Monthly Archives: August 2014

New Beginnings: When People Leave (A Teachable Moment)

Every person that owns a small business will face staff attrition. When people leave, how do you react? If they were problematic employees, the inclination is to applaud. That is more knee-jerk anything else because it may have been a significant reason to them. So, the question becomes how do you keep your staff together? The short answer is you cannot.

People have reasons for leaving companies. Often it has nothing to do with management, but unfortunately in countless instances it does. If you don’t address the issues, your company will become deader than Mo Green.

My agency has always had a small staff. We function based on need of our clients. At least three people are assigned to an account. I’m told that larger agencies commit six people on accounts, and usually the budgets are higher. That makes sense. Small staff grows with freelancers, part-timers and interns. At any moment, a small agency multiplies long enough to accomplish what needs to be done. This type of parrying can be expected when you operate as a squad rather than battalion. One day, I began wondering if this small, nimble outfit was viable because people stated to leave.

Why?

Usually, higher wages, or, greater creative responsibility are catalyst. Conflict between staff members may also be a causal factor. Business owners do a disservice to themselves if they are clueless as to what causes the run to the front door.

Here was my “teachable moment,” where the veil of ignorance fell from my face. I fired an account representative at the beginning of a particular month. An executive staff member left, too. I didn’t want to accept she had because there was no letter of resignation. I thought the worse. But we spoke a week later. While I breathed a sigh of relief, two other people resigned as I exhaled. Their reasons seemed sound and logical: creative opportunities; more money. I thought about counteroffers, but the resignations had finality to them.

Four valuable people had gone out the door, and clearly I missed warning signs. Friday of the same week saw one more departure – sound reasons I thought. That weekend, a letter of resignation came on my e-mail. I e-mailed my New Business Coordinator. “We’ll rally the troops. Let’s go through those resumes — don’t worry.” Her reasoning was sound and made sense. After talking to her I watched the Sopranos and got a nagging feeling Eddie Big Nose was gunning for me.

Monday I poured over resumes and found several good candidates to interview. New Business Coordinator came in, tearful with a letter of resignation. Another opportunity came along over the weekend. Blam! Blam! Eddie Big Nose got me.

I learned a lot as I lay figuratively bleeding. Maybe this will help someone similarly situated.

1. Meet regularly with the entire staff to keep them abreast with company happenings. Send a company e-mail in case something was left out;

2. Meet with employees likely to exercise free agency. There are subtle hints. There may be something that can be done – adjustments made to keep them. Make sure that the promises are sincere and can be executed within the timeframe promised.

3. Develop a sense of family. If affordable, have either a company picnic, or regular lunches. It is the little things that count;

4. Assign meaningful duties not within the job description;

5. Allow cross-training. Employee ‘A’ may be better suited for another position. Perhaps they are too reserved to ask about it but you’re meeting them halfway;

6. Don’t play favorites. This is very difficult because some people are more personable than others. A ‘q’ factor causes us to gravitate to them. That creates discord;

7. Strive to raise pay a above cost-of-living, and certainly keep up with industry standards;

8. Improve your benefit package, and pay bonuses:

9. Acknowledge your employees because they are the linchpin of the business.

In a previous incarnation of my business, staff broke bread at lunches, and we kept up with pay standards. Even though it strained our budget, bonuses were paid around Christmas. I’m not saying that this made me the perfect employer, no one is. But it’s your choice to cultivate a sense of family or became overly corporate. Your business will function better in unity. Sometimes, loyalty keeps a person wedded to a job because of intangibility.
I’m not too cynical or idealistic to want an old fashion company in our fast paced culture.

Check you later,

Bernard A. McNealy, CEO
CDM Digital Advertising & Integrated Marketing

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New Beginnings: Don’t Forget The Basics

We grow weary of ourselves sometimes. This happens frequently when you take the late Michael Jackson’s advice to start with “The Man in The Mirror.” I guess this is when one observes and marks their personal behavior in particular situations. The tendency is to be self critical and engage self flagellation like a crazed, lustful monk for falling short. The problem with that is that we seldom establish a benchmark to reach –so  naturally in the fog of confusion, its likely the psyche will  take a beating. A benchmark is a basic requirement to measure achievement — don’t forget it.

I am finding in business, forgetting can lead to bankruptcy. We tend to trust a little too much in people that may not share  our zeal to form a company into a particular embodiment. Sure, we talk to the people we’re dependent on, but the problem is that talking and listening are not the same as communicating and listening. So we proceed on clueless. We hit a metaphoric brick wall. And in our bruised state we come to grips (sometimes) with the fact communication requires attention, hearing requires setting aside the ego because a divergent approach or polite dissent may be have been the best course. These are basics — too easily forgotten.

Having restructured from a different business model, I’m operating essentially what is a new advertising agency . In my enthusiasm to pursue new business, I forgot to include in my company resume the most important thing – facts denoting what qualifies CDM to handle a customers business. I also failed to take into consideration whether or not the businesses I am pursuing were within my scope of expertise. Theoretical competence is not real competence. This also a basic.

My presentation manual should also ask: “What do you, business owner require and your agency?” Needless to say if the question was posed to a potential client, likely it would be a generic, “Good work at a fair price.”  Those were givens. That potential client is probably looking for assurance that we can not only do the job, but his investment in advertising with our company will an eye popping return. My question to myself would’ve been whether we’ll profit from the arrangement. To some, that sounds mercenary. It isn’t because it is very basic to business. After all, commerce is an exchange.

There is a raging debate between business owners and workers about salary, other forms of compensation, reduced workloads, and having dialogue deciding the the company’s direction. I am old school. On my first adult jobs I kept my mouth shut and learned as much as possible. As long as the work relationship was not  exploitative, I could live with it. Now as I am comfortably in my baby-boomer years, It occurs to me that people will have differences of opinion. They want to engage in dialogue on things that were verboten when I first started working. The lesson here is that time changes thing. I suppose i am looking at “Man in the Mirror.” I’m seeing a person that is adapting while retaining values and perceptions.

It boils down to being basic and demanding its own set of remembrance. You don’t forget the basics because they never change.

Catch you later,

Bernard A. McNealy, CEO

CDM Digital Advertising & Integrated Marketing 

New Beginnings: THE POWER OF A LOGO

Our agency may be many things, above all, we are an advertising agency. We don’t disguise it by telling prospective clients that we are, a “creative disruptive,” “digital re-thinkers,” or “imagineers.” Those are terms from three advertising agencies — and they are a pile of horse crap. They take away the agency’s identity and essence. They also throw the the truth to the wind — they are ad agencies — a bunch of MADMEN.

We’re at the tail end of a very tortured process of re-branding. Transitioning from a being a struggling traditional to a struggling digital has been nothing but promising lurches and abrupt stops. Through it all, although the business model has changed, our function, thus identity, has not. We offer advertising services. One good thing about stumbling into this year is embracing branding. We are also a small business. And as such, we know an identity can be established with a logo. It’s the corsage on the gown — the bow tie on a tuxedo — or, the beret and sunglasses worn by a stylish woman.

I’d like to share our thoughts from a past blog. It provides insight into how a logo forge an indelible impression on the consumer.
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“THE POWER OF A LOGO

lo·go [loh-goh]
noun, plural -gos.

1. Also called logotype. a graphic representation or symbol of a company name, trademark, abbreviation, etc., often uniquely designed for ready recognition.

From Apple’s “apple” to Nike’s “swoosh” to Obama’s “patriotic O”; the logo does not in any way substitute for the quality of the product nor the design, but it does complete the branding package. Although researchers have not deciphered a conclusive understanding of a logo, an overwhelming majority acknowledge the correlation between a logo and its profits. Perhaps it is the ambiguity of a silver, partially bitten apple or maybe its the fictional historic backgrounds associated with the logo that appeals to consumers. Nevertheless, it is a logo that attracts consumers worldwide. Buying a Mac computer or an iPhone is more than just buying OS X software, it is possessing that partially bitten, but well branded Apple product.

To consumers such as myself, a logo is more than “a graphic representation or symbol of a company name, trademark, abbreviation, etc.”–it is a powerful story. Designers of logos deliberately associate a color, font, and shape with compelling words that an audience can relate to. In fact, Obama’s strategist David Axelrod told designers to create a logo that would evoke “a new sense of hope.” This “hope” is successfully illustrated in the red strips (flag stripes as patriotism) and the circle (sunrise as hope).

In order for a logo to be consumer friendly it has to be adaptable and have chameleon like qualities. For example, the Apple symbol is often switched to white, rainbow, and sometimes blue. Taking it a step further, customers can adhere picture stories onto their Mac computers. From Snow White biting into a poison apple to a squirrel chomping on an apple; Apple and even PC lovers are drawn to personalizing their computer.”

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As we encounter prospective clients, we stress that their logo not only is a pretty piece of graphics, but it tells a compelling story. One that if used, can make a big difference in the bottom line.

Catch you later,

Bernard A. McNealy, CEO
CDM Digital Advertising

New Beginnings: Instincts, Sharp Eyes, Loud Voice

I am finished chasing down a particular business for an appointment. After so many communiques via email, telephone calls, and promises, the potential client cannot meet until some unspecified future day. “Strong pitch. Touched on our needs. Indeed,” the company president said. Without bitterness, frustration set in. I’m not sure if I’m doing something wrong relative to particular business.

Having placed myself in charge of acquiring new business for my revamped ad agency I wonder if someone else should be assigned to the task. After all, acquiring money for operational costs and paying people are so essential, my efforts should be concentrated on those things. That makes a lot of sense.

A quick word about my categorizing the state of my company as being “revamped.” That is not fully descriptive. What I did was tear down my business model. It hasn’t been an easy transition going from being traditional to disruptive and digital. There was evaluation of staff and the value of our accounts, and thus attrition. When this happens you find yourself standing alone trying to crystallize your vision.

Like minded people are hard to find. But, it is always a pressing need.

Two years ago, I began questioning my ability to judge talent. We interviewed several creatives to come in just above entry level. I sat down with the “perfect candidate.” She was smart, friendly, attractive and knowledgeable. She liked the way we laid out the office — roomy — clean — colorful. The neighborhood was crappy, but the office rocked. I extended an offer — she accepted. But, when she realized that we were committed to remaining multi-cultural, she withdrew. “I don’t really like that vibe. No offense,” was delivered in a soft but crushing voice.

My then PR Director came in as the candidate left and said she knew what was going to happen because her instincts told things about the woman I didn’t notice. The next candidate arrived minutes later. The interview went well and was a notch above “Miss Perfect.” Being the gentleman that I am, and because it got dark early, I walked her to her car. There was a quick mundane conversation, and I said, “I’ll let you know within a week.” This seemed okay with her. She served a long, absorbing smile and drove off.

As she was packing up for the day, the PR Director stared at me. She seemed disturbed. When asked, she replied: “That girl doesn’t want a job. She wants a social relationship.” When asked how she knew, she said: “Well, she folded and slipped a note under your laptop. I was passing by your office when you stepped out to take a call privately. She put a spot of her cologne on the note. She likes you, not the agency.”

My colleague went on to say that she had sharp eyes for this type of thing — “the charming siren.” I realize some professional women that will read this blog might take offense, but people casting shadows across your desk may have motives not even remotely associated with what you want. Their intent is diametrically dichotomous. Resumes often are an exercise in creative writing. Good fiction.

That’s not to say don’t trust people. We need a host of people to function in the ad business. I have to take somethings as they are. Other times references must be vetted. So, as I make decisions for my company, if instincts and sharp eyes tell me a truth hidden by a prospect, I am prepared to say “No” in a loud voice — even it if stays in my head.

Catch you later,

Bernard Alexander McNealy

New Beginnings: A Druid, a Muslim, and a Christian Walked Into an Ad Agency…

Interesting days bring on interesting observations. This is being written on a Sunday – the day I attend church. Expressions of faith in something I believe is greater than me, shouldn’t scare anyone. The last thing I do at my agency is proselytize because I live my beliefs and let them display in my behavior. Mankind is a creation, not an accident. Believing as I do has never been a job requirement. I must confess I’ve wondered if the work environment wouldn’t be more harmonious if there was same think. Obviously the work wouldn’t necessarily be creative optimally – it’s just that yelling will be at a minimum.

Maybe. Maybe not.

CDM Digital strives to be multi-cultural. The non-proselyting policy is also stressed. Our company culture is idyllic, and can be challenging. I’ve had a team consisting of a druid, a Muslim, and a Christian working on projects. Things were going alone well with this team until loud voices erupted in the break area.

One of them suggested that their belief system was superior to another there was a lot of Alec Baldwin and Will Arnett 30 Rock insults growled under breath. Tension lasted the day.

It placed in detrimental the project they were working on, and needed to be addressed. I invited the staffers to my office to work it out. There were a lot of accusations. “They’re sabotaging me. That’s what those people do,” echoed around the room. I asked myself what the best way to handle the conflict? Several factors had to be considered. These factors became recommendations I suggest a small business owner should have in place.

1. Keep ‘hot button’ discussions to a minimum. People are social, so there is going to be interaction, verbal or otherwise. Open expression is natural, and should be encouraged. A manager cannot put in a rule forbidding conversation because such runs contrary to what we are – social creatures that need to express ourselves. If possible, tactfully include it in a personnel manual under “office decorum.” Negative behavior is disruptive.

2. Evaluate the personnel involved. I’m not talking about judging who is right, or who is wrong. It is always a good idea to take into consideration how qualitative the people arguing are. Determine how cohesive their work is with a team framework.

3. Be prepared to cross train and reassign. We know what works and what doesn’t – it’s evident by the work produced. But, since we have invested in the staffer, and weighing how hard it is to find the “right” personnel, it’s better to reassign them as opposed to taking disciplinary action.

4. Establish clear rules on to what will not be tolerated. Be prepared to act if these rules are violated. For example, invasion of privacy, offensive language, hate speech and name calling, sexual innuendos, physical intimidation, are forbidden. It may be grounds for discipline. Where either of those things exists, you have a textbook hostile work environment. You also are staring at litigation with your business as a defendant.

5. Have a progressive discipline policy. Yes, some people cuss when stressed; some people are ill suited to work with people that are different than they. There is racism where you least expect. Anti-Semitism, sexism exist because people either were fed a steady diet of it as children, or just developed nasty unattractive personalities. Perhaps they need to work elsewhere. The decision should not be based on snap judgement.

6. Have openness. My business is a creative agency. We have to foster the ideal environment for a person to work at their best.

Within the context of advertising, I do consulting with my clients. It is surprising how many scramble madly because there are no rules governing conduct or decorum. We owe it to ourselves to have a cooperative, fun-filled atmosphere so that the conclusion of the work day, we can appreciate each other as people and our collective work.

Catch you later,

Bernard Alexander McNealy