As an owner of a communications agency, I have thought a lot about the value of the big agency structure and output, especially as it relates to people. When I started the agency, I was jealous of the big agencies. They had better offices, better cultures and better people – at least that was my perception. As we continued to fine tune our “why” as an agency, we landed on this goal of becoming the greatest midsized agency that ever existed. Why midsized? Because we felt that the intersection of big agency services with a boutique agency approach would provide the potential for life-long client relationships – ones where we are constantly fighting for result improvements quarter-over-quarter and building a team of consultants whose opinions would be seen as value-add for our accounts.
In 2009, a year after starting No Limit Agency, we recruited our first person from a big agency. When they showed up, they dressed better, talked with all the buzzwords and made us feel as if we were taking a step in the right direction for our business and for our clients.
That first agency person quit three months later.
At that time, I figured it was our fault. It was our fault for not having the better office, better culture and better people. And, truthfully, that could have been part of it. But recently, a conversation with my Vice President of Operations made me look at that hire – and many other big agency recruits – differently.
Let me explain.
Imagine taking every person from every agency in Chicago and putting them in the biggest stadium in the city. Once they’re in there, the best recruiters in the world start interviewing them and giving them personality tests to categorize their level of greatness – not just by their personal opinions, but by a science that has been invented that guarantees the finding of giants. Then, imagine my agency steps on the field and says we want the top 35 people who will mesh perfectly according to this science. Who would I get? The top 35 – not just from big agencies, but from agencies of every size. While I am sure some of those giants would come from a large agency background, I would bet that some would also come from smaller agencies. The point? Top performers should not simply be judged by the business they came from. There are plenty of people who have amazing grit, work ethic and creativity but haven’t been recruited by the old boys’ club.
It wasn’t that our agency made a mistake in not having the right office or culture, it was that we were not recruiting the best of the best from the big agencies. We were recruiting the badge and not the performance. We loved the sexiness of hiring a big agency person versus finding a kick-butt person who could run circles around that big agency hire.
We were also recruiting people who may not have been fit for this type of business at the experience level we were at. There are people who can rock an already established blueprint but struggle mightily in a growing organization that hasn’t written a proven blueprint yet.
At the end of the day, great giants are great giants. Period. No matter where they come from.