Great whites need not apply

Jaws_6 Here's a sure sign the economy is picking up (at least for PR firms): large holding companies are  once again poaching fast-track managers from fleet-footed, independent shops such as mine.

It happened during the dotcom era, again in those zero interest rate, “Hey honey, let's buy a house even though neither of us has a job,” pre-market crash days and, blossomed again this spring and summer.

Sure as rain, one of our senior executives will stroll into Ed's, Ted's or my office and announce, “(Weber's) just made me a great offer.”

We'll sigh, ask about the particulars and, frankly, depending on the individual's real value, either wish them well or ask for time to prepare a counter. Sometimes they'll stay. Other times they'll split for what holding company executives tout as “the big leagues.” That line always makes me laugh.

I mention all of this because we're recruiting right now for various positions. But, guess what? We never (well 99 times out of 100) poach from holding companies. They'll take our senior people, but we won't touch theirs with a 10-foot pole. Here's why:

– Holding company executives are used to working within multi-layered, multi-department offices. In other words, they're great administrators, but depend on minions to do the heavy-lifting for them. I'll never forget a recently hired H&K alumnus innocently asking me where our research department was located. I told her SHE was the research department. We bid her adieu within three months.

– Large agency executives are incentivized, first and foremost, for serving the C-suite executives at WPP, Omnicom, Interpublic and Publicis. We need folks who live, eat and breathe the business of our clients' business.

– Last, but certainly not least, big agency types are political sharks. They have to be in order to survive. Political astuteness is a prerequisite to success (whereas it's a ticket out the front door at Peppercom). We should actually add a line to our help-wanted ads: 'Great whites need not apply'.

So, we know Andy and Richard and Patrick and Ray have unleashed their recruiting types into our waters. And, we know we'll probably lose one or two fast-trackers. But, that's the price we pay for developing smart, entrepreneurial-minded executives.

Aircraft carrier-sized firms need P.T. skippers to help them at least try to inject some innovative thinking. Whereas, staffers from the S.S. Enterprise almost always flame out on the Good Ship Peppercom.

And, that's a fact more clients and more trade publications should note. Agency recruiting is almost always a one-way street. And, great whites need not apply to our lagoon.

4 thoughts on “Great whites need not apply

  1. Thanks Ronn. Having been a former executive at Hill & Knowlton in the late 17th century, I know of what I speak. I think the thing I find most offensive is the holding company mindset that they, and they alone, play in the big leagues. While there are a few notable exceptions such as Paul Jensen at Weber, none have ever had to start a business from scratch or endured the highs and lows of entrepreneurship. In my opinion, we’re in the big leagues, not them. Holding company men and women are ‘to the manor born’. For all intents and purposes, they’re bureaucrats, not practitioners.

  2. Thanks for saying that, Julie. We are a dolphin-friendly workplace. In fact, I think I’ll start calling my business partner Flipper.

  3. Kudos for speaking out on this issue, and you say it so clearly, honestly and I agree with everything you say. I’d add that rarely do these big agencies successfully develop the talent as well as independents do, and rarely can they reach their true potential at a huge holding company (unless it means pontificating for hours).
    Thanks for speaking on this issue.
    Ronn Torossian