April 13, 2010
 

Drag Me To Work, The Movie

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Ever wonder what your clients and fellow employees say about you when you're not around? Could your ad agency CEO handle a full-on military-style interrogation?

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Probably not. But that is not keeping senior agency management from bringing someone in to interrogate people in a kinder, gentler way; yet who with the flinch of an eye could become worse than a Gitmo-based enhanced interrogator expert. They are there to satisfy the need for clients and their agencies to slim down. This ultimately reduces the annual agency fee, though agency management doesn't mind as long as they are not part of the process. They begin their dragging you to hell, ever so innocently. They walk into your office unannounced and start asking questions without caring about your answers.

Check out this week's May 29th film premiere of "Drag Me To Hell" with Alison Lohman, for more graphic detail. She's outstanding!

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You'll find it in multiple agency holding companies, which are now employing battle-tested techniques for extracting information from their own agency account execs, media planners, account planners and creatives before they fire them. Sneaky clients and employers unmotivate subordinates. They chip away any kind of trust and respect through a system called "Mind at War." However, this "Mindset" is also being employed by young technology start-ups who have visions of grandeur in hopes to turning some early success into a multimillion-dollar business.

We live in a cutthroat world of management. It's the tough-guy stuff that will set everyone apart. Forget about the USP. Might makes right.

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Credentials and resumes today don't list the positive accomplishments an executive has made in their career. Rather, the thing that seems to impress so many is to show how many strings of employees they have cut. This type of claim is impressive-sounding, but must be verified on the net and in the blogosphere by those people who got fired by the exec. The more people who blog away at how bad their former boss was, the greater the chance that person will be elevated up the ladder versus art directors and copywriters who just won "Best of Show" at the "One Club" or at Cannes.

The premise of business ordinarily is to make deals, ideally with as many clients as possible, with margins of profit to keep your company and the families of your employees going. However, instead of focusing on brand advertising for your clients, which attracts a stimulus deep inside a potential customer's soul, many agency people are focusing on themselves and the psychic pain they're in that's impossible to defend against. Everyone is now preying on the weakest link in an organization, instead of nurturing the next generation of talent.

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Marketers are not very sympathetic to their agency. They're like your parents telling you to stop whining and eat your vegetables. "Hey, shut-up. We're keeping our business here, aren't we? You're getting paid, even if the fee is 40% lower than a year ago. Be quiet and pick up the dinner check."

Face it; you're in a kind of captivity. You wake up each day and wonder who you'll get yelled at from today. You look out the window and dream of running away--from school, from home, from your job. That is, if you still have one to run from.

How does the "Grim Reaper" (GR) do it? After all, regardless of how much this person is feared and detested, they are still human too. What is it like to deal with keeping their own head together in the face of seeing families destroyed on a face to face basis? Regardless of what they say, it's not business, it's personal. Watching a valuable and loyal employee's face right after they are told to clear out their desk and leave has to take a toll. The trick is to simply put it in "baseline" terms.

Psyche them out, quietly. Focus on the employees targeted so that they get to know roughly your normal demeanor. Then begin to aberrate your own behavior in order to suggest discomfort and stress. Do it long enough, generally 6-weeks to 3-months or so. Then once you do hand out the pick slips, the people who were fired are in some ways relieved.

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It's not about slamming walls and slicing fingers, but careful observation of human behavior, and tweaking the environment and conversation to achieve a given outcome. You don't win by screaming and yelling. There's no reason to be a harsh-bastard, since that will invite law suits which are blotches on their resume if they begin to multiply.

What works? The most telling indicators are the eyes. When the eyes move down when you pass people in the hall, that means you're ready to do the head count cut. Calculate whose body language; physiology and voice are ready to be plucked. Not so much because you're going to fire everyone. You're not. The company needs people to perform a service. However, if an employee demonstrates an abnormal amount of discomfort, the GR sits them down and tell them that while their job is safe, they have to take a pay cut of 30%. Result? The employee walks on air. They get to keep their current job and are willing to add more to their plate by taking over the responsibilities of the other poor souls who got fired; all for 70% of what they were making the week before.

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Once managers see how well the grim reaper's behavior is rewarded, they quickly turn their operating style into an organization who are "brokers of stress." Managers begin modulating their quarry's stress to intimidate people at work. It's useful toward establishing a "baseline." And it all begins by sitting down unannounced in someone's office and beginning by asking questions.

What's the effect on Madison Avenue culture? People are keeping their office doors closed.

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