Why Agencies Should Treat their Staff Better

fco I have a friend in the industry. Let’s call him, Mr X. In fact, Mr X could be Ms X. You may know her. Or him. Or maybe not. But even if you did know Mr X, I’d be surprised if you knew Mr X’s tale of agency woe.

Now, Mr X is a smart, likeable person. His clients like him as do his colleagues. He delivers value, and consistently challenges his team to push the boundaries of their creativity. He wins work and commitment, and like many in the industry, works above and beyond the hours that he is paid for.

You’d think he’d be seen as a valuable asset. Especially in an industry where you win work based on the skills, expertise and talent of your people.

But Mr X is a contractor.

And despite winning contract extensions, inspiring the creativity of teams and maintaining a high charge out rate, the agency he works with has not paid him for months. Sure there have been dribs and drabs, but he is now out of pocket stretching back to earlier this year.

Maybe I am an idealist, but I believe in paying people for the work they do.

But the most amazing aspect of this story is the damage that this type of behaviour will do to the reputation of the agency involved. Now, even before social media, the advertising and marketing industry was full of rumour and quiet conversation. But these days, anyone with an internet connection can produce content, share their story or experience – and warn off both clients and potential employees.

Employee conversations are no longer only the secret domain of sites like 2000s icon FuckedCompany.com. And while the names may be changed to protect the innocent and guilty alike, the private wires – the DMs, emails and phone conversations – run hot.

So, next time someone contacts me to ask whether they should take a job with this agency … or next time someone rings and asks whether the agency does good work – guess what my answer is going to be?

And if social recommendation carries as much weight as we in the industry claim it does, then slowly but surely the story behind this story will get out. And the talent pool will dry up. The good and talented people will find good and talented agencies to work for, and the projects, opportunities and clients will follow.

And I bet, for every Mr or Ms X out there, there is a whole alphabet of others sitting silently in the corner eating their own self esteem. If this story resonates with you – know that you are not alone. Write your story and share your experience with others – but keep names out of it. This is, after all, a small, global industry – and we are all adept at spotting a trend.

7 thoughts on “Why Agencies Should Treat their Staff Better

  1. I think you’re being way, way too nice here, Gavin, as is Mr X. The agency in question is acting dishonestly. Unethically. They are bad businesspeople. They’re a pack of C’s.
    The key part of “contactor” is “contract”. The contractor is providing a service, and from your account he’s providing it well. In return, he gets paid money. Except that’s not happening. So the agency is in breach of their contract. They are going back on their word. They have broken the agreement. They are liars and cheats.
    That this has continued for months is outrageous.
    If the agency had trouble paying their bills when it was one month’s worth of contract fees, I doubt it’ll get any easier for them when it builds up to several months. Mr X is increasing his stake in this game of chicken in parallel with the risks rising. That needs to stop. But I suspect these dishonest people know that once they string along Mr X he can’t afford to harm their business for fear of losing all his money.
    This is where individual contractors are so vulnerable. Employees have stronger rights. Contractors can be paid more, but take all the risk.
    Maybe contractors need to beef up their memberships in professional associations who can apply pressure on the dishonest business and provide support for the exploited. Perhaps if existing professional associations aren’t doing this or are otherwise inappropriate, new ones should be created.
    Goodness, that sounds like trade unions, doesn’t it! Well, perhaps it’s about time. Glorious individuality is all well and good, and it’s great that talented people can be paid well and not just the equal wages of the lowest common denominator. But if they’re not being paid anyway.
    It would be illegal for me to suggest that an appropriate way to deal with this would be to take the owner of the agency out the back and beat the living shit out of them, so I shan’t.

  2. Mr / Ms X should issue a winding-up notice on the non-paying company. It is obvious by the company’s actions they are incapable of meeting their financial commitments when they fall due and therefore they are technically trading while insolvent.
    That should get their attention.

  3. Thanks Stil – I have always wondered why there was not some sort of collective grouping for marketing/advertising people. Contractors in almost every industry face this problem – as you point out, that’s why the pay rates are higher. Unfortunately that also comes with risk.
    I have a feeling there are more chapters to this story to be written!

  4. I agree 100% with Fi. It’s time to call this appalling practice to account.
    Seriously? In a world where the future of entire industries hangs in the balance, one would think (and hope) agencies would see their own writing on the wall.
    IMHO we need a new operating model, one where decentralized actions abound in support of the bigger plan and goal. And where every person who contributes, shares equally in the reward.
    As I once said… out of the chaos, innovation is born.
    Viva la revolution!

  5. It’s a familiar story. What I’m unsure of is two things. Firstly, Senor or Senorita X should talk with their feet. If their work ethic and reputation precedes them: let it. Then they can take appropriate action on a former employer, and their client list as ethics dictates. Secondly, your negative reviews or references – public, private or otherwise – would only harm the agency in question, making them less likely/able to pay X. It’s a catch 22.
    Someone needs to grow a pair, have some spine and say “enough’s enough” and it starts with X. No one’s going to do it for them.

  6. Thanks Alex. There’s obviously more to this story … Legal discussions, letters, escalations and so on. If a negative reputation impacts this agency, then that comes down to their actions. If it impacts the people behind that agency, then that comes down to their accountabilities and willingness (or otherwise) to resolve these sorts of issues.

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