by MarkLives (@marklives) How successful have local ad agencies been in creating positive employer reputations? What do they consider best practice, how do they measure their reputations among employees and what impact has positive employer reputation had on their ability to attract star talent? First in our panel to tackle this Big Q is Tammy Lehnberg of Avatar South Africa.

Tammy Lehnberg

Tammy LehnbergTammy Lehnberg, Avatar head of HR, is an HR professional with over 20 years’ experience, 15 of those years in advertising. Passion, innovation, determination and commitment drives her love for the profession, together with a well-balanced approach between financial and human capital.

Employer brands in adland — crucial, necessary, differentiating work that is becoming more and more important in the talent war. And the ones who are getting it right? The independents. The local ad agencies are much more successful in creating a really authentic culture that embraces an understanding of our diversity in the workplace and addresses the needs of our complex history.

Inherent understanding

Locally, we have an inherent understanding and appreciation of what makes us unique, and how we contribute to transformation, from cultural to religious diversification, whereas (and I speak generally) international agencies want to roll out a value system and brand appreciation as a one-size-fits-all across all the markets.

According to Katherine Conway, AON head of diversity and inclusion and community affairs, “Being inclusive means being respectful to all individuals, and encouraging diversity of thought which can lead to greater creativity. People from different backgrounds and with different lifestyles challenge each other more which leads to greater innovation and a depth of thought.”

It’s one thing to have a ‘white paper’ on culture and employer brand reputation, and another to actually live your brand through reputation and authenticity. Ad agencies’ employer brands are a tool to attract, retain and engage top talent, and we have to work harder than ever before to build employer brands that differentiate ourselves.


High performers don’t just want to work for a successful brand/agency; they make their choices based on who the leadership of that agency is, what they stand for and what impact they make on client brands, as well on their staff and their community as a socially responsible employer. Talent is seeking out agencies that truly reflect transformation and, especially, gender diversity. Women in leadership roles with a true voice at the table are who employees and clients are wanting to see today. An employer with a strong brand reputation and an engaged and diverse workforce has proven to affect high business performance and innovation, and it will far outperform its competitors. According to Gallup, “[c]oncentrating on employee engagement can help companies withstand, and possibly even thrive, in tough economic times.”

Best practice is where you don’t just stick your values somewhere in your HR policies and procedures or against a wall as a pretty piece of décor; you live it through everything you do as your agency DNA or blueprint. High-performing employees seek employer brands who live by the same values that they do and get rewarded for doing so. So, ensure you are clear on what your brand reputation, culture and values are, and consistently apply these to everything you do from the interview process, through the job path, right until the exit interview. Tell the brand story that makes them fall in love with you.

It shouldn’t be hard; keep it simple and you will have a failsafe recipe — be authentic, inclusive, consistent, fair and treat staff with dignity and respect. Be transparent with your employees; we’re rather quick to put something like “responds well to criticism” in our employee appraisal systems but be bold enough to put the shoe on the other foot. Engage with your staff; provide a free and safe environment where they can raise issues so, as agency leaders, you can measure how your brand impacts on staff/employer reputation — listen and then act immediately to fix whatever needs fixing.

Talents and skills

In our industry, all we have to sell are our talent and our skills, things that not only contribute to the balance sheet but overall staff satisfaction and brand appreciation.

I was fortunate enough to launch my career in advertising with a brand which truly lived the mantra of being a family. I started at the bottom, worked my ass off and made sure I constantly surrounded myself with inspirational leaders. Through their leadership skills, I learnt how to receive well and to pass on well, so by the time I had people reporting to me, I was equipped to strike a balance between being nurturing and providing tough teaching moments. After almost 15 years in advertising, I have a deep-rooted passion for the people in this industry.

See also


MarkLives logoLaunched in 2016, “The Big Q” is a regular column on MarkLives in which we ask key advertising and marketing industry execs for their thoughts on relevant issues facing the industry. If you’d like to be part of our pool of panellists, please contact editor Herman Manson via email (2mark at marklives dot com) or Twitter (@marklives). Suggestions for questions are also welcomed.

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