This way of defining and categorizing people's skills and contributions is a formulaic, economic model that reduces brains and talent to a mere body count. Forget intellectual prowess, the worth of good ideas and the fact that your work helps contribute to growth, increased awareness, a better image and brand perception. Those who play this game know how to justify a larger fee (one they probably deserve anyway): Show that you need another person.
Shouldn't the goal of every client be to get that one person who has passion for his business and the talent, drive and desire to make it better, rather than several partial people who are being asked to sub-optimize their contributions? To do this, the industry must throw away the FTE calculation and consider the TQ.
What's TQ? It's the Talent Quotient. It's talent that makes the world go 'round. It's talent that companies strive to acquire. It's talent that differentiates one agency from another. It's talent that clients really want, but, for some reason, more often than not, they ask for bodies.
Consider this: Clients are creating a Hooters-like atmosphere-one where nothing above the neck really counts. Bodies only. Brains need not apply. A bit extreme? Yes. But it's worth arguing toward a new model of agency-client value creation, contribution and compensation.
When it comes to the TQ, those who have it can fulfill the role of five people. I once had a person work with me who could meet, connect and converse with clients of any level. He looked great, and knew what to wear and who to be from situation to situation. He could craft brand strategies and write copy, taglines and positioning statements, and always knew the right two words to define a brand essence. He traveled willingly, presented our work with passion and always had our back and the clients' backs covered. In my book, he had a TQ of a perfect 10. He was a cross-functional team of one. So how, I ask, is a person of talent able to be allocated to less than his whole self? How do you tell someone not to turn off her brain because she is only being asked to think on something for a quarter of a day? You don't. You can't. And that's why talent acquisition and FTE accounting are opposing elements in the quest to do great work. The client always benefits, because real talent is on 24/7. The agency is always undervalued and is forced to try to earn what it deserves by justifying body counts. Marketing teams want added value from the people who work on their businesses, but the bean counters want formulaic participation.
I would argue that, in many cases, clients really might need only one person from an agency on their business-one person who has the talent and ideas to help them achieve their goals. That one person will cost them a lot, and they will need to nurture, respect and encourage him or her, but it will be worth it tenfold.
It is time to reconcile archaic FTE accounting with the talent-driven, multidimensional world we live in today. There is more creative doing, more crossing of traditional boundaries, more thinking and contributing by talent who multitask and participate on many levels at once. Great ideas are the cultural currency that clients will profit from in the end, and attaining this level of contribution does not run on a clock or time sheet.
Let's put a typical staffing allocation formula in terms of MasterCard:
An experienced account director: FTE of 1
A sane creative team: FTE of 3.2
A person with one good idea: Priceless
The goal of clients should be to seek what is priceless at a cost agencies and their talent deserve.
If talent and compensation are not reconciled above and beyond staffing-allocation requirements, we all become nothing more than human beans.