Want to keep great people working on your account? Read on

If you haven't experienced it firsthand, then you have at least read about it. There's a talent crunch on at the agencies....

If you haven’t experienced it firsthand, then you have at least read about it. There’s a talent crunch on at the agencies.

Boatloads have been written about it, hands have been wrung, big fat raises have been doled out, everyone has been trying to find the answer to the problem.

We’ve discussed without end the role of money, title, perks, agency atmosphere, training, life balance, yadda yadda yadda. But there’s been one point conspicuously missing from the discussion.

Dare I say it?

Clients are also responsible for staff retention within their agencies.

Ohmygod. I said it.

Agency types have a running list in their heads of shops they’d never work for. They also have a list of accounts they’d never work on. Talent can afford to be picky these days and they all talk to each other. About what a big inspiration/jerk their boss is. About what an incredible genius/evil-doer their client is.

If you’re a client looking for top talent, you want your agency to be able to attract it. And working on your business will be a big selling feature…or it won’t.

And it’s also a big retention factor. I have lots of friends who are clients. As often as I hear agency types moaning about turnover, I hear it from client types, too. Good talent needs to be happy with their work. They obtain a great deal of personal satisfaction from how they spend their time in the office. If they don’t get it at one place, they’ll move on. Because they can.

So, how can clients positively affect the acquisition and retention of good talent within their agencies? The answer – by assuring a positive and rewarding experience for the agency staff who work on their business. Here are some suggestions on how to do that.

Clearly define the role of your agency within your business. Make sure that not just the agency staff understands that role, but also that it is understood by all the members of your team who have interaction with the agency. If you need an agency that executes, make sure they know that, so they don’t waste time giving you strategic brilliance that you’re just not interested in. Or, if you’re wanting big-brain thinking and you’re getting a gaggle of yes-men doers, make it clear that they’re not giving you what you need. Otherwise, they’ll never understand why their executional excellence isn’t floating your boat.

Spend time with your agency, not only teaching them your business, but also teaching them the intricacies of your political structure. No agency type will intentionally walk into a minefield. How fun is that? But they don’t work within your offices and, more often than not, they’ll discover the political landscape through making mistakes. Mistakes that not only look bad on them, but on you, as well.

Constantly provide feedback. And make it constructive. Schedule regular performance assessments, as you would for an employee. Every agency type wants to do a good job. They need your feedback in order to know what they’re doing right so they can give you more of it. As well, they want to know what they’re doing wrong so they can fix it.

Treat them with respect. Suits, creatives, media types, production people – they’re all the same in that they’re all trying to serve you to the very best of their abilities. They come to work to be your partner, to make you look good and to make great advertising. A lot of dedication goes into those decks and layouts that cross your desk. In and of itself, that is worth respect. If the work is wrong, tell them so and why. No one minds that. But to tell them that your five-year-old could write a better strategy isn’t an approach that will elicit greatness. Besides, if your agency is that bad, it’s your own fault because you haven’t called an agency review sooner.

Give your agency the information it needs to get the job done. Lack of clear communication is a common cause of frustration between agency and client types. Are your briefs clear and focused? (And by the way, are you even giving your agency briefs?) Arming your agency with the information they need is the surest method to get precisely what you’re looking for.

Take responsibility for the work. The client/agency relationship should be a true partnership. You should have as much riding on the work as your agency does. If your agency people know you take as much ownership in their work as they do, they’ll know you’re behind them and they’ll work that much harder to please you.

I once worked on an insane piece of business. A telco, imagine that. We at the agency slaved for that client but we (almost always) loved it. Our daily contacts were appreciative and respectful of what we had to offer. They asked for input and they listened. They didn’t always agree, but we knew they were listening. This inspired us all greatly and in so doing we were often giving up great chunks of our personal lives to make sure we got the job done against seemingly insurmountable obstacles. We made miracles for them.

You know, anyone can be mediocre in this business. It’s getting to the brilliance that’s the hard part. Brilliance is not goaded. It is not a product of fear or resignation. It is inspired. It is collaborative. Brilliance is an essence that’s pervasive throughout a client/agency team.

Good talent wants to be associated with brilliance. Strive for that with your agency and all the wonderful things that result will be the carrot your agency needs to get and keep the great people you want working on your business.

Pamela Davis is a group account director at Publicis in Toronto. She can be reached at pdavis@publicis.ca or (416) 925-7644.