The ad industry has always had a revolving door culture, but now it revolves for different reasons. Whereas people used to jump ship for the title or the money, since the Great Resignation began they’re now searching for meaning and balance. If you want to shut that revolving door, that’s what you have to offer them.
Don’t get me wrong. Salary is still a factor, and smaller agencies are struggling to compete with larger institutions’ pay packages. But if your employees are happy, getting the support they need, and see a path for growth, competing offers may not be as dangerous as you think. Delivering on those things means reevaluating how things have always been done — and done in the past few years.
In the first year of the pandemic, everything felt like a fire; things had to get done quickly to survive. That can’t be your norm now. With remote and hybrid models, parents are now seeing what they’re missing out on when working until 10pm on a last-minute client presentation. The fresh-out-of-college doesn’t have enough exposure to that agency creative magic to justify long hours.
When the workforce is (rightly) asking if these expectations are necessary, then you should too. If you want to turn your agency around, here are some of the ways to do it.
Get Over Instant Gratification
When our job becomes building for a viral moment rather than building up a brand, things get unsustainable.
You need to change client — and maybe even your own — perspectives. Are expectations about what “viral” and its ROI mean for that specific brand understood and realistic? These conversations should happen for creative and strategic outputs across the board.
Ten years ago, no one would bat an eye when told that it would take up to six months to get a new TV campaign on the air, given what it used to mean to brainstorm, market testing and other factors. Now, an estimate of two or three months to launch a campaign is met with shock and horror. Although timing is important, make sure your markers aren’t arbitrary.
Don’t Get Fooled by the Slow Times: Staff Up
Staffing up can be scary. When it comes to investing in themselves, agencies can be hesitant to hire lots of people before they know what money is coming in — especially following the last few years’ uncertainty. But that’s a risk you might have to take if you want to take care of your clients and your employees.
Employees may already be doing more than one job, because you’ve been trying to run lean recently. If people are overworked, and if busywork has overwhelmed their days, it becomes harder for them to see a path forward. They can and will leave — and the more employees who leave, the more who’ll want to leave. Head off the exodus now.
And while appropriate staffing is important, changing workload with a refresh also does wonders. Has your employee worked on the same client for years? Is there an opportunity to work on some cool agency projects?
Let People Shine When They’re Ready
So you’ve staffed up, right? After ensuring that there has been proper onboarding, it’s necessary to create a growth and succession plan. When you get your next big account, who’s going to get that opportunity? When someone at the senior level leaves, are you going to promote from within? Might you reconfigure that role and break it into multiple junior positions (with re-adjusted title and pay, of course) to foster growth opportunities?
Even the most junior member of your team needs to have a trajectory at the agency. At The Third Eye, the supervisor of one of our largest accounts got her start as our agency’s receptionist. I once had a coordinator who was so good at presentations, I let her take over for one of our clients. (She was so good, in fact, that the client ended up stealing her away, but don’t let that scare you.) Let people shine when they’re ready.
Remind Your Clients You’re Human Beings
Enough with the constant “yes” culture. Boundaries are a good thing, and it’s time to get out of fire-drill mode and advocate for your team’s needs. Look at the scope of the projects and tell your client if the hours and staffing is realistic. And if you start going beyond your scope, tell them. Chances are, they’ll understand the need to add more staffing, more time, more pay… or the need to cut back to the original plan.
Remind your clients that you’re human! No one wants an advertising agency where everyone is always stuck in the office working. That isn’t inspiring. Good ideas come from people who are engaged with the world, not just sitting behind a computer all day.
Remember Your Clients Are Human Beings
Ask them how they’re doing. Many of them are going back to the office for the first time in two years and are just as overwhelmed as we are. We have the power to be the best part of our clients’ days — the fun, creative part outside the slog of other meetings.
Understanding your clients’ preferences can also help your team logistically. We’ve begun implementing a client onboarding questionnaire that asks anything from their preferred means of communication (are you a talker, a texter, an emailer?) to their favorite music or late-night snack. Connection and mutual respect is the key.
That’s what we want, right? To work with — and for — companies that create an environment of mutual respect. So invest in the people you work with and remember to have empathy for clients, coworkers, and yourself. You may not get instant gratification…but you’ll get there.