I don’t confuse my one great gift with intelligence or creativity. I’m blest. Blest with what? I forgot. Oh yeah, I was born with a great memory. Fortunately, our world rewards a good, short memory.

“Curiosity” has emerged as one of those agency-speak buzzwords. Due to it’s current popularity in the creative vernacular, I’ve chosen to leave it off this list. Maybe one day I’ll write an entire post on curiosity and its link to creativity. But there seems to be enough of them out there in the blogosphere already.

Nobody asked me; but these are some of the common denominators I’ve observed in working with highly effective creative people for the past 30 years:

1. “Painters paint”– Writers write. Designers design. Singers sing. Al Jolson (maybe America’s first media “superstar”) in his dying days, would stop people on the street and tell them he was Al Jolson. When folks didn’t believe him — he would sing to them — right there on the street. True, today he would be diagnosed with dementia, but the illustration is that he had to sing. It was in his DNA. And when he could no longer sing, he died. Quickly. Effective creative people create. Constantly. They don’t talk about it. They do it.

2. Compulsive addiction to their craft — I’ve noticed that the most effective creative people can’t stop. They can’t walk away from the table. And if they do, they come back shortly. They either stay up ridiculously late at night, or rise ridiculously early to create — but they can’t rest easily because their active, creative mind won’t allow them. They do not think about getting better or improving. They just know that the more they do something, the better they will get. They create while on vacation. They wake up in the middle of the night and write down ideas. They can’t stop learning all they can about their craft.

3. Unhurried – Truly effective creative people are able to “slow the game down.” They won’t be rushed . They love what they do too much to rush it. They savor their craft like a foodie savors a meal. We sometimes confuse this unhurriedness for slowness and we bellyache when deadlines aren’t met. But effectiveness should not be confused with timeliness. In short, effective creative people are on their own schedule. And often in their own world. This is not “eccentricity” — it’s the ability to recognize and adhere to a process. It’s actually quite opposite from “eccentricity.”

4. Purity of Heart – The best creatives I’ve been fortunate to observe are purists. They reject and abhor anything that is impure as unnatural. They possess moral turpitude and a respect for the gods of their discipline. Their craft is sacrosanct. I play golf with my dentist. He’s a great dentist, the best I’ve ever seen. When on the links, he wears two golf gloves, one on each hand. His hands are that important to him. Great creatives treat their minds the same way.

5. Minimalism – Great creatives travel lightly. They are not seduced by the treasures of this world. Their treasure is between their ears. They are other-worldly. They would do what they do for free if food, clothing and energy were gratis. They see money as a necessary evil. If they collect anything at all, it’s something associated with their craft. Objects almost embarrass them.

6. Don’t understand “no” – They often ask for forgiveness and rarely seek permission.The surest way to get them to do something is to tell them they can’t do it. “You can’t write a great radio commercial for a cheap hotel chain.” Huh? Next thing you know, we get Tom Bodett. They are not belligerent about the word, “no,” there’s nothing malicious about them. It’s just not in their nomenclature. They simply don’t understand the language of “no.”

7. Laugh, cry, get goosebumps –Until this last habit, you might be getting the impression that creatives are compulsively driven Fascists devoid of emotion. I’ve found the opposite is true. Creative people are “feelers.” They laugh and cry freely and often. The world gives them goosebumps. They are eternal children. It’s how they cope with fear. It’s how they deal with success. Every day.

20 brands I’m thankful for in 2020

It’s Thanksgiving, but how do we know it? We’ve been home alone all year, not just for the holidays. What will I wear to the living room tomorrow — the the dark tan or the light tan corduroy trousers? Yes, I have pandemic fatigue, but I want to be here next Thanksgiving.

2020 was most notable for the lack of human interaction in our lives, the loss of communality. This brings a lack of joy and excitement. In a year with little to shout about, it’s the little things that count. As a result, our relationships shifted to inanimate brands. More than ever, our brand preferences defined us. On this Thanksgiving Eve, I am thankful for these brands — they made 2020 easier to bear.

Santa Maria Novella — Rule #1 when you are alone in a pandemic for months on end: be comfortable in your own skin. That’s impossible to do if your own skin is actually uncomfortable. SMN has been creating skin preparations in the world’s oldest pharmacy just outside of Florence for centuries. Recommended products: Almond oil, Body milk, Before & After shave cream

Adidas — 2020 marks the 50th anniversary of the Adidas Superstar. From Hip-Hop to Hollywood to the Hardwood, the world would be far less stylish without this shell-toed classic. To commemorate the anniversary, Adidas released several dozen limited-edition models. I’ve picked up a few pairs and they are appropriate footwear for any Zoom meeting. Recommended products: The slip-on Superstar (summers), Superstar in Collegiate navy

Bill’s Khakis — I’ve struggled to find trousers with a long enough rise to be as comfortable while I’m seated as I am standing up. In 2003, I discovered Bill’s Khakis and my life changed forever. BTW, there is an actual Bill that founded the company: Bill Thomas, former copywriter at Leo Burnett. Recommended products: M1P Original twills & shorts

Lacoste — Is there anything more comfortable against your trunk than the original Rene Lacoste tennis polo? It just feels right, looks right and fits right. Key tip: never put one in a dryer…never. Recommended products: Slim fit version when tucking in and classic fit with the shirttail out

Champion — There’s a lot of fleece out there in the world today. But it takes a champ to really wear a Champion. It’s getting chilly and nothing looks and feels better over a polo than a grey sweatshirt. Recommended products: Original reverse-weave crew neck in grey, sweatpants in cherry pie

Barilla — Man does not live on bread alone; he also needs pasta. Ah, pasta — what would life be without pasta? You think the pandemic sucks? Try imagining it without penne bolognese or spaghetti alio y olio. I like Barilla because it’s imported from Italy and cheap at Costco. Recommended products: bow-ties, penne rigate

Feltman’s of Coney Island — The original hot dog. The first in the world. These are not your everyday dogs due to the price and the intense old-world spice flavor. But for special occasions like Father’s Day? Feltman’s does daddy right. I read an article this summer about how the pandemic saved the hot dog. If so, long live the pandemic! Recommended: apple cidar vinegar mustard, natural casing frankfurters

Boar’s Head — Have you noticed your increased condiment usage in 2020? That’s because we ate more lunches at home than any time in history (well, at least since the Stone Age). More condiments equals more cold cuts. Without Boar’s Head, I would be forced to eat Oscar Meyer. As if the pandemic isn’t bad enough. Recommended products: Deluxe ham, Ovengold turkey

Ken’s Salad Dressing — Salads are key to…well, you know…uh, keep things moving along. Here in The South, there’s a scarcity of old school dressings like Russian and French. Whenever I used to order a salad in a restaurant (remember restaurants?) and ask for French dressing, I would invariably be served Ranch dressing (sounds like “french”). Thanks Ken’s. Recommended products: The French and Russian are great but all the Italian variations work just fine too.

Lay’s — Simple, classic thin potato chips sitting there on the plate next to a ham & swiss on rye. Welcome to my world at noon. Recommended products: salt & vinegar, barbecue and sour cream & onion (tip: get the variety pack of 30 small bags at Costco)

Slow-Kettle Campbell’s Soup — I’m a soup guy. This soup comes in individual portion-sized cans and is microwavable in the package. These are the best canned soups ever made. And they’re ready to go in 65 seconds. They taste better than homemade. Recommended products: Tomato & Sweet Basil, Clam Chowder

Casamigos Tequila — What would the pandemic be without skinny margaritas? This stuff is the best and the healthiest booze. Fear of Covid definitely drove me to drink. Recommended products: Blanco, Reposado

Produttori del Barbaresco — The Nebbiolo grape is a natural wonder of the world. This communally-produced wine is as versatile and interesting as mass production will allow. I never get tired of it. Each bottle reveals a new nuance.

Instacart — Not really a brand but it certainly made things easier and safer for our family. Grateful not to be Dead.

The Atlantic — Of all the magazines not named Golf Digest or Adweek on my desk, The Atlantic inspires intellectual curiosity. My mother-in-law bought me the subscription which validates my marriage.

Volvo — True, I’m getting about two weeks to the gallon these days; but when I do venture out, I’ve noticed just how crazy everyone seems to be driving since the pandemic (is it just me imagining this?). It’s comforting to feel safe on the road. As an adult, I’ve never driven anything but. Recommended: S90, XC40

Haverty’s — Have you noticed how much you sat on your ass this year? I hope your sofa is soft. Ours is. My butt thanks you Haverty’s.

Zoom — Ok, I know we’re all tired of this shit. But without Zoom we’d all have arthritic elbows from holding our phones up to our ears. I like Zoom. I may never leave the house again.

Facebook — My mother loves Facebook. It allows me to show her I’m alive and well and eating well and my family is healthy. She can see photos and videos of her grandchildren. I know all the political muck around Facebook, I don’t care. I love my mother.

Titleist/FootJoy — I’ve left the building for very few things this year. Golf was the constant, almost every Wednesday morning. Vitamin D, exercise and healthy competition keep us alive. Titleist manufactures my equipment and FootJoy, my shoes. Without golf, I think I’d hang myself. Recommended: Titleist AVX, FJ Flex

6 things we can learn from the Stan Richards affair

Stan Richards

Stan Richards is a force of nature. Through talent and willpower, Sir Stan built the largest independent agency in the history of American advertising. He may have been the most prolific account-winner in the annals of the agency world. Even in our competitive industry, it’s saddening to see such a legend topple off the shelf.

Through a twist of fate, I only met him once. It was 2005 and I was running new business at BBDO Atlanta. We were pitching Capital One’s first brick and mortar bank, the old Hibernia Bank in New Orleans. Mr. Richards and his band of brothers were walking out of the conference room and our team was walking in. We won the business. We went zone at halftime and TRG’s shooters couldn’t buy a basket.

As a disclaimer, I’ve done business with hundreds of agencies, but never The Richards Group. I always considered the agency a source company, since they were never a client company. That did not impact my admiration for the man, the agency and his employees. I was, in fact, surprised to learn how many of his people were inclined to listen to new opportunities.

What happened last week in Dallas was an unfortunate stain on our industry. Certainly, Sir Stan’s intentions were not devious nor racist. And there still appears to be some mystery around what really happened and what Mr. Richards actually said. No matter what, nobody won that pitch. Nobody in advertising can hide from the fact that we all suffered as a result.

Watching his mea culpa interview, I was reminded of the ad guy played by Albert Brooks in “Lost in America” pleading with the casino manager (Garry Marshall).

In life, there are no “mistakes;” just things of consequence that we can learn from. What can we learn from in The Richards Group debacle?

  • Live by the Press, Die by the Press — they love to build you up so they can tear you down. Ted Williams called them, “the Poison Pens.”
  • It only takes one bad thing to undo thousands of good things — This is standard Prometheum Law. The fall from grace is always swift and unexpected.
  • Legacies are ephemeral — Just ask Christopher Columbus.
  • Life is a cumulative game — The putt you miss on 18 has the same weight as the putt you make on hole #1.
  • It’s a short walk from the penthouse to the outhouse — and that very occasional journey is what keeps us humble.
  • Don’t hang around longer than you need to — if you watched Willie Mays play centerfield in 1973, you understand.
Willie Mays retires after getting hit in the head with a fly ball in Game 2 of the 1973 World Series

Palma talks Positioning

I was honored to join Amanda Lucey, CEO of The Partnership on their podcast series to talk about the importance of brand positioning and how to get your company to an own-able one. Enjoy!

8 Tips for Hiring a Creative Ad Agency


j6BH-453AYour creative is stale. Your ads don’t break through the clutter. They are not memorable. You waste money on paid media. The agency team that works on your business is constantly changing: a new account director every year, new creative people, new strategists and planners. It seems like once you get a new group up to speed on your account, they then depart. You feel as if new business is more important to your agency than YOUR business.

Is it any surprise that the same accounts are always in review and the same search consultants are pushing the same mediocre creative agencies? Don’t you think it’s time to fix the pitch process?

Rate of change and the speed of business are at an all-time high. More content was created in h-armstrong-roberts-hands-of-magician-performing-magic-trick-pulling-rabbit-out-of-top-hatthe past two years alone than in the entire history of civilization. Not just marketing…

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It takes a pandemic: Part 2

What happens next?

It takes a thief to catch a thief. It takes one to know one. It takes a pandemic to catch a images-1virus. It takes a world to end a pandemic.

Hey, I’m for “opening up the economy” as much as anyone. But, would you send your child off to school today? I wouldn’t. So how can we really consider sending them anywhere else?

When we all go back to work and restaurants and the mall, where do the children play?

In the meantime:

Gogo Inflight Internet Company continues to bill your monthly $49.99 subscription. They’re really fast at billing, but really slow at wifi.

With 36 million unemployed Americans, “rent strikes” are popular. My worry is if rents
aren’t paid, then mortgages also go unpaid which would break the banks and other lenders. Isn’t that what caused the last recession?

Unless rents go down, we’ll continue to lose restaurants at breakneck speed. Do the
math: Higher food costs + your same rent + operate at 50% capacity = “I’m out, my margins were already thin.”

The ATM will be a thing of the past. And sooner than you think. So if you take away the $3.50 surcharge to use one that is not your bank — why ever bank with one of the behemoths again? Other than ATM locations, what exactly is the benefit of banking with Wells Fargo, Bank of America or Truist?

The idea of physical office space will not die, it will just diminish. Look for companies to
downsize their owned environments significantly.Unknown-2

Look for brands to comingle:  think Dunkin/Baskin

Look for companies within the same portfolio to merge — think DentsuMcGarryBowen.

Also think BBDO/TBWA.

Look for Harvard, MIT and Stanford to team up with tech giants Google, Apple, IBM, etc to dominate online education. By 2024, MIT will have a freshman class of 20,000 students.

As a result, look for at least 500  private, Liberal arts colleges to go under, maybe even your alma mater.

Speaking of alma maters, can Iona College really afford to pay Rick Pitino $1 mil the same year it loses $20 million?

Look for a severe regression in overall athletic performance across the board.

Unknown-5How ironic is it that Rao’s will now deliver to anyone and everyone that wants their food. Haha.

Gas prices will remain low, even with slightly higher demand. I’m currently getting three weeks to the gallon.

Get ready for virtual vacations and with virtual companions.

D2C brands will thrive. It won’t just be mattresses, diet systems and exercise equipment. It will be almost everything and every brand.

Willy Loman, rest in peace, you’re looking at the death of the salesman.

You’re also looking at the death of the franchisee.

Shame on private clubs that impose a surcharge for online dues payments.

Shame on a society that opens country clubs and malls before schools.images

Hyper-locality is not just a trend, it’s the new currency.

Get ready for a barter-friendly agency compensation model.

The virus doesn’t care about our economy or your sanity.

When we all rush back to our former lives, where do the children play?

Palma charges the agency frontier

Rare interview from the Ponderosa

What the heck, why not? The Ponderosa on Bonanza was fake. This frontier is not. Thanks to Robby B at Bull & Beard.