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Guest Article: Don’t freeze. Stay warm, hospitable and smiling

17-August-2009
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Guest Article: Don’t freeze. Stay warm, hospitable and smiling

“I will blanket the city in endless winter. First Gotham, and then the world” – Mr Freeze’s (aka Arnold Schwarzenegger) words from the ‘Batman’ movie have arrived to haunt ad agencies, ad executives and recruiters. Freeze refers to “no new recruitments” in the advertising world.

Why freeze?

As to why the freeze – agencies are uncertain of future businesses; there is pressure to improve bottom-lines; global recession, etc.

Agencies are working with less manpower. They cannot recruit, which implies that the business projections without manpower projections are indeed scary. Also, if someone leaves, replacements require multi-level sanctions (might even go to New York these days for an entry level position!). Further, if an agency needs to sack someone, they have to bear the unwanted employee.

“Allow me to break the ice. My name is Freeze. Learn it well. For it’s the chilling sound of your doom.” So, someone send the Batman a signal in the sky.

For ad executives it’s a nightmare – movements have become slow, and growth within the organisations in the form of promotions is limited. So, almost every ad(wo)man’s (mostly servicing) underlined ambition to join the client side is gaining momentum. This is leaving agencies with employees who are less passionate about making a career in advertising.

Disappointment, despair & depression are lurking around

For recruiters it is a no win situation. Their business is totally dependent on agencies recruitments, and they have been playing their cards well, rotating one candidate in different agencies. So, they are the ones who are badly hit by this. Eventually, what is seen is that they are pushing experienced people to go for jobs with less experience requirement. Effectively, these recruiters are contributing their own bit in fuelling confusion and scare in the job market place.

Thus, we have a problem, but what possibly can be the solution?

Media abounds with pronouncements by MNCs and Indian titans saying that “We know that the times are bad, but we do not intend to cut our advertising budgets (but use them more efficiently)”.

Agencies are you listening, or are the clients fibbing?

So why cry wolf?

Okay, let us not get into the marketing firms’ strategic marcomm gameplan. But for the agencies, they need to grow, and for that, they need to pitch and acquire new businesses and grow the existing ones. In both the cases you need people to manage that additional workload. Are we saying that earlier we were overstaffed (poor HRM), which agencies with a flat hierarchy have anyways never been? Should the leadership of yesteryears be crucified?

So, why are we restricting our agencies’ business heads from thinking big and gunning for big growth plans? They can’t ask for more people, they can’t replace people (can’t fire the underperformer), not proactively seek business (team is not there to handle it), creating more pressure by additional workload on every employee. Is this an apercu into sights of a cracking agency structure?

In all this mess, the other HR functions like training, etc., are non-existent. Comprehensively, the industry is spoiling its ‘employability branding’, an effect no brand managers would think of without a shudder.

The need is to decipher groundswell trends and come up with ‘relevant-today’ approaches. Buying is still happening, though led by price cuts. Disposable incomes are on the rise, though luxury items are getting a short shrift. Income patterns are changing across demographic layers. But, people are still buying.

Lifestyle changes are evident. Time spent at home is on the rise, so more eyeballs can be expected. Find different pitches and find different clients. Advertising has long been a ‘derived economy’ model, primarily because it feeds strategising of corporates. It ought to offer strategising to corporates itself. But that would happen if you consider the corporate success/ failure as your own. If the ad agency trip is to grab the larger slice of promo budgets, with no linkage to bottom-lines, it would always stagnate, especially in crisis times.

The feel-good on companies is seen by its advertising spend. You can’t allow the companies to slip on that metrics every layman compiles in his head. Not surrendering the ad budgets would sustain the faith buyers have. So, do not let the buyer get your pulse and feel you are a losing entity. And don’t let the internal customers get that feel as well. It takes years to build trust, and a few months to squander away.

Don’t freeze. Stay warm and hospitable and smiling.

(Gaurav Sood is Head of Marketing & Corporate Communication at Augmen LLC, NY.)

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