Having a small PR and advertising agency is a funny thing. You’re forced to find staff members who are versatile and competent. I know. Clients only expect competency out of its agency, but believe me it is paramount to hire people who combine acumen and passion.

Passion is a nice ingredient because people who have it do their best under all circumstances. In a small agency we are forced to pull together like family, each person shoring up the other guy. We are protective and feel obligated to do so. That sometimes offends outsiders, but without layers of bureaucracy, there is little bull-corn. I often tell potential clients that a small agency is to their  advantage — we have raw sincerity. Contrarily, big agencies has a healthy quotient of Politburo Kremlineuqe duplicity, combined with Washingtonian sewer carpet. Carson Dunn Media is the real deal.

Once we forgot about being family and pulling together. I will offer my experience as a cautionary tale to other small agencies.  The failure of teamwork brought us to a ruinous crisis because we had an account rep with an agenda. His agenda was stealing clients  and giving them to his friends.  Friends — it turns out operated an agency that he was part owner. This guy spoke the right words, projected a nice guy persona and a wealth of knowledge about the advertising industry. Clients only committed to our ideas after  first consulting him. The funny thing is that I was his boss.

This guy was a character. He even went so far as to try to recruit my creatives for his secret company. We locked his email, froze his passwords and changed our operating manual and policies right after that. It didn’t stop him from trying to find out how our new policies might help him. I suspect that an account rep. I hired two months later was a mole associated with him.  I’m not airing dirty laundry; although when one talks about the inner workings of anything they run that risk.

Small agency owners should be more aware of the tricks the duplicitous engages in. If we are to survive fighting for our share of business, we must be watchful, and diligent.

How do you know when you have such a villain in your midst?  Sadly, you don’t  always know. A small agency should do is a big boys do: First of all, don’t be afraid to consider the account rep. as an independent contractor.  Allow the person to set their own hours, develop their own sales routes pursuant to a contract.

Secondly. You protect yourself by having them sign nondisclosure and confidentiality agreements.  Keep compensation on a commission only basis because it forces a degree of  honesty.  An account representative is typical salesman – and remuneration is based on commission. Since accounts are usually big, there should be little complaining about this.

Lastly, it is my belief that smaller agencies should flourish as a balancing act to neutralize the bigger ad agencies that overcharge and give the honest agency a bad name. In the meantime, when the work comes in, your  agency has an obligation to make sure you are doing your best.

Bernard A. McNealy, President

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