The agency of the future: attracting and retaining talent

Will the agency of the future use AI to track employees and boost retention? Will paid OE’s become an employee expectation? Only time will tell, but one thing is for certain — agencies will need to adapt to the new generation.

Agencies are known for their work hard/play hard mentality. Agency life (and PR) has often inspired visions of long lunches, swanky events, and free booze. It’s a compelling picture and one that, in the past, might have been part of the appeal for potential employees.

Of course, there has always been a lot more to life in an agency than champagne and schmoozing. But we can’t deny that the workplace has changed over the past couple of decades. We often talk about technology impacting the way we work and while that is true — the generational shift is playing a bigger role than we usually credit.

Belittled as being too far removed from the realities of business or as coming from ‘entitled’ young people; the expectations of millennials (and their taste for overpriced smashed avocado) are often dismissed negatively.

Whatever school of thought you subscribe to; millennials are the next wave of talent coming through our industry so unless we want to stand still – we need to adapt our agencies to attract and retain great talent. And that goes for all employees too, not just our younger colleagues.

So, in a world where people are genuinely looking for more than just a paycheck – how can we help our people feel valued, recognised and supported?

  1. Make sure purpose underpins everything

Volunteer work might have once been considered a luxury for the wealthy or retired, but millennials today increasingly expect opportunities to give back…while earning a steady paycheck. Company values splashed across the wall in a lunchroom will no longer cut it – employees want to know how the company makes a difference and what their role as an employee is in this.

Pead has long supported community causes that sit close to our heart. Foundation supporters of both Raukatauri Music Therapy Centre and Garden to Table; voluntary (and vocal) supporters of Stop Stealing our Harbour and provider of pro bono services to help protect the sight lines of our neighbourhood volcano. Pead employees have been involved in work like this for nearly two decades but we are now being sized on these efforts by prospective employees more than ever before.

Whether it is taking on charity clients and getting your employees involved or finding ways for your team members to give back in their own individual way; identify what your agency values are and how you can weave purpose into your culture.

  1. Understand what will make life easier for your people

Talking to your employees is the most crucial step in implementing a new programme for your team. You wouldn’t suggest a client campaign without a brief and some discussion about what the client wants – staff benefits shouldn’t be any different.

One of the insights we gained from talking to our team, was that sick kids created significant stress for families. Having to use their own sick leave or annual leave to look after their child, our parents often had no leave available to look after themselves when the time came. This is why we introduced an additional six days of parental leave for all parents/guardians. Because we listened, we knew this was something that would make a difference for our team members. More than just a flashy carrot or impressive sounding perk – this is an investment in the wellbeing of our people that is well worth making.

  1. Look at employee turnover trends for opportunities

People leave workplaces for all sorts of reasons, but have you spent any time looking at your average tenure and how you can incentivise longer service? Like most agencies, our people are crucial to our success so we looked at our turnover to see where we might be able to buck our own trends.

We have introduced a long service benefit to reward those who have been with us for five years offering a six-week unpaid sabbatical along with a financial reward. If we can keep our team who are at the three to four-year mark for an extra year or eighteen months, it would really make a difference for the agency and for our clients. At Pead, we have some employees who have been with us for more than five years and quite a few who have returned to Pead after a stint overseas – offering this sabbatical leave is part of our effort to shift the mentality that you have to leave your current agency or embark on an OE to move up.

  1. Implement a wellbeing programme that recognises individuality

The biggest difference between employee benefits of the past and benefits now is that we now place more emphasis on individuality. Where once there might have been a blanket offer for all in the interests of fairness, we now know how important it is to look at this slightly differently. It is not to say that fairness isn’t vital or that there isn’t a place for general perks but where practical, choice is valuable.

One of the ways we are doing this is with our annual wellbeing allowance. Each person in the agency, regardless of their level, will now be allocated a predetermined amount of money to spend on something that will benefit their wellbeing. For some of our team that might mean a gym membership or regular massages while for others it might mean money to spend on a babysitter so they can take time out with their partners or friends.

Wellbeing and self-care can mean very different things to different people – it is important that we enable our team to make choices based on their needs.

  1. Win and lose as a team

How do you celebrate the wins and learn from the losses? Do you do this as a team every time?

Like most agencies – we work hard. We pull together to meet impossible deadlines, we put in the extra time to make sure client work is delivered at 110 percent and we do it as a team. Our profit share programme means that our team directly benefits above and beyond their market-relevant salary when the agency has a great year. And it’s not just a select few at the top, but every person. After all – it is never just one person that leads to success but the whole agency.

Profit share isn’t the only way to do this of course. There are the celebrations, the praise and the small thoughtful moments that make people feel like they matter.

Fundamentally it comes down to employing people and not staff. The agency of the future recognises that every employee is more than just the job they do and understands that personal lives will often intersect with our jobs. Like most businesses, we can’t give every employee everything they want or ask for. But we can listen and take steps that balance the needs of our changing workplace with the needs of our business.

I urge employers not to shy away from asking their teams what would make a difference to them at work. You might not be able to meet all their requests but doing what you can ensures your team feels heard.

Benefits don’t always need to be on a Silicon Valley scale either. Things like the free morning tea we have provided daily for many years, the agency funded social events throughout the year, and ‘bring your pooch to work day’ every Friday, are long time Pead perks which have been long appreciated by our team. They aren’t big or flashy perks and you might not see them on Instagram. But they matter to our people and that is the whole point.

  • Sarah Munnik is the managing director of Pead PR

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