Staff departures don't necessarily mean loss of clients

Senior agency defections make great PRWeek stories and are marvelous fodder for industry chatter.

Senior agency defections make great PRWeek stories and are marvelous fodder for industry chatter. Carol Cone to Edelman; Lisa Sepulveda to Weber Shandwick; Bob Pearson to WCG – all riveting moves that offered a fleeting glimpse into the strategies and philosophies of their adopted firms.

There are more personal brand names on the move that we will be reporting on over the coming weeks and months - so watch this space. Top recruitment consultants and agency leaders alike are constantly scouring the organizational ranks for top talent. Massaging new recruits to leave one firm for another, at the most senior levels, can literally take years.

And they are worth it. Stars bring clout and clients. But many agencies have gotten smarter about preventing their client roster from being raided when a leader departs. Michael Lasky, a partner at Davis & Gilbert, helps his agency clients devise what he calls “protective covenants,” and what others call “restrictive covenants,” effectively contracts dictating the terms of separation, particularly as it relates to client poaching.

Lasky's use of the “protective” characterization is calculated, to signify the power of a legal construct to protect the interests, jobs, and future of the agency, and the livelihoods of its remaining employees. He argues there is a communications opportunity in executing these agreements, which must be tailored as the employee moves into more and more senior ranks in the firm. The message is clear – our people and our business come first, and we will do all that we can to protect it.

This is also a reminder that all of the buzz words that we typically reference around agency service – namely culture, training, and mission – have tangible relevance in ensuring ongoing engagements. The problem is that it is often the most senior people who embody and communicate those intangibles. To properly ensure the firm's future, these tenets have to be inculcated deeply into the organization, and reflected through action, and not just words.

Thus an agency's retention of key clients depends on much more than a signature on a piece of paper. But don't forget the piece of paper.

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