People Skills

Whether you run a big shop or a small one, focus on TV or banner ads, chances are you are watching clients cut budgets because consumers are consuming less—despite your insightful creative. Naturally, you’re being blamed. Your revenue and share price are down. Your parent company is breathing down your neck. Your employees are wondering where their raises are.

No wonder you’re in a bad mood.

Many managers take this time to abuse their staff in classic kick-the-dog style, assuming employees have nowhere to go. You may have had to impose a wave or two of layoffs in the past year; you may go through another. People should realize they’re lucky to even have a job, right?

Have you noticed how this thinking has yet to sink in among your staffers? That they haven’t stopped asking about their raises? That they are nitpicking every other expense the agency incurs, demanding the money go toward their increases? Or, alternately, that they want expensive perks in lieu of a raise: books of car-service vouchers or fancier cell phones or the latest Palm Pilot?

It’s been a while since we’ve had an economic downturn. A significant portion of a typical ad agency’s staff has never experienced one.

A note of comfort here: The boom times generally last longer than the bust times. The economy is likely to rebound. But what will be left of your agency? Anyone can lead when times are good. It takes a special individual to rally the troops in a crisis.

There are a number of nonfinancial ways to invest in your staff.

Be nice. It doesn’t cost anything, but it’s worth a great deal. Walk the halls and say hello to people. Ask them what they’re working on. Thank them for their contributions. Smile.

Create a training program. Future stars will emerge. Nurture them. Make sure they stay long enough for you to recoup your investment.

Encourage people to take vacation. It takes the edge off.

Communicate the truth. Don’t have a rah-rah session one day and freeze salaries the next. Tell the staff where the agency is and how it plans to get through the next few months. Ask for their help.

Be careful about little things, like redecorating a senior staffer’s office. People get jealous. Make sure noticeable expenditures benefit groups of people rather than one individual.

Don’t begrudge employees the proper tools to do their jobs. A decent computer is not a perk.

If the office looks like a dump, you probably have a demoralized staff. Keep the place clean.

Promote deserving people with the understanding that a raise will follow when business improves.

Become known as the shop that is great to work for and the best people will want to work there. You will have your pick of talent and garner the kind of dedication you need to do great work in not-so-great times.

People want to be a part of something amazing. Create that environment. They don’t have many options right now, but you don’t want them feeling stuck in dead-end jobs.

Last, keep your perspective. If you run an agency, chances are you’ve seen these cycles come and go. Good times will return. Be ready.