Don't Get Lost in Shuffle of Shop Consolidation

If You're Getting Swallowed by a Larger Network, Here's How to Stay on Top

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In the ad business, you can never be entirely certain about where your agency stands. It could be bundled, unbundled, rebundled or scooped up by an acquisitive holding company.

What's an employee to do?

Make the best of it, career gurus and consultants say.

Of course, there are some disadvantages to working at a small company that is suddenly acquired or bundled with another. For instance, a small agency gives you more visibility than a large agency, and it's easier to get recognition for your work. Moving to a bundled agency also means that the personal relationships you've grown to count on can become less important, and it can be difficult to understand the bureaucracy at a big company.

But there are plenty of advantages to suddenly finding yourself bundled, including a larger client base, opportunities to work on a variety of businesses, access to training programs and the ability to move to different parts of the country.

So how do you make the best of it?

An important first step is to train yourself so you thoroughly understand what all the different agencies in your newly bundled company do, said Brad Karsh, president of JB Training Solutions, Chicago. That can be a challenge, he said, citing the recent Publicis bundling of Leo Burnett, Starcom MediaVest Group and Digitas on shared clients.

"Agencies tend to be siloed, so it's hard if you grew up in Leo Burnett, for example, to say, 'Forget the 30-second spot; let's do some promotions,'" Mr. Karsh said.

The way to overcome that is to seek information about the new types of business your agency will be doing -- find people who have different jobs and pick their brains about their work, Mr. Karsh said.

Another cardinal rule of how to behave if you find yourself bundled: Don't assume the relationships you have established prior to the bundling or the acquisition are going to carry over -- especially in acquisitions, where the bosses of the smaller companies are vulnerable, said Joanne Davis, president of Joanne Davis Consulting, New York.

"You need to start out from day one acting like you are at a new agency," Ms. Davis said.

That means standing out and showing your new bosses your unique talents and skills. To do that, you should meet deadlines, be accessible on the phone and spend time getting to know your new colleagues, said Chuck Sharp, managing director of analytics for digital agency ICrossing. Mr. Sharp's agency, Sharp Analytics, was acquired by ICrossing about a year ago.

"Developing personal relationships goes a long way," Mr. Sharp said. Another way to demonstrate your commitment is to set concrete goals with timelines to achieve them, he said.

Other ways to stand out: Volunteer to do projects and find time to ditch your office and meet with people face to face, Mr. Karsh said. Also, solidify your relationships with your clients by spending more time with them. Be proactive by sending them white papers and competitive updates, and keep them in the loop on agency projects, he said.

Above all, it's a good rule of thumb to always be ready for some form of bundling or an acquisition -- because it could happen to you. And if you think an acquisition or bundling is imminent, Mr. Sharp recommends talking to your boss about your desired career path and where you see yourself fitting in the new company.

"Really talk with your boss, because generally an acquisition means more opportunity," he said.
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