Tag Archives: ad agency recruiter

Death of a Telephone Salesman


imagesI work with creative advertising agencies. I’m a Rainmaker (new business guy) and Headhunter (recruiter). In the past 20 years, I don’t think anyone has read/watched/listened to more ads. Before this career, I was a college basketball coach. I’ve always approached my recruiting work with the mentality of a college basketball coach, incorporating the same principles of wooing talented student-athletes to recruiting creative & strategic talent. I remember pulling into diners on the New Jersey Turnpike to get to a phone booth so I could call a kid, his father or his coach. I’d sit in the booth for hours building relationships via telephone, sipping black coffee, winking at the waitress.

When I started recruiting advertising talent in 1989, I made hundreds of thousands of phone calls. I had to evaluate talent by resumes, portfolios and strategic marketing plans. But the extra mile was traveled by investing time, energy and emotion in telephone relationships. Hearing clients and candidates describe their goals and dreams provided me with the foundation to build relationships. And as I built relationships, my network and business grew. The mobile phone changed my world, but at first it was more expensive for me to drive and use cell minutes than fly most places.

When I made the move to Agency Business Development in 2002, I applied these same principles to new business. I built relationships on the telephone with marketers. I equated a productive day with telephone “connect time” — the goal was a minimum of 6 hours “connected” on the telephone. How anachronistic. It’s 8 years later and I do less talking. I still build relationships and business via telephone, but, it’s just one of a myriad of communications tools.

Ad Agencies are not in the advertising business, they’re in the communications business. The digital world has not changed them, despite many of their claims. It’s just given them more vehicles to communicate with. It’s changed their tactics, not their skill set. The “revolution” of social media assumes that we are “social” (have the ability to communicate) to begin with. So now we’ve got new ways to build relationships and business. Okay. That is why I’m writing right now and not talking on the telephone. W.H. Auden said, “It is the duty of the writer to make language ‘new'”. I’ll try.

SECOND LIFE, ANYONE? Random Thoughts on the Digital “Revolution”

Doesn’t it seem like so much digital content today is produced for nothing more than the sake of just producing it? Is “ready, fire, aim” the way most people surf the web? Digital is everywhere, and yet nowhere. It is the Emperor’s New Clothes. Put someone in a room to talk about Twitter and neophytes are sure to follow. Social Media? Sure. I’m a believer. Yes. Media has become social. 95% of what people call “social media” is Facebook. 3% is LinkedIn, the other 2% is Twitter. Pardon the rough estimates, but it just seems that way to me. Why do you think Facebook is so popular? BECAUSE IT’S FREE! Good luck monetizing it. “The web is dead”…I mean a dead experience when it comes to memorable content. I’ve been online 10 hours a day for 15 years and I can’t remember one ad I’ve seen there. I can’t even remember sitting all the way through one. And I’m a good target — I buy all kinds of stuff: Golf stuff, cigars, guitars, Scotch Whisky.

Whenever I hear about a new digital revolutionary gimmick, I think about the Second Life (that was just 3 years ago, but seems so “last decade”).

From my friend Clason:

“I was reading an article in Wired magazine about the colossal failure that was Second Life … according to the article, many brands had spent millions of dollars developing branded properties in this alternate world that at the time was reported to have a “population” of several million. Upon closer examination, it was discovered that these numbers had been grossly overstated as the majority of registered users had as many as four accounts. Even more users had signed in once or twice and never returned. The number of regular users was quite low … in North America, something like 10,000. Digging deeper, they discovered that “members” in the regular visitor population were not visiting the extravagant properties that the brands had built for them … they were all going to the same place … a lollapalooza-sized orgy at a nude beach. The total brand investment exceeded something like $100 million. The brands that had blindly jumped on the Second Life bandwagon had basically spent roughly $10K per interaction collectively to market themselves to what was, for lack of a better term … a cyber pervert convention.”

Maybe our industry as a whole needs to concentrate less on producing “digital content”, and focus more on creating content that people won’t delete on contact. It’s troubling that something like “Second Life” can even happen — like some Madoff Pyramid scheme. I remember (just 3 years ago) — digital “prophets” were telling everyone that life without “Second Life” was not worth living. They’re the same folks who are preoccupied with the next “big thing” in Social Media. It reminds me of Robert Preston in “The Music Man”.

As Clason reminds me, this business is and always has been about one thing … great ideas that generate sales. Granted with the advent of the digital age we now have an overwhelming number of entry points into consumers’ lives but the basic fundamentals have not changed.

michael palma

841 inman village pkwy
atlanta, ga 30307



Ok, you have a job to fill. For most mid-sized regional agencies, any hire is an important hire. Most agencies follow this path:

  • a) look inside their agency first to see if someone can change seats on the agency bus.
  • b) Call around to agency people they know to see if anyone has recently seen any available talent.
  • c) Post jobs online hoping to get lucky (this is the I’m feeling lucky”… I mean, Digital Age)
  • d) Contact a recruiter when all other paths are exhausted

Let’s explore these steps:

1. Conducting an Internal Search

Agencies that train and groom young talent and program them to grow professionally should expect to sometimes fill their needs internally. The best way to go about this is to first ask the employee in a confidential setting if he or she would be interested in making a change and switching responsibilities. The biggest potential problem in many of these cases is that the particular job you are looking to fill comes with a subset of new challenges – and most people are creatures of habit, despite what they say.

In the event of a raise or promotion or added decision-making opportunities, it is important to gauge if the employee is interested in adding responsibility and not just adding income or a new title. The best internal searches are confidential and narrow, only consider one or two of your current staff – more than that and you are asking for trouble as employees invariably talk to each other – and very often away from the agency. If you decide not to promote one or all – it’s likely to leave a trail of disappointment, akin to losing a new business pitch. Be decisive, stick to deadlines – if you’ve decided to “open up the search” communicate this to the staffer you have interviewed. The last thing you want is for them to hear this from elsewhere. Don’t leave your better people twisting in the wind. It may motivate them to look outside for a similar opportunity as they now are emotionally driven by a promotion or opportunity.

2. Open Searches and Confidential Searches

The difference appears obvious but let’s look at them:

An open search is when the job is open, or soon to be vacated and it’s common knowledge between employee and employer. If you choose, you can ask for referrals, post jobs online and engage recruiters. This is the case with most agency openings.

But, a confidential search is usually far more critical to the agency. It usually involves:

  • A key position to replace an underperforming key employee
  • A key employee for a new piece of business that you can’t announce
  • A key position to replace an employee that has confidentially resigned
  • Adding a key person to save or shore up an existing account
  • A senior management team member

In these cases, due to the competitive nature of the agency business, it is always best to conduct a confidential search.

3. Handling Employee Referrals

Many agencies today have a policy of offering a financial reward to employees if they refer a candidate that is hired by agency. I’m told by the 4A’s that this is popular with agencies and HR types. I guess they believe that they are saving the agency money by not having to pay outside fees. Sometimes, agencies may get lucky this way. In most cases, they are opening a can of worms that come back to haunt them. What if you don’t hire a referred candidate by one of your employees? What if you don’t even interview them? What kind of message are you sending? What if you hire them and have to pay them more money than the referrer? What if you hire them and it doesn’t work out? How do you subvert the feeling that “I got so-and so his job here and now look…”? You can get lucky, after all, but this policy invariably creates unforeseen problems down the road.

The best way to handle internal referrals is to have your employees forward names on a quarterly basis to your Recruiting Director as potential “fits” for the agency. If you want to offer a financial reward, then reward the employees that refer the best potential “fits”, regardless if you hire them or not. Keep these potential “fits” in an active database. They will come in handy.

4. Networking

It’s all about the network. Right? Well, not always. Owners of mid-sized, regional agencies know a lot of connected people. You can often solve a recruiting dilemma by picking up the phone and calling former colleagues and friends. Sometimes, a former colleague or friend will call and make an unsolicited referral. This is recruiting “over the transom”. Sometimes these referrals work out, more times they do not. The worst thing you can do is count on them to consistently find your “fits”. And, obviously, be careful about sending needy messages into the advertising community. Before picking up the phone to make a networking recruiting call make sure the call doesn’t expose a vulnerable account or another potential vulnerability at the agency. The odds on networking referrals are long – proceed accordingly.

5. Working With a Recruiter

As a recruiter, I’d like to try to remove partisanship from this section. While recruiting top talent exclusively for advertising agencies for 20 years, I hope I’ve gained some insights that can help you recruit more effectively. I’m aware of the perception of recruiters, not only in our industry, but recruiters in general. While we are paid to create win-win situations and solve business problem, we are often viewed as a necessary evil. There are good recruiters, and there are probably bad recruiters. Tip #4 is find the good recruiters.

How? Take some time and talk to them. It’s not that hard to find out who they are. If you don’t know who they are, then ask your best people – I guarantee you they know. Talk to them and invite a couple to visit you at the agency. The biggest misconception in the universe of agency/recruiter relationships is that recruiters represent candidates, that they are the candidates’ agents. This is simply wrong. The recruiter’s client is the agency. The agency pays the recruiter. In all cases this is true. Both agencies and candidates propagate this myth. Candidates sometimes say to me, “I already have a headhunter”. It always makes me laugh when I hear that. HR types often ask me, “are you repping this candidate?” Recruiters don’t represent anyone except their client agencies. If this series accomplishes anything, let’s at least dispel the myth that recruiters “work” with candidates. They work with agencies to recruit candidates.

This knowledge and mindset empowers you to enlist the top recruiters on your behalf. You may even want to make one your assistant Recruiting Director. It allows you to better understand and control your relationship with recruiters and it allows you to develop your recruiting strategies with your chosen recruiter(s).

There are two ways of working with recruiters:

  • a) Contingency – the most common way of doing business. Fees usually range between 15%-30% of candidate’s first year salary paid upon start date. You only pay if you hire their candidate. The most common rate in our industry is 20% or what you’d pay a good server in a restaurant. Some recruiters charge 25% and some others charge 30%.
  • b) Retainer – This method is usually for a very key position, a creative director or a management supervisor. It is also common for a confidential search to be handled by retainer, one where you don’t want a lot of recruiters calling a lot of candidates. A retainer is a down payment to the recruiter to buy his time and commitment to the search. It is credited against the overall fee.

6. How It Works Best

In filling a key or senior position, it usually works better on retainer. You may get lucky on contingency, but you may wind up paying more in time and money. The best candidates are not looking for a job. They are not surfing the job boards. The top talent is very busy at their jobs, almost impervious to the agency world around them. The best candidates need to be recruited. The right person and best “fits” for your agency are driving to work this morning with absolutely no inkling of an impending career opportunity. It is the recruiter’s job to know this person and know exactly what his “triggers” are. The best recruiters are like Dustin Hoffman in “Rain Man”. They know who the best people are and that they are originally from a particular city where one of their fledgling client agencies are based. They know what the perfect opportunity is for the ideal candidate. Then they sell both sides on the potential fit. To do this correctly, this requires time, energy and a lot of breath. You may find a recruiter qualified and savvy enough to pull this off for you on a contingency basis. But be prepared to seek out an expert and pay them for their time to handle a thorough and professional search. It will be worth it to land the right person.

In filling junior to mid level positions – go with the scattershot approach. Engage several recruiters. Play the numbers game. There is strength in numbers but always stay connected to your lead recruiters and your Recruiting Director. They should have a freezer-full of fledgling junior-to-mid level candidates. And for these positions, posting jobs online may be an effective approach. Again, I wouldn’t count on the internet to solve all your recruiting problems, but maybe a potential “fit” may also be “feeling lucky”.

How to Engage a Recruiter:

  • a) do your homework – discover recruiters who have track records in your universe
  • b) talk to them, meet them, educate them about your agency and agency “fits”
  • c) get fee agreements in writing
  • d) set realistic criteria for the search
  • e) establish a search strategy and process
  • f) stick to it

How NOT to Engage a Recruiter:

  • a) have your part-time HR person email them titles and specs
  • b) assume he knows the difference between your agency and all others
  • c) fight them on fees
  • d) ask them to email resumes first

Remember, the best candidates DON’T EVEN HAVE A RESUME. They’re working!

How to Win One Good Account a Year: THIRD TAKE

3. Develop a POV on their business, their customers, their communications, their internal culture.

This is the rubber that needs to meet the road. Once again, It’s funny how everyone at the agency has an opinion until you really need a good one. I often hear speakers at New Business conferences and seminars talk about POV’s. Consultants, clients, new biz gurus frequently pepper this into their presentations.  You know, the requisite powerpoint slide that mentions POV and it’s relative importance to the new business process. But, I’ve yet to hear anyone talk about how to develop one. We know a point of view can germinate from insights gleaned from basic research. But, many of these appear superficial to the savvy marketer. If, as Auden said, it is the duty of the writer to make language “new”, then it is the duty of the agency to gather and refine unexpected insights.

Bogusky is speaking about the power of the unexpected, and how it will save our industry next month. I’m interested in hearing his take. Mine is this, clients respect agencies that tell them what they DON’T know. We’ll dive deeper into this in the Fifth Take, but the worst meeting in the world starts with an agency asking the prospect, “Tell us about your business”. I know, they think they are being such good listeners by making the meeting ‘about the client’s business”, and not spending 55 minutes on their creds and awards, but that question is so last decade (what do we call it — the “Zeroes”?). It only amplifies the fact that you haven’t done your homework. and makes the subsequent slides appear contradictory when you break out that online poll, or Snippets video. Today’s best meetings start with, “Here’s what we know about your business” and naturally transition into “here’s what we think about your business” and then convert into “here is something you can do” and finish with here’s how we would do it”. Then close like a motherfucker.

An informed, credible opinion is what differentiates agencies in the eyes of client prospects. Matchy-matchy category experience is not enough. Great creative is not enough. A credible opinion is hard to establish in an hour. It takes months of intelligent, respectful outreach to establish true credibility in the eyes of prospective clients. It takes the discipline to stay with the binders, and add topical, relevant content — research that is gleanable for unexpected insights. I’ve worked with agencies where much of the senior staff believes clients should pay for such thinking up front. They’re right, usually. But we’re talking about your Top 5 prospects. You’ve got to give them a taste. And then be prepared to close on the idea with an actionable plan.
What makes a client a client? I often ask these kinds of questions. I like to play Columbo, with the rumpled raincoat and the cigar. Well, the biggest difference I’ve noticed between agency people and clients is that most clients have advanced degrees while most agency folks don’t (no knock on the Portfolio schools, and I’m aware VCU Adcenter is changing that somewhat). So, what’s the real difference between a Bachelor’s Degree and an Advanced Degree (another Columbo question)? Answer: A THESIS! This is the way clients are trained to think — in terms of theses.
So approach your POV exercises with your Monday morning new business council as a professor would with their grad students. Try to get the teams to formulate their POV’s by using a thesis guideline. What IS a thesis, Columbo?


What is a thesis?

A thesis statement declares what you believe and what you intend to prove. A good thesis statement makes the difference between thoughtful research and a simple retelling of facts.

A good tentative thesis will help you focus your search for information. But don’t rush! You must do a lot of background reading before you know enough about a subject to identify key or essential questions. You may not know how you stand on an issue until you have examined the evidence. You will likely begin your research with a working, preliminary or tentative thesis which you will continue to refine until you are certain of where the evidence leads.

Remember, your prospect will be looking for your thesis. Make it clear, strong, and easy to find.

  • It should be contestable, proposing an arguable point with which people could reasonably disagree. A strong thesis is provocative; it takes a stand and justifies the discussion you will present. (An UNEXPECTED insight is most likely to come from a controversial or debatable thesis).
  • It tackles a subject that could be adequately covered in the format of the project assigned (or sought).
  • It is specific and focused. A strong thesis proves a point without discussing “everything about …” Instead of music, think “American jazz in the 1930s” and your thesis about it.
  • It clearly asserts your own conclusion based on evidence. !
  • It provides the prospect with a map to guide him/her through your work.
  • It anticipates and refutes the counter-arguments
  • It avoids vague language (like “it seems”).
  • It must first pass the So what? or Who cares? test (and “but everyone knows that“)
With a good thesis and an unexpected insight, you can address any one (or all) of the 4 key POV client issues:

1. Their business model and brand
2. Their customers
3. Their communications.
4. Their internal culture.
Next:  Fourth Take: Creating an outreach program that is consistent, non-threatening, polite and professional.

THE AGENCY RECRUITING PRIMER: Defining Roles for Your Team


The Role of HR:

Most mid-sized regional agencies don’t have the luxury of a full time HR person. Often, the person charged with HR issues is an operational employee, usually doubling as bookkeeper or office management. This person should not be responsible for agency recruiting. While they can help in coordinating recruiting efforts, especially as they relate to policies and guidelines – they should not be responsible for attracting top talent to the agency. In the absence of a full-time agency director, the agency should designate a key management team member as “Recruiting Director”. That’s the second tip from this series: appoint a Recruiting Director. One key person at the agency must own the function and be accountable for agency recruiting since talent is the lifeblood of our business.

In the event that an agency is fortunate enough to require a full time HR Director, this person assumes the role of Recruiting Director. This role requires:

  • Maintaining current and effective agency recruiting tools
  • Keep agency presence current in databases and online trade media
  • Keeping an agency database on top talent in the region, by discipline
  • Maintaining relationships with recruiters and influencers

The Role of the CEO or President

What’s at the top filters down. Very often, the role of recruiting director falls on the shoulders of the President – especially in the world of mid-sized regional agencies. But, the additional role of the President is to establish a culture. There are many articles written about agency CULTURE. This is not one of them. Even if you don’t want a culture, you have one. Usually, it’s the mirror reflection of your clients and their personalities. But, it’s the CEO’s job to protect it by hiring “fits”. A “fit” can actually be someone who doesn’t appear to be a fit. Sometimes the best “fits” are exactly that. That’s why you’re the CEO – you are supposed to have the wisdom and discernment of a visionary. Visionaries also do their homework, however. Your assignment is to create a “fit” profile for you agency. That’s tip # 3 from this seriescreate an agency “fit profile” – a hiring manifesto.

This role, as it applies to the recruiting process, requires:

  • Decisiveness
  • The courage to keep looking
  • Patience in the Flywheel Effect (see “Good to Great”)
  • Strict adherence to the agency mission
  • The courage and flexibility to transcend the agency mission through talent

The Role of the Management Team

Senior management teams at ad agencies are a lot like assistant coaching staffs at college athletic programs. They form the core of the agency and help shape its direction. Their contribution to agency recruiting, however, is often far too serendipitous. To maximize your management team’s network, consider asking them to:

  • be a “talent scout” in their discipline
  • attend trade events and network with rising talent
  • befriend one or two top specialist recruiters in their discipline
  • feed resumes to the recruiting director

The Role of the Search Firm (the Agency Recruiter)

Recruiters are a strange breed. This is not a series about recruiters. But, a good recruiter who understands your culture and your business can save you a lot of time. It might cost a little more than the mid-sized, regional agency cares to spend in fees, but time and talent are the only resources an agency really has. Find one or two in your industry and make them your friend. Good recruiters have been invaluable to virtually every successful agency.

There are two kinds of recruiters:

  • a) Specialists in filling key senior positions, usually in one specific discipline
  • b) Generalists that usually focus on junior-to-mid level positions across several disciplines

Good recruiters take the time to understand their client agency’s business – their clients’ client rosters, their points of differentiation, their case studies and their creative work. They also invest the time in understanding their client agencies’ cultures. There is an entire section to follow that addresses the best ways to engage and work with a recruiter on your agency’s behalf..

The recruiter’s duties in the recruiting process:

  • Scout and attract the top talent in the industry and understand what will make them move
  • Specialize in one or two disciplines
  • Take a thorough search assignment
  • Present qualified candidates who are sincerely interested in the opportunity
  • Coordinate interviews and telephone screens
  • De-brief candidate and client after interview
  • Negotiate and close the deal



1. Challenges Facing the Advertising Industry Today

So many challenges confront the advertising industry, perhaps the greatest of which is overcoming the double-whammy recessions of 2002 and 2009 — devastating years in our industry akin to the 1929 stock market crash in the Financial sector. In case you missed it, the advertising recession of 2002 was first perpetrated by the over inflation of the advertising marketplace due in large part to unrealistic speculation of web-based accounts in late-2000 and early-to-mid 2001. Then it was exacerbated by the horrific events of September 11. It became an official recession when we declared war in the Middle East. The last significant advertising recession occurred in 1991, and was also impacted by the declaration of war by the United States. War is good for some industries; advertising is not one of them. This current recession was caused by piggish greed.

The good news is, if you are reading this, you survived. Congratulations, it wasn’t easy. The bad news is, you are left with the fallout of an attrition of talent we are not likely to quickly replace. We are left with an over-abundance of junior people. True, advertising has always been a youthful business – but it’s never been more youthful than it is today.

What happened at most agencies? Most of senior management hung on by their fingernails (in many cases taking salary and bonus cuts), very junior people kept their jobs because they were low overhead and a rash of budding mid-to-senior folks were forced out of the industry or into freelance and “perma-lance” domains. To survive we had to cut payroll and therefore we created a world of talented consultants. While this fallout still has a major impact on how we actually do business (billing, compensation, etc.), let’s focus on how this affects recruiting talent into our industry.

In short, ad agencies have gotten a bad reputation. Once, this was a respectable profession to aspire to. A recent study by JWT revealed that, In terms of respect for the advertising profession, 14% of respondents say their fellow Americans respect ad people, besting only “national politicians” (10%) and “car salesmen” (5%). Re-read this paragraph.

Today, advertising as a career consistently ranks in the lower percentiles in all academic studies of desired professions. Why? We’ve gotten the reputation that we churn and burn entry level talent; and that we sacrifice our developing mid-level talent and that we only care about protecting senior management. This is not exactly the type of industry that will send the best and the brightest of future generations clamoring to work in the mailroom at our agencies, as they did for decades.

We were once an industry that paid well. That perception has changed. We’re now known as relative cheapskates compared to other service/consulting industries. And there is little light at the end of the tunnel, very few agencies train and mentor their young people. It’s bad enough that we are no longer attracting the best young junior talent, but the ones we are attracting we are doing little beyond throwing them into the fire to develop them.

Somehow, though it all, we’ve retained a little bit of our “cool factor”. Invariably, I ask candidates what they are looking for. Ten to fifteen years ago, the answer was usually “a great opportunity”. Today, that answer has morphed into “I’m looking for a cool agency”. I’d like to think that it’s the same answer by a new generation. But, I think not and I think that answer is the ultimate trickle-down effect of what our industry is on the verge becoming: superficial and trivial.

When was the last time an MBA fresh out of Harvard or Wharton or Tuck showed up at your agency and told you this is where he’d like to start his or her career? What’s even more alarming is that your business is probably not even structured to hire one if they did.


So, as an industry, we’re sick. How do we get better? We have failed to promote ourselves well. Ironic, an industry based on promotion has failed to promote itself properly. This is purely a product of neglect. No bad strategy or flubbed execution. We just neglected our industry trying to survive. The doom loop, as Jim Collins says in Good to Great.

Advertising Week in New York was a noble effort toward industry self-promotion. Maybe we can extend the idea as a traveling act and bring it to other cities. The Diversity Initiatives of 2007 are a positive sign for our future. But, it almost seems like the advertising industry should hire a PR firm for itself, one that is experienced in crisis management. If we expect to attract the best and the brightest in the prospective employee pool, we need to promote our profession properly, as if it were a client.

Sustainability: It’s 2010 and there is probably no bigger buzzword out there among our clients than “sustainable”. Suddenly, sustainability has become the biggest initiative in the business world today. Clients want us to help them build “sustainable communities” of customers as well as driving business. Products are sustainable. Business models are sustainable. Results are sustainable.

The only thing that hasn’t proven to be sustainable is a career in the advertising industry. So how do we create a sustainable career environment? A good place to start is a commitment to training and developing talent. Another is to align our industry with academia. Yet another is to adjust our compensation models to the 21st century (salaries in our industry are essentially what they were in 1991).

A sustainable career environment is one of inclusion and accessibility. We don’t value or even need decisions from 80% of our workforce. We have created a workforce devoid of the need to make decisions. This is the single greatest factor in job dissatisfaction: “I never get to make decisions” or “my decisions don’t matter”.

Remember when advertising was a noble career? Well, I don’t – but I’ve seen some old movies that suggest that. Maybe it really isn’t, but it’s certainly better than how we are perceived today. We are in the business of changing perceptions and if we don’t address changing the perception of our own industry we will continue to struggle in attracting top talent into it.


One industry that truly relies on great recruiting is college athletics. The universities are brands that have become sustainable communities with a distinct tradition and culture. Athletic programs are investments that manufacture a product (entertainment).

I’ve always thought that ad agencies — particularly regional, mid-sized agencies — could learn a lot from successful college athletic programs (training, management, planning), but particularly in recruiting. The college coach’s very survival is inextricably linked to the success of his recruiting efforts. Few ad agencies are committed to bringing in the best possible talent on all levels, through all departments to grow their clients’ businesses. Often, agencies hire whom they can to meet their budget and can maintain or keep from losing the existing business.

So the first tip in this series is to approach your recruiting efforts like the head coach of a college sports team. That requires you to evaluate your needs and the existing talent in your marketplace to fill those needs. That requires a recruiting plan and recruiting tools. That requires an unwavering commitment to study the landscape of the industry and those agencies that are doing the best work and driving the best results. That requires the commitment to do with your agency or department what you say you want to do: hire the best people. That requires you to know the difference.

As agency people, we’re quick to say, “our inventory walks out the door every evening.” That kind of thinking commoditized our talent pool. Some people are invariably more talented than others. Some have better attitudes. Some work harder. Some know how to win. Some are better team players than others. “Our inventory” is our intellectual capital. Coaches have a lot of funny sayings when evaluating talent. My favorite is “good enough to get you fired”. That line also rings true for evaluating agency talent.

There are two guarantees in our business:

1.Accounts will come and go.

2.People will come and go.

Next: The Ad Agency Recruiting Primer for 2010 continues with “Defining Roles for Your Team”

michael palma

the palma group

841 inman village pkwy

atlanta, ga 30307

How to Win One Good Account a Year: SECOND TAKE

2. Study their business, categories, industries, and market effects. Assign a team to each “account”

It’s funny how everybody at the agency wants to help with New Business, until you ask them. Then they seem to go dark into the black hole of account emergencies/personal dilemmas/health problems/pet responsibilities/kid’s soccer games/deaths in the family, etc..  Then, when they’re laid off due to an account loss attributed to a new CMO (just a matter of time) they run to Agency Spy and dish the dirt on how lame the agency is.

So it’s critical to establish an inclusive New Business culture. Donny Deutsch once said that New Business is a “religion” within the agency. Like Mass (I doubt Donny ever went to Mass), it’s good to attend a weekly “service”. Some agencies do this first thing every Monday morning. This is a good idea. To paraphrase “Field of Dreams”, if you put out free food, they will come. Krispy Kreme and Chicken Biscuits usually work. Recruit a new business “war council” (I’m actually a pacifist) of your most ambitious people. Make sure all disciplines are represented, including administrative, financial, IT and even Custodial (you’ll be surprised what you’ll learn from them). Invite your most AMBITIOUS people, not necessarily your “best and brightest”. Invite the rebels and iconoclasts. They have a great new business mentality. Don’t make this Monday morning meeting a “dashboard report”. Make it a lively discussion forum. Encourage new outreach ideas. Reward those ideas when they secure a meeting or drive an inquiry. Once a year, take this group offsite for inspiration. Bring in a New Business speaker/specialist.

Okay. You’ve got your Top 5 prospects and 3-Ring binders. You have your New Business Council (give it a name — brand it within the agency, have fun with it but don’t be cornball).  Now assign a team to each “account” (Top 5 prospect). It’s their responsibility to fill the binders. It’s their responsibility to formulate an educated POV on the prospect, their business, category, market effects, industry trends, etc.. I crack up when agencies rush to these ornate but makeshift “war rooms” once they get in a pitch. And they think clients fall for it — like they can learn enough in 3 weeks to form a credible POV on their business. Clients are smirking behind their back at you.


There is a one-stop solution for all your prospect research. It’s called Access Confidential  (www.accessconfidential.com). Just go there — set up a free tutorial with Lisa. It provides ALL the basic information necessary to fulfill your checklist (see previous post). It blows away The List and other watered-down database services. Subscribe. Search. Read. You will know more about your prospects than their own management.