Don't Let Losing Employees and New-Business Pitches Slow You Down

Like Bad Weather, These Things Happen; Be Prepared and Carry On

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Anthony DelMonte
Anthony Del Monte
When it rains, it hails.

This past month I had the following happen: It hailed on my head; we lost a new business pitch; and we lost some staff.

The hail? Scary, but pretty cool.

Losing the new-business pitch? Sucked.

We lost to a firm doing a &%$-load of spec work. That's something we don't do. The decision to do or not do spec work is subjective and it's been covered multiple times in Ad Age. To cut to the chase, we don't because we just don't. We expect potential clients to review our portfolio and case studies and focus on our ideas. The winning agency did more. They developed spec work that better illustrated their ideas. You may or may not agree, but I just can't pull the trigger on spec work in any business climate. We value our work, ideas and our resources too much to do so. For the past nine years we have been able to win new business based on our portfolio, experience and client's ability to recognize the value. We have been fortunate to work with clients who were able to recognize our value and didn't need it proven beforehand. To be honest, I sound like a jilted lover because we believed we were the best partner and know we would have excelled. The hurt has less to do with revenue and more to do with being so passionate about the opportunity. Moving on...

Losing staff? You can't keep them all. Like the hail and the missed business opportunity, losing staff is a body blow. Two of my people were poached (we smaller guys have, to the betterment of the big guys, prepped some All Stars, haven't we?), one took a reduced role to go back to school and I let one go.

Four people. Big deal right? Well, for a small agency it is a big deal. Compared to a big agency, we smaller guys have much more invested in our people. To a profound extent, our people are our second-most important asset (I would argue culture is first, but this is ying-yang thing and we can have a drink over it back in the dorm). Our people are the ones who do the work and make us succeed, so turning over a sixth of my staff is a really big deal. This is particularly difficult when you are trying to maintain an uninterrupted flow of client work while integrating new staff. Managing expectations of clients, staff and partners is hard enough when things are running swimmingly (are they ever?), but having the added burden of explaining why anyone would leave your agency makes it a little personal.

It's a given that you the reader peering into this diary post can empathize with the challenges of employee turnover and lost business. Like you, we aren't crying in our soup -- we don't have the time and sandwiches are faster. We simply brought on new personnel (lots of talent out there), which we believe makes us stronger and in the long run better off.

It's not cockiness or hubris, it's reality. Doing this work only makes sense if we're doing it with people who are fully committed and clients who value our service (we just won a big one). Our focus is the people who are in our daily lives -- existing staff and existing clients. By doing so we further strengthen the value proposition of the small agency: Interpersonal relationships allowing for rewarding work on a level stronger than the big guys could ever achieve.

Anthony Del Monte is founder and president of Squeaky Wheel Media, New York.
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