Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Time, time, time ... while I look around....

Time sheets. You gotta fill 'em out in advertising, and in beauty school. In advertising you track time in order to bill clients and/or to gauge profitability. At beauty school you keep track of time in order to fulfill The Ohio State Board of Cosmetology required 1800 hours of study.

When I was at Grey, every month I'd get the "time sheet run" listing the hours "charged" on each of my businesses. It was a big stack of computer print-out and included the time of anyone who "touched" the business -- my group, creative, media, traffic, accounting, etc. (It also gave a list of the dreaded "unbillable" hard costs -- but I'll save that for another time.) The purpose of my review was to make sure everyone's hours were in line with the client contract. Said another way, I was to make sure no one was working too much. The trick was to work less than was stipulated by the contract and therefore be more profitable. This was especially difficult when 1) my core team was 100% devoted to the business and 2) I could never shake the ethical commitment to doing the best work. What I could never figure out, was how profitability can change if overhead is essentially fixed, and the client pays a retainer. I had many a conversation with EVPs and CFO's and only one would admit that the obsession with hours was pretty much bogus. And an obsession it was. The myth, I suppose, was that we would somehow bill the client for these hours -- but of course unlike the clients of attorneys, our advertising clients would never pay a fee based on hours. All I can figure is that the paradigm is a hold over from the Mad Men days when advertisers did pay by the hour -- or a huge percentage of the media buy. I was constantly searching for a more useful profitability model; never found one and so spent a lot of time crunching time sheets.

Now I punch a time clock. I didn't figure it out until day three -- you have to look through the little window and line the little box on your card up with arrow. In addition to stamped time cards I'm also required to fill out a daily time sheet keeping track of time spent on each activity. This sheet is then initialed by the instructor at the end of each day. At the end of each month the time sheets must then be reconciled. BY HAND -- there is no Excel in beauty school. Twelve columns are added, "managers" hours are isolated (and those can only show on Monday's), hours are forwarded from the previous month, "Saturdays" are recorded in a separate box. It is quite the chore. And although it takes me about twenty minutes to get my time sheet straightened out, it takes most of the class the entire morning. It's mind numbing; but at least it makes sense.

I can't help thinking -- maybe the thing we needed in an ad agency was to have people punch a time clock, and then have their time sheets initialed at the end of every day. I'm pretty sure there must be a program attorney's use for that purpose.

1 comment:

Hatchet said...

As a creative, I could never see the point in tracking our hours. It's good to know how long something typically takes us, so you know what to estimate if the client contracts on a per-project basis. However, unless they can keep me 100% busy, I'm going to put extra time toward the billable projects I have. They never turn away work, anyway, so what do they care if we can get it done in 8 hrs a day?