Exit Strategies

The No. 1 reason staffers switch from one agency to another? Nope, it’s not money. Nor is it the prospect of a bigger, more flashy title. Most people are motivated by opportunities for personal growth or a better quality of life, say agency executives.

The promise of new and greater challenges proved a powerful lure for Bill Brooks, 38, who left his post as executive group director at Lowe about four years ago for Ogilvy & Mather. “I was incredibly happy at Lowe,” says Brooks, explaining that the shop treated him well and he enjoyed working on Sprite, a key account. But when a recruiter called with the opportunity to lead Ogilvy’s global American Express account, he jumped ship. “You get to a place in your career when you want to grow in a new way,” says Brooks, who had been at Lowe for almost seven years. “That’s what drew me to Ogilvy. … They think about client business and brands in a much more holistic way.”

Similarly, Tasha Space, 31, says she liked her job as a vp of strategic services at BBDO New York, her first agency post following a stint at Pfizer. But in less than two years of working primarily on the HBO and Campbell Soup accounts, “it almost became too easy,” she says. “I was on autopilot.”

Space called a headhunter, and in January she moved over to Deutsch, where she is an account planner on Snapple and Zelnorm, and once again on an upward learning curve.

For Avi Dan, 52, personal growth meant downsizing to a smaller shop, one that allowed “more room for individuality,” says the managing partner at Berlin Cameron/Red Cell. Dan joined the New York shop two years ago, after four years in business development at Saatchi & Saatchi and, before that, in account management at shops including Young & Rubicam and D’Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles.

Dan notes that he’s seen his share of agency job hoppers. “They’re never happy,” he says of the serial movers.

In contrast, Doner CEO Alan Kalter, 56, is a lifer at the Detroit agency, having started his career in its traffic department in 1967. He never left, he says, because he “liked the career path the agency made available and the sense of empowerment the agency always stood for.” To ensure the same kind of loyalty among the staff, Doner executives have asked employees how they feel about their jobs. “We wanted to know what people feel positive about and what they feel needs improvement,” says Kalter. The bottom line: While staffers said they loved the shop’s culture, they also wanted more opportunities and ways to get involved with agency business.

A reassessment of priorities has prompted a lot of recent job shifts, observes Kalter. He’s hired several executives who decided to move away from major cities in search of a less stressful place that would be more conducive to raising kids. “There was a time, pre-Sept. 11, where it was more difficult to attract top talent in any discipline to Detroit,” he says.

To those dreaming about bidding their agency goodbye, Kalter advises: “Always run to, never run from” a job. For staffers with grievances, he urges sharing complaints with managers before heading for the exit. Many times, Kalter says, superiors are unaware of the scope of the problem and will respond positively.

Advises Space: “My philosophy is, you should always go toward an opportunity when you are ready.”

Being ready includes a willingness to tackle the headaches of starting over. “People don’t like to leave home,” says Dan. “New starts are tough in any place, no matter how good you are and what skills you have. New starts mean having to make new relationships, and new relationships are tough.”

Before making a leap to a new shop, adds Ogilvy’s Brooks, do a thorough chemistry check. “You’ve really got to have smart radar about the people you are going to be working with—you spend a disproportionate amount of time with co-workers,” he says.

But while taking a new job is risky, the rewards may be surprising. “If you don’t enable yourself to be challenged and stretched,” Brooks says, “you never realize what your potential is.”