Advertising at its core is about human connection, but often the most difficult one to make is with our own people, especially in a small agency where any problems are magnified.
For Heard Agency, the road to building a thriving company culture was not easy, but we knew it was a crucial factor to our long-term success. A study by the Society for Human Resource Management found that an outgoing employee can cost a company six to nine months of that salary, in addition to the substantial loss of productivity resulting from the turnover. This cost can notably damage a business, even for moderate staff turnover rates. So to improve our culture, both professionally and socially, we turned our HR strategy on its head. As a result, we saw the quality of talent acquisition drastically improve and our retention rates double in twelve months.
“The very first step was realising that as business owners, we needed to accept that our team is not us,” explains director of operations, Darragh Heard. “They have different ambitions and life goals, and that’s a good thing. So instead of focusing on developing the so-called A-team, we set aside the way we like to do things in favour of empowering our team. We then strategised ways to create a more stimulating environment to support their ambitions.”
Although it’s natural for creative agencies to attract Gen Y and millennials, we don’t want to be bereft of that particular acumen and expertise because it shows in the work – every thing starts to look and sound the same. So our recruitment strategy will always heavily focus on capability, but now we also actively seek diversity in age, background and gender.
We employ a fifty-fifty gender ratio and a broad mix of ethnicities; a much higher proportion than Australia’s benchmark for the industry, which sits at just fifteen percent non-Caucasian, as reported by The Agency Circle’s annual survey – a non-profit organisation that promotes diversity in the creative industry – a membership we are proud to have. Our change in strategy has resulted in a balanced culture in which our team members are encouraged to learn from each other, ultimately improving our overall performance.
Diversity, however, comes with its own challenges, requiring that we understand and address the needs of people at different stages of life, ranging from graduates, to new parents to 60+year-old executives. We learned the hard way, for example, that millennials don’t always prioritise pay and compensation. Instead, autonomy, respect, and being treated fairly have greater significance when determining where they work.
According to Investopedia, money, although important, is of lesser value than a job that enriches themselves and their community. This lesson was the catalyst for the implementation of unique performance plans for every team member. We have created short and long-term goals to nurturing their potential. And we now always celebrate good work, no matter how big or small.
Louis Hu, our multi-disciplinary creative director, has over fifteen years of experience in the industry and has worked alongside some of Asia-Pacific’s most impressive creative minds to produce award-winning campaigns. His schedule oscillates between work and his role as a new father.
“You can keep ideating and crafting endlessly, but sometimes you need to step away to gain some perspective. Being a new dad myself, it’s been great to be able to get home in time for dinner and my son’s bath time at the end of a productive workday,” he remarks.
In a service-based industry that is dependent on people, Louis is a prime example of how creative agencies can be more flexible and maintain – if not increase – the quality of output as well as the effort and loyalty of staff.
“If we want to avoid burnout, we need to retain and maximise our people power. When individuals are excellent at what they do, we need to be flexible and sympathetic to their unique needs,” says Darragh. “This shift in thinking has drastically changed our culture for the good.”
Finally, we recognised a long time ago that digital is not a discipline, but rather a way of life. From ensuring our team is on the best Apple hardware and the latest software(s), through to our internal communication modes and our approach to ideation, we have created an environment that encourages innovation.
The biggest move we made to support this mindset was to bring all digital expertise in-house; search, web, CGI and animation. We not only provide an integrated cohesive offering to our clients, but from an HR perspective our team has drastically elevated their digital expertise, which they have cited as a key reason for job satisfaction which we know directly impacts tenure.
In our seven years of business, we have learned that we cannot take a blanket approach to people management. By understanding their desire to belong and succeed, we ceased to see them as a homogenous unit and now respect them for the distinctive contributions they make every day. And for the first time in our history, we have appointed a leadership team, including a CEO, PR Director, and creative director. This cavalry of talented individuals is passionate about maintaining and optimising our HR strategy for the agency’s long-term success.