Four Questions To Ask Before You Think About Adding A Minority Partner

Agency owners want to reward their best employees and prevent them from leaving. Obviously, the best way to do both is to offer equity or to become a minority partner in the agency, right? Not so fast. Crafting a pair of golden handcuffs for a model employee sounds like a great idea, but when those handcuffs are forged from the company’s own foundation, the proposition gets dicey. A model employee might be vital to the agency’s success, but initiating the transition from worker to owner can have far-reaching consequences. In fact, the world watched it happen two years ago: Former McDonald’s CEO Don Thompson stepped down after the company saw its worst U.S. sales slump in more than 10 years. Not surprisingly, Thompson happened to be the poster child of an employee-turned-owner. Starting in 1990, he worked his way up the fast food chain’s echelons from project manager to staff director to regional manager and, eventually, to CEO. As an agency owner who’s searched for a successor myself, I’ve seen the pitfalls. Before taking the leap to take on a minority partner, ask yourself the following: 1. What is a minority partner, really? Minority partners are a myth. If you offer someone part of your business, that person will act like a fellow owner — and not a minority one. He won’t think in terms of percentage of ownership, but in terms of haves and have-nots. In his mind, even a sliver of ownership puts him in the “haves” camp, and he carries all honors and benefits thereof. In some cases, that means the minority partner brings great ideas that drive the agency to new heights. In others, he slows down operations and starts fights [...]

A Solution To The Agency Talent Dilemma

In a recent article in The Wall Street Journal, 4As President and CEO Nancy Hill commented on the talent crisis in the agency world that Unilever’s Keith Weed mentioned at Cannes Lions. Hill argued that top talent can’t afford to work for advertising agencies — where entry-level salaries are often less than their student debt load — and that client demands have created an economic environment that makes it impossible for agencies to compete with companies like Google and Microsoft for the most creative young professionals. The agency talent problem won’t be solved by throwing money at new hires — nor is it reasonable to expect clients to pay high-level fees for entry-level work. Yes, clients hold agencies hostage with cumbersome payment processes and the disintegration of the agency-of-record model, but as long as your agency is paying industry standard or better, you should be able to find good people who want to work in an agency. There isn’t a lack of talent, merely a lack of time. People seek agency jobs for many reasons, and salary is only part of it. They like flexing their creative muscles, solving business challenges, working on a variety of accounts and projects, and collaborating with smart, creative individuals.  These are the people you want to employ. The real problem isn’t that talent can’t afford to work for an agency. The problem is that most agencies look for an employee three months after they need one. The people hungry to work in agencies are out there, but you need to give yourself time to find them. When your agency signs a big client and you’re pressed to lighten the load, you often rush into hiring someone who may not be [...]

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