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Thinking Out Loud


June 19, 2012

An open letter to Mike Sheldon in response to his presentation in Cannes yesterday as written up in Fast Company. The link to the article follows:



Dear Mike,

I have no doubt that you are an accomplished, successful CEO that knows how to build and sustain a healthy business.  Your track record speaks for itself.

But after reading the highlights of your Cannes presentation in Fast Company yesterday, my sense is that your expertise relative to hiring and keeping the industry’s best people is on par with most CEO’s.

I’m not picking on you.  I’ve seen a lot of these presentations.  I’ve heard a lot about ‘hiring and retaining the best talent’.  The examples I will state below, (except for the specifics about your talent site which is as good as most talent sites in our industry) are not about Deutsch.  They are about many agencies.

I hope to further the conversation you started yesterday and put some real meat on the bone, as well as provide some clear direction on what it takes to ensure that the industry’s best people are always working for you.

First, my credentials.  I began my career as a copywriter, had my own little agency, was a Creative Director for a while.  Always fell for the “We’re going to turn this place into a hot shop” pitch.

Fifteen years ago, I became a creative recruiter.  In 2007 I created and hosted the third highest attended seminar in Cannes.  It was entitled, ‘Diary of a Creative Director: An exploration of the road to greatness.  Al Gore and Saatchi’s Young Director’s Showcase had higher attendance than my seminar.  I’m pretty proud of that.

While recruiting for 15 years, I heard over 30,000 career stories.  Yes.  I did the math.  Those 30,000 people told me why they were leaving their agencies.  Often times that box of Kleenex in my boardroom was needed.

Two years ago, I left recruiting.  More on why later.  I have become a Career Consultant for talent, and a Talent Consultant for agencies.  I teach creatives how to have the career they want.  I teach agencies how to attract the best talent.

It’s pretty damned rewarding.

So that’s me.

Yes –  my data is largely based on feedback from the creative community and predominantly based on feedback from the creative community in North America.  But I believe that if you can hire and keep the best creative people – regardless of their actual title, you are surrounded by the crème de la crème – un petit nod to Cannes, France if you will.

This isn’t the first speech of this kind that I have heard.  About a year ago, Arnold was on the same bandwagon.  Their presentation missed the point too. But what happened to that?  It seemed to get a lot of attention in the industry for about 3 weeks, then it went away.  Did anything change?  I’m waiting to see.

It’s an interesting topic, and in my opinion it’s the MOST important topic.  After all, what does your company sell, other than the talent of the people you hire?  Aren’t they the people who win you business?  Aren’t they the people that win you awards?  Aren’t the people who create your culture?

You bet they are.

I think we are on the same page on this point.

Everyone says it’s important.  But just saying so, isn’t enough.  The walk has to match the talk.  And unless the behavior changes, nothing will change.  So far, nothing has.

Some new slides won’t cut it.

(Why did I leave recruiting?  Out of frustration.  I felt that the hiring of talent was the MOST IMPORTANT thing an agency could do to retain and win business, yet I witnessed over and over and over that it received the least amount of attention.

Imagine setting up an entire day of Executive Creative Director interviews then waiting 2 weeks for a debrief.

Let me ask you.  If you don’t have an Executive Creative Director, WHAT BIGGER PROBLEM COULD YOU POSSIBLY HAVE?!)

What was missing from your presentation yesterday was HOW: The only thing that matters.  We all know that talent is the make or break conversation whether you are a restaurant or a yoga clothing manufacturer, or the world’s most loved smart phone manufacturer.

The people you hire create what you sell, and without that, you have nothing to sell.  Better people create better things.  There aren’t a lot of better people.  Keep the supply chain open.

Let’s talk about HOW for a bit.

Even the premise of the conversation misses the point.

The conversation is not about keeping people.
The conversation is about how to conduct your agency and your hiring process with the recognition that, despite your best efforts, your talent will leave within two years on average.

The conversation needs to become one of consistently (not just when there is a crisis) ATTRACTING the world’s best people to your agency.

Imagine a perfect world.  One where WHEN (not if) someone resigns, you have a pre-screened group of superstars that you can immediately approach.  Then hire them.

Quickly. Efficiently.  Flawlessly.

Imagine a conversation with your client that goes like this.
“I’m sorry to tell you that John resigned, but we have hired Mary, here are her credentials, she starts in a week.”

That’s Talent Attraction.

If you DON’T have an efficient talent ATTRACTION program in place, it’s a standing start.

Now, in the three to nine months it usually takes to find a superstar to replace a superstar (because superstars are not in plentiful supply), you will grind every ounce of extra energy out of the team that is left.

The work that they already had on their plate will suffer, and the work for the client who was left without a superstar will suffer.  Everyone suffers.  You might even lose that client while they aren’t getting the attention they deserve.

Talent ATTRACTION fixes that.

Do you have a talent attraction program in place that is proactive, not reactive?

Do you have a list of criteria that every person in the company must possess?  Do you evaluate each person against the same criteria?

Do you have a database to house each and every single person that approaches your company for a position?  Do you make comments about each person?

Do you give that person a score out of 100 based on your criteria?

Do you have one point person who does ALL the pre-screening for every position against your agency’s criteria or do applications come in from everywhere, then sit in someone’s inbox being ignored?

Does your company have someone who is in charge or replying to each and every applicant in a timely and respectful way, or do most applications go into the black hole?

Does your company website include a talent microsite that sells each applicant on the benefits of joining your company?

No it doesn’t.  I checked this morning. It lists jobs.  You list them on Linked in.  You haven’t told me on the talent microsite why I should choose Deutsch as my next job.  No selling, no marketing, no advertising.  If you were a plumber, I could look the other way.  You aren’t.  You’re an advertising agency.

Talent is what you sell.  And you’re not selling talent on joining Deutsch.

Your talent microsite doesn’t address ANY of the points you showed in your presentation.

Nothing about Quality of Life, nothing about Growth, nothing about Compensation vs. industry standard, nothing about Creativity, or Ownership.  ON THE TALENT MICROSITE.  It’s in other places on your website, but not there.  Applicants come, look at the jobs, and leave.  You’re missing a big opportunity there.

The point is to have more qualified/pre-screened applicants at any time than you have positions available.
That’s Talent Attraction.

The Agency With The Best People Wins.
~ David Ogilvy

Your hiring team hasn’t made it clear why working at Deutsch will be the best experience of anyone’s career. They haven’t written anything on their Linked in postings that can’t be said about any agency beyond your specific clients.  Why Deutsch, and not BBDO?  I don’t know.

Here’s your company description:!/contact/careers/city/la

Deutsch LA is the leading Advertising Agency on the West Coast. Our thriving office is imaginative, creative and produces outstanding work for our clients. If a rapidly growing, innovative, competitive environment sounds challenging and exciting, then this is the place for you! Our clients include Volkswagen, Sony PlayStation, Anthem Blue Cross, Dr Pepper, Snapple, Diamond Foods, HTC and California Cheese.

Please define “leading”, “thriving”, “outstanding”.
Please tell me what is innovative about this job posting.

Innovation begins at the very first touch point talent will have with your agency.
Creative people (regardless of title) FEEL these inconsistencies between what you are saying, and how you are behaving.
They probably can’t articulate them, but I can promise you, they feel them.

And Linked in?
Come on.
How does using Linked in build the Deutsch brand?

By the way, the two positions advertised for your New York office are no longer active.
Tsk, tsk.

(Again, I’m not picking on you.  I see a lack of energy in job listings and a lack of passion for the company in job listings, EVERY DAY!)

A link to your Careers page, is not on the landing page.  It should be.

Research has shown time and again that the two reasons most people will visit your website is to: check out your work (a potential client) and apply for a job.

Check out what Pixar, Virgin, The BBC Sony and Apple are doing relative to using their website as a portal for attracting talent.  I’m sure none of those companies has a shortage of people wanting to apply for jobs there.


That’s what Talent Attraction is!

A few ideas as to what Deutsch and any company should be doing to attract the best talent to their agency.  24/7/365.

The best thing an agency can do to win business is hire better people.  The best way that an agency can communicate to potential clients (the other audience that visits your website) is to make your hiring microsite front and centre.  The best way to hire better people is to develop a consistent process for doing so, develop a database, and follow up with people in a respectful, timely manner.

Don’t say you’re going to get back to someone in two days, then disappear for a month.

That’s disrespectful and while that person is waiting to hear from you, they will tell as many people as will listen, how they are being treated.


Instead, if you think it will take two weeks to get to a decision, say it will take two weeks.  If it always takes two weeks, then it probably won’t be two days this time.  Say two weeks.  Say a month.  Say next quarter.  But whatever you say, DO IT!  That’s respectful.

People will either say great things about you while they are waiting for a decision, or awful things about you while they are waiting to hear.  The best part is that it is 1000% in your control.

Now let’s talk about WHY leave their jobs, based on the 30,000 people I’ve spoken to in the past 15 years.

Warning:  This ain’t gonna be pretty.  But if we want to fix it, we really need to start telling each other the truth, and acknowledging how bad it is now.

There are no Gold Watches.

Yes the talent is mercenary, but the talent didn’t create that mindset, the companies did.  Devoted employees who have missed their children’s piano recitals, and one too many anniversary dinners, don’t receive loyalty in tough times in exchange for their devotion.

There is no industry standard.

For anything.   Is it because the industry doesn’t want it, or is it because the industry hasn’t created it?  There isn’t a person in our industry who can tell you what a Senior Art Director makes.  Believe me, I was asked the question many times when I was still recruiting, and because there is no hard and fast answer, I would turn the question around and ask, ‘How much do you have to spend?” and the exercise became finding the best Senior Art Director for the salary available.

If there were salary and title standards, everyone would know what was expected of them to receive the next raise, when the next raise would happen, the next promotion, when the next promotion would happen, and the next level of responsibility.  That’s what talent means when they say ‘Growth’.  They want more responsibility.  They want to grow in their learning and expertise.  They want to become more valuable to you.  BUT because this is rarely, if ever, communicated, they figure the only way to make more money is to leave.

That’s a sure thing.

Performance and Salary Reviews don’t happen on time.

Nothing screams “You’re not that important” like a performance or salary review that keeps getting punted.  Nothing gets talent on the job boards and on the phone with recruiters faster than a performance or salary review that is even ONE WEEK late.

Oh and, when they are holding another offer and you match that salary, NOTHING is more insulting.

They don’t want to leave.  They don’t want to change jobs.  Changing jobs, as you and I both know, is right up there with having a baby in the stress department.

But they also don’t want to be taken advantage of.

FIX your performance and salary review process IMMEDIATELY and implement a NO TOLERANCE POLICY for lateness.

You don’t want to pay severance.

It’s a Mexican standoff. The people that everyone KNOWS need to get fired because they are LONG past their ‘best before’ date, aren’t being fired.  The talent knows that they are only as good as the person they are learning from.  If the person they are ‘learning’ from is on the other side of that Mexican standoff and just waiting for their severance cheque, maybe it’s time to sign a cheque then find someone who is still as enthusiastic as the department they are ‘leading’.

Before everyone in their department leaves.

If you don’t want to pay severance, do the humane thing and have a tough conversation about expectations not being met, and the time this person is being given to remedy the situation.  Severance is only in lieu of notice.  Give notice.  Tell the truth.

I believe people want to do a great job, and if they’re slacking BUT not being told it’s unacceptable, most people will keep doing it.

Don’t fire their friends because there is no money, then boast about your new membership at the most exclusive club in town.

Don’t assume no one notices.  EVERYONE NOTICES.  Maybe it’s time to get rid of that flash car and that membership and that watch and start walking the talk about cutting back.  It all starts with you.

You keep hiring superstars to put on top of a weak team instead of hiring better people to replace your weakest performers.

Who is the weakest person on your team now?  Do you know?  Hire someone better.

Superstars do not create draft for under-performers.  Under-performers create drag for superstars. 
The superstars get frustrated, and leave.  Always hire to improve your weakest performer.  Over time your entire team will improve.

Training is not the issue.
The kind of training is.  Train someone to understand the “Deutsch” way.  Demand that they invest in themselves to bring their best self to work every day.  A carpenter is expected to know how to swing a hammer.  An art director who is a lousy presenter, expects you to send him to presenting school.  Don’t.  Expect the best from your people.

Stop expecting one person to do the job of five people.
No one and no creativity can excel in this environment.  The morale suffers.  The work suffers.  The clients suffer.  It speaks to life/work balance.  Creative people who are being worked to the bone, don’t have a chance to experience life, and real life is where the best insights come from.

Hire the right amount of people and charge your clients what the work is worth.  It takes courage, not fear.  Choose your clients wisely.

Your agency doesn’t have a real goal, and it doesn’t have a plan to achieve that non-achievable goal.

“We’re going to turn this place into a hot shop.”  is not a goal. A savvy interviewee would ask, “And what is the plan to do that?”  Lucky for you, most interviewees aren’t that savvy.

A goal that gets achieved is quantifiable and has a deadline.  It’s measurable.  It takes money.  It takes time. It takes doing things differently.  It takes inventing new processes (dirty word), it takes changing the way things have always been done, and doing them a BETTER way.

It doesn’t just take “hiring some more great people like you.”

“We are going to be Cannes Agency of the Year in 2014.” is a goal.  Now write the plan to achieve it.  “Hiring more great people.” is only ONE of the points on the plan.  Not the entire plan.

Just saying it, won’t make it happen.
It requires a solid, efficient, consistent, clear Talent Attraction process.

If you don’t have one, isn’t it time you did?


~ heidi

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