Positive workplace culture in PR agencies: why it's important and how to build it

Positive workplace culture in PR agencies: why it's important and how to build it

As we move on from the crisis-phase of the COVID-19 pandemic and business conditions improve, recruitment and hiring has started to pick up in the PR and communications industry. This means the relative lull in staff-turnover is likely to come to an end, and bosses are going to have to dust off their staff-retention plans.

Research shows that a healthy company culture is a crucial ingredient for employee satisfaction and low company churn rates, so getting culture right should be an absolute priority.

Telum caught up with Dan Woods, Managing Director at WE Communications Australia, and Stuart Terry, Founder and Director at We Are Different, both agencies having won awards recognising their approach to culture and their overall success, to chat about the role of good culture in minimising staff turnover in PR agencies.

Culture… what is it?
For WE Communications, culture isn’t intangible, nor is it a “nice to have”. It is a strategic imperative. Dan points out, “As Peter Drucker says: 'Culture eats strategy for breakfast’ and it should be more obvious than ever that company culture and employee engagement are crucial in keeping a team intact, cohesive, productive and invested. This is true for agencies and for businesses in general.” 

Dan adds, “Culture is really about ‘the way we do things around here’ - the values, behaviours, attitudes and practices that inform the day to day: employees care very much about how their organisation addresses these things.”

WE Communications AustraliaWhy focus on culture?
Research has proven that a healthy company culture can boost employee productivity, performance and morale, which is critical to ensuring the ongoing delivery of business objectives.

Stuart says that “there is huge value, both internally and externally” in concentrating on culture. He says that his agency’s simple commitment to “doing things differently” along with “a value system that prioritises for the collective good” creates a culture of excellence and empathy at We Are Different. “This helps build team cohesion internally and offers clients teams that are truly committed to the work and pushing their brands forward.” 

Dan believes that positive culture is essential to build an agency that is “creative and curious”. He says, “‘Our people’ is one of the principal priorities for WE, with culture playing a crucial role in attracting and retaining the best people in our industry. WE understands that over and above all else, success rests in, and is the result of investment in, our people. We must put our people at the centre of our business and create a culture of belonging, diversity and inclusivity. Not only is this the right thing to do, but it also generates better thinking and ideas and ultimately, better work and outcomes for our clients.”

The secret to successful company culture
In days gone by, an agency owner could buy a ping pong table, provide drinks on tap, or perhaps provide free gym memberships for their team, but post-COVID, are these the things that “make” culture, and that employees value? A global Glassdoor study found that positive workplace culture, quality senior leadership and opportunities for career growth and development were the top three indicators of overall employee satisfaction.

Dan says the secret to building great culture lies in “creating a supportive, empowering, safe and fun workplace for our people.” He continues: “We want our people to stay at WE and to carve out for themselves not just a job, but a career pathway, where they have exposure to a range of people, projects, clients, colleagues, and experiences. Where they can be challenged and grow and where they feel that they have intrinsic value, as well as being valued for the skills they bring to their roles.” Dan says that WE’s success also stems from their investment in their learning and development programme, as well as their commitment to flexible working and work-life balance, such as through their “8ForYou” and “Time Out” initiatives, and their “Summer Fridays” program. Especially important in the past year with COVID-19, he also stresses the value of “open, honest, sometimes raw and brave communications” from senior leadership.

Stuart explains that his agency’s approach to the agency model has allowed We Are Different to foster a successful team culture. “Different operates like David in a world of PR agency Goliaths”, he says. “We take a different approach to staff engagement - embracing diversity, inclusion and development to ensure we’re not thinking in a group or burning out staff.”

Stuart adds: “For Different, company culture sits on the fine line between offering staff access to the best work of their careers, while ensuring the right systems and processes are in place to create an environment that fosters creativity, entrepreneurship, mental resilience and balance. No agency will get it right 100 per cent of the time, but addressing the need for both inspiring work and work / life flexibility is how we build and keep a high-performing team.”

The verdict on culture
Company culture: we all know we need it. But, what is it, and how do you build it? Culture is more than staff drinks or even just working from home. It will mean different things to different businesses. The key thing, though, is that leaders take the time to really understand what culture means to their team, and invest time and energy into building and reinforcing it.

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