“In the room the women come and go,
Talking of Michaelangelo.”

-T.S. Elliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

Although completely irrelevant, I always think of Elliot’s line whenever people come and go in Adland, which happens more than ever these days. Turnover at agencies and other marketing companies is at an all time high. Many of our denizens last only a year or so in their current positions, coming and going with little fanfare. Often of their own volition. Other times not.

Either way, the migratory patterns are erratic, frequent and seemingly inevitable. One day Jack is cranking out a media plan and the next day he’s gone. Granted, the dissolution of company incentives, paired with challenging economic realities, make transience in the work force a reality for many professions. But in few more so than ours. “That’s advertising,” sighs a bewildered colleague upon discovering another cube mate has flown the coop.

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“Job hopping” in Adland. Common as crappy stock photography.

Some of us also jump to conclusions, reckoning a few departures denote an exodus, “It’s like a revolving door around here.” We blame the agency, citing a rote list of flaws. We wonder if we should jump ship as well. We “feel” it’s time for change. Use caution, boys and girls. Feelings are not facts.

I especially love it when clients raise their eyebrows at agency turnover, especially given their rampant infidelities, most hardly willing to make agency commitments lasting longer than a few quarters. In addition, it is well documented that CMO’s have among the shortest tenures of any profession.

Ah, but the grass is greener at the agency down the street. Your paycheck might be incrementally greener but often that’s about it. Be wary of seductive new bosses, promises of better assignments and that badass floor plan. The “geographic cure” is a futile one. Two months into a new gig and the job hopper feels as he did before: restless, irritable and discontent. Alas, it has always been easier to change surrounding than one’s self. Ask any alcoholic.

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“I’m certain there’s greener grass on other side of the hill!”

Besides, if turnover is necessarily a symptom of agency malignancy then why are even the best agencies in the world rife with it? The headhunter’s siren song compels people out of Goodby same as into it.

Regarding agency culture: It is as ephemeral as a sunny day. A few clouds roll in and it withers. No matter where you are, lose a few pitches and the air gets really hard to breathe really fast. And do not mistake an agency’s credentials for a winning culture. A slick website could be masking a sick job site. Similarly, don’t judge an agency on its best campaigns. For every princess in the castle there are three ugly stepsisters. Alas, even Paris has its ghettoes.

For better or worse, we have become tribal nomads, forever moving and hunting smaller and thinner prey. In this lean and hungry context agency turnover makes complete sense. I suppose it’s bittersweet. The fat and happy lifer is a thing of the past.

There are many more facets to this discussion, variables I have not valued here. While my history is one of staying put, I do not disparage those of you who’s resumes are long. But take heed. Some of the very best decisions I’ve ever made involved saying three words: “No, thank you.”

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The call of duty beckons…

In Adland, people come and people go. Turnover happens, now more than ever. Without long term incentives employees are not bound. Upheaval in our industry exasperates an already virulent tendency: to keep moving.

Agencies feel the urge as much as individuals. Like a submarine, new crew is necessary to keep the ship going, to keep up with the other subs, to stay fit. While we may feel distraught to see a beloved crewmember leave, it is part of an agency’s lifecycle, inevitable as the tides.

For a long time I was the anomaly. I spent my first 15 years at the venerable Leo Burnett Company in Chicago. I seriously thought I’d never leave. All my vocational dreams were coming true. I had great partners and bosses. I created lots of work, some of it good, some of it even very good. I felt a part of something bigger than myself. Alas, that strong tie didn’t fray. It was severed. A wave of corporate jive crashed over my head and I swam for the doors. For me wanderlust came late and not without a strong kick in the ass.

For a time I looked back in anger -a pointless endeavor and one I don’t recommend. But then I signed on to another ship. And then another. Like you, I was no longer a “company man.” My updated goal was to be of maximum use. Last year, I took the helm at gyro in San Francisco. She is a relatively small ship but with great ambitions and a stellar crew. Our mission is to create humanly relevant ideas, often for clients unaccustomed to them. Of course it’s hard. But I am loyal to this brief and despite the many challenges feel its potential on a daily basis.

Join me.

I’m looking for good crew: Specifically, an art director with web production capabilities and knowledge of B2B marketing, someone who knows their way around technology-based clients. In addition to, or instead of, we will also consider men and women who create and design content, be it websites or online advertising. Doers in new media are welcome to enlist. Speaking of media, a position also exists for a top strategist. Lead generation. Emerging platforms. You know the drill, call us.

Turnover happens. And we’ve seen our bit. Yet, now it’s time to reload. 2013 started with a new President. Maybe you’re next?

Yes, we will use age-old methods to fill these positions. But I’m trying a newer one. Hell, if I find one great recruit this blog will have been worth it. In the oddly timeless words of Van Halen’s David Lee Roth, “Change, nothin’ stays the same/ Unchained, ya hit the ground running.”

Interested? Hit me up on Linkedin.


“You want a sign-on bonus and 6 months severance?
How ’bout I get drunk instead?”

A lot of you seemed to appreciate my last post about creative people and ignorance when it comes to employment contracts. I’m grateful my advice was helpful. I sympathize if it came too late. I’m also appreciative for the smart discussion that followed in the comments section. Veteran creative bigwig, Tom Messner and executive recruiter, Anne Ross covered territory I had neglected…

For instance, there is help for us. But we often avoid it. Leery creatives tend to view lawyers and headhunters with trepidation, thinking them an unnecessary expense or worse, sharks. That is not a prudent valuation of their worth. A good go-between allows you, the prospective employee, to remain clear of potentially difficult conversations that need to take place in order for you to get the best possible deal. For mid-level or senior creatives such advocacy can be a huge advantage. Actually, it helps both parties. You get an aggressive negotiator. They get a learned one. It’s fallacy to perceive them as costly distraction. They are often the opposite. Sure, in a perfect world the company comes at you with all the goodies but this is an imperfect world, especially in Adland, especially now.

A second matter I washed over is severance. In our ignorance (or is it arrogance?), creatives like to think they are incapable of failure. “Just give me the damn brief!” But bad things happen to good people. More likely the agency simply changes from the one that hired you. Your boss quits or gets axed; where does that leave you? If it happens higher up it might be a “change of control.” In either event protective measures may exist for you…

Reality check: I know many jobs posted on Linkedin and Monster are “as is.” But if you’re talking to a company about a leadership position in their creative department, it probably wasn’t from a job posting.

This brings me to my final point: we must be deserving of attention in order to receive it. You need to be good and able to prove it. If there isn’t evidence on the table, or enough of it, then you’ll need to demonstrate your potential upside to the company. How one does this is topic for another post. Suffice to say, none of the information above is relevant for amateurs, journeymen or sons-of-bitches. Well, maybe the last group gets lucky once in a while.

Blake Ebel and me at the World Series in 2005


He gone…

As some of you may now know, my creative partner and co-chief creative officer of our agency, Blake Ebel has taken a new job at Factory Design Labs in Denver. He will be their chief creative officer. Out of respect for him, my company and clients that won’t be the subject of this post. Suffice it to say, Blake and I had almost six years of history together, some of it hard, all of it rewarding. During that period we became good friends. Personally and professionally, he will be missed. I wish him great success and have little doubt he will achieve it.

Obviously, his departure created a distraction. Yet, I will be back with a new blog post. And soon. In it, I plan on introducing a personal project, which I fully hope some of you participate in. Until then, may the Gods of Advertising shine upon you and God Himself remain by your side. In the end, He’s all you’ve got.

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