You’re Fired

One day last week, two subjects that are hot buttons to me converged. But before revealing the nature of the nexus, let me take this opportunity to spout off about the topics involved: click-throughs to Web sites and the reputation of...

One day last week, two subjects that are hot buttons to me converged. But before revealing the nature of the nexus, let me take this opportunity to spout off about the topics involved: click-throughs to Web sites and the reputation of ad agencies when it comes to human resources management.

Fuzz-e Thinking

What’s with so many marketers’ obsession with click-throughs? On one hand, you have people dumping on Web banner ads because they’re not generating a sufficiently high number of click-throughs. On the other hand, you have people getting enthused because a small percentage of souls clicked through to their corporate Web site via e-mail.

Let’s talk banners first. True, click-through rates have dropped dramatically because the novelty of banners has worn off. But the click-through rate is just one measurement of success. As long as your banner gets noticed, you’ve at least increased awareness of your company, product or service. It’s the same as prospects seeing your roadside billboard or ad on the boards of a hockey arena.

I can’t recall the last time I spotted a billboard for KitKat, then sped off to a convenience store to buy the confection. But when I happen to be at a chocolate bar stand these days, I do feel a little more familiar with KitKat because of its boards and, therefore, a little more inclined to pick one up.

It’s the same with rinkboards in hockey arenas. I’ve never seen anyone catch sight of an ad on the boards that reads ‘Sony,’ then leave the game in the first period to go buy a Walkman. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if Sony has attracted a number of hockey fans over the course of the season because of their name-reminder ads.

I’m not saying I’d prefer an increase in awareness over an increase in sales if I were a marketing manager, but I don’t think I’d call the campaign a failure if I knew eight million people had at least seen my ad.

Just as you have your banner detractors, you have your click-through cheerleaders…advertisers who think their e-mail is a resounding success simply because it enticed a relatively small percentage of recipients to visit their Web site.

One e-enthusiast I spoke with recently was all atwitter about achieving a 24 per cent click-through with his e-mail campaign…until I showed him a research paper that focused on the direct mail equivalent of a click-through (that is, opening the envelope). The percentage of recipients in the study who opened their mail: close to 90 per cent. Now, that’s something to get excited about.

Then there are the e-evangelists who are still predicting the demise of direct mail at the hothands of the Internet. My bet is they’re the children of people who predicted that the then-newfangled contraption called television would mean the end of radio, and the grandchildren of those who claimed the advent of radio would ring the death knell for magazines.

Well, the airwaves still abound with radio stations. Magazines? Each month, US$375 million worth of them are sold in the United States alone. And mailboxes around the world continue to be stuffed with more and more pieces of direct mail. To paraphrase Mark Twain, ‘The reports of direct mail’s death are greatly exaggerated.’

People experts with people problems

When I worked at ad agencies, I could never figure out why they weren’t more concerned about the satisfaction levels of their employees, especially those in the creative department and at junior levels throughout the organization.

I mean, here’s a kind of company that exists for one reason – supposedly, it can read people better than its clients can and is able, therefore, to create ads that will sell product. Plus, it has a whole department (account servicing) that specializes in being able to handle people (clients). Yet, while an agency would chastize a manufacturing client for not taking care of its machinery, thereby killing its golden goose, the same agency would think nothing of giving the goose to the machinery that produces its own product (the staff that turns out the ads that keep the agency in business).

There was a time when it was pretty bad at some shops and even at good ones. I recall the head of a major agency telling me the agency had one of the best creative staff retention rates in New York City – the department only turned over once every two years. At most companies, 100 per cent biannual churn would result in management heads rolling. But not in the world of the big agencies in those days.

Thankfully, it seems things have changed. There are now enlightened agencies employing people dedicated to managing their human resources.

The good news is, as a result of greater appreciation of the value of human resources, agency employees are going to enjoy their jobs more than ever and their employers are going to get more from their staff than ever. The bad news? Unenlightened employers who are only sucking up now because of a shortage of good people will likely revert to their old ways once the supply of personnel outstrips demand. Can you spell ‘short-sighted?’

Where the twain met

So there I was last week, musing with one person about the human resources situation in our industry and with another the next day about click-throughs. That’s when I came across something that featured both HR and the e-world. It was a memo that a dot-com had e-mailed to certain of its employees. It read in part:

‘I regret to inform you that we have been faced with needing to go through a second reduction in force….You have been affected by this reduction in force, meaning your employment with us will end effective tomorrow…’

Of course, it’s never fun to be relieved of duty, no matter how the message is conveyed. But fired by e-mail? Can you imagine what it would be like to check an e-mail from your boss and read you’ve been terminated?

Even if the employer is a dot-com that lives and dies by e-mail, its use of it in that situation is surely taking high tech a byte too far. It makes me wonder whether it signals the start of a trend in which employees are let go according to the type of business the employer is in.

If this kind of industry-appropriate dismissal does take hold, maybe direct mailers will begin sending high-hype letters to terminated personnel: ‘Tired of your old job? Had it up to here with that miserable boss? GREAT NEWS! You’re now FREE to hunt for NEW employment.’

Radio stations? Perhaps they’ll release staff by sending them a copy of the Moody Blues’ first big hit, ‘Go Now.’

And maybe poetry magazines will start issuing pink slips reading: ‘Roses are red, violets are blue. We just fired 12 people, including you.’

As I said earlier, in days gone by, many agencies weren’t known for their sensitivity to staff. But I don’t think the worst of them would have stooped to electronic dismissals, even if e-mail had existed back then.

Bob Knight is involved in e-mail and d-mail, among other marketing activities. He looks forward to the day when readers of his column can click through to him directly from the pages of Strategy Direct+Interactive. Until then, he invites you to contact him at