Developing a culture
Human nature goes a long way Rohrback says, and people lose sight of it when budget, time and clients get tough, and simple things, like acknowledgements for people doing a good job, aren’t being said.
Creatives need to be nurtured, she says “because at the end of the day they produce your product”.
Roydhouse says most employers have recognised the issues and are taking steps to create a balance and people who have to work 70 hours one week are able to take a day off the next.
“I think the people who are running a lot of agencies now are in their late 40s and they are generally family people themselves. They have a bit more of an understanding of the needs and wants of their staff, so it’s not all totally negative.”
At FCB, chief strategist strategist David Thomason credits the management for helping to foster culture in the agency.
Vice chairman FCB Global Brian Crawford told him: “’There’s this fallacy that you can’t build culture”. It’s an interesting point Thomason says, “because you can’t 100 percent but you can do a lot to make it a lot stronger”.
Working to build a strong internal culture is what Thomason says has helped FCB achieve a churn “better than the industry average”, but wouldn’t go as far as saying that he's found a cure.
One of the things FCB does is respond to any issues raised by the staff in the Kenexa employee engagement survey.
The agency has been a finalist of the IBM Kenexa Best Workplace for five of the last six years, but Thomason says it’s not about winning the award; the point is there is a richness of anonymous feedback from staff the agency can then act on.
“We go through it with a fine tooth comb and go ‘ok’ some of these things we can only change a little bit but other things you go ‘wow’ and we make sure people know we have listened.”
Another important place of investment is in FCB's training. One of its creative objectives is to “create good people and find good people, keep good people and help train and improve good people and give them every opportunity to do the best they can,” Thomason says, so there is a lot of internal training.
Recently, the agency has seen all staff take a two-day digital course and every Monday morning at the agency “gathering” people are expected to present their work in a way that will inspire and inform the rest of the team.
“If you can progress in your career within one organisation, and that is one main reason for moving to another one, you don’t actually have to leave.”
OMD has also placed importance on training as part of its culture, and is experiencing reduced churn. In the last year, the rate has dropped to 15 percent, and Reinholds believes it is doing a good job at not losing people to other agencies.
“We are hoping they say: ‘okay I could take the money now, but this organisation is developing me as a person, they are growing me, they are giving me opportunities to learn more so I will become more valuable'.”
He says a culture is “more than just having fun”, it includes its 12-month training programme at every level of the business from juniors to seniors.
Despite agencies' best efforts, Rohrback and Roydhouse say they’ve had quite a lot of people in the last 12 months come in and say: “‘I’m not enjoying the culture, I’m being held back career-wise, I’m not enjoying this, that and the other’.”
That search for a new culture is a greater motivator than money when it comes to changing jobs in the industry they say. Going back 10 years ago, people could change jobs and get a substantial increase in salary, around 15 to 20 percent. However, now Marsden Inch is placing people in jobs for the same or sometimes even less.
“We’ve met people who have gone ‘I don’t care, bugger this, here’s how much money I can actually live on’ and it could be a third less, or a half and they’ve worked out that they would much rather work somewhere else, supposedly better, less pressure for less money.”
For some, new opportunities lie on the client side because when the GFC hit, some advertising functions moved in-house and new roles for agency people opened up.
While 3rdeye director Andy Sive doesn’t see a change in the work hours and expectations of people in agencies, he says client side is attractive for holding career opportunities and it “just so happens” they might get paid 10 or 15 percent more.
Movements like that, he says, have been around for decades. He says it’s always been the case that someone in a direct marketing role in an ad agency can go to a marketing role in client side, like in a bank or service industry, and people in retail can work in retail agencies and then move to the marketing department.
On the agency side, when the GFC hit contract work became an industry norm. In the last five years, as agencies have started to hire again, Roydhouse says it can be on a three-month basis or just for a particular project. It’s a model he says works well for both the employers and employees.
For employers, it gets around head count freezes and employment costs, like ACC and having to provide holidays, while employees get flexibility and the ability to work flat-out for three months and then have some time off.