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Hiring Woes? Consider $$

It's no surprise a full employment economy is making it tough to recruit agency talent. But attracting promising people to advertising, both entry-level and experienced, was getting tricky even before the economy hit full boil.

For months, the top creative spot at Y&R Advertising, New York, has gone unfilled. And Fallon McElligott, Minneapolis -- despite some well-publicized talks with top-line creatives -- has yet to tap a successor to outgoing president and creative head Bill Westbrook, who by mid-1998 intends to relinquish his full-time duties to spend more time on other pursuits, among them innkeeping.

Other creatives also have abandoned the ad business for any number of different callings in the entertainment industry. But this brain drain is not limited to the creative side; skilled talent from the account side has flowed to clients, among them former DDB Needham Worldwide and D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles executive Dawn Hudson, now with Frito-Lay.

Agencies regularly gripe that some of the brightest entry-level talent is no longer coming their way, heading instead for Wall Street or taking a run at the interactive media and software businesses.

Offering possible explanations, industry leaders suggest one reason may be the well-publicized downsizing of agencies during the last economic downturn. While that may have scared some candidates away, it is not the industry's biggest problem. After all, Wall Street downsized, too, when things got tough, but job seekers flocked back when the investment community was once again flush. Ahhh . . . money.

While it's true there are some giddy wages in the ad business -- including the $5.6 million pulled down in 1996 by Lowe Group Chairman Frank Lowe -- top executive salaries at publicly held agencies generally do not approach those of top executives at major marketers, according to the data published last week in our annual Salary Survey.

And in entry-level agency jobs, compensation has forever been on the low side, its parsimony rivaled only by journalism. Consider that an assistant media planner starts at $17,500 and an assistant account exec at $20,000. In the financial community, even less than top-tier graduates can start at $50,000 plus a signing bonus.

To keep the future of the ad business and its clients bright, agencies have to come to grips with how to attract new workers and how to retain experienced staff. Money must figure into that equation.

In sharp focus

One of the more unusual branding successes today is the A&E network, named in these pages as Advertising Age's Cable TV Marketer of the Year. Settling on just the right branding platform is always tricky, but what A&E did was build out from its top programming, the "Biography" series. That show effectively positioned the entire network in the minds of the viewing public.

To illustrate how difficult the positioning trick is, our "Brands in Trouble/Brands in Demand" case-study series, which made its debut in last week's issue, showed how even a popular icon such as Mr. Clean can't guarantee success. It is a sister Procter & Gamble Co. brand, Gain, that's enjoying gains in the marketplace, and the campaign behind that is based on a simple "show and smell" demonstration.

These examples show the vitality of an age-old marketing credo. The "big idea" is essential to winning advertising and, as A&E illustrates, it's often found by

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