Holding on to what you got

'Here's my two weeks' notice.'
Those are the dreaded words that no marketing manager wants to hear.
And while revolving door creative departments at agencies are well documented, leapfrogging from company to company is not an agency-specific problem: it plagues marketers as well.

‘Here’s my two weeks’ notice.’

Those are the dreaded words that no marketing manager wants to hear.

And while revolving door creative departments at agencies are well documented, leapfrogging from company to company is not an agency-specific problem: it plagues marketers as well.

Corporations spend thousands on training their marketing talent, only to have them jump ship to another marketer or an agency. It is not uncommon for a brand manager to train at Unilever, hop over to the Procter & Gamble lily pad, then to Kraft, then to Ford.

With every hop, an employer loses a big investment in time and money, so the smart companies are investing in methods to keep employees from playing the leapfrog game at all.

Some set up monetary incentive plans, others provide extensive job training, while many more simply try to keep their employees happy (and therefore productive) through family benefits or points systems that reward smart thinking.

But why do marketers hand in the dreaded two weeks’ notice in the first place? Margo Jay, VP consumer practice at Toronto-based recruiting firm Mandrake, says the problem stems from marketers who don’t put the needs of their employees first.

‘More and more people are looking for new opportunities for career advancement, and some people aren’t getting all they need; they reach a ceiling that they cannot pass – they’re sitting in stasis,’ explains Jay. ‘Fewer and fewer companies are driving strategies out of Canada, so brand managers are only executing locally. It doesn’t prepare them to run businesses at a high level, and that causes a lot of movement.’

Along with Daphne Bykerk, VP consumer division, Jay specializes in marketing hires for the consumer packaged goods sector. Together, Jay and Bykerk see over 50 resumes a week – and a lot of movement in marketing departments. The turnover rate can reach 20% at any given company, they say, and people will change jobs approximately three times in a 10 year span.

‘Companies are surprisingly inadequate at managing a career path,’ Jay adds.

While virtually all client marketers claim to have a low turnover rate, many have established some innovative programs to improve employee contentment and retention through making the workplace a more positive environment.

‘How do we retain our creative and good staff?’ asks Peter deVos, director, enterprise brand marketing for Telus in Edmonton. ‘We do that through a combination of what we call variable pay, stock options, a lot of communication and a very flat management structure. There are very few steps between you, as a creative, and the CEO. If you have a good idea, it gets around very quickly. There’s lots of recognition for good ideas.’

For deVos, recognition is key. He says Telus has set up a points system, similar to the Airmiles catalogue, for its employees. Anyone, from the CEO on down, can award points to their co-workers for a job well done. The variable pay structure is based not only on a worker’s performance, but the person’s value to the company; those same criteria also help management measure the degree of stock options awarded.

‘There’s lots of communication going on; you’re always in the loop,’ deVos says. ‘That way you feel connected, you feel recognized and you’re rewarded. Our people have taken to this very well and it helps increase team values.’

Ford of Canada, meanwhile, bolsters job satisfaction by providing its brand managers with the chance to exert critical decision making skills. John Arnone, spokesperson for the Oakville, Ontario-based car manufacturer, says giving brand managers heavy responsibility reinforces the company’s faith in them and thus makes them feel needed and in control.

‘We have half a dozen brand managers responsible for almost every product we sell in Canada; they handle almost all aspects – pricing, equipment options and allocations – and it gives them a great deal of empowerment, which contributes to a low turnover rate,’ he says.

Employee retention is an issue at smaller companies as well. Kelowna B.C.-based Sun-Rype, maker of fruit juices and snacks, has made holding on to its staff a huge priority. Since it’s located deep in the interior of Canada’s most western province, new hires must be ready to relocate away from advertising centres like Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, something that many are not prepared to do.

‘It’s an industry-wide issue and we get past it by allowing our brand managers to make real decisions. There’s no Toronto office to filter through, so you’re not caught up in a lot of bureaucracy,’ says Sun-Rype director of marketing Cameron Johnston. ‘Our compensation programs favour performance, so it keeps our people focused on their impact on the health of the company.’

Sun-Rype’s marketing department consists of 13 people, and for the two-and-a-half years Johnston’s been there, no one has left. In fact, because Sun-Rype is growing, the department has actually increased in size.

‘We manage our intellectual capital by investing in training. We take a holistic and personal approach,’ he says, adding that during the last week of May, his team attended a seminar on stress management. ‘We know there’s a life beyond these four walls. We want success in your personal life balanced with success at work.’

While Telus, Ford and Sun-Rype preach the values of a team environment and employee comfort, Toronto-based Unilever Canada doesn’t view holding on to its employees as much of a problem.

‘Historically, we’ve been very good for retention,’ says Mike Welling, Unilever’s VP of brand development, foods. ‘We invest lots of money in employee training, more than most. Keeping them challenged makes a big difference, plus we create a lot of opportunities to move back and forth within the company – that way people become the best internal ambassadors for career development.’

Not only does Unilever try to challenge its employees, it also takes a page out of Telus’ reward book. Last September, it hired Scarborough’s revered rockers, the Barenaked Ladies, to play its company-wide meeting. It also encourages charitable activities with the Unilever Canada Foundation (a charity that gives aid to youth and environmental groups) that Welling says keeps people feeling positive about the workplace.

Other large marketers, like Coca-Cola Canada and Ford, invest substantial sums in employee training in an attempt to boost retention.

Coke has its employees participate in a minimum of five days of training each year, where they attend forums on topics like diversity and maximizing performance, and the budget for that is now fixed within the company’s overall operating budget. It also tries to gauge ‘employee engagement,’ according to Coke spokesperson Kari Kerr, through annual company-wide surveys that try to measure how interested its workers really are. Random spot surveys are also conducted quarterly.

But no matter what an employer does, many employees will eventually move on. Some believe that even then a company should work on retaining others by finding out the reasons for the departure through an exit interview. But Mandrake’s Jay isn’t convinced they’re worth the time.

‘Most people are afraid to burn bridges, so the political side gets in the way,’ she says. ‘Most companies understand [their problems], but often don’t do anything about it.’