It's Safe To Return Home

Bryan Black is home again. The bond he has with Deutsch is so strong that he’s returned to the New York shop for the third time.

“I could never get it out of my skin,” says Black, who began his current stint as group creative director in July 2003 after convincing ecd Kathy Delaney he was serious about staying. “I was tired of running around. I wanted a home again, and this place always felt like that.”

Black’s may be one of the ad industry’s most extreme cases of “boomeranging,” but according to industry experts, recruiters and human resource executives, returning to former employers is a lot more common than one might expect. “While I’ve never seen an agency policy that specifically addressed rehiring, anecdotally, our member agencies say that rehiring ‘the good ones’ is a common practice,” says Tom Phelan, vp of the American Association of Advertising Agency’s Management Services Division. “An agency’s best talents may leave for an opportunity and are then rehired at different points in their careers. Keeping in touch with the best former employees, and getting them back one day, has proven to be good for company morale.” New York-based recruiter Paul Gumbinner adds that it can even look good on a resumé. “It shows there was no animosity when you left, and the company liked you enough to take you back.”

Most boomerang stories have some common threads: They departed gracefully, stayed in touch with colleagues and genuinely liked the agencies they once called home. In many cases, boomerangers first fly off to broaden their skills. As a junior copywriter in 1994, Black followed his cd and partner to Foote Cone & Belding in Philadelphia to pursue bigger projects. “[The cd] dangled TV in front of us,” says Black, 37.

Ultimately, the playbook on how to rejoin a shop begins with how you leave it. “I left on good terms, and I was very forthcoming and direct about the reasons I was leaving,” says Lisa Penelton, 42, who returned to Draft in 2003 as director of analytic services after 14 months in a similar position at GreyDirect’s suburban Chicago office. Draft’s urban location, communal environment and new blood in management drew her back. She recommends doing research before returning. “If there are reasons you left, it makes sense to ask your friends for honest input about what’s going on now,” she says.

Likewise, don’t make the mistake of assuming a former agency has written you off. Peter Hempel, managing director of DDB New York, says he tries to bring back employees he trusts and knows are good. “If you had good chemistry with people and you have the opportunity to get back with them, that’s a good thing to do,” he says.

Ogilvy & Mather in New York also benefits from rehiring employees—on occasion. “We don’t want this to be a revolving door, but we want to be open-minded and look at each situation,” says HR director Carlene Zanne. The agency considers “people who we didn’t want to lose … who resigned in a mature, professional way.”

In some cases, people who leave for professional growth return after their shops have evolved, too. Scott Scaggs left his post as senior art director at Trone in 1995 to hone his broadcast skills and work on more branding projects; at the time, the High Point, N.C., shop largely handled sales promotion, business-to-business and direct response work. Scaggs spent five years at the agencies now known as WestWayne and Mullen. In his time away, Trone also gained new expertise. “The types of accounts the agency had acquired and the level of work had come up quite a bit,” says Scaggs, 38, who returned in 2000 and is now associate creative director.

Eric Asche’s return to GSD&M took a bit less time. Asche, 33, left the Austin, Texas-based agency in 2001 to work at a local software startup called Yclip, but continued to hang out with GSD&M workers and even freelanced on a couple of its projects. After two years, he returned. “I didn’t wait for a specific day to pick up the phone to get the ball rolling,” the account director says. “The process was very natural.”

Hempel, 46, is a boomeranger himself. He first joined DDB in 1983 as an MBA trainee; and he returned last year to the very same office he was first hired in—but on the other side of the desk. “I like to think it took me 20 years to move five feet,” he says.