Battle for a Great Team as Hard as You Battle for New Business

The Key Is to Have Clear Goals, and Know the Talent You Need to Reach Them

By Published on .


We have just closed a new deal. It took months, and the entire team is so happy they're giddy. It's not with Coca-Cola, Budweiser, Toyota or any other household brand. It's with Brandon.

Brandon is a new account supervisor. He's not at the most senior level of our team. But like,every teammate, he is critical to our success.

Our industry is obsessed with winning new client business, as highlighted by AMC's reality series "The Pitch." The real key to success, however, is redefining what a "win" is. It should be about the day-to-day hiring and team building that that leads to sustainable success.

We learned our lesson the hard way five years ago, after making several bad senior-level hires. We had cut corners in the process and within months were losing our mojo and our culture. We had to make serious changes and dedicated ourselves to studying the craft of hiring, with a lot of great input coming from a book called "Who?" by Geoff Smart and Randy Street.

We built an extensive, 14-step process we call The Velvet Rope. Rather than bore you with the specifics, I'll focus on the three most critical elements.

First, define a mission. We made ours simple and bold: To Lead the Advertising Revolution. It took us months to finalize and every word was carefully constructed. It affects every decision we make and helps us attract like-minded teammates. In fact, one of the opening points by Brandon during the interview process was that he wanted to help lead the revolution. It's a key point brought up by all great candidates, and it's a red flag when candidates don't discuss it.

Creating a specific mission is scary for many agencies because they don't want to limit the breadth of their potential business. But it helps us to identify what we want to do and exactly what type of people we need. We are not looking just for intelligent, hard-working or experienced staff, but for people whose interests and expertise align with our goals.

Secondly, develop a detailed hiring process, and follow every step, every time. It's tempting to cut corners. For example, in the last stage of our hiring process candidates give an in-person presentation related to a real-world marketing challenge. It's time-intensive, and given that we have offices on both coasts, it requires travel. Sometimes, we want to skip the travel and simply use Skype or a conference call for the presentation, but that threatens to compromise the integrity of the process.

Thirdly, continuously improve the process. For example, we recently recognized that one of the key attributes of our most successful teammates is that they are all highly competitive. When they're busy, they don't complain about the workload, but rather, that they are not in position to do their absolute best work. Over the coming months, we will dig deeper and figure out how we can measure for this attribute and build a process to find people that have it.

Of course, no process is perfect. Some people are great interviewees with great references, but aren't a great fit. Even with our most stringent processes, about one out of five hires turns out to be not good enough. We know that A players want to work with A players, so when we make a mistake we strive to course-correct quickly.

Even in an age of great technological change, success comes down to the quality of the team. As an agency, if you commit yourself to winning the recruiting battle as much as to winning new business, you will find yourself on an unstoppable path to success.

Jeff Rosenblum is founding partner of Questus, a digitally-led advertising agency with offices in New York and San Francisco.
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