Why I Want to Give Out Big Raises at My Agency

Or How to Make More Money in Advertising

By Published on .

Phil Johnson Phil Johnson
I'm here to tell you that it's still possible to make the big bucks in advertising and get a raise during a recession. You'd think the owner of an agency would want to control costs and hold down salaries. Not true. There are times I want to stuff money in people's wallets. It's more fun and more rewarding than buying real estate with no money down.

My best advice when you're looking for a raise is to ignore those newspaper columns that tell you to make a list of all your accomplishments that you can take to the boss. If you need a list, you probably didn't make much of an impression. You might also think you need to be a rainmaker to get rewarded handsomely, but closing deals is not the highest value in my book. I believe you need to look beyond pure financial accomplishments when considering a person's contribution.

I got to thinking about this recently when I sat down with an account person we were interviewing, and he asked me a very direct question: "How will you decide if I'm successful at PJA?" He caught me off guard, and at the time I fed him some malarkey about teamwork and quality and happy clients. That's all good stuff, but at most agencies you need high marks in those areas just to get an interview.

We did hire the account person, and the next time I meet with him, hopefully over a beer, this is what I want to say. You are guaranteed success if you can break through the status quo and help create change within the agency; if you can practice craftsmanship at the highest level; and if you've got the operational genius to help people get the work done and still make it home for dinner.

To expand on these ideas:

One, we desperately need people who know how to shake up the established order and drive change through the agency. Organizations seem to have some weird genetic flaw that makes them keep doing the same old stuff in the same old ways. The problem is that to be a great agency, you need to stay out in front of the changes taking place all around you. Success comes from creating work that is fresh and different than what the competition is producing. It comes from innovations in how you engage with your audiences through new or unexpected channels. It comes from knowing when to adapt the agency model to social and business changes. We'll stagnate without people who can push us out of our comfort zone and lead us into new territory, sometimes kicking and screaming.

Two, we worship craftsmanship across the board. It's the bedrock of a great agency. Craftsmen pursue perfection in every action they take. They're obsessive about knowing and using the tools of their trade. They become both inspired and envious when they see work they admire. They often hold a higher standard than both the client and even the agency management. You can't help but admire their work for its thoughtfulness, attention to detail and clarity of purpose. Obviously, you expect to find craftsmanship in the creative organization. But you should also see craftsmanship in every corner of the agency from an invoice that answers every question before it is asked, to a beautifully prepared proposal, to a creative brief that turns complexity into pure simplicity.

Three, most agencies can't tie their shoes, or get out of their our own way, without operational genius. Creativity and collaboration breed a kind of chaos that makes it challenging to run an effective business. On the other side of that chaos, the agency needs people who understand how to build processes and systems that get the work done, despite this obstacle.

Give me a good mix of those three talents, and I'm confident that we can hold our own in any environment against any competition. I'm only speaking for one agency, but at PJA the people who excel in these areas get valued above market rates and have job security in the most uncertain times. They form the core that drives our success, and I'm happy to pay them.

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You can follow Phil Johnson on Twitter: @philjohnson

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