The Tale of 2 Coffee Shops

from the Not-So-Secret Writings of ScLoHo:

You are in the People Business

Posted: 19 Jul 2011 04:00 AM PDT

I started writing this in March:

No matter what you produce, provide, sell….

No matter how automated and sleek your systems are…

No matter if you wear jeans or a three piece suit…

You are in the people business.

There’s a couple of coffee shops on the same street in my town that have very different personalities.

My favorite has been in business for over 10 years and has switched coffee providers once or twice, changed some of the details and each year they seem to do a little remodeling.

They used to have live music on Friday and Saturday nights. They don’t anymore. They used to be open late on weekends. Now they close at 8pm every night. They have a couple of the original staff, and the others that work there fit in to the culture.

Most of the furniture is old, some is getting a little threadbare, but it is a comfortable place to go and get a bite to eat, a white mocha, a smile and a little conversation.

Down the street is another coffee shop that roasts their own beans and is also family owned. They moved from across the street to the same side as the first shop and expanded their offerings.

Along with having coffee, they also have a full service bar and on Friday and Saturday evenings they would have a special theme menu that would include ingredients from their garden and recipes crafted from their own chef. Coffee shop #2 really had it going for them as a place that my wife and I would often visit for dinner on Saturdays.

Not anymore.

Recently on a Saturday night at 6pm we walk in the door and notice the weekend menu’s were not out. They were on the door, but not on the tables or at the bar. The owner and his wife are usually there when we show up, but not this time.

Instead of feeling comfortable, it felt like sort of weird. The guy at the register was busy counting change, the young woman who took my wife’s drink order not only had to pull out the recipe card but had to ask what kind of liquor to use and she seemed very unsure of herself.

When I asked for a menu, they said they aren’t doing the weekend dinner menu on Saturdays, only Fridays. Which was very disappointing since the read the menu as we walked in and was trying to decide which delicious items we would enjoy. Instead we had a drink and left.

It’s now 4 months later. Neither one of us have been back. As a matter of fact, a couple of days ago, she asked me if coffee shop #2 was still in business, as we drove by on Saturday afternoon. That’s not the lasting impression you want to leave with your customers is it?

And yes, they are still in business.

Update: my wife and I visited them Friday night. Dinner was both unique and delicious. Service was a little better as one of the owners was tending the bar.

Saturday I told some friends about our Friday night experience and apparently they have done a lot of damage in their reputation beyond what I was aware of personally. These friends will never go back.

Which leads me to share once again: Where Did They Go?


Stop & Focus

I know, I know… it’s one of the busiest times of the year, right between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

But you and I need to do this.

From Marketing Profs:

Protect Profitability: Start Each Day With a Mission Statement

“Many business owners have dutifully written their vision and mission statements, working hard to craft statements with impact and importance,” writes Marla Tabaka at Inc. “But what happens to those statements?”

All too often, they’re shuffled out of sight—and out of mind. In Tabaka’s experience, many clients can’t articulate a mission statement; often, they’ve simply forgotten what they wrote in the first place.

So how can you regain—and maintain—a laser-sharp focus on your company’s raison d’être? Tabaka recommends this three-step process:

Define your true and full vision. Almost everyone starts a business with the purpose of turning a profit, but you might have additional humanitarian or environmental goals. “Certainly this isn’t true for everyone,” she notes, “but don’t negate the importance of your higher purpose if you have one.”

Use imagery to communicate the big picture. Sometimes a written statement isn’t enough. Tabaka suggests the creation of a poster board that keeps your mission front-and-center with drawings, photos or collages. “Too often the rewards connected to our goals get lost in the passion and dream of carrying out our mission,” she notes. “Give yourself permission to include meaningful symbols of the rewards you seek; money, travel, fame, respect, or whatever is important to you.”

Make your vision a daily reality. Take a few minutes each morning to ponder your visual mission statement. “Still your mind and gaze at your images, allowing your body and mind to feel and live your success,” she advises.

The Po!nt: Focus. To achieve your goals—especially in tumultuous economic times—stay true to your purpose by keeping it at the front of your mind.

Source: Inc.

The Brand called You

Drew has advice to share:

Have you built a rock solid foundation for your personal brand?

Posted: 05 Feb 2010 03:10 AM PST

95341781 Whether you work for someone else, are a serial entrepreneur or anything in between — in today’s world, you can’t afford to ignore the idea of personal branding.

A generation ago, employees often stayed with one employer for the lion’s share of their career. Today, most professionals will not work for several companies — but they will most likely change their entire profession.

And even in the unlikely case that you do find the employer of your dreams right off the bat — you still want to distinguish yourself by standing out from the crowd.

Enter personal branding.

By the way, I don’t think personal branding came about thanks to the internet. It’s been around for generations. Abe Lincoln certainly created a personal brand. So did Hitler. But, the internet certainly makes it easier for an average joe or jane to create a credible, spreadable personal brand.

But to do it right, I believe it takes intention.

When I speak to college classes, I warn them. What you put out into the world via Facebook, blogs, Twitter, MySpace, FourSquare and whatever comes next — stays out there. And it’s incredibly findable.

Two relevant facts:

  1. No matter what we want to know, we Google it. (So imagine what the next generation of managers, business owners and reporters will do).
  2. Google never forgets anything.

So given those facts…how do you intentionally build your personal brand?

Decide what you’re all about.

Note I did not say…create your brand. Just like with a company — a brand comes from your heart and soul. So dig deep and figure out who you are — that is relevant to the world. (We’re many things, some private and some for public consumption — your brand is the world’s view).

There are lots of ways to figure it out. Write your own obit, do Strength Finders, Myers Briggs or put together your own little brand task force who knows you well and loves you enough to be honest.

Determine what your personal brand looks like — off-line:

No matter who you are or what you do, odds are that you spend more time off the computer than on. So be sure that you can live the brand in your daily life, 24/7. How does it come to life (remember, this is from other’s perspective).

If your brand is that you’re a developer of others — how would a developer behave? Think of all the touchpoints you have with other people — meetings, networking, on the phone, in an employee review, etc. How does the developer brand come to life?

Evaluate your existing on-line presence:

Google yourself. Does your brand show up? Is it the most prevalent message? Scan through your old Facebook updates. Is your brand there? Are the other themes complimentary to your brand or do they feel off? What types of things are you retweeting? What do your recommendations say on LinkedIn?

Don’t just look at the subject matter. Look at language, tone, replies to others, what you do and don’t talk about, play, share with others and the online/social media tools you do and don’t frequent.

Step back and be as objective as you can. If a stranger Googled you — what would they think and know about you? Does it align with your brand?

And don’t forget your traditional old website. It may be the most content rich place for your brand to live. Do you own your own domain (like If not — grab it quick if it’s still available.

Decide where you need to be online:

Depending on your brand, your presence might be expected on a certain social media tool. Should you be writing guest blog posts for a specific site? Is tweeting resources a part of who you are/want to be perceived to be? If you’re the developer of others…how does LinkedIn figure into your plans?

Don’t overdo this. Most people do not have the time or patience to establish a deep presence on every social media site, so don’t try. Be active where you want to invest the time and where it makes sense.

Live it:

Off line, on line. Be your brand. Think about your choices. If your brand is about being the consummate, buttoned-up professional, should you be playing mafia wars or farming on a Facebook account that links you to your customers?

If your brand is about being very intellectual and deliberate — should you be firing off emotional responses to negative comments on your blog?

If your brand is about being gregarious and generous, should you be the wallflower at the networking event?

Like most things, if you did the prep work — it shouldn’t be difficult to live your brand, once you’ve gotten in the habit of keeping it top of mind. If you find that you can’t live your brand consistently or it feels fake — you probably have to go back to the drawing board and dig deeper.

Be consistent and be patient:

This isn’t going to happen overnight. The more consistent you are, the quicker your brand will not only rise to the surface but stick. But it takes time to influence opinion and influence Google. Remember…we’re living in the age of cynics. Don’t try to be something you’re not. Don’t try to force it.

Your genuine brand will come from within. All we’re trying to do is make sure that brand stays in the spotlight so you can do and be all that you’re capable of.

Planning for 2010

From the Church of the Customer Blog:

Objectives, goals, strategies and tactics

Posted: 11 Dec 2009 02:25 PM PST

It’s that time: time to create strategic plans for next year.

Most people use some form of objectives, goals, strategies and tactics for their plans, but get a group of 10 people into a room and you might have 10 different definitions of what those terms mean? That’s why agreeing on their meaning is vital to your plan. Term agreement is a lubricant to productivity.

With that in mind, here’s how we define the intention, purpose and usage of “objectives, goals, strategies and tactics” when assembling a strategic plan.


An objective is a high-level achievement. The simpler the better, like “Improve customer loyalty” or “Grow our market share.” They can also be mountain-tops of company success: “Make our brand a word of mouth success story.” They could be trying to solve a nagging, systemic problem or doing something big, like entering a new market. Objectives are a rally point for leaders who manage day-to-day efforts: “Will the idea being pitched to me help us reduce our churn?” or “Will this project help us develop a new market?” For us, objectives sit at the top of the strategic plan, and an ideal plan has no more than a handful of them. Anything more can be overload — for leaders and the people who work for them.


In our framework, a goal is anything that’s measured. Goals can be revenue, profit margin, members in a community, certifications delivered, a Net Promoter Score number, etc. Goals determine how you fulfill an objective. Multiple goals can, and should, support a single objective. A goal of “Net Promoter Score (NPS) of 59” can support multiple objectives like “become a word of mouth success story” and “deliver best-in-class service.” Just like in sports, a goal is based on numbers.


A strategy is a way to describe a series of tactics, or very specific actions. In sports or war, strategy is often described as an action: Increase troop levels in a region. Do man-to-man coverage. The commonality is action performed by a team or group of people. Each strategy description begins with a verb to signify that something is being done. Example verbs include: create, hire, develop, launch, etc. Each strategy is supported, typically, by a series of specific tactics that may or may not be linear in execution or time. Every item in our strategic planning framework begins with a verb.


A tactic is a very specific action, like creating a new program or improving an existing one. In our framework, a tactic might be “Launch a online listening program” or “Form a customer advisory board for the manufacturing group.” Each tactic has an owner who may rely on the work of multiple people in direct or dotted-line reporting relationships to make the tactic work. Each tactic typically has its own plan, too, whether laid out in a spreadsheet or a Gantt chart. Tactics are best, too, when they are preceded with a verb. Specificity is the driver to improvement.

Later: Afterward, Beth Harte raised this point: Who should own the definition of terms like objectives, goals, strategies and tactics? If you believe language is a reflection of culture, and that culture is largely driven from the top, then I would suggest definitions come from office of the CEO and/or COO. It’s from there that planning terminology, and even the planning process, should be taught clearly, succinctly and repeatedly. Beth thinks definitions could be owned by an outside association. If you have an opinion, hop into the comments.

You Can’t Reach Everyone

And the good news, is you don’t need to. Chuck McKay writes:

Reticular Activation – How the Human Anatomy Prevents Ads from Reaching “Everyone.”

One of the things guaranteed to make copywriters (and to a lesser extent media salespeople) groan is an advertiser who claims he needs to reach “everybody.”

No ad can possibly reach everybody. The human anatomy prevents it. If you have a minute, I shall happily explain why.

The Shoppers Mindset

Amazingly, most people are not poised in front of their television sets breathlessly waiting to hear of an opportunity to dump the cash from their purses into Mr. Advertiser’s cash register.

Nope. Most people are instead attempting to ignore thousands of radio ads, e-mails, product placements, signs, newspaper and television ads, billboards, matchbook covers, calendars, and the odd Rubic’s Cube with some company’s logo on it.

Out of self defense human brains are physiologically prevented from paying attention to things that don’t directly apply to them. And truthfully, most of what they see doesn’t apply.

What does apply to most people? Their kids, plans for the weekend, the empty box of corn flakes, remembering to program the TIVO, getting to the game on time, the in-laws coming to dinner, filing for an extension on the tax return, running late for work, or getting home before “Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader?

They’re eager to find information which will solve their problems, and yet, they’re not paying attention. They see and hear advertising with their eyes and ears, but they don’t consciously notice those ads.

That’s because the human brain won’t let them. Again, let me explain.

Four Sets of Brain Waves

The synapses of the human brain fire at different rates during four different mental states. They are:

1) Delta – 0.5Hz to 4 Hz – Deep Sleep.
Delta waves trigger release of growth hormone, which helps the body to heal. This is one reason sleep is critical to the healing process.

2) Theta – 4 Hz to 7 Hz – Drowsiness.
Theta states most frequently occur fleetingly as people pass from higher consciousness to deep sleep, or return from it. Theta waves occur during meditation, and have been linked to visual and emotional creativity.

3) Alpha – 8 Hz to 13 Hz – Relaxed.
The alpha state is a highly creative condition of relaxed consciousness. People in alpha state tend to recognize non-obvious relationships. Interestingly, it’s also the resonant frequency of the earth’s electromagnetic field.

4) Beta – 14 Hz to 30 Hz – Alert and focused.
The beta state is associated with peak concentration, heightened alertness, improved hand/eye coordination, and better visual acuity. During beta state new ideas and solutions to problems literally flash through the mind.

Degrees of Consciousness

The higher frequencies represent more brain activity, and require greater energy consumption. Like every other part of the body, brain activity kicks into higher performance only as necessary. The more familiar the activity a person is engaged in, the less conscious activity is necessary.

Most of us have driven to work only to note upon arrival that we have no conscious memory of the trip. Individuals who drive a lot of highway miles frequently find themselves coming up with good ideas as they drive. Daydreaming while driving is an example of the brain in theta state. It’s easily induced by the hypnotic sameness of road markings and sounds.

As long as there are no surprises on the trip, driving to work can also easily produce an alpha state. The driver is relaxed, and the familiarity of the surroundings allow the driver to sing along with the radio, or listen to conversation without planning to respond.

But imagine the car in front of our driver slamming on the brakes. Our driver immediately transitions into a state of heightened awareness, faster reflexes, and instantaneous decision making. This is clearly a beta state of peak concentration.

The Reticular Activator.

At the top of the brain stem, between the medulla oblongata and the midbrain is a collection of nerve fibers known as the ascending reticular formation. Activation of this reticular system is necessary for higher states of brain activity. Think of the reticular activating system as a sentry constantly looking out for conditions which require a conscious response. Anything important or relevant snaps the brain into higher states of consciousness, even from deep sleep.

Anyone who’s moved to a home near the railroad tracks has been awakened by a train passing late at night… for the first few nights. While the loud noise is unusual and potentially threatening, the reticular system jerks the brain from deep delta sleep to beta wide awake consciousness. After a few days, when the experience becomes commonplace, the reticular system doesn’t even bother to activate, and the resident sleeps through the night.

Mothers recognize their child’s cry even in a room full of children. The reticular system catches the familiar tones of the child’s voice, activating a beta state in the mother.

And most of us have heard someone call our name in a crowd, only to discover that the caller was trying to catch the attention of someone else with the same name. The reticular system activates a beta state at recognition of the name, and de-activates for the brain to return to alpha mode once the mistake is obvious.

Newspaper readership increases with the addition of a photo, especially when it’s a picture of people. Why? Because the reticular activating system zeros in on other people, to see if they’re familiar.

Familiar is only one of the conditions the reticular system watches for. It is also ready to draw our attention to unusual, problematic, or threatening conditions. Any of these which appear to be important or relevant activate a beta state. If the conscious mind dismisses this “false beta” as not relevant, the brain returns to a lowered state of consciousness.

Can we plant a reticular activator to trigger a beta mode state at a later time? Yes, we can.

Embed a specific sound and get your listener to recall a whole series of emotions. Law and Order’s “Doink Doink” sound when the next scene starts. The sound of Pac Man wilting at the end of play. Duracell’s three tone logo. “You’ve got mail.”

Or embed a visual cue. Since 1997 Liberty Tax Service has done no advertising other than to place people in Statue of Liberty costumes on the street in front of the franchise. From roughly the first of the year until April 15th the Statue of Liberty costume serves as an activator, reinforcing Liberty’s function, as well as this location.


Here’s an interesting fact: the effect of advertising is greatest closest to the purchase. And if you think about it, that makes sense. Remember, a purchaser only buys when she feels the gap between what she has and what she wants. If she has an empty box of cornflakes, she’ll want more corn flakes. Once she’s become aware of her need for more flakes (by pouring the last of the old flakes from the box) she will also become more aware of corn flake advertising.

What a great time to present your message. Advertise your brand on television, or send her a letter, or show her a point of purchase display. Give her a compelling reason to choose your brand while her reticular system is most likely to bring your message to her conscious attention.

But how can you predict when that metaphorical box of flakes will go empty? Unless your business is seasonal, you can’t. And that pretty much means you need a constant presence in the marketplace.

How Shoppers Use Media.

We read from left to right, from top to bottom. The eye is drawn first to photographs and headlines, seeking, finding, and sorting through the information on the page. The reader scans in alpha state for anything familiar, unusual, problematic, or threatening. When one of those conditions is noted, the reticular activator pulls the readers attention to the words or pictures, and in beta state the conscious mind weighs the evidence.

It makes no difference whether the reader is considering news stories or advertising. If further examination reinforces the condition, the reader is engaged and stays in beta state. When the content has been read, the scan through the paper continues with the reader back in alpha mode, ignoring most of what he sees.

And though the consumption pattern may differ from left to right, top to bottom, this is how we use all media. People watching TV, listening to radio, or driving past outdoor ads will switch from alpha to beta modes and back as the content triggers the reticular activating system, and is accepted or rejected by the conscious mind.

Your corn flake ad will scream for the attention of someone who’s out of corn flakes. The rest of the readers / listeners / viewers (those who don’t have an empty box, as well as those who just do not like corn flakes) will either note the ad and quickly return to alpha state, or ignore it all together.

Got it? You’ll never reach everyone with any ad. We don’t all run out of cornflakes at the same time.


Chuck McKay is a marketing consultant who helps customers discover you, and choose your business. Questions about embedding reticular activators in your advertising may be directed to

Ad Age Names Barack Obama….

Marketer of the Year, 2008. Or Perhaps it should for 2007 & 2008, since this has been one of the longest campaigns ever:

Barack Obama

Adaptable Team Stays on Message While Using Social Networking to Build Voter Roles

Published: October 17, 2008

Detractors may mock Barack Obama these days as a celebrity, a candidate who promises little more than vague abstractions such as “hope” and “change.” But no one should forget that he usurped the inevitable Clinton machine and has been considered the man to beat in this election.

Not too shabby for an African-American, first-term Democratic senator from Illinois (with the funny-sounding name) who was considered a long shot when Election 2008 got off to an early start back in 2006.

Barack Obama and David Axelrod
Photo: Jason Reed
EYES ON THE PRIZE: Barack Obama and chief strategist David Axelrod never lose sight of a consistent message.

How did he do it? The first step was taking the lessons learned from the Howard Dean campaign four years ago and turning them into internet-based fundraising that stunned Democrats and Republicans alike. In the most obvious example of what happened, Sen. Hillary Clinton, who thought that by sewing up the party’s biggest fundraisers she had closed out rivals, found not only that it didn’t matter but that the old way of raising money couldn’t compete with the new way.

That new way didn’t simply use e-mail to complement direct mail and other old-fashioned methods. The Obama campaign tapped into the latest developments of social networking. It hired Chris Hughes, one of the founders of Facebook. What the team ended up creating wasn’t simply a way to earn more money from small donors than previously thought possible; it created an Obama-specific network that took advantage of and built upon the movement-like quality of the Obama campaign. By the time other candidates on either side of the aisle got around to copying, they were too late to the party.

The website itself was a rarity for political campaigns, says Brian Collins, founder of experiential-branding firm Collins. “On one hand, it’s intimate. The language is informal. Personal. It has an inviting, matter-of-fact appeal,” he says. “On the other hand, it looks like it has scale — and momentum. It’s instantly appealing. … By contrast, [John] McCain’s site looks like a 1988 Sears circular.”

of Barack Obama’s online traffic in August came from paid search
Amount the Obama campaign spends daily on ads, almost double what McCain spends

How did all of that pay off? In July alone, the Obama campaign raised $51 million. More than 65,000 new donors contributed. His fund-raising prowess has allowed him to forgo public funding for the general election and will likely allow him to easily outspend Mr. McCain.

Mr. Obama didn’t raise all that money and vault to the top just because he’s a decent public speaker or because of a snazzy web application. He’s had some help from his opponents and help from his team.

His campaign team has had a firm grasp of branding, messaging and old-fashioned political ground organization. It’s also been able to balance mass marketing with social media and niche marketing. Mr. Obama’s team is led by chief strategist David Axelrod and campaign manager David Plouffe, both from agency AKP&D Message and Media. Mr. Axelrod, along with veteran GMMB strategist Jim Margolis, have headed the ad team. After locking up the primary campaign, Team Obama also enlisted a stable of agencies including Murphy Putnam Media, Squier Knapp Dunn Communications, Shorr Johnson Mag-nus, Dixon Davis Media and SS&K.

Message across many platforms
The campaign’s “remarkable consistency is the real accomplishment,” Mr. Collins says. “Across towns, counties, states — and with thousands of volunteers, no less — across multiple media platforms, they’ve managed to drive a potent, single-minded design and messaging coherence that should shame many national brands. I mean, this is close to a level of design strategy from a great brand like Nike or Target.” (Perhaps not so coincidentally, one of the first applications available for the new iPhone this past summer was an Obama-themed “Countdown for Change” calendar.)

The team has also gotten a boost from the kind of consumer-generated media that mainstream marketers would die for. In fact, much of this consumer-generated material has been produced by professionals. When entertainer put together a music video featuring celebrities reading an Obama speech, it climbed to the top of YouTube and sat there.

None of that is to discredit the candidate himself and the cool factor that’s built up about him. Those celebrities may seem like a liability at times, but you can bet that the Republicans wouldn’t be making such a big issue of “celebrity” if their party had a few hundred A-listers (as opposed to a handful of B-, C- and D-listers) eager to get the word out. And the Obama campaign hasn’t been shy about appropriating outside work when it fits in with the overall branding. Case in point: After artist Shepard Fairey did a few pro-Obama pieces, the Obama team reached out to the artist.

Much of that celebrity isn’t so much old-school Hollywood liberalism as much as it is youthful enthusiasm. And there, too, Mr. Obama has been able to do something Mr. Dean couldn’t quite do in 2004 — get the youth vote (as well as new voters) to actually turn up at the polls. According to Mr. Plouffe, two-thirds of those caucusing for Mr. Obama in Iowa had never caucused before.

And while the design and the cool factor and celebrity get a lot of the credit, ground organization — the political world’s version of word-of-mouth marketing — has played a key role. Consider the use of Invesco Field in Denver for the Democratic National Convention. Many focused on the visual trappings of the event. Even some Democrats worried that the venue made the candidate seem egotistical and could reinforce the image of Mr. Obama’s supporters as fanatics. But one of Mr. Plouffe’s key concerns was the 20,000-25,000 Colorado voters who attended the event — people who’d agreed to organize in the state for Mr. Obama’s presidential campaign.

And the Invesco Field event was seen as a good way to make strong inroads in Colorado. (It was also a good way to break TV viewing records, which, of course, were broken again one week later by Mr. McCain.)

Steady hand
Ultimately, like many a No. 1 brand, the Obama campaign simply acts like it’s the category leader. One of the hallmarks of the Obama campaign is that it just doesn’t panic. Faced with PR nightmares such as Jeremiah Wright and Mr. Obama’s own remarks about bitter rural voters who cling to guns and religion, the candidate didn’t stumble over himself to rush out an apology. He set the pace and stuck to it.

At times, it’s led to the candidate seeming stubborn — as with his reluctance to say anything positive about the surge in Iraq and the camp’s insistence on sticking to a “More of the same” tagline painting John McCain as a George W. Bush clone despite focus groups and polling numbers indicating that swing voters weren’t buying the claim.

But in the past few weeks, the slow, methodical approach has seemed to pay off. While Team McCain threw up ad after ad and tried to carve out a position during the financial crisis, Team Obama seemed to move at a slower pace, content to let Mr. McCain flail and then use his own words against him. Indeed, as the economy melted down and Mr. McCain’s ad messaging went 100% negative, the Obama campaign’s decision to hang onto the “More of the same” trope was starting to look like yet another piece of smart marketing.

Ad Agency Employment

Through my work with our local Advertising Federation, (of which I am currently on the Board and serve as V.P. of Communications), along with my radio station employment and a few personal friendships I have cultivated over the years, I have had the opportunity to see some of the inner workings of the advertising agency world.

Times are changing as outlined in this from

Ad Shops Shift Hiring Tactics

The Souring Economy Has Changed Many Aspects of Recruiting, Right Down to the Personalities Big Agencies Strive For

Published: September, 2008

As the economy further wilts and the demand for digital experience burgeons, Madison Avenue’s talent scouts are shifting gears to fulfill agency demands. Sharon Spielman is managing director at recruitment firm Jerry Fields Associates, a division of the Howard Sloan Koller Group, and specializes in hiring senior-level account-management and account-planning executives. The souring economy has changed many aspects of the recruiting equation, right down to the very personality types that big agencies strive for, she says.

Suzanne Daley, recruiting manager at Mullen
Suzanne Daley, recruiting manager at Mullen

“People are looking for mature, aggressive, in-command personalities,” she said, whereas in brighter times agencies were content to hire those who simply had experience in a client’s sector. “I think when the economy suffers, they’re more concerned about stability and experienced management people who can command a presence automatically. It’s their safety net.”

And it’s not just at the top where the most aggressive candidates are winning out. Even gaining an internship at a midsize agency requires, well, first having done an internship somewhere else. Suzanne Daley, recruiting manager at Wenham, Mass.-based Mullen, part of Interpublic Group, said 450 people applied for 18 internship slots last year. In past years, Mullen may have taken graduates from good schools who had no direct work experience. They also rarely looked further than New England for recruits. Now, entry-level candidates must have prior experience and are as likely to hail from California as Cape Cod.

“We are taking a hard look at the next generation and how to capture and involve them,” Ms. Daley said. “We restructured the internship to get the best from across the country.” Part of the initiative to recruit better-qualified candidates involves shifting the office to the center of Boston. The move will happen next year. The agency, which has just hired two of its interns, has become much more rigorous about evaluating open positions. “We really make sure it is needed, and the chief financial officer will take a look to see if the client work justifies it,” Ms. Daley said.

Finding the right folks is an evolving process too. In prior years, agencies might have turned simply to university ad programs and ad schools or liberal arts colleges. Now they’re employing the real-life social networks of their staff in the hunt for an edge. Lisa Donahue, CEO of MediaVest planning unit Truth and Design, said the media agency’s searches involve a combination of efforts, from posting jobs to reaching out to prospective employees, to creating roles for individuals who happen to have compelling skill sets, a strategy the agency is employing more frequently. “If you meet someone and you are struck by a great perspective, start talking to them and see how we can create a role for them. … Bring them on in,” Ms. Donahue instructs her staff.

Non-traditional hires
A case in point is Whitney Fishman, the agency’s consumer-insights connector. Brought in 18 months ago, this young entrepreneur has her own independent record label and is an ardent blogger on all manner of trend-setting topics. “If we broaden our horizons, there are a lot of good people out there. We don’t put them in an old traditional role; we put them in roles that play to their strengths,” Ms. Donahue said.

Another out-of-the box hire was Exec VP-Managing Director Greg Warren, who joined the media shop from Leo Burnett, where his experience was in creative and package design. While media pitches are generally all about numbers and charts, he helped the team think more visually about how to present the agency’s product.

Digital experience is something many candidates are seeking out as a way to make themselves more alluring to prospective employees, but Ms. Spielman says creative shops have done a poor job of helping train their staff. “Agencies haven’t gone far with training or moving people back and forth, so training has suffered, and when you come down to a poor economy, that’s when it comes to the front.”

At Taxi, New York, an office of the Toronto-headquartered agency, digital skills are in high demand. A spokeswoman said the agency is looking for people who can, for instance, design and build banner ads or microsites, but added, “It’s not just about being able to execute. It’s about being able to envision how the digital element of a campaign interacts with creative in all other mediums,” and it’s much harder to find those people. “Ideally everyone is media-agnostic,” said Mullen’s Ms. Daley. “We like to find folks who can execute brilliantly in any medium.”

Lisa Donahue, CEO of MediaVest's Truth and Design unit
Lisa Donahue, CEO of MediaVest’s Truth and Design unit

While all these trends point to a still-healthy recruitment market — pay, for instance, isn’t yet under pressure at management levels — and executives appear upbeat about the level of talent on the market, there is another major shift going on that may not benefit the major metropolitan agencies.

Beyond the metropolis
The most significant change Ms. Spielman has seen in the past six months is the willingness of talent to forgo the major cities and relocate to second-tier markets, a consequence of the credit crunch and the poor housing market. Ad executives are forgoing the New York-Chicago axis, she said, and turning instead to Austin, Atlanta and Boston. “People don’t feel like they have to live between the city limits.”

The poor economy may be creating turbulence for some, but at still-red-hot agency Crispin Porter & Bogusky, the biggest problem is keeping up with the growth, said Marlene Root, VP-director, Quality of Life, the human-resources division at the agency.

She said the company is more amenable than ever to international recruiting and is creating nontraditional positions that might involve partnership building with, say, production companies or video-game designers.

With offices in Miami and Boulder, Colo., the agency has just under 900 employees and counts Microsoft as one of its clients. “The biggest challenge is just our growth, frankly,” Ms. Root said. “There’s only so much volume you can fit through the door at a given time. It’s a good situation to be in — our growth just creates more opportunities for the agency — but we’re working against that, having to find equally talented folks,” she said.