by Andy Sutcliffe (@andythirtyfour) Advertising agencies need to become extraordinary places to come to and, more crucially, to stay at. What with agency churn rates anywhere between 20%–50% as our people look to the client side for extra job security, comfort and training, there is a talent war going on.

34 DOs & Dots
34 DOs & Dots

Agencies need to massively up their game on the employee-engagement front. And that engagement can be measured. Gallup studies indicate that engaged employees deliver x3.9 times the earnings per share growth, compared to their disengaged colleagues.

Smart culture

Agencies with a smart culture have a greater chance to differentiate themselves and to succeed in today’s highly commoditised and competitive marketplace. What is certain is that the very best talent is always attracted to agencies with the best culture. Dan Wieden puts it beautifully simply: “Your job is to create a place where people can live up to their potential.

As the old business adage goes, you don’t build a business. You build people and the people build the business.

Agencies can address vital employee-engagement issues by focusing on several key areas that they should work inordinately hard to try get right on a daily basis:

1. Be clear what your agency stands for and where it’s headed

Every agency needs a clear set of principles that sets up the very foundation of its culture — and culture is the most powerful driving force in determining any company’s success.

Be very clear what you are prepared to do, and what you aren’t. So we’ll bend over backwards for our clients. Never forwards!

34 dos and dots coverFor ourselves, we have a simple set of 10 principles that we’ve published in our DOs and DOTs [sic] book to guide every member of our team to ensure we’re all on the same path in everything we do.

Take every opportunity available to set out the company roadmap and the journey and direction your business is taking. Report back to the business on a quarterly basis and deliver your school report on your successes and failures.

If your team doesn’t know where it’s headed, don’t act surprised when it ends up at the wrong place!

2. The agency environment

An agency’s office says a lot about what an agency thinks and feels — and that starts with the employee experience from the car park to the front door.

Every agency should make the conscious decision to provide free parking to all staffers (and not just the head honchos). I cannot understand how agencies deduct parking off employees’ salaries or let them fend for themselves on the street?

Your office should be for your staff members and their experience. And take it as a huge compliment when clients enjoy the energy and edge of your environment and choose to meet there, too.

3. Do more together

At the heart of creating a nurturing environment for employees to prosper is the idea of service. This has to go beyond servicing our clients. We’re also in service of the community in which we operate and sometimes in communities we’ve never been to.

I recently experienced this for myself when I met with leaders of a community after-school facility, known as iKhaya le Themba, to see if we could do something about their sports field: a rock-hard dust bowl.

We created an initiative to bring the supportive voices of family and loved ones to the sidelines of the field, even when they couldn’t physically be present: a personalised sideline sound system that brings proud parents to every game, practice session and playtime.

And you don’t have to look far to see world-class service delivered by Joe Public and its One School at a Time initiative, M&C Saatchi Abel and its Street Store, or Ofyt working smartly with Learn To Earn.

4. Talent needs feeding

Strive to bring out the best in your people by implementing a core curriculum that complements your business strategy. This may range from skills-based training to a tailored leadership programme.

34 DOs & DOTs Miley Cyrus
34 DOs & DOTs Miley Cyrus

Several agencies, including my own, attended Design Indaba for at least one of the days and came back inspired, energised and invigorated. The value of building a community with ‘gees’ cannot be underestimated.

Agencies hiring interns and thinking they’ve done their ‘training’ bit are seriously misguided.

And there is no doubt that some agencies have exploited internship programmes, which in turn leads to the industry lacking diversity and, more damaging still, not being viewed as an attractive career by many young and upcoming professionals.

5. You can’t manage what you can’t measure.

It is vital that any agency measures the experience to gauge the engagement levels. This we do via our Q20 tool that looks at eight core categories across the business twice a year.

Ultimately, a great culture begins and ends with your people having healthy working lives and we continue to strive to get that balance right.

See also:



Andy Sutcliffe 34With a decade or two of international expertise building integrated agencies, Andy Sutcliffe (@andythirtyfour) knows a thing or two about what it takes to build great companies. Andy has been in South Africa for the last eight years and is the co-founder and CEO of 34, which was both AdFocus and AdReview Specialist Agency of the Year in 2014.

“Motive” is a by-invitation-only column on Contributors are picked by the editors but generally don’t form part of our regular columnist lineup, unless the topic is off-column.

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