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Stopgap

How the pandemic has evolved the employee experience

From left: Pip Hulbert, CEO, Wunderman Thompson; Victoria Constable, senior consultant, Stopgap
From left: Pip Hulbert, CEO, Wunderman Thompson; Victoria Constable, senior consultant, Stopgap

Wunderman Thompson has seen a huge transformation in how and where the agency works, as Pip Hulbert, CEO, tells recruitment firm, Stopgap, in an exclusive interview for Campaign.

Clearer agendas, efficient processes and seamless document co-authoring have meant fewer late nights and less junk food at Wunderman Thompson. To find out more about how the pandemic has driven innovation at the agency and how the career experience is evolving, Victoria Constable, senior consultant at recruitment firm, Stopgap, reached out to CEO, Pip Hulbert.

Victoria Constable: Pip, would you say your business model has changed as a result of the pandemic?
Pip Hulbert: Our approach to how we operate has changed. We’ve seen a huge transformation in how and where we work. But principally, our business model combining creative, data and technology, has stayed the same. Our capabilities and how we can integrate them are in demand more than ever. Many clients now recognise the need to step change and integrate work to build brands in a digital world.

“Clearer agendas, efficient processes and seamless document co-authoring have meant fewer late nights and less junk food!”


VC: How has pitching changed through lockdown?
PH: Pitching hasn’t drastically changed but we’ve certainly adapted. Every investment matters, so we need to focus on brands we can grow with. It has all become more personal - while working from home we are getting more of a glimpse into the lives of our staff, clients and business partners, which helps us determine whether we can imagine working together. We do our best to check in on our people, respect their boundaries and protect their time. Clearer agendas, efficient processes and seamless document co-authoring have meant fewer late nights and less junk food!

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VC: Which formats are working for pitches? How have you innovated?
PH: There’s no theatre or quick thinking raconteurs to distract from the work. It’s all about the work and it’s laid bare for all to see and judge. Everything needs to be as clear and simple as possible. How can you have an impact? Think of the device and the size of screen your meetings will be experienced in, brush up on your online meeting etiquette, share links or reduce file sizes to avoid buffering films. Don’t forget when you’re sharing your screen! Think about follow-ups and personal touches. Use bespoke microsites as pitch hubs and do those ad hoc follow-ups. Make it all count. Oh and know your tech. Teams, Zoom, a client’s own platform…there’s no excuse. It needs to be slick. Pets, children and doorbells are welcome, of course!

VC: What kind of challenges have you been facing?
PH: One challenge has been chemistry and ‘reading the zoom’. Nothing beats being together in person to get to know each other and gauge reactions to the work. That said, the savings on travel time and other efficiencies have offered far more opportunities to ‘connect’ throughout a pitch process which has more than compensated.

"Relationships between business partners who are heading in the same direction, pushing and challenging each other along the way and bringing diverse minds and capabilities together to inspire business growth - that is very much alive."


VC:
How do you open your new business pipeline?
PH: Brands and agencies alike are seeking business partners they can grow with - those who will keep each other ahead of the curve and navigate this fragmented world we live in. That’s why we invest in new capabilities, new people, new partnerships and new thinking, to stay at the cutting edge of the industry and beyond. We leverage this to create studies like WT Inspire to understand what truly inspires consumers, Future 100 - our annual trends report, or our latest thinking on the cookie-less world, and supporting industry partnerships like BRiM to drive black representation in marketing. Ultimately, this kind of thinking informs our work, and making great work is the best way to generate interest in the agency.

VC: So...the retainer is not dead then?
PH: No, the retainer isn’t dead. What’s dead is an inefficient, complacent and old-fashioned model that doesn’t consistently deliver results for brands. Relationships (ideally long-term) between business partners who are heading in the same direction, pushing and challenging each other along the way and bringing diverse minds and capabilities together to inspire business growth - that is very much alive.

VC: In what ways has the pandemic led you to evolve the career experience for your employees?
PH: At the heart of any great career experience is keeping people connected and inspired. At Wunderman Thompson our mission is to inspire our clients, but the same applies to employees. So we’ve worked hard to keep things interesting across our entire employee experience - from inspiring internal comms and upping the ante in learning and development, to ensuring people have diversity in their role.

That means moving between accounts to work on new brands and across different capabilities, working on new business and taking part in our employee resource groups. When you’ve got the depth and breadth of capabilities, products and services as we do it’s vital people get to know it all. The future of our industry doesn’t lie with people who can just write a TV script or deliver a killer loyalty programme. The future is in an integrated understanding of marketing communications so we can deliver a clear, distinct and inspiring experience for our brands again and again.

“The future is in an integrated understanding of marketing communications so we can deliver a clear, distinct and inspiring experience for our brands again and again”.


And, when the time comes for our people to leave Wunderman Thompson, we want them to leave better than when they started. If you’ve worked at Wunderman Thompson, you can go on to work anywhere in the industry. Those skills, and that career experience, is what I’m proud to say is uniquely WT.

VC: How are you striking the right balance between work flexibility and job security?
PH: It’s certainly true that we can succeed when working from home and without being visible to one another all the time.  Pre-Covid, the industry as a whole generally believed that being in the office equalled results and therefore security. During and post-Covid, it is clear that creativity and contribution is what matters, regardless of where you’re working from.  

We’re embracing a hybrid working model - if you want to work at home to get your head down on a presentation you absolutely can, but we’ll be encouraging people, when it’s safe to do so, to return to the office to collaborate with teams. Sometimes it’s those random, unscheduled, meetings and the chats you have in the coffee line, that spark the best ideas.

“During and post-Covid it is clear that creativity and contribution is what matters, regardless of where you’re working from”.


At the end of the day it all comes down to trust. Trusting our teams to deliver inspiring and effective work in a way that works for them, whilst also our business and our clients. Those are the measures we care about.

VC: What kind of enhanced training and development opportunities do you now offer?
PH: When there was so much we couldn’t do during the pandemic we took the opportunity to invest our time and money into what we could - our people. We immediately took our whole L&D programme virtual, including our lunchtime lessons with external speakers, such as artists, producers and entrepreneurs.. We also invested in a brand-new L&D portal called iLearn which provides off-the shelf training from LinkedIn, Adobe and Microsoft, and TED Talks, as well as specific content to Wunderman Thompson.

Our biggest investment came in the form of Spring - our largest and most ambitious internal event to date, focused entirely on upskilling our teams. I say ‘event’ - it was more of a festival! Across three days in April, we put on 50 talks across four tracks with over 100 speakers covering our capabilities, wellbeing, diversity, inclusion and personal development. The whole event was virtual and entirely flexible so people could build their perfect agenda. And now everything is on-demand so people can catch the 15-minute TEDTalk-style sessions in between meetings. It went down so well we’re doing it again this September!

VC: How do such initiatives help with employee wellbeing?
PH: Amongst all of this we realised how important it is for people to have the time to invest in themselves outside of our main flagship events. Last month we launched W Time - two hours a month blocked out and designated for our teams to read a book, listen to a podcast, visit a gallery or catch up on some training. Whatever they want.

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all when it comes to training, particularly in an agency like ours where we offer such a diverse portfolio of capabilities. You’ve got to keep it fresh, engaging and flexible.

VC: Thank you Pip. It’s been fascinating to hear about how the pandemic has been a driving force for positive change at Wunderman Thompson and how this is evolving the career experience.

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