An ex-JWT staffer laments the ongoing farce at the network

Clients can smell it when agency teams are unhappy.

Regardless of whether Gustavo Martinez is or is not still working for WPP, it's clear the ongoing media fallout from the dispute has had an impact outside the walls of J Walter Thompson and WPP.

It’s been upsetting for me because I began my career at JWT London, so the agency holds a special place in my heart. As a student I dreamt about working for an agency brand as strong as JWT. It was the "university of advertising".

JWT created culturally significant and long-running campaigns for brands like Oxo, Kit Kat and Persil. They co-invented planning. My mum even sent me articles about JWT whenever she spotted them in the Sunday press. In other words, they embodied the definition of what a brand should be and the very name made you feel something. Something exciting, authoritative – something I wanted to be part of.

The agency's culture, whilst by no means perfect, created a positive, broadly happy environment. And without this, agencies soon stop producing their best work and stop winning pitches. Let’s face it, clients can smell it when agency teams are unhappy. This very public legal battle – with WPP vehemently contesting the case since it began – breeds an uncomfortable, awkward atmosphere. So I can only imagine how JWT’s current employees across the globe are feeling.

Add this to a time of utter turmoil, quite brilliantly captured in US brand consultant Lindsey Slaby’s article "A tough time for ad agency positioning", and you are heading for a perfect storm. Slaby spent the summer visiting over 50 agencies in the US and concluded that "almost no one is feeling comfortable in their current skin". She says: "Talent has long since left the building at full services shops, causing them to reshape and go into survival mode."

Irrespective of the machinations of this particular case, how do we as an industry get back to creating an environment where our staff not only enjoy what they do, but feel proud of the agency they work at?

There are three things that drive satisfaction at work: mastery, autonomy and purpose. Mastery requires encouraging lifelong learning. Autonomy means empowering staff to make their own decisions within safe frameworks. Purpose is achieved by working with great clients who want to be useful in the wider world.

It also helps to offer employees perks such as free breakfasts or bar nights, and of course you can always try actually being nice to one another. After all, as Steve Jobs so often reminded us, the only way to do great work is to love what you do.

Chris Pearce is the chief executive of TMW Unlimited.

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