Nov 30, 2008

Ad Physics 101: Employee Retention

When you work in advertising, one almost gets used to the fact that you won't be working with a specific set of people for more than a few months, maybe a year and a bit more, but that's about it. From an employee perspective, this should be a signal of things to come. Lets put it this way, if there are 20 employees in a department, five quite or get fired in a year, and three people come to replace the five that left, that's actually normal.

Rarely if ever have I seen more than three people leave to have them replaced by the same exact amount of people. Case in point, my last job. One moment, there's five copywriters and an extra copywriting ACD, the next, we're an ACD and two copywriters short of a half monty. Work doubles, I'm asked if I can handle it and truth be told, if shit ran smoothly, I could have. But since only one of my seven accounts wasn't spoiled beyond belief, that was rarely the case. My work didn't double, it tripled thanks to efficient account management and I was stuck under piles of jobs due for the next day when in reality at least a day could have been bought. Oh and of course, the same people that put me in this situation continue to pass jobs with ridiculous due dates and asking why everything is not done by 6:00 PM even if revisions were handed in three times in one day.

Then you take the same scenario from an employer perspective. 20 employees = x amount of salaries. Five employees leave of their own accord or with a little help and you have 15 employees. Two of the people who you canned were senior ad people, so that means that minimum it was over 100K that you're now saving. You hire less people to not only do the same work that there was before, but you actually win three accounts. Mid level or rookies are hired to do the work and you're a happy camper because you're saving at least 150K. good job.

Now lets see it from an industry perspective. Three agencies have a combined total of 60 creatives employed. Between the three agencies, 12 people are let go. Out of these 12 people, four find jobs immediately, two have to take pay cuts and six start working freelance because there isn't demand for them right now, so they'll work for three times what they used to earn at a third of the time, so they hopefully pretty much break even, have time to enjoy their lives, etc.

What this means on all fronts to someone as ignorant as me is that employee retention shall never outweigh capital retention since good negotiations aren't a priority but streamlining worker "efficiency" is. By efficiency I mean getting milked for every drop you're worth and later being canned when you start getting sick too often or do something atrocious like grow a conscience in regards to your family.

Some people might actually insist that I'm full of it and that an agency president and other people are extremely interested in employee retention and to these people I answer with a small anecdote. This week I had to go back to my agency for some paper work and I actually find myself face to face with the president which, to his credit, isn't that bad of a guy. First question he asks me: you already left here right? Second question he asks: How are things over there? Third question he asks: Any chance of us getting that account? Any help would be greatly appreciated.

Now I could have gone off on any of a number of rants regarding employee retention, but lets be honest, I wasn't much interested in retention as evidenced by my response to the question asked by my CD and the Head of Account Services (who is much more of a team player to my eyes than he is given credit for). The question was this:

Is there anything I can do to change your mind?

My response: If you want to play out your roles and do it for personal entertainment, knock yourselves out; but I'd rather not be hassled too much with my decision because my mind is pretty much made up.

To their credit, my wish was followed to perfection.

So are agencies interested in employee retention. I'm sure some are, but it's not like there are clear signs that people aren't happy with their lives that would prompt a prior intervention. That would mean agencies really don't care about retaining employees and simply turn a blind eye to people that can pretty much leave any day because they hate what they're forced to do for a living. That would just be crazy.


RestrictionsApply said...

A former boss once shared these words of business wisdom with me:
“Someone will always do what you do for cheaper”
“Only invest in employees with connections that can bring in juicy accounts”

I didn’t agree with either. That’s why he’s a former boss.

Joker said...

Someone will try to do what I do for less, but it'll only be a matter of time before they get fed up. And employees with connections are much more dangerous than anything else you can imagine.

All I'm saying is that if agencies really wanted to keep an employee, there are a thousand things they can do before they decide to call it quits.

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