gRantvertising

September 10, 2009

The Biggest Mistake Agency CEOs Make

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Well, after spending my entire adult life in the agency business and the last 16+ years consulting exclusively with agency principals, I’ve come to a conclusion about the single biggest mistake agency CEOs make.

It’s this: You won’t win the race unless you field the best horse you can.

Obvious, for sure, but think about it. In agency new business pitches, if you have the best people, you win; in Creative, if you have the best people, you win; in Account Service, if you have the best, you keep on winning. Have the best in your agency or on the track and you win. It’s as simple as that.

But it’s also why so many agencies fail to finish in the money. What holds agencies back more than anything else is bad hiring.

Not hiring ‘mistakes,’ BAD HIRING.

Though this appears to be a blinding glimpse of the obvious, I’d argue it isn’t so to agency CEOs and owners who often nudge hiring decisions downward to department heads with less-seasoned judgment, or to HR directors with little more training than they’re a ‘people person’ who demonstrates an uncanny ability to remember birthdays. CEOs, especially as an agency grows, too often abdicate their single most critical responsibility affecting the agency’s character and success: hiring the best.

Not so at an agency I know hovering around $50 million where the CEO will not sign off on a hire until he personally has taken the candidate to lunch or dinner. Why a meal? Because there he can’t escape what he knows can be an uncomfortable and often banal conversation wherein he can learn, often painfully, a lot about the candidate. He’s written off many $100 dinners that halted a hire at the 11th hour and claims it’s the best money he spends.

Sure, it can be awkward engaging in mindless chit-chat with someone up for a back office slot, but you’re a good judge of values and character – will this person deliver sound judgment affecting hundreds of thousands of dollars of agency income? Will he or she forge lasting deep relations centered on trust and honesty – both in and outside the agency?

You know, community theaters spend more time auditioning amateur actors for roles they’ll play for only a few weekends than most agencies do discovering if they’re getting just the right person. Too often it’s enough merely to “fill the position” when you should be putting the aspirant through as tough a grilling session as you’d give the ‘dude’ wanting to marry your daughter. Because it’s at least as important.

Hey, and if money’s in the way, veto those budget line items like buying new computers. More sophisticated equipment in the hands of the less skilled will only make your agency look inadequate faster. Instead, invest and then reinvest in the one thing that will always move you ahead: the best people you can get.

This is a great time to scout and enlist new talent. There’s more available (and affordable) cream out there than there’s been in a long while.

You can’t name anything that has more impact on your agency’s run for the roses than making your foremost priority hiring the very best.

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