The next time your company promotes you, look closer. That added stripe may be just another way of showing you the door, without having to say “You’re fired!” the way Donald Trump would. Global advertising and media companies are creating new designations, sections and even operating geographies as a way to demote or sack their top brass or even prime them for retirement.
For many months, the buzz in the Indian market was that the CEO of a leading media agency here was on his way out. His global network denied this, but soon after appointed a managing director to take his place and gave this CEO a lofty new post at the holding company level, though the role seemed fuzzy. A few months down the line, the man is on extended leave and may next turn up as chief executive elsewhere.
A global ad group recently created a new post and appointed a chairman for its main ad agency. The existing chairman of its overall agency group, however, retains his titular position and will oversee only certain, less frontline sections of the group till he retires. The first appointment was a definite leg-up for the person concerned, and the second was not a demotion or firing—just a graceful exit route to a chief who had served the firm well.
A renowned TV broadcaster once wanted to hand over kingship to a rising star instead of its long-serving chief. It didn’t just create a new post, but actually broke the company into two. The bulk of the business went the prodigy’s way and the deposed chief got the message and shipped out—taking key talent with him. In contrast, a big local agency in branded entertainment didn’t invent any new post to oust its CEO. It used the almost-never-fails tactic of humiliation and installed a new CEO even while the old chief was still in residence.
Some agencies pink-slip their captains due to business non-performance. Others may just want younger blood and new-age thinking. But why don’t the global guys, who are considered more upfront, even abrasive, just fire people outright? The reasons are many in relationship-driven businesses such as advertising. Networks say that in more “emotional”, high-growth markets such as India, their client-relationships, pitches for new business, employee morale and future recruitment could suffer if they did this. Global mandarins are not willing to pay that high a price, and would prefer dishing out a few extra months’ salary to the side-lined chief instead.
Marion Arathoon is Mint’s advertising editor. Your feedback is welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org