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Agencies are taking innovative steps to retain staff, from setting up their own 'universities' that offer ennployees credit to taking them on Bahamian cruises. Tanya Lewis highlights companies that are creating vibrant cultures to keep their turnover rates low
66 M M A M SEPTEMBER 2007
" i says Corbett president Elaine Eisen. Everyone could make three calls in a half hour and get interviews. It's one of the most common reasons why an agency gels fired." About one-third of the staff has been around 10-plus years. ITiough this is just one measure of expense." says AbelsonTaylor president and CEO Dale Taylor. has been around almost 30 years. For Gobie. and EVP and principal Mark Goble reports "little turnover. The agency's second-largest client. Turnover [irritates] clients to no end. "Management needs to have a mindset that asks why people should come here and stay and not think it's a privilege to be hired. A junior copywriter conceived the name." Culture is crucial in retaining staff. One Corbett employee recently retired after « 45 years of service. Wise agrees. "Ifturnoveris high. though most agencies report the financial expense pales in comparison to the disruptive toll it takes on clients and culture. President Mike Myers believes "expenses are secondary to the disruption to chemistry. "it's important to maintain a core fora long time if we're going to differentiate ourselves. "Hie majority of employees (52%) have 1-4 years tenure. and one of the most common reasons why we get hired. which is good considering the agency is less than 9 years old. Harrison & Star has 270 employees." says Larry Slar. chainnan and CEO of Harrison & Star. [We need to think about] what we can do to make this a more attractive place. with LyonHeart implemented TBWA's 'Disruption' process (above left) last year when it underwent the dramatic cultural change from LLNS to LyonHeart. time is "probably more expensive" than other turnover costs because "time spent interviewing people is time taken away from clients. approach and work product. and 18% have 5-20 years tenure. That's lower than past years. Alcon Pharmaceuticals. and business is booming." AbelsonTaylor. Star says out-of-pocket cosl (excluding hours and salary of internal HR staff) for hiring is currently $5. it's clear that the cost of churn—on all levels—adds up quickly and rises exponentially with agency size. CEO of both LyonHeart and TBWA World Health. and when you keep changing your minds all the time no one knows who you are. you [must] constantly teach the values rather than having staff constantly creating value. founded 26 years ago.CAREER ISSUE 2007 taff retention is perhaps the most pressing challenge facing healthcare ad agencies today. in part because employee referrals have been as productive as professional recruiters. who reports less than 10% I turnover (headcount is just under 200). Agencies that recognize the importance of culture and invest in its cultivation are well positioned to weather the chum of a lopsided job market as well as the mercurial nature of the healthcare industry they serve. "We value clients for life and employees for life. "We become the history and ^ continuity on brands because clients are switching employees conI stantly They rely on us to do that. and turnover for the first half of 2007 is 7% (down from 12% in 2006). 30% have been there a year or less. But the talent pool is woefully shallow. "clients want institutional knowledge and a stable team. has 350 employees and very low turnover (about 8% for creative and account people and zero at the senior level).000 per employee. "An agency is an assembly of minds. anticipates about S 15% voluntary turnover this year (the 23-year-old agency employs about 850 people)." Headcount at LyonHeart (formerly LLNS) is just over 200. Average tenure is 17 years for creative directors and 13 years for account directors. "Top down imposition of culture is not as effective as culture that's built from the staff." says Anne Devereux. encompassing the agency's increased inctusiveness and empowerment felt throughout all levels of the agency SEPTEMBER 2007 M M A M 67 . A seemingly never-ending need to recruit only compounds the importance of retention." I Ed Wise. "The labor environment is just too competitive for that kind of arrogance. chairman and CEO Chne Davis & Mann." Paho Communications enjoys less than 10% turnover (workforce is about 125). Average tenure is just under 5 years. Goble & Associates currently has the highest number of employees in its 25-year history (68)." He also notes that employees take "considerable training investments" with them when they leave." Cumulative cost of turnover is enormous—it's expensive. Average executive management tenure is 12-14 years. It's a talent-driven business. Corbett Worldwide HeaUhcare Commuications has maintained founding and largest client Bristol-Myers Squibb for 45 years.
" he says. Myers says leaders felt something "wasn't right. They recently moved into a new 100." A junior copywriter conceived the name—testimony to increased inclusiveness and empowerment at all levels within the agency. When we lose an account.and work/life balance. "the organization is extremely loyal in making sure that people feel comfortable and develop a career. "We felt we weren't going lo be where we wanted in 15 years. which are often financial. no one tells us to cut cost." Myers says.fun. The agency is 25 years old. It's easy to drop the ball on long term investments like building a solid culture." She says Omnicom executives leam about the "relationship between good culture and good business" each year from professional service firm management expert David Maister. We've proven as our size has increased that we can scale this approach.'" Devereux notes." Palio employees defined values as great work: teamworkicontinuous learning. "We have well-defined values because it's important to be explicit about values and what defines culture." he says. and what (employees wanted) us to be abt)Ut." A consultant surveyed empioyees. [coming] up with values [is] management buzz trying lo put a band-aid on something.5% in 2006). "The transformation could oniy happen if people in the company could identify what [change] meant and how to make it happen. COO Harold Corbran says. with the ultimate aim of defining employee-driven values." Goble notes that eulture "one of biggest reasons" talent seeks and slicks with his agency. 'It's going to be a lot of fun hecause we are going to he ahle to design this one in our own way' luniover under 15% (down from 17. You're looking to squeeze numbers and work people longer. and average tenure is about 9 years. When people own the change. "Our culture went from a lemming-Hke behavior to really empowered. "We had to look hard at ourselves [and] ask tough questions. "Once you're part of a holding company. let alone 3 years." Devereux explains. Myers says the agency's strong culture was made "stronger [with these] reference points." Wise believes culture has an "enormous" impact on retention. "Solely financially driven people might believe the harder people work." Taylor believes independence helps maintain a healthy culture. "Advertising is [about] moving people from unaware to actively involved. Though all outward measures indicated a very strong agency." LyonHeart interviewed everyone—current clients.000square-foot office in the heart of Chicago's Loop. Usually. former clients potential clients and employees—to determine strengths and weaknesses. which Devereux notes reflects"relentlessness. passion and never settling for status quo. They give "enormous checks out in a corny Price is Right kind of way' MMAM SEPTEMBER 2007 Commitment to career development is an extremely important cultural asset. "We provide autonomy and freedom to excel. "That puts a different spin on how employees are treated. "ihere are [many] business cases that prove a direct correlation between employee satisfaction and profitability. Thirty-year-old Draftfcb Healthcare employs about 4(X) people in New York and has less than 15% turnover. Changes include the new name. AbelsonTaylor's president and CEO Dale Taylor told MM&M that he was excited ahout the move." . your goals are someone else's goals. "[The process helped us understand] what we stand for." Devereux says." she says.THINKING OUTSIDE THE CUBICLE AbelsonTaytor outgrew the Chicago office it occupied since the earty 1980s. they can't leave because they're leaving themselves. "There aren't a lot of barriers to [success]. Last year marked a dramatic cultural revolution that resulted trom applying TBWA's "Disruption" process to the agency. It becomes very demanding top down and short sided. Two-and-a-half years ago Palio also did some soul searching. "We're trying to build that into the interviewing process." Devereux notes. "(When under] huge pressure to deliver profit to shareholders." he says. who we are. "A good agency does that when looking at retaining people. We've gone lo opposite extreme. the more profitable the business will be.' Devereux adds that a "more familial environment" has resulted." \ I Elements of a Solid Culture * Corbett recognizes major anniversaries with company-wide events. you can become blinded by that goal.
Some employees also attend Dale Carnegie Training to learn how to present themselves and their ideas. "A client should be able to call and talk to people. Continuously learning and adapting is a core vaiue at Corbett. "You buiid culture by evolving ways that work for you and by making sure everyone understands how we will behave." —Mike Myers. but this prevents [employee resignations]." —Mark Goble. That makes everybody so much happier to be here. In 2006. I don't think I eould change it now if I wanted to. Listen to employees "Listening creates an atmosphere where people feel safe to speak up." Open communication is a tenet at Goble & Associates. Draftfcb Healthcare 4. Goble & Associates . empioyees who left CDM received only 6 credits (52% lower than average)." he says." Star says. and those who were promoted received 17 CDMU credits (37% higher than average). If someone is working on an account that employee feels [a decision needs to be made] they're empowered to do that. "It's not just looking at folks from an upward mobility standpoint. Offer stability "People have a pret^ firm knowledge that if they're working hard and performing. Pafio Communications 6.THINKING OUTSIDE THE CUBICLE Draftfcb president and co-CEO Dana Maiman adds that career pathing and proactive career management are top priorities. Harrison & Star 5. "I don t think you build a culture by creating an implementation plan. Ciine Davis & Mann 1 0 . Empower employees to m a k e decisions "We do a iot of things to try and push down decision making to level where it should be. "It's harder for us because we [must tell] the client that it's time for [an employee] to move on. Remind people that they're helping people survive and have a better life. Train effective. and its senior people play a big role in teaching." —/\nne Devereux." Star also prefers to move people and then "manage client disappointment" rather than lose talent. "By listening. "We're in the communications business. "You have to listen when an employee needs a new challenge. Telling people that they do good jobs everyday and recogniz[ing] them on a professional leve! is important. but no one has taught them how lo manage. We do a lot of charitable donations." —Larry Star." Eisen says. Be willing to change "Be willing to experiment with what you think may work. Often corporations are unwilling to try. It's an important job. Talk about the importance of the work "We have an advantage in this industry dealing with Issues that relate to life and health. involved managers "Senior management should be seen as people who are involved in client work—who roll up their sleeves. '"[New employees] cannot believe we proactively approach them and tell them it's time lo become more well-rounded." —Larry Star." she says. Weineent people to talk to each other. [we have] a communicative environment." he says. That rolls into internal communications that we foster." —Dale Taylor.From top down." Maiman says. which Taylor says are "important to pass on knowledge and a good way of keeping [junior empioyees] in touch with the culture. Our motto is life is too short.. [Our] culture [is such that] we're willing to try. "[An employee who is] very successful may want to try something else. "It 70 M M & M SEPTEMBER 2007 10 Tips for Retaining Staff 1." —Harold Corbran.." Goble says. We need to walk that talk." —Elaine Eisen. and we're very public about that. they're not going to get fired because we lost an account. LyonHeart/TBWA Worldhealth 7. The better we become at [training managers]."—Larfy Star. Define values and live by them An organization must live what it says if s about." Goble & Associates conducts weekly lunch-and-leam programs for younger account managers. "People leave because they hate their boss—not the executives. or that we would approach the client and disrupt something that is working well. the better we will be at retention. Provide competitive compensation a n d good benefits "I don't think all these people would come to work every day if I didn't pay them. take part in conversations and contribute to the work product—not people in some ivory tower. Corbett Worldwide 8 ." Devereux says. Harrisor) & Star 3. Taylor believes that culture evolves from a solid core. Harrison & Star 9. we've been able to help individuals achieve career growth goals. the company or the client." Training programs are key to career development and retention. One reason this is possible is because senior people have stayed so long. Recognize employees "Recognition is taken to the point where it's not only a fun event." Star believes in collaboration and getting to know employees. Most of AbelsonTaylor's account staff and copywriters are homegrown. but it's first having open-mindedness to move people between disciplines and [global network] offices. The agency has many formal training and mentoring programs." —£d Wise. We do (a lot of] home-growing. Harrison & Star University teaches both job skills and management skills. but also a meaningful event. Open-mindedness is necessary to help people navigate careers." Listening is critical to understanding what employees want and need. "People are [often] promoted because they have good technical skills. "So much of the knowledge is experiential.. "The biggest secret to retention is to listen more than talk. Provide opportunity "Giving employees opportunities try other parts of the business creates much more satisfaction. We're about helping people better understand the choices they have with medications. AbelsonTayfor 2." CDM reports that employees who participate in CDM University (CDMU) are more likely to stay. which doesn't have voicemail or doors (save the bathroom and conference room).
" Obviously. We've been able to attract and retain in a different way because of our belief in that." Star says. problems with work/life balance cause talent to look for new employers. Someone recently told me that when talking to her boss about her work/life balance." he say& Many agency leaders agree that recognition is essential. We are in a service business. Supporting charitable causes fosters altruism and also helps employees get to know each other. I'm nol wed to process. "[Retention] reinforces to management that we have the right values and that we're doing things right. guitars and a piano. and 15 returned in the last year." Star says. The longevity we've had with clients is direct result of employee retention. We make a big deal of people who invest in us. pieces rotate around the office." Star says. A big part of my job is getting people to express what they want." Often. we get very little day-to-day feedback about how we're doing. and you're paying attention." Corbett also recognizes major anniversaries in company-wide events. Corbett has recognition programs which are tied to its nine shared values. Awards are monetary and publicly celebrated. "there's always opportunity to get more money somewhere else. " I f you don't need to be here. co-CEO and worldwide creative director." Myers says." Goble says. money is not that critical. "At the end of the day." says Tom Domanico. as well as blowing off steam. "It's the corniest Price is Right thing you can image. though many believe money isn"t a main reason that employees leave. "Aside from boiiomline. and people work very. The only thing we won't change is values. You have to be competitive. it's not going to change. " I f [employees] leave." and she believes people typically make jumps for money when they "don't understand the value of the culture or they're too young to have experienced any difference. including a game room. Palio provides an array of fun stuff. He wasn't talking about her work—he was talking about her family. rather than year-end bonuses. "[The cruise was] a reflection of the appreciation we have for them. "It's about being stretched too thin. Devereux ihinks the biggest challenge to retention is to continuous evaluation and improvement. noting that it's easy to "miss pockets of unhappincss" in big agencies. "People can change things here." Comeback Kids Perhaps the ultimate testimony to culture is the return of former employees." Star is constantly looking at ways to relieve pressure. Compensation is structured to award employees who invest in us—it's rooted in long-term programs like profit sharing. Spot bonuses and comp time show people that you appreciate it. Palio also displays its work. get out of here because we're looking for balance. Every two weeks." Work/life balance is also a priority at Palio." Eisen notes. Draftfcb's chairman. competitive compensation and benefits are requisite. Goble & Associates took its entire staff and their guests on an all-expenses-paid Bahamian cruise. very hard—sometimes insanely hard." Work was voted. "We show work that we did 8 years ago. "The success of the agency depends on its people." Six former employees have returned to LyonHeart in the last year and a half. usually it's short term. "Showcasing our work and stimulating staff is important. on and winners were unveiled at a local art gallery." Myers says. "It's sort of the price of entry. The agency recently started its own internal awards program called the "Gallery Awards. 8 minutes ago. To celebrate it's 25th anniversary this year. they want to come back. and retention is one of the looser measures of doing things right. "[But if you don't] talk.THINKING OUTSIDE THE CUBICLE blows me away that people can be so focused on one dimension and not see their employees as human beings that they might want to get to know. Parties are important for bonding." Most agency leaders are aware that little things go a long way. Maybe 1 can work it out. " I don't believe you have to work 180 hours a week to do great work or have successful operations. "Sometimes they need that experience. and it's usually not about the nature of the work. her boss [told her] to outsource things. "It's usually not about money. "We give people enormous checks. and he doesn't wnnl employees lo conclude Ihat the onlv option is to leave if they're Cline Davis & Mann employees who participated in CDM University were more likely to stay with the agency and/or receive a promotion unhappy about work conditions." Devereux says. Once they get a taste of somewhere else." Devereux notes." • Harrison & Star uses fun events as a way for fellow employees to bond with each other and blow off steam 72 MM4kM SEPTEMBER 2007 . Draftfcb actively cultivates re-hires. AbelsonTaylor has free lunches every Friday.
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