Liz & Sandro conclude their interview w Jeff Booher on his marketing agency horror story and discuss ways you can avoid a similar fate. We cover promises not kept, things unsaid & how to learn about a company’s culture.
Marketing Agency Horror Stories Part Two: A Culture of Failure
Liz [00:00:03] Hello and welcome back to Liz and Sandro’s Marketing Podcast. We are back with Agency Horror Stories, Part Two. Jeff is joining us again. Just a quick recap. Jeff has had leadership roles in the marketing industry for the last 15 years. He is currently employed as a marketing and business consultant and project manager. He’s back again today to share his insight on agency horror stories. In part one we talked all about the interview and some red flags to look for. And now we’re going to dive into what happens when, maybe you turn a blind eye. You accept that position and you’re actually working at an agency. How do you know that it’s not going so well? Agency horror stories. Jeff what do you have for us?
Jeff [00:00:48] So…and this is, like opening up an old wound here.
Sandro [00:00:53] Did you know there was a problem in the first day? First two weeks?
Jeff [00:00:56] Yeah, it was early, early on. I don’t remember the exact time but it was very early on. And I’m just going to share with you just certain things that I noticed, and this is kind of in no particular order, but just certain things that I noticed that, if you’re listening out there and if you do notice these things or certain things don’t seem right or if they are things that aren’t on this list but kind of similar, I just recommend, immediately, pursuing a better situation for yourself. Because don’t kid yourself, this is not a long term situation. And you know, you really shouldn’t be doing business with anybody or any company that you don’t want to be in a long term situation with. So….
Sandro [00:01:39] It sounds like you went through a traumatic experience here. PTSD.
Jeff [00:01:41] Look, I, the Kleenex is right here ready for me if I start tearing up so.
Liz [00:01:47] I get where Jeff’s at. Because again, I crossed paths with this agency as well and it’s bad. It’s bad.
Jeff [00:01:55] So let’s get to maybe the most important thing about work is your pay. There were multiple times and the first time this happened was with my first paycheck, but multiple times where the hours that I worked did not match the hours worked that was reflected on my paycheck. It was shorted. So then the money would be shorted. My offer did state that I was a salaried employee. So as long as you’re working you know over a certain amount of hours you would get the same amount of money. I was paid as an hourly employee. And the shorting on my paycheck was without notice and was without explanation.
Have to Schedule Meetings to Fix Paychecks
Jeff [00:02:36] So I would have to make, schedule a meeting with a person who was generally, would avoid me for a certain amount of time. And then the error would be fixed for the next pay, not immediately. So then I have to wait until then. And again like, I could eat and you know, pay my rent and stuff. But it was like, it was just very annoying to have, oh it’s five hundred dollars this time. And oh, it’s three hundred dollars that time and it is routinely shorted. So to where if I was paying less attention to it, I wouldn’t catch it.
Jeff [00:03:06] That was just one thing. So again like, if you’re out there and something’s messed up with your pay. I’ve heard horror stories of people not being paid, but if there’s something wrong with your pay, that doesn’t happen at a quote unquote real company. The reporting structure – I don’t want to get into specifics here because I don’t want to give away who this agency is.
Jeff [00:03:23] But there was a immediate family member that was a high level director and reported directly to the CEO. So he had immediate family members reporting to each other. And the immediate family member took on a different last name to conceal this fact. So there was a high level of nepotism and there was non transparency in the reporting structure that was not revealed to any client and not really to employees unless you were there for a while and kind of asked about it.
Liz [00:03:53] Or just knew.
Jeff [00:03:53] Yeah. You kind of found out and you’re like, okay. But it was not something that was, hey, just want to disclose this you know, for transparency and just so everybody knows. You know, kind of put it out in the open. That was not the case. OK. So let’s talk about the building itself. Kind of referred to it in the last episode where it kind of looked more like a house. But you know, people convert houses to office buildings all the time. It’s not anything out of the ordinary except this one was completely outside of any kind of OSHA Occupational Safety and Health Administration code. There was stairs that weren’t, there was no accommodation, other way to get up the stairs.
Not Remotely Wheelchair Friendly
Jeff [00:04:34] The restrooms were not accommodated for anybody with a disability. Anybody in any kind of wheelchair or needing any kind of disability accommodations would not have been provided it. And because of that, if any kind of inspector were to come in, they could shut us down immediately and it’s impossible for you to be an equal opportunity employer if you’re not making those accommodations.
Jeff [00:04:59] So it’s kind of like, you know, small timey. Oh you know, we don’t have the money to do this. But really I mean, if you’re, you can’t really be in business unless you do make these accommodations. So it’s…that was just unsettling. And I was in a position where I was interviewing candidates and I remember stressing out. Because if anybody in a wheelchair showed up we would be doomed. Oh, we didn’t have a disability parking. It was bad. Another just one more thing kind of to add to the list that you may not think about if you’re kind of new to the industry or you are new to you know applying to jobs.
Liz: Websites Need to Be ADA Friendly
Liz [00:05:31] Business, career in general, yeah.
Jeff [00:05:33] But you notice it. It’s one of those things that over the course of your tenure you’ll notice.
Liz [00:05:39] And PSA for that in general. Because I, at Wordcamp Kent back in June I attended several sessions on how to make your website I guess ADA is that the, I should know the right terminology I guess.
Jeff [00:05:52] Yeah, ADA yeah.
Liz [00:05:52] ADA compliant. Which no website will ever be 100 percent. Apparently there’s different levels and different things you can do when just following some general best practices really keeps you covered. But since that session I’ve been thinking about that. I’ve been, wow, you know, could I get into this building? Could I do this?
Jeff [00:06:10] Yeah. And I think the other thing to note with this company is they did not offer any remote work. So it was all onsite interview, onsite work. Every position was on site. When you put those restrictions to the employee in place then you need to make sure that all that stuff is taken care of. So I have a long list here. That was just a few things. So, water. As an employer you need to have a restroom, I believe? But you’re not required to provide water to your employees. Yet in every single workplace that I’ve seen big or small they at least have you know like a Brita pitcher or some kind of way to get water.
Liz [00:06:53] Or a water fountain.
Jeff [00:06:53] Some kind of water. Well, we had tap water. But right next to the tap water was a very, very fancy coffee machine that cost in excess of a couple of thousand dollars. And I was privy to the invoices. The monthly spend for the coffee was in excess of three hundred dollars. Why did we have a big fancy coffee machine and spend so much? Because our CEO drink that kind of coffee.
Jeff [00:07:16] Now if our CEO drank water, I think we’d have water from the Himalayan mountains that we would have imported to the company. Speaking of the CEO, you know, it was kind of a really ‘Me First’ culture there. I shared an office, never did not share an office. There’s two to three people per office. These are regular sized offices. These aren’t like very big offices. Yet the CEO had the two largest offices for himself.
Liz [00:07:43] Two.
Clients Over Employees
Jeff [00:07:43] Two largest ones. So that was a little bit weird. Speaking of the CEO and spend, it’s holiday time. Gotta buy the clients holiday gifts. So he bought sixteen hundred dollars in holiday gifts to the clients and it came in this big box truck, these gifts. To which he asked the staff to unload the trucks. Men only, of course. Because we’re in a, it’s equal opportunity we’re an equal. So, men only in the rain in December. Which you know, I, you want to pitch in and help out any way you can. Fine.
Jeff [00:08:17] Then I was in charge of the company party. Which I asked about and when I asked about it, he said, what’s that? So I’m like, we should have a company party, an outing and the budget for that was not sixteen hundred. It was not $1,200. It was not $1,000. Nor was it $800 or even $500. It was a fraction of what the client gifts were, it was $300 & zero time off for anybody to attend that party or any other company outing that I organized.
Sandro [00:08:46] So, it was $300 per person, was the budget.
Jeff [00:08:48] It was three hundred dollars total for 13 people. We had to have it at the office. And we basically had to bargain bin for decorations and it was…I tried. Let’s just put it that way.
Liz [00:09:01] Yeah. So rather than creating an enjoyable work environment, you know, spreading some holiday cheer, no go. Three hundred bucks.
Jeff [00:09:09] Our clients got some holiday cheer. We got nothing.
Liz [00:09:12] But you guys got nothing. No appreciation is, what I’m trying to say is appreciation was not really being shown from leadership.
People Crying & Leaving
Jeff [00:09:18] We can talk about appreciation. We can talk about appreciation. So, let’s talk about, is it okay to make someone cry at work if you’re supervising them?
Liz [00:09:28] No.
Jeff [00:09:28] I say generally no. I saw at least three people that the CEO made unapologetically cry, including director level employees. And our kind of number two person, our high ranking person walked out twice. Both times for several days we didn’t know if they had quit, if they would return. Did not, no mention, no communication. So that is indicative of a company culture that you probably want to stay away from.
Liz [00:09:56] Yes. Especially in, with what we do in digital marketing. Campaigns are running, there’s a lot of moving parts. You know, if you’re working on something for a client, like you got to know, you know is so-and-so coming back or did he quit?
Maternity or Paternity Leave?
Jeff [00:10:06] So getting on appreciation, we can talk about certain benefits. Leave. I had mentioned in the previous episode that my wife was pregnant. I had mentioned that in my interview because I know that you know, they’re legally not allowed to ask but I wanted to make sure the company knew that…
Liz [00:10:25] What was coming down the pipeline.
Jeff [00:10:25] I had some outside of work stuff that I needed to do. And I think, you know, it sets the basis for a pretty honest relationship. I was asked if I wanted any kind of paid leave for that. And which I think is a kind of weird thing to put your employee on the spot there. And I said, “I wish to work within company policy and any support would be appreciated.” I did not want to put them in a position where now I’m demanding things. I also didn’t want to put me in a position to say no. So I took three weeks off for paternity leave which I think, you know, when most companies are offering paternity leave they’re offering a month or a couple weeks at least.
Liz [00:11:04] Yeah.
Jeff [00:11:05] And I received zero dollars in my paycheck and half of my next paycheck without any kind of conversation beforehand. So I have this baby and that’s when you need money. And I see my direct deposit, it was literally zero dollars. It wasn’t like, oh we just didn’t do it. It was zero dollars zero cents in my bank account.
Liz [00:11:24] Wow.
Jeff [00:11:25] So that, you know, that’s not great. Medical benefits. So when I joined the company, he said, yes, medical benefits were happening soon. We assume you want to have those because again, the pregnant thing. Got you know, doctor’s visits. With baby, they’re mandatory. You can’t just not take your baby the doctor. You know. I don’t care what you think about vaccinations, the baby needs to go to the doctor, make sure the baby’s OK.
Liz [00:11:45] Yes.
Jeff [00:11:45] Yes, yes we’re going to have those. We were then offered medical benefits in late November. I had joined the company in January that year. So all the way to November.
Liz [00:11:57] You were waiting.
Jeff [00:11:58] And to where the company who was offering the benefits could not offer our benefits because it was beyond the open enrollment period. And then when I had left the company, a month later there were still no medical benefits. But the other thing that I wanted to say was, your boss, I’m not familiar with any, every company culture, but your boss bringing up your salary is probably in poor taste. Your boss saying, “we don’t pay you to do that,” and “we don’t paid you to,” and “you’re on the clock.” Those kind of lines are very outdated and they’re very kind of old factory worker type.
Liz [00:12:34] Right.
Brings Up How Much You Make At Every Meeting
Jeff [00:12:35] You know, “time to lean, time to clean” type of stuff. You know, like, so every single meeting I had with the CEO and I made sure that I wasn’t exaggerating when I say every, brought up how much money I made, how I was one of the highest paid employees and asked me if I thought I was returning enough value. And that was a regular conversation topic.
Liz [00:12:57] Not just during a performance interview or stay interview. It was, let’s have a check in and oh, by the way are you providing value?
Jeff [00:13:05] Yeah. And he would say, “You know, Jeff, you are um, you do make you know more than you know, a bunch of other people who’ve been here longer and you are one of the highest paid employees. Just want to make sure that you are cognizant of that and make sure you are returning value.” And would just wait for me to fill in the blanks there. It got really uncomfortable.
Liz [00:13:26] And did you have performance interviews or a stay interview? Of course not.
Jeff [00:13:30] No, no. There was never, I mean there was never any kind of stated, okay, here are your goals. Here is our, review structure. Here is what it would take to meet them. This is what it would take to exceed. Here’s what it would take if you’re, to not meet them. We never had any kind of performance related conversation at all. Except I would, we’d have a bonus conversation because I was bonus eligible. And then he’d say, “Well you didn’t do these three things,” that I first heard about in that meeting. Then I’m like, OK well. And I’d say, “Oh, how do I get the bonus the next quarter?” Like and they would be very general. And then again I would be really on it. OK, here’s the things you told me to do, I did these things and….
Liz [00:14:09] Because you are an A player. You are Jeff!
Jeff [00:14:13] Well, you want to make sure you get. You want to make sure you get what the company is offering you. You want to make sure that if you can maximize it, you do. So I was on it the next time and still it was just, it was new reasons to not give me my bonus. And then like bringing up like, “Well, you know, you did take three weeks off.” It’s, it was bad. It was just a bad situation.
Jeff [00:14:31] So anybody listening, if any of those things are happening I would definitely advise that you look elsewhere because there are better places you will get to somewhere better. You don’t have to put up with it. It doesn’t matter how important they tell you that you are. It doesn’t matter what they say to you. If they’re providing some kind of an environment that makes you uncomfortable or that you don’t agree with. Just leave. There are better places.
Liz [00:14:55] I agree. And I’ve been doing this for 10 years, I’ve come across a lot of agency employees and I’ve heard a lot of horror stories. And unfortunately what you are describing is not unique. So yeah. But if you’re in this situation, brush up your resume, get out there, start interviewing. And take Jeff’s advice during the interview process and just be very selective about who you work with because if you’re spending eight hours a day somewhere you want it to be fun, you want it to be enjoyable. You don’t want it to be a time suck.
Look for What a Company DOESN’T Say
Jeff [00:15:32] And the other thing about a company, a suspect company that I want to say – it’s about what they don’t say too. If you ask about, “What do you offer your employees, what kind of compensation package do you offer?” Which you should, don’t shy away from that question. Companies that offer a nice compensation package will want to tell you about it. They’ll want to be like, “Oh yeah, look we offer all the stuff, we offer tuition reimbursement, we offer PTO, we offer you know, professional development.” They want to go through that list. Companies that don’t will say, “Oh, we’re competitive with the industry.”
Liz [00:16:04] Yeah. Some of those things might even be on their website because they want to showcase that and really highlight.
Jeff [00:16:09] Yeah. It gives them a competitive advantage. The companies that aren’t going to state that, they’re not going to say, “Well, our benefits are too good. So we can’t, we can’t have all the top talent applying.” Like that’s what they want. So like, the companies that you see as you know, kind of the benefit leaders in the industry, you hear about them and you know about them because they have a concerted effort to get that word out.
Reach Out on Slack or Ask Around About an Employer
Sandro [00:16:31] And the other employees speak highly of it. When I reached out to a, I was thinking about joining a potential agency, I put it on a general Slack channel for a bunch of people throughout the community in Northeast Ohio and publicly they wrote me back, “Oh, it’s awesome. We love it!” Then privately I got like four private messages in Slack, people saying, “Stay away, that place is horrible.” So in the interview process, which questions should an interviewee ask the interviewer?
Jeff [00:17:01] So I would say, I would say, “What is the average tenure of somebody that works here?” Because I know in my position that there was a lot of turnover and there will be a lot of turnover for those agencies that don’t have their act together. And I would also ask, as I had alluded to in the previous episode like, I ask about what the company does in terms of like, promoting their culture. What is the company culture?
Ask About Company Culture
Jeff [00:17:26] And I would ask you know, career path. You know like, keep asking about the specifics of how the company treats their employees. They’re not gonna have specific answers if they haven’t put thought into it and it’s not a mature part of their organization, they’re going to answer in generalities. It’s more of how they answer than what you ask. If they don’t cite a specific example or if they don’t you know, speak about their employees in a very you know, in a proud way, in a very positive way, then you can see through that. Or if they monitor their employees with closed circuit television cameras. That’s not a good sign either.
Liz [00:18:06] Well thanks Jeff for sharing this info. I really think this is going to help a lot of college grads and/or anyone looking to make a change in their career. I will say that because it’s a tight labor market right now, as someone, as an employee looking for a job opportunity, like, you have the advantage. Job seekers can be pretty discerning right now. You can go into an interview and ask all of these great questions and really push the potential employer you know, to answer them. You have a lot of power right now, which is good for you. It’s hard for someone like me who’s always looking for good, for those 18 players. So yeah. But again, Jeff thank you so much. I’m glad we finally got you here. It’s been a long time in the making.
Thank You Jeff, Our First Guest
Jeff [00:18:51] I’ll come back any time. This was a privilege for me and I love the marketing podcast. I love the people who are sitting right across from me. There a lot of love in this room right now.
Sandro [00:19:02] Future guests have a lot to live up to here. Thank you again Jeff and thank you for joining us. If you have a horror story we’d love to hear it. Our email address is in the show notes. You can also reach us via Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. You will find us wherever you find your favorite podcast. If you like what you hear, we’d love a review on iTunes. And Jeff, thanks again we will be having other guests in the future. We’ll probably have Jeff back again.
Jeff [00:19:25] Yeah. Feel free to slide into my DMs. My twitter handle will be in the show notes.
Sandro [00:19:29] We’ll yeah, we’ll give out Jeff’s info too as well. You can see pictures of his beautiful baby as well. Thanks again and we’ll see you next time.