“We are an agency”. How many times have I heard this uttered in the early stages of my career and like clockwork have repeated it in the later stages? What does that mean? In simple terms, it means constant pressure and high stress work life. Since the crunch in 2008, agency employees are expected to work harder, smarter and have longer work hours. This has only increased over the years as pressure to deliver and competition shoots through the roof.
I don't think media and communication organisations are under a greater stress as compared to, let’s say, banking or FMCG. It’s a part of modern living which has equal impact across sectors but the free work culture in agencies has felt some strain with the shift in economic trends. While the dynamics of the agency economics are not changing any time soon, there are methods and initiatives that can make work more rewarding, improve work life balance, increase productivity and significantly increase talent retention. This change needs to be a part of the culture in the organisation. Young agencies in particular need to imbibe this culture early on and make it rewarding in order to attract and retain talent.
Young agencies have more to offer for fast tracking individual growth; greater and more frequent opportunities in the workspace come as part of the package. This makes such agencies in the media space appealing to budding talent. On the other hand, the same organisations, when they put employee benefits and assessment on the back burner, lose their luster quickly. Working with a media agency cannot be any lighter on the benefits plan than that of any other industry, and for a young organisation, it should be tilting this balance in its favour.
Agencies at par with their corporate counterparts need to (a few of the large ones already do) provide a strong employee health benefits plan that covers employees and families, insurance cover and other benefits. We are a high stress industry and an additional two weeks paid recreational leave every year goes a long way (when we introduced this, it received an over whelming welcome). Media organisations also need to be aware towards socio cultural changes. For example, closer home we see that our policy of providing safe company transport home after dark to our women employees holds big value.
All employee benefits need not be tangible; in fact it’s the intangible benefits that are most attractive when they mean larger, transparent opportunities for employees. This is where young organisations can gain most ground. In large organisations, the freedom to act takes back stage, making the atmosphere stifling for talented individuals who want to spread their wings. The attraction of a young agency is that it will by default encourage freedom of action. Success depends on innovation, doing all it can to ensure that enterprising people have the freedom to act. At the same time, empower them to make tough decisions, implement new ideas and use their initiative.
Young companies have an advantage of more flexibility, more job diversity and the possibility of high growth. Organisations that have a strong and rewarding compensation structure show they value performance as well as initiative by individual team members. This makes such them attractive for talent. We see that efforts towards opportunity management, mentoring, training and the other initiatives have strengthened and empowered the team and more importantly, led to enhanced organisational productivity.
Media agencies like all industries compete for talent on a common platform. The boundaries that existed a decade ago and saw negligible cross industry movement no longer exist. To attract talent and to build a high-energy workforce, the tools of training, empowerment benefits and reward in the workspace need to be at par with global best practices.
The author is MD and CEO, Pulp Strategy Communications