Saturday, August 23, 2008

March of the Wooden Publicists

With Labor Day approaching, it's time to check the pulse of agency employee mental health: do they work with accounts they love and have a vested interest in, or is it a forced march because they're scrambling to work on a project that is less attractive to them than a visit to the endodontist?

Employee happiness is a trickle-down effect that comes down from above, the founders and top level executives who decide what clients to pursue and who handles them if they come aboard.

Some agencies never met a dangling check they didn't want to grab, even if their staff couldn't care less about the client hanging it from the end of a pole.

I've heard of agency presentations where it's a lot of smoke and mirrors -- "yes, of course we handle that!" -- dazzle them with the well-known names of irrelevant accounts, show them some blogs they've done, and somehow the client gets stars in their eyes and says "where do I sign?"

The agency profit grows, there may even be one or two additional headcount, but the price is paid by the staff who works on these accounts. "What do I know about this?" "Where do I start?" "Bo-o-o-ring!"

When there's no emotional stake in a client, when you know you've just been given something to work on that doesn't reflect your expertise or interests, coming to work becomes a chore. This is where you start to dread waking up early, commuting, and then entering your office, knowing you'll be pitching something you frankly have no interest in.

Every agency should have a philosophy of who they want to work with and just as importantly, who they will not work with. I'm not talking just about the proverbial "client from hell," because those can be just about anybody, but what they do and does it pique our interest deep down inside.

For example, my own personal client philosophy: "You didn't go into all the trouble of being in your own business to work with clients you or your staff have no interest in. Because sooner or later, they're going to find out, and in the end, you're going to fool nobody."

When I'm at a presentation, I'll be asked what my client criteria is, and I'll reply: "They have to be something we can really believe in, they have to be people we like, and they have to be something we know we can do a great job with. Also, they can't conflict with any of our present clients."

While this kind of gatekeeping was never going to turn my business into one hundred employee behemoth, it kept us small, nimble, happy and exciting. You see, being the "fastest growing" PR agency means nothing to me compared to being the PR agency who has the most interesting clients. And compelling clients often means satisfied employees who have their hearts in what they're doing, which to me, is the ideal scenario.

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