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January 27, 2009
Hanging-On While Your Agency Is Laying-Off
After months of reducing costs and driving revenue, senior management teams across the country find themselves forced to reduce staff in response to the current business climate. HR professionals are often called upon to facilitate the process, and over the years I’ve observed a few key traits that can help position you as a rock star an agency can’t live without, versus someone who can be made available to the industry. 
Understand Your Business. Whether Creative, Media, or Programming, there are employees who demonstrate an understanding of how the agency makes money and those who don’t have a clue. A Media Buyer fails to turn in a timesheet week after week. The Production Manager farms out a project without considering potential bandwidth internally. An Account Director takes his brother-in-law (a.k.a. “potential client”) to a fancy steakhouse for the third time this month—and expenses it to new business. All are red flags and indicators that a person doesn’t understand the bigger picture. 
Focus on New Business. I recall a time when the lay-off decision came down to two employees. They were good performers, had comparable tenure, etc. The deal breaker was that one of them had been instrumental in bringing a new client to the agency and demonstrated a passion for new business. So open up that contact list, browse through your LinkedIn and reach out to former bosses, colleagues, and clients in your network who may be open to a capabilities presentation from your agency. Volunteer for a role in the next pitch—don’t take “no thanks” for an answer even if it means getting the crew dinner and making copies! Show you have a passion for the agency’s future growth.
Look for Other Ways to Add Value. Nothing makes my head spin off my body faster than hearing the words “it’s not my job”. Anyone who keeps up that attitude won’t have a job period. Helping your clients and your agency find solutions to problems is a great boost to rock star status. We recently recognized a new employee for taking the initiative to write a trade article for a great publication, helping the agency get some additional PR. In another instance, an executive assistant volunteered to serve as account coordinator for a small project. So, how’s that agency holiday card coming along?
Nurture Relationships. Really focus on your communication with the influencers in your organization. Make sure that the team understands your contributions and commitment. Ask your boss what you should keep doing, start doing, and stop doing. Get to know what is on someone else’s plate and help out. For example, I was on a mad search for a Media Planner. I was quite impressed when a certain Copywriter sent me resumes from his former colleagues. (Granted there was a referral bonus, but I digress.) Be upbeat and positive. Bring energy rather than taking it away. The point is that the sooner you get that this business is about relationships, the more successful you’ll be. Otherwise you may get cut because your co-workers can’t stand the life suck that your presence brings to every project (and no one will have the guts to tell you that).
Demonstrate Commitment. Let’s start with the basics. I know this is advertising, but if you stroll in at ten and then immediately head out to get your Pumpkin Spice Latte, don’t think someone’s not going to catch on. Same holds true for those afternoon “off-site” meetings that no one knows anything about (that is except the bartender at your favorite pub). Now is not the time to take extra “mental health” days. Seriously, mind your p’s and q’s. Get to meetings on time, show courtesy and respect, act like you really want it. This isn’t the time to whine, gossip, and bicker. It’s time to rally together and fight to stay on top.   It’s called loyalty; and until you walk out that door for good, you should have some for the company that helps put food on your table.
There are actions you can take to make yourself a more valuable asset to your employer and reduce the chances of receiving a dreaded pink slip. Times are tough and you may end up being cut despite doing all of the above and then some, but you’ll leave with your head held up high and with very senior people eager to sing your praises. You may not be able to control what happens behind the boardroom doors, but you can do a lot to manage your professional reputation.

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As vice president of Human Resources for Slingshot in Dallas, Jackie Rodriguez leads talent strategy. Her experience includes over 10 years Hispanic marketing and account planning coupled with extensive HR leadership which includes Hilton Hotels, TGI Friday’s, and BCGI.  Jackie first joined Slingshot in 2004 leading strategic planning and now leverages her insights from the frontlines of advertising to drive an innovative and best-places-to-work culture.

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