18 ways to build morale at a marketing agency (not)
Ian Lurie Dec 20 2010
Most marketing agencies are filled with the stench of fear. I’m not talking about that energized we-have-a-lot-to-do-get-moving feeling. I’m talking about “Oh, crap, what if I work here for the rest of my life?” fear, compounded by the “Oh, crap, what if the CEO decides he wants a bigger bonus this year?” fear.
I’ve worked at companies like that. It stinks.
So, based on my own personal experience at past jobs, here’s how you too can run your very own Pit of Despair:
- Scream a lot. I freely admit that, as someone who grew up in New Jersey, I can raise my voice with the best of ’em. But until you’ve been called a f#$cking moron by your boss (personal experience) or had a stapler thrown at you (anecdote from a colleague) you haven’t lived. Don’t deny your employees the experience. Let ’em have it.
- Assume the client is always, 100%, every second, right. There’s no way all of the experts you spent tons of time evaluating, interviewing and hiring could possibly know more than the person who pays you for their expertise. Noooooo. So next time the client demands animated naked mole rats on the home page, slap your account manager and say “Of course, Mr. Client, no problem.” Everyone will feel better.
- Make it clear: You are not on your staff’s side. Just in case 1-2 didn’t cover it, make sure the team understands that you are the Enemy. Dirty looks, snooping over shoulders, denying flex time and using the crappiest, carpal-tunnel-inducing furniture will all work wonders.
- Deny training. Hey, if you treat your staff like crap and then let them learn, they’re going to leave. Make sure they learn nothing. Bury them with menial crap work and deny all travel requests. Don’t even buy them a book.
- Be opaque. Never, ever let your worker bees know why you’re doing things. If they expect you to zig, zag. If they expect raises, cut their pay. Constantly imply impending financial ruin.
- Provide terrible instructions. When sending a task to an underling, make the subject line something like ‘stuff’. In the e-mail body, write “please do this” and then attach a completely ambiguous letter from a client. Even better: Just print the letter, put a large exclamation point on it and pin it to some poor sucker’s chair. They’ll find it in the morning and panic. Have a video camera ready.
- Turn the dogs on each other. Mwahahahah. Find an employee you really don’t like. Tell 3 others on her team that she’s really hurting everyone’s performance right before bonus time. Step back and watch them eat each other alive.
- Criticize in public. If someone does something wrong, declare it in the middle of the office, at peak volume (see #1). It’s a great learning experience.
- Punch the clock. Make sure everyone is in by 8 AM. At 8:01, make a list. Then personally chastise every employee who was late. Don’t forget to track lunches, too. Asking someone why they spent 47 minutes at lunch right before Christmas is a source of endless fun.
- Squelch innovation. If anyone takes on a personal project – a cool blog, or a design, or an SEO project for the company on their own time – crush them. That kind of go-getter makes everyone else feel inferior. See The Adventures of Baron Munchausen for more info. Any drive to excel must be stifled before it leads to demands for raises, smiles and high-fives.
- Be a hack and slash editor. If someone sends you something to edit, delete 3 random paragraphs, write “AWFUL” in the margins and send it back with no explanation. It’ll put a smile on your face every time.
- Outlaw weekends. Ensure that Saturday and Sunday are, at best, a time for employees to sit at home, fretting about the work piling up.
- Leer at employees of the opposite or same gender, depending on your preference. The age of Mad Men is alive and well, trust me. You won’t be alone. Again, personal experience. Well, not personal, unless someone has a strong desire for overweight, pale, somewhat damp smart asses. But witnessed, certainly.
- Keep no promises. Told everyone they’d get Christmas bonuses? Cancel ’em! Best if combined with #5.
- Discourage input. It’s your way or the highway. Never let ’em forget it.
- Encourage time sucks. On the other hand, if one person wants to take a meeting 400 miles off course and leave everyone dying on a desert island, encourage them!
- Hold lots of meetings. While I’m on the subject, be sure to have at least one grueling, 90-minute meeting per day. Be sure it involves a small, stuffy room, bad seating and chairs that squeak a lot.
- Point the finger. If a client catches on to the fact that you’re an idiot, blame your staff! Make sure you tell the client that the ‘person in question has been dealt with’. Then tell the employee you went to bat for them. This sets up a client versus employee mentality that’s a joy to watch.
Where this post came from
I was watching the Portent Horde bowl and basically have fun at our Christmas party last week, and am pretty sure that, when I die, I can be proud of one thing: I’ve built a great team.
It’s not all me, of course. And the number of great teams I split asunder in a perfect storm of stupidity boggles the mind. But finally, I’ve got a bunch of people who like working together, like what they work on, and who I like to work with.
So, instead of frustration with SEO silliness, ripoff artists, plagiarism and the like, I end this post on a positive note: Portent has a great team.
Toodles, till tomorrow.
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Ian Lurie is CEO and founder of Portent Inc. He's recorded training for Lynda.com, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Forbes.com and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, SIC and ad:Tech. Follow him on Twitter at portentint. He also just published a book about strategy for services businesses: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle. Read More