Tip #2: When you hire people, don’t bait the hook with “work-life balance” and then work people to death

As promised,  here is the third post (and second tip) on how to build a first-class online reputation management group. As I have mentioned, this is a series of posts that offer what I think are the keys to success in establishing, promoting or defending your company’s issues or some-good-advicereputation in the online environment.  This post deals with building the best team of people that you can – and keeping them with you for the long term.

I’m working my way towards the good stuff, but without the right people in place, you have no chance of being successful.

In the last post, I focused on how to hire the best minds you can and compensate them according to the value that they bring to the organization.

This post is somewhat related to the last.  Presuming that you have gotten past the seventh layer of hell — that is HR-meddling salary negotiations, now it’s time to think about the following honest conversation that so few agencies have with their employees:

Tip #2: When you hire people, don’t bait the hook with “work-life balance” and then work people to death.  And if they do have to work monstrous hours, compensate them creatively.

I speak from experience here.  In 15 years in the business, I worked for a lot of public relations and public affairs shops.  Like many people, I started out in a small, boutique firm, “made my bones” as Anthony Bourdain would say and then figured out that the best way to ensure a steady salary increase is to job hop about every 3-5 years.  In the process, I suppose that I was fortunate enough to be recruited in my last two jobs, I heard the familiar echoes that very quickly ring hollow:

Our employees are our most valuable asset.

We believe in work-life balance.

If you need to leave work one day for an event at your children’s school no problem.

Yeah, problem.

In retrospect, I am mad at myself for swallowing this steaming pile of bwana and taking the bait.  I actually believed this stuff at the time.  Really?  You mean, that despite the pressure of alec-baldwin-glengarry-glen-rossmanaging staff, watching their billable hours and worring about mine, I can jet off when I need to without getting the hairy eyeball?


If there is an agency out there that actually makes good on these promises, feel free to comment, but I have seen a level of either delusion or dishonesty that I discovered the two basic choices:  a) come to peace with the fact that we are automatons who are supposed to bill, bill, bill or b) unfortunately were like me, rage against The Machine and refused to be lied to.

Probably the best experience I ever had with an agency started out as sunshine and chocolate.  Sure, we worked hard, but we never lost sight of the fact that our jobs were stressful enough and that you had to mix in some fun and some breaks. Stress kills and we gotta blow off some steam.  What killed the Golden Goose was that this particular agency went private and senior people got ownership shares.  I don’t care who you are, but if you own a piece of the pie and what ends up in your bank account depends heavily on how much others work, you are going to whip them until they bleed.  So what started as a true collegial environment ended in a nasty divorce.  Because I am pig-headed, I at least wanted the firm to cop to the fact that it was NOT about the individual any more, it was about the Benjamins.  No honesty, no Mark.  So I jumped ship to a competitor and was escorted out of the building the same day.  Thanks for your dedication, Mark.  AMF.

At my next stop, I heard the line about “family friendly,” “flexible work hours, etc.”, but didn’t drink the kool aid.  I was better prepared for the truth:  when push came to shove, it was “shut up and bill.”

So the whole stream of consciousness above informed the following advice that I offer to those within agencies with the power to make a difference:

  1. Begin your working relationship with HONESTY.  Tell the truth.  Lies hurt.  And here’s a guide. “Listen, Biff.  I sincerely hope you enjoy your career here.  We’ll help you learn things, hopefully give you the tools and intellectual stimulation that keeps you learning and engaged.  We’ll throw a bonus your way every once in a while.  But never forget that this is ultimately about profit.  This is a business.  No profitability, no jobs.  So my job is to make sure that you bill enough hours (or the people under you do) to turn a profit.  Otherwise, your ass is out the door.  And feel free to engage in as many family-friendly activities as long as you bring your BlackBerry, laptop and company-sponsored umbilical cord in case your clients need you.tired-businessman
  2. Explain to people that they WILL work monstrous hours sometimes — but then tell them how you will compensate them for it.  Many of us have pulled all-nighters (willingly) to make sure that a client is happy and that there is a job well done.  But when you do enough of these, you burn out.  So tell your employee a) that your recognize that he/she will occasionally transcend normal working limits.  But then tell them a) they will HAVE to take the next day off; b) ask them what they need to rejuvenate; c) talk to them about either monetary or other perks that really mean something to them as a reward for going well above the call of duty.  Oh- and if you talk to your employee — really talk — you will learn what they like – and need.  So a $100 gift certificate to the GAP is ok, but $50 dollars in flowers is nicer if your employee likes roses.
  3. Finally, be scared as hell. If you manage a staff of smart, dedicated people, know that your business assets walk out the door every day.  And you’d better pray that they return.  So many agencies in which I have worked lose sight of this fact that should scare them straight.  If your top producers are not masochistic, the grass will always be greener somewhere else if you whip them to death or are dishonest.  And this should scare the crap out of you.

Enough of the Oprah-style confessions.  Bottom line is that the best way to have continued success for your agency is to realize that it depends heavily upon the happiness of your staff.  If they are happy, they will produce.  If they produce, you’ll make your precious numbers.

Period.  Full stop.




  1. Great post. I agree completely. If you’re lucky enough to find an employee who’s exceeding good at what they do AND willing to work nights and weekends to make a client happy… you should do everything in your power to keep them happy. Those types of people are a rarity and as any recruiter will tell you, it costs far far more to find, hire, and train a new person than it does to just retain the staff you have.

    Always remember that your employees can walk out the door and work for your competitor at any time. While raises and bonuses are obviously good incentives for them to stay, it can also be as simple as a thank you card and a day off. Anything to let them know that the hard work they’re doing isn’t going unnoticed will go a long way.

  2. Amen, brother man.

    I am literally standing and clapping.

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