Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: I head up a successful media agency, which has recently landed one of the biggest accounts in its history.

The client has a big spend on digital and we've recently hired dozens of people to service the digital part of the business. The trouble is, there's a shortage of digital talent in the market and we've paid over-the-odds salaries for all of them. This is spreading resentment among existing members of the team. In addition, many of them come from IT backgrounds and they are not fitting in with the culture of the agency. How can I foster a better team spirit?

A: You know how everyone bangs on about the advertising business being so conservative? I'm still not sure why that should be, but it's true. The advent of commercial TV in 1955 was about the only exciting thing to happen to the advertising business in a hundred years - yet very few agencies lobbied for it, were ready for it, or even welcomed it. It took ten years for us to get used to it, whereupon it instantly became our mindless default medium. Overnight, we went from being conservatively sceptical about television to being conservatively committed to television - with no intervening period of dispassionate assessment.

Forty years later, the arrival of the internet and all things digital met with the same dogged obduracy. It stems, I think, from a combination of nervousness and snobbery. The old guard fails to understand the new stuff - doesn't even know what the words mean - and anyway regards these nerdy upstarts as socially inferior parvenus who know nothing whatever about advertising and whose time on stage will be mercifully brief.

So the fact that your digital newcomers don't mesh with the culture of your agency is both inevitable and fortunate. To have fitted in seamlessly they'd have had to be insecure conservatives themselves - and you don't find much digital talent fitting that template.

If you try to make them conform - and you succeed - your agency is doomed. To survive and prosper, you need an invigorating injection of digital derring-do. Timeless, media-agnostic truths about brands and advertising won't get lost; they'll evolve as they do in response to all new media.

And the only way you'll achieve the harmony you long for is by concentrating not on agency culture but on account group culture.

You've had the great good fortune to land a recent biggie. This biggie wants lots of digital talent and lots of pre-digital talent as well. He'll be unforgivingly critical of any warfare between them. Two strikes and you'll all be out; and quite right, too.

Get them to deliver together on this one account: and surprisingly soon - in maybe ten years or so - the rest of your agency will begin to notice. And so a new conservatism is born.

Q: I have recently taken on a new job as the chief executive of one of the largest media agencies in the UK. I have inherited a bucket-load of problems and one of the hardest to crack since coming on board three months ago has been holding on to our graduates. We spend lots of money training them up, only for most of them to end up being poached by rival agencies offering ridiculous salaries. How can we hold on to them and get the most out of our investment without resorting to paying silly salaries we can ill afford?

A: There are two kinds of loyalty, of which one actually isn't. You can try to manacle people to you with fierce and unforgiving contracts; or you can try to make them want to stay with you even in the face of lucrative alternatives. Only the second kind constitutes true loyalty. The first may function for a while but breeds deep resentment. Nobody likes feeling shackled.

Inspiring irrational loyalty is the only practical answer to your problem. It is also extremely difficult and totally time- consuming. It demands not one simple signature on a 43-page contract but an unremitting programme of thoughtfulness and success.

Here are some of the things that will make your graduates want to stay with you.

Being part of a winning team; respecting their principals, not least for their principles; having fun; continuing to learn and learn and learn; observing fairness; relishing the envy of their mates in other agencies; opportunity.

Deliver all that and you will keep as many as you deserve to. When you lose one or two, lose them gracefully - and before they go, book them in for a lunch in six month's time. You will not only learn a lot, but you will probably get them back before too long.

- "Ask Jeremy", a collection of Jeremy Bullmore's Campaign columns, is available from Haymarket, priced £10. Telephone (020) 8267 4683. Jeremy Bullmore welcomes questions via campaign@haynet.com or Campaign, 174 Hammersmith Rd, London W6 7JP.

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