Ask the Doctor
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There are rumors that the agency that I work for is going to shutdown. Already operations in other cities have been wound down and a very large PR business that the company had did not renew our contract. There is uncertainty all around. I have worked here for many years. The work environment was always very cordial and didn’t have much stress. But now with the possibility of the agency either shutting down or getting sold, somehow the work environment has changed. Everyone is tense and suspicious. As a result work is suffering. Every day somebody or the other resigns, not to be replaced. Hence there are many gaps in the team and our service levels to clients are getting worse every day. Clients are getting annoyed and leaving quietly. I don’t want to resign as the agency is already stressed and I have old loyalties but I don’t know if there are any other options left.
Dear P. P.,
I can quite understand your situation. Sometimes it is a tough call between loyalty and reality.
But eventually in life, reality has to prevail. If the writing on the wall is that your agency is headed to closure, sooner rather than later, you have no choice but to plan for the future. If the other offices of the agency are closed and big business has departed, then the inevitability of the situation is well-known to you. It is not nice to jump a sinking ship but if you know that the ship is going to finally go down, you have no choice but to jump off.
The bad news in such situations is that if you know that your agency is soon going to be shuttered, then most likely your peers and competitors know it too. So, when you apply outside for a job, the questions you are asked are less about you, and more about the unhappy situation at your agency and how it got that bad. Somehow, such conversation also dampens your chances in the job hunt. But take heart from the fact that there are others, too, at the agency who are resigning and have obviously got opportunities elsewhere. The reason I am saying this to you is to prepare you for what will not be surely an easy job search when you do start looking.
By looking out for options outside, you are really not being disloyal. You have yourself, and most likely a family to take care. The agency owners should have managed the business better so as not to let it falter and fail. So many families owe their life and livelihood to the company the main breadwinner works for. So, failing businesses cannot expect any bravery from employees in the form of undying loyalty. It is better to start a search and find a new job while you still have a job, than to go looking when you are unemployed. The pressure just builds up.
Write a good CV. Call all your contacts in the business. Spend enough time and energy every day to keeping the job search live and active. Your agency may not have a tomorrow. You do.
We have worked with a small agency for many years. We are actually their biggest client. My father and the owner of the agency were classmates and good friends. My father expired a few years ago and I inherited our business which has grown quite well in past years. Meanwhile, our agency has remained small and stagnant with no new skills or talent. I have gently tried to counsel my father’s friend and the agency owner but he does not seem to understand that I need far more now from him than my father did. If I move my business out, that small agency will have no choice but to fold up. I cannot bring myself to do that as I have too much of the past invested there. Tell me how to solve my problem.
I admire your loyalty and consideration for your father’s friend and associate.
I don’t think you are being unfair in demanding quality service or contemporary skills from your ad agency. It is a pity that they are not up to the task.
Since you seem to be so fond of them, and seem to be the biggest client, it is best that you spell out your problems and expectations to the old owner without any sugar coating. Get him to realize that your patience and understanding may not be infinite. Help him hire consultants to fill the gaps in the services you need and they are unable to provide. Do not allow too much leeway on the hiring of these resources. Set time and delivery deadlines and help them understand that these are non-negotiable. And to deliver to your requirements, the outside resources just have to be brought on board. If you handle it well, you may actually be able to create a win-win for all. Sometimes old owners have too much inertia. Sometimes they do not have enough outreach. With your help, you can get the agency owner to overcome some of the problems.
Should this not work, you will have no choice but to look at alternatives. However, in keeping with your strong past relationships, I suggest you add rather than replace. Let the small current agency continue, but farm out some functions like social media or PR or media buying where they are talent deficient. Give the current owner sufficient warning. Give him enough opportunity too to make course corrections. If nothing meaningful happens, remember your first loyalty is to your own business rather than theirs. Do what is good for your organization after you have given the old associate enough chances to get to the satisfactory performance.
I can understand your dilemma and possible pain. But, my friend, business is business. And eventually, it has to prevail over emotions and friendships.
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