When Advertising Is a Dangerous Profession

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This week, my Blackberry hummed as an e-mail alert from CNN.com moved into my inbox. I opened it to read that four people had been murdered in Philly. Not in a gang-related incident. Or a drug-induced, drive-by shooting. Or even for a domestic dispute. No, folks, this murder caught CNN's attention because the victims were advertising executives. (More here)

Marc Brownstein Marc Brownstein
The agency, Zigzag Net, is an interactive marketing shop, located in Philly's former Naval Yard, recently converted into hip architectural office spaces. While details of this homicide are still coming out, it appears that a man--upset about non-agency-related investments--pulled out a gun during a late-night meeting, and fired point-blank at his victims.

But what occurred to me is the specter of workplace violence. Even in an advertising agency.

Who would've thought? We think we work in one of the safest workplace environments in corporate America. Used to be that the most dangerous thing was cutting yourself with an X-acto blade. Today, the biggest threat is probably just stress. This quadruple homicide, however, is a real wake-up call.

It goes without saying, that as employers, we need to carefully screen applicants. Just because someone has a killer portfolio doesn't mean he isn't a psycho. There are many personality tests an agency can ask candidates to take. May seem crazy, as incidents like this are so rare. But who's to say this kind of violence isn't on the rise in a white-collar workplace? If someone in your agency feels as though they've somehow been screwed -- whether it's financially, in a promotion, or otherwise, they could seek to resolve it the way the Zigzag shooter did.

In my years running my agency, there have certainly been a few times when I felt truly threatened. We all hire eccentrics in our business. The nuance is to determine the difference between eccentric and mad. We ask for references that don't come on a candidate's reference list; that way, you get a more objective read on someone. And, if timing permits, we like to meet candidates for a cup of coffee -- get the individual out of the office, where he/she will more likely reveal personality traits you wouldn't observe in a standard office interview.

I feel for the Zigzag agency. While I don't know them, I can imagine what they are going through right now. And we pray for the families of the victims. For the rest of us in our industry, we should proceed with more caution in who we surround ourselves with. Sad, but true.
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