I don’t work in advertising ( I’m in PR for my sins…) but I’ve started reading
because I’m contemplating trying to make the switch. But I’m really worried agency suits will not take me seriously. What can I do to demonstrate I’m a credible candidate? You’ve not made a good start. You seem to be slightly ashamed of being in PR (“for my sins”); and, anyway, “for my sins” is a cliché. If you approached an advertising agency in exactly the same way as you’ve approached me, any lurking prejudices they might have about public relations people would be confirmed. You come across as a bit of a loser: low in confidence and slightly apologetic about being alive.
If any ad agency is to look at you with interest, they’ll have to believe that you could add to the resource they can offer their clients. And so will you.
And maybe you can. It’s entirely possible that you have an intelligent understanding of how your clients – and specifically your clients’ CEOs – are seen by their peers, the press and parliamentarians. It’s entirely possible that, while the most senior of agency people are lucky to see a client’s chief marketing officer three times a year, you have open access to their CEO. That while agencies earn their keep by enhancing their client’s brands, you’ve been entrusted with stage-managing their AGM, which their chairman sees as the most important manifestation of the corporate brand: the brand that shareholders own, analysts analyse, recruiters scrutinise, graduates contemplate, unions challenge, financial editors dissect and parliamentary select committees summon at the merest whiff of misdemeanour. If you have a feeling for all this, and have the nous and the contacts that can help steer corporate brands safely through the treacherous shallows of capitalism, then you have a lot to offer.
Agencies probably think that you spend your time issuing ill-written press releases and pouring out prosecco. If this is true, I can’t see why any agency should want to add you to their overheads. But as a knowledgeable guide to the grownup world, not just of marketing but of business, you could be invaluable. Our biggest client is launching a drinks brand in his spare time. He is asking for significant time and effort from our agency to come up with a brand and strategy for no financial reward. He also keeps asking me to invest. I see no market for his as-yet-nonexistent brand – how do I decline without offending him? Difficult. The more you remind him that he’s abusing his position and cheating his own company of time and attention, the more sanctimonious you’ll sound. And you certainly shouldn’t invest – or at least not cash.
But you could turn this into a valuable agency training exercise. Tell your client that you’ll happily take this business on – but on your own terms. You’ll staff the account only with volunteers. Each of those volunteers will be granted an agreed number of phantom shares in the non-existent drinks business, so that they can feel they’re working for themselves. Whenever there’s a clash of priorities within the agency, paying clients will get precedence. Time sheets will be kept, with notional costs recorded.
Creating a drinks brand is an excellent test of an agency group: positioning, naming, label design, pricing, heritage are difficult enough. Getting distribution will be an unfamiliar problem for your volunteers – and they’ll be all the wiser for having encountered it.
And if the brand becomes a modest success, those phantoms will morph into real certificates and your volunteers will become shareholders.
Your unprincipled client may reject this suggestion ( I hope he doesn’t) but he can hardly be offended by it. Beware of chats: they don’t exist. Once an agency has decided it wants to hire someone, the machine is turned on. Money, f lattery, titles, f lattery, MBAs, non-contributory pension schemes and f lattery are strewn in your path. You never knew you were so wonderful – and you may never be again. Such chats can infuse you with deep-seated dissatisfaction for the rest of your working life.