Agency Agony Uncle

Iris lands Starbucks creative account in Europe

Dear Uncle Carl...

Dear Uncle Carl,

Last year we designed and printed a set of agency T-shirts. It was used as a wee creative exercise during a quiet week. It was also a great bit of promotion for the agency and the feedback from the clients was cracking. This year a lot of our clients have been requesting a new one... Frankly we don’t have the time or the budget. But I don’t want to disappoint.

Do it. You are not pandering to their needs, you have created something they really like which has generated a positive and engaging response from your clients, drawing them closer to your ‘brand’ – that’s genius! Change your thinking. Don’t think; ‘don’t have time’, think; ‘it may be difficult to find the time’ but it’s not impossible, just ‘difficult’. Also don’t think of ‘budget’ when what you want to say is ‘cost’. Think of it as an investment. I suggest you are getting more positive feedback from this one, simple, creative, proactive investment of time and money than you would have received from PR, advertising, entertaining and even award wins, so keep on doing it!

Dear Uncle Carl,

Our creative director is on a huge salary. But having lost a couple of bits of business of late his workload has, shall we say, dropped. The board has broached the subject of a pay cut, which he has rebuffed. He is a great creative and a good leader, but maintaining his salary without the business to justify it could affect the business. I don’t want to lose him. What should I do?

Stop being a wuss? If he is doing the job and the client losses were not his fault then perhaps you have to ride it out. If he isn’t doing his job then you should have him on some sort of performance review surely? Also if he is creative director then I assume this is a senior position in your organisation. Isn’t he therefore part of the solution and isn’t he striving towards helping you out of this bleak time? Just to repeat myself; if he isn’t doing anything wrong and is simply well paid then that is your fault not his – you created his contract numb nuts. Have you and your fellow directors taken a pay cut, reduced your bonus, pensions etc? If so, then you are within your rights to approach your senior team to do likewise, but if not and he is doing his job then what did you expect him to do? Offer to work longer for less money? Get real.

Dear Uncle Carl,

A former client has just been appointed as marketing director of one of our biggest clients. This, you would think, is a good thing. It’s not. We parted company quite acrimoniously. Already he has called a pitch, which we are included in. There will be a lot of time needed to pitch properly, but I don’t know if it will be worth it and if we are just there as the incumbent?

It’s a toughie and a similar thing happened to my old place years ago. My concern was not the fact that I was pretty much certain we would lose, as like you, the pitch was called simply due to a change of marketing director and was no reflection on the work we were producing. My concern was the ‘emotional upheaval’ for the staff; they were being called to jump through hoops on an account where they had not put a foot wrong and ahead of us lay possibly hundreds of hours of a pitch which, in effect, we would have to contradict our current strategies in order to ‘look’ different – which made no sense at all, and all this effort would probably end in rejection. I simply went on my own to the client and explained this and said we would not be re-pitching and therefore if he saw a new strategy or creative execution he found irresistible then he should go with that and we would help with the handover. If, however, he realised we were the right partner then he could simply stay with us and no one had lost ‘face’. Tell your staff the possibilities and let them support your approach. Make the decision not to pitch as much as a team effort as any pitch itself. Personally I didn’t want to give my client the pleasure in firing us after our years of hard work.

Dear Uncle Carl,

I own an agency and have been approached by a larger group interested in buying us. I’m getting on a bit now and would like to retire, but I know I won’t get as much for the business in the current climate as I might in a year or two’s time. I have to admit, I am getting jaded with the business, so maybe me sticking around will only do it harm in the long run.

Truth is old boy, you won’t get all your cash tomorrow anyway. If they are interested in you then that must be based on your past performance and current ‘profile’ because that’s all they will be able to find in the public domain through Companies House, league tables, the press and the gossip networks, etc. They will approach you now as it’s a buyer’s market but your valuation will be based partly on past performance and more importantly future returns. So they will offer you a little cash now but then you need to ensure your final payment is made up of achieving targets going forward over the next two years probably, which sounds like it suits you.If you believe that the market and your business will improve in the next two years then you could be in for a worthwhile earn out. Just be careful over taking shares for cash and also be careful of ‘guaranteed’ repayments. Sounds like you should attend the upcoming MIN event on mergers and acquisitions – plug! Also bear in mind you are in a one horse race, maybe you should let people know you are happy to be approached – wouldn’t it be nicer to have two parties bidding instead of one party simply ‘offering’?

Dear Uncle Carl,

We’ve got a great young gun who’s going places fast – in fact, we’re worried that if we don’t earmark him for a senior role soon he’ll go. The guy’s got talent, but he can be a bit gung-ho and I’m worried that clients might find him a bit ‘green’. I think he’s capable, but he does lack experience. How do you know when someone’s ready for the step up?

Oh the exuberance of youth! It’s fantastic to have a maverick or inspired talent on your books but you can’t run the business around him. If he is impatient and feels he is due greater responsibility but you do not supply it and he fooks off-ski then so be it. There are lots of talented people out there – no individual should be bigger than your business. He may benefit from some close mentoring; find an old hand to work closely with him, someone he can learn from, someone who will ‘protect’ him. Give him the space to express himself but the guidance to excel. If he doesn’t recognise the assistance you are offering then he is simply ‘too young’ and you may have to watch him move on, but you will still have your business, your other staff and your clients.

Are you troubled? Don’t be. send your questions for uncle Carl to Or, If you wish to meet with carl to talk about your business, email him on

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