Legendary ad exec and Foote, Cone & Belding Founder Fairfax Cone is famous for summing up a dilemma ad agencies face in how they manage their most valuable assets. “The inventory,” Cone once quipped, “goes down the elevator at night.” The “inventory,” of course, is people, which in a service business like advertising -- whether it is media, creative, research, planning or analytics -- are effectively the product. And unlike other industrial assets --hardware, real estate, facilities -- people create human dynamics that may be difficult for organizations to predict and manage. To help solve that problem, a Madison Avenue vet turned serial entrepreneur hopes to utilize another industrial asset -- technology -- in a way that’s more akin to managing media than human beings.
“Our industry has a huge turnover issue,” Matt Straz, founder and CEO of Namely, says, putting a modern spin on Cone’s famous quote. By “turnover,” Straz is referring to the rate at which talented people switch jobs in the advertising business -- including moves to other agencies, to the supply-side of the advertising business, or out of the industry altogether.
Straz -- who began his career at digital media start-up Outrider, which ultimately was absorbed by WPP, where he became a top manager at its MEC unit -- observed this phenomenon from the inside out, and he says the current rate of turnover at agencies is about “30%” greater than most other industries.
“The only industry that is higher than ours is the hospitality industry,” Straz notes, which is a big problem for organizations who depend on people to create, service, and manage work for some of the biggest brands in the world.
The real problem, Straz says, is that agencies -- especially the “talent management,” or human resources departments -- lacked the tools necessary to harness the data they already have about what makes the people in their own organizations most valuable, and what they need to do to retain and “optimize” their value. So Straz began approaching the problem like a media challenge and developed a technological solution that could well have come out of a Madison Avenue media organization or one of its Silicon Valley counterparts: A sophisticated database management system tied to an elegant and simple-to-use dashboard enabling not just HR execs, but actual line managers, to get a quick snapshot of their people, the teams they work in, the product they produce, the yield that results from that, and most importantly, methods for playing with and visualizing how different scenarios and mixes of people on teams might generate better results.
If that approach sounds like media optimization, it shouldn’t be surprising, because Straz grew up in the agency business, and is simply exchanging one set of media -- online, TV, print, radio, etc. -- for another: people.
The platform, and company, aptly named Namely, has been in development for more than a year, and has already been beta tested by some of the biggest agency organizations in the world, including WPP’s GroupM unit and Publicis’ Big Fuel. It was also funded by a who’s who list of the industry’s angel investors -- people like Medialink’s Wenda Harris Millard and Michael Kassan, Simulmedia’s Dave Morgan, Buddy Media’s Michael Lazerow, Google’s Michael Barrett, CIA Founder Chris Ingram, and former Aegis North America chief Sarah Fay -- today is announcing its first major round of funding, a $750,000 investment from New York-based Lerer Ventures and Menlo Park, CA-based Bullpen Capital.
The capital, Straz says, will help accelerate Namely’s deployment, which has already moved from beta into actual use by some big agency holding companies.
“It gives us a very non-HR-ish way to look at things,” says Anthony Onesto, chief talent officer at Publicis’ Big Fuel. Unlike traditional numbers-oriented HR management tools and systems, Onesto says Namely focuses on people, teams and results. It also organizes information in a simple, and easy-to-use way that non-HR execs can understand and apply, and one of the most promising aspects is getting it into the hands of actual managers and team leaders so they can begin analyzing how to improve the way people work together to get better results -- for the organization, the clients and for the individuals themselves.
That, says Straz, should help Madison Avenue deal with its “churn” dilemma, because if talented employees are recognized, groomed, promoted, compensated, and moved into positions that give them the most personal satisfaction and career fulfillment, they won’t want to leave their organizations.
Straz says the current version of Namely focuses mainly on quants that can be applied objectively toward understanding and organizing teams and putting individuals in the right positions, but he says he’s already begun developing applications that will enable agencies to factor in incredibly intangible human variables like “emotions” and even “chemistry” to understand what works -- and equally important, what does not.
In fact, the first option that comes up when you log into Namely’s interface is a “Teams” orientation, because Straz says that, effectively, is how agencies organize their product -- not by individuals, but by the teams they work in, or across. In other words, he says, Namely enables people to think the way people think -- not spreadsheets, account systems, or performance review software, which typically treat people as individuals in a vacuum.
“The tools we’ve used to manage people haven’t changed in ten years,” he says. “But the way people work together has changed a lot.”