8 Things Today's Mad Men are getting wrong at Advertising Agencies

So what are today’s advertising agencies getting wrong? What are today’s Mad Men doing that drive ad people crazy?

Autocratic top management seems to go all wrong these days. The my-way-or-highway management style seems to be a big beef around agencies. Agency folks do not like being told what to do without being told why. They don’t have a problem in processing ‘orders’ but they like to see the logic, the reason, the goal.

Long briefs. An ex-colleague at McCann Worldgroup used to say that a brief should always fit into an A4 size sheet. Brevity, precision, and the ability to summarize were his keys. A lot of suits in charge of writing up a brief (are planners suits?) forget that and end up with reams of trees chopped down unkindly, thoughtlessly. Briefs should be just that – brief. Long briefs drive us nuts.

Recognition, rather the lack of it. Far too often, we get recognition and a pat on the back around the water cooler, but not from the ivory tower. Peer acknowledgement and recognition is great, but coming from the top always has it’s extra shine.

Responsibility without authority is another sore point. How often do we delegate or share responsibilities without properly equipping and empowering the team?

Digital as add on. Top brass recognizing that digital is a must-have often results in digital being an add-on – the last few slides in a pitch show, the requisite nod, but without the right impetus. This always rattles the teams – who probably know the power of digital. It bemuses the clients who can see through the facade. We need to accept that today digital is mainstream. Or die trying. Or get buried.

Habitual weekend workdays. When today’s leading companies are making work a fun place to be, the forced and habitual weekend work schedule is seen as an infringement. Ad people need to re-fill and refresh. Otherwise their ideas get stale. Management who feel that their staff owe it to them to show up every weekend are getting it wrong. Horribly wrong. The odd crazy 48-hour shift is a given in our industry. But making a habit out of it? Not.

Not updating hardware and software. This is really silly, because older legacy systems are a drag on efficiencies. Updates are usually better, faster, have bugs fixed and in general safe time, effort and money. Agency management often just perseveres (actually they don’t, the little folk do) with the ‘what-we-have’ rather than the ‘best-to-get’. In a previous incarnation while in Canada, we proved to our CEO that upgrading hardware would result in 40% better efficiency. The beauty was the fact that the costs of the investment were recovered in less than 60 days in better output efficiencies and quicker turnaround times.

Lack of Training and Development = Lack of Growth. Old adage says – If your people don’t grow your company doesn’t grow. Even in an environment where constantly updated knowledge is the currency, some agencies don’t bother about providing ample training and development initiatives. This results in staff who are not comfortably conversant in front of clients, and who are behind the times. They are unable to drive the agency forward because they have no fuel. This is a no-brainer, really.

My post today is inspired by an article in Ad Age (What Drives Ad-Agency CEOs Crazy by Phil Johnson, March 1, 2013). The piece is a reality check, and a well put-together list of what’s on a “Not-to-Do-List” at Mad Men world these days according to top CEOs.

Johnson writes “It drives me crazy to see anyone waiting in the lobby for more than two or three minutes. Of course, that seldom happens to clients, but I don't like to see it happen to partners, salespeople or job applicants. In my world, we're all VIPs.

The lowest form of agency behavior is when someone puts on his best performance for the boss and treats everyone else like crap. It's called managing up, and it shouldn't be tolerated.”

Here are some other classic peeves by CEOs from the Ad Age article…

Phil Waggoner, is a partner at Hook in Charleston, S.C., an Ad Age Small Agency of the Year. What makes him crazy:
"It makes me nuts that it makes no difference how early we start working on a new-business RFP. We always, always, deliver it at the very last minute and sometimes even after the last minute. And nine times out of 10 we are adjusting the presentation deck on the way to the presentation."

Tom Stein, CEO of Stein & Partners in New York, and a 2012 BtoB Agency of the Year, offers a complete litany of pet peeves:
Seeking safety vs. striving for greatness.

Not following process.

Mindlessly following process.

Briefs that aren't brief.

People who can't find the time, heart or humanity to say "nice work."

Lack of humor and perspective….

Avoiding the above probably led Stein’s agency to top rank in Ad Age’s B2B Agency List. More power to Stein. And other Mad Men who get it right.

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