4 Ways to Build a Better Agency with Smarter Hires

By on May 14, 2013

An advertising or marketing agency can be a tough place to work: High pressure, tight deadlines, and demanding clients are all part of the daily grind. Employees who thrive under pressure, day in and day out, prosper at advertising agencies – and drive the agencies’ success as well.

That’s why a company is truly only as good as its people. And that’s also why one of the biggest risks an agency can take is hiring someone new. One hiring mistake – especially in a small- or medium-sized agency – can dramatically influence performance, profitability, and sustainability for the entire company.

Avoiding Everyday Mistakes

Many times, when an agency hiring manager looks for new talent, he will trust a gut reaction, rather than facts. And many more times, the agency representative fails to do any kind of third-party evaluation of the candidates first. That means when agencies do get a new hire right, it’s due more to luck than skill.

Here are a few more reasons for advertising and marketing agencies’ high turnover rates:

  • Hiring and firing as clients come and go.
  • Waiting too long to fire an employee who’s ruining morale and adding to co-workers’ workloads.
  • Hiring for skill rather than attitude, motivation, capacity to perform, and behavior.
  • Underestimating the importance of a cultural fit.
  • Hiring in a vacuum with little or no team input.

But that’s not all. After a bad hire occurs, the problem becomes twofold: most agencies are notoriously slow to fire an employee who’s underperforming. Usually, by the time they do pull the trigger, so much damage has occurred – to money, morale, client trust, and more – that it’s tough to recover.

This doesn’t have to be the norm. Agencies can combat high turnover – and, fortunately, it’s not difficult to do. It’s simply a question of correcting a few bad habits.

Getting It Right the First Time

So, how can an agency avoid the pitfalls of bad, uninformed hiring? By simply making the interview process clearer, more standardized, and comprehensive, it’s easy to uncover a candidate’s strengths and flaws – and to figure out who will be the best fit for your team.

1. Do a full evaluation of candidates.

At my company, Agency Management Roundtable, we partner with a company that compiles extensive research on what makes a good copywriter, account supervisor, or other agency position. They’ve built profiles and assessment tools based on the advertising industry, and their ability to accurately predict whether someone will be a good hire is uncanny. Come up with a specific list of qualities that your company needs in a position. Then, craft a list of questions that ascertains whether or not this potential hire fits the bill.

2. Formalize your interview process.

Stop chatting. Bring a list of hard-hitting questions to your interview, and stick to it. The best way to write questions is to identify key qualities that you’re looking for in a new hire: Is he giving me intelligent, specific answers? How does he work under pressure? Standardize your interview process, and ask the same set of questions every time. You’ll come out of each interview with a better idea of where each candidate’s strengths and weaknesses lie – and not just whether or not you share the same interests.

3. Involve your team.

After you’ve narrowed the field, let your team interview the final few candidates – without the owner or HR director in the room. If your staff doesn’t think the candidate’s right for the job, trust them. Don’t hire someone who isn’t a good fit with the people they’ll work with every day.

4. Feel out the candidate’s work history.

When you call to check references, don’t just ask questions about the candidate. Ask about the company he used to work for, too. If it’s a very formal organization and yours is much more casual, you may have a problem if the candidate thrived in his previous environment. Moreover, figure out how and why the candidate left his last job, and how that could impact his performance at your agency. Does he falter under too much pressure? Is he dedicated? These are all things you’ll want to know before you commit to bringing someone new on your team.

5. Put your candidates to the test.

Too few agencies actually test their final candidates. It’s not always best to roll out a physical test, though. You can screen candidates with whatever performance fits the open position: Make them present to you and your team, or come into your office and lay out a newsletter. You’ll want to see them in action before you invite them to suit up for your team.

Skills can be taught. Attitude, behaviors, and motivations can’t. You need someone with the abilities and character to thrive in your agency – and you shouldn’t let an incomplete interview process get in the way of finding the best fit for your company.

For more than 25 years, Drew McLellan has been in the advertising industry. For 18 of those years, he owned and ran his own agency. Today, McLellan leads up the  Agency Management Roundtable, which advises hundreds of small- to medium-sized advertising agencies on how to grow and build their profitability through webinars, consulting, agency tools, workshops and more.

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  1. Peter Low

    May 16, 2013 at 12:44 am

    This is definitely useful when it comes to building an agency and a business team!


    May 14, 2013 at 10:52 am

    This article has very rightly hit the nail on the head!!

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