I have long held the belief that by putting our peoples’ needs above all else, our work will excel, clients will love working with us, and the profits will come. A "people first" culture is like a unicorn in the advertising world. The layoffs, bonus cuts, long hours, office politics, and general all-around bullshit we hear from the large bureaucratic companies are legendary. None of us should be surprised that this model doesn’t work in today’s business climate.
So, as an agency leader, how do you attract and retain the talent that will grow into tomorrow’s leaders? For me, the answer has been to build a culture around two key attributes: empathy and philanthropy. To retain employees and thrive in this business, agencies need to create an environment where its people feel valued and invested in their work and community.
Empathy: Making the staff feel valued and appreciated
We spend a ton of time and effort ensuring we are doing everything we can to improve the lives of our staff, both inside and outside of the office.
A student loan repayment program helps shorten the time and money newer employees need to pay back their college loans.
According to LendingTree, the class of 2018 graduated with an average of $30,000 in debt. Especially for recent graduates or those with advanced degrees, paying off this burden can seem daunting, if not impossible. That’s why we launched a student loan reimbursement program that helps all employees with student loans pay down their debt faster. Benefits like these go a long way to helping entry-level workers get their feet under them financially.
We cover 100% of employees’ healthcare costs, alleviating the financial burden placed on so many families. A matching 401(k) plan and health savings plan are also provided.
We give people their birthdays off to spend time with friends and family. After five years of service, everyone receives a monthlong, paid sabbatical in addition to their annual vacation time. And our pet-friendly, open floor plan—complete with no offices and no employee titles—sends a message that we are all in this together. Everyone checks their egos at the door.
Philanthropy: Giving back to our communities to give us all a sense of higher purpose
The majority of workers feel compelled to make an impact in their career and in their community, with younger generations skewing even further in support of this trend. Make a commitment to offer opportunities for employees to give back in some way, whether it be through fundraising, volunteerism, or pro bono work. At Fingerpaint, we engage with over 100 nonprofits each year in these ways, as well as having a full-time corporate philanthropist on staff and closing the agency for one day every year to do hands-on activities supporting those in need.
We’ve proudly contributed millions to the communities surrounding our offices, and both current and prospective employees cite our commitment to philanthropy as one of their favorite parts of the agency. The best part of this is that as our agency grows, so will our capacity to engage workers in giving back, and we know we’ll continue to attract like-minded workers who care about making a difference.
Our efforts have included such large-scale projects as funding a new county homeless shelter, purchasing a new bloodmobile for the American Red Cross, and packaging 65,000 meals for underprivileged children during summer vacations.
Putting humanity back in advertising
Advertising is a brutally difficult business. The hours and stress can be challenging to say the least. By placing your primary emphasis on your staff and their well-being, and creating a culture of giving back to others, your agency will thrive. Staff will feel valued and also appreciate how you treat them, which will inherently be passed along to your customers and communities.
Ed Mitzen is the founder and CEO of Fingerpaint.