Charles Rosen got an introduction to layoffs in advertising on his first day at Cliff Freeman & Partners seven years ago.
"I'd been in entertainment and knew nothing about this industry," said Mr. Rosen, now a founding partner of New York agency Amalgamated. "Cliff called an agencywide meeting, introduced me and then 10 minutes later, went around the office and glumly laid off more than 10 people-a good chunk of the staff." Client Ameritech had merged with SBC Communications and stopped advertising.
Like all-nighters or wacky stunts staged to win new business, layoffs are one of the crazier aspects of advertising. Agencies "constrict and grow continuously," Mr. Rosen observed. "That's how this industry works."
When layoffs are necessary, good managers know who their best people are. "You aren't going to ask the client, 'Who are you close to?' That shows you don't have a clue," said David Sable, vice chairman-chief operating officer at Wunderman.
An obvious strategy for employees to avoid being lopped by the layoff ax is to let management know your value-before the blade falls. "You can point or you can put your hand up. I like people who put their hands up," Mr. Sable said. "Be the person who steps up to bat."
Employment attorney Gavin McElroy, partner at Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz, recommends negotiating at the start of a new job. "If you work for Agency X and Agency Y is wooing you, that's the best time to ask," he said. "State what you need, including a severance package, to join Agency Y."
Another tactic: Never become dependent on one piece of business. "Even if you are assigned to a single account full time, work on a new-business project so you can parlay that expertise into a new assignment if necessary," said one veteran of several agencies.
prep for job loss
Prepare yourself while you're still employed for the possibility of a future job loss by knowing your competition at other agencies. "If, say, you work on Revlon, know who's on Coty or L'Oreal at another shop," the vet advised. "If the account goes, you'll know where to sell your expertise."
Marc Lefton, 32-year-old director-creative media at Snap Marketing, New York, and co-founder of industry website Adholes.com, claims to have worked in advertising since age 14 and has been laid off several times. His rule of thumb: "Stay in touch with people."
Between freelance and full-time gigs, he figures he's worked with hundreds of people over the years. Want-ing to reconnect, he said, was the catalyst for creating Adholes.com. After all, when you're out of work, it's "weird to have to call someone you haven't spoken to in three years because you need a job," he said.
Recruiter Elizabeth Zea of Gilbert & Co., New York, recommends that before starting to network, craft your story. "Come up with a three-minute narrative on your past experience and what you are looking for next."
Pollyanna-ish though it may be, some veterans of staff reductions say being let go can be positive.
After being dropped from three jobs, copywriter Tom Mullen opted to build a free-lance business. Based in Winston-Salem, N.C., Mr. Mullen has hung his cyber-shingle at Exit3A.com. "With an online portfolio, you can just direct people to your site."
Lance Smith held dual roles at D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, running the agency's New York office and overseeing its Procter & Gamble Co. accounts as worldwide account director, when parent Publicis Groupe shuttered the D'Arcy network. Mr. Smith helped place as many staff as possible before he departed.
"I used [the process of finding jobs for others] as a way to crystallize my own interests," he said. Today, he's president of Cossette Communications in New York. "It comes down to looking in the mirror and deciding what kind of role you want to have."