Where morale is low, the chances of having mediocre talent working on clients’ business is high, since there will be a real challenge to attract and retain top talent, with all the consequences you can imagine (or have experienced). It sounds as bad as it is.
To make matters worse, it appears that the unhappiest group of people at the agencies is the group on which clients rely the most. It is not the young entry-level people whose morale is the most challenged (even though they make very little money and are working incredibly hard — so hard, in fact, that in Japan there are two documented cases of work-pressure-related suicide at Dentsu!).
It is in fact the whole middle segment of managers, who earn a more-than-decent salary and who lead teams and client assignments. These are the senior people whom clients interact with on a daily basis, and whom clients rely on for their daily guidance, counsel and ideas.
What is interesting is that the top executives are apparently less low on morale, but they are the main reason why the middle group is so down. The vast majority of people with low morale attributed “leadership” or lack thereof as the main reason. And two-thirds admitted they were actively job hunting.
None of this is good, especially if you as a marketer rely on your agencies for anything from creation to strategy, planning, buying and a lot more. “But what can I do as an advertiser?” I hear you ask.
Well, there are several things that clients can do to foster a healthy relationship with their agencies. When the relationship between client and agency is good, you stand a higher chance of happy, motivated people at least working on your teams, as compared to the (dreadful) average.
First, make sure your agency ecosystem is designed for purpose. Many marketers have ecosystems that have organically grown into what they are today. If you ask marketers to design their ideal agency ecosystem, chances are it will look very different from what they actually have.
Once you have the right partners, ensure there is a process in place that motivates and stimulates all team members in an integrated way (i.e. both internally in your marketing department and at your agencies). People who feel they are part of something tend to be much more inclined to deliver over and above expectations, versus people who are constantly wondering about their roles and responsibilities.
Finally, set up an incentive program that is fair but challenging, and that offers real rewards. If team members know there is something to be won collectively from performing well, they tend to perform well (funny, that!).
The rewards do not just have to be financial: a combination of financial and intangible rewards is usually very effective. And do not underestimate the power of a simple appreciative gesture. These pay as much dividend as a paycheck. Just try it!