Don't Be Afraid of Letting Your Hires Rise

Small Agencies Should Be Proud To Be Launching Pads

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I just got back from Miami Beach, where I got to be a Creative in Residence for the Miami Ad School. I've always been a big fan of the school because Ron Siechrist is most responsible for the advertising schools that we now have across the country.

Bart Cleveland Bart Cleveland
When I went to school, there were maybe a handful of higher-education institutions that had an inkling of what advertising art is and how it should be taught. There was no VCU, or Creative Circus. The Art Center in L.A., along with Pratt and The New York School of Visual Arts were the best known. The school I attended, East Texas State University (now Texas A&M Commerce), had a great program. When The One Club began a student competition in the early '80s, ET won the first several years in a row.

This is what Ron Siechrist made happen on a much broader scale when he founded the Portfolio Center in Atlanta and later the Miami Ad School. Ron has continued to revolutionize how students learn what advertising is today, so it was a pleasure and an honor to be asked to teach in Miami for a week.

Several of us who write this blog have given advice on recruitment. It is a chronic problem for small agencies, especially if you are picky. We all want the best talent, but we're up against very stiff competition. A top student coming out of one of the ad schools is dreaming of landing at Crispin or BBH, not MWC. I have to show how my agency is a viable, if not better choice. I recently hired a creative team after searching for months. I saw a lot of good people, but for one reason or another they just didn't fit.

One of my veteran creative people was just hired by Mother in New York. When he came in to tell me, I already knew it was coming. This young man has made such a difference in our agency. He's grown at a meteoric rate in his abilities, and I knew one day he would be snatched away. I am delighted for him to have the chance to work at one of the industry's best agencies. I want all of the people who work for me to have the ability to move on at their discretion and to the agency of their choosing. It is a testament to the work we're doing.

That's why I try to help make the opportunity to move up happen for them. From a business perspective this is not masochistic, it's realistic. They are going to move on. By helping them, I actually keep them longer. My agency also benefits from their best efforts. I watch my employees grow in ability and confidence and it doesn't make me afraid -- it makes me happy.

Today we said goodbye to this fine employee. The entire agency celebrated his good fortune over lunch, and his final words were inspirational. He said he knew that the agency had given him the opportunity to do work at a level that Mother would appreciate and that if he hadn't come to this tiny agency in this small town, if he had gone to a big agency in a big city, it probably wouldn't have happened. He might not realize how right he is.

I suggest to all small agencies to take a similar philosophy in recruiting young talent to your agency. Tell them you will take a personal interest in their career and then make good on the promise. I don't fear that because I don't have Axe or Nike as clients my agency won't be attractive to new talent.

I have something that can be just as useful to a young person. I have an agency that can be a launch pad for his career.
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