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Agencies in Transition

It is clear that agency life has changed. It used to be free beers on a Friday and an annual away day team jolly. But now, with COVID having certainly accelerated things, we see the best in class agencies really thinking hard about how to treat their people. With well-being and mental health at the top of the agenda, there is a far greater consideration of work life balance and the differing stresses and strains experienced by juniors through to squeeze gen parents and the empty nesters. Next up is purpose and giving good reason for people to show up, be it via Zoom/Teams or in real life. Money and perks matter but they are not the be all and end all any longer. People want to feel good about what they are doing and how their contribution will make a difference for the greater good.

In reading the about the 90 agencies and marketing departments that have made the Campaign “Best places to work” grade I was struck by the wide range of initiatives put in place as the pandemic forced us all to rethink working practices. Looking through those that have won the accolade it also struck me that a great number were independent agencies. One such agency, SOMO ranked second in Campaign’s Best Places to Work for medium-sized companies for the past two years. Somo has topped the list this year and achieved fourth place overall.

Somo credits its “humane approach” to work and its people for making it a top place to work. With lockdown severely hampering its usual people centred initiatives e.g. ski trip, free food and weekly massages it instead provided a £200 cash allowance for WFH set-up, flexible hours to help staff juggle home-schooling and working and regular mental health check-ins.

This level of flexibility is clear evidence that they want to treat their people as best they can, and it clearly pays dividends with glowing Glassdoor reviews to boot. Independent agencies have distinct advantages over their often larger Group counterparts. Frequently described as more nimble, adaptable, original, unfiltered and cost-effective – independents are in charge of their own destiny with no boundaries other than those they set themselves. This means strategic decisions don’t need approval, there is an emphasis on building strong long lasting authentic relationships with clients and critically they really get the importance of looking after their people.

It seems the move to hybrid working is no longer an interim way of working. Over the last 14 months we have experienced a time when adapting to new circumstances made or broke agencies. As we transition, we have the potential for creating healthier better work cultures. A positive impact of COVID.

In the before times, I recall a sense of no-one having any time, of being just too busy, as if the wheels were always about to fly off. Lockdown forced us agency staff and clients alike to stop, to take stock and to re-evaluate what is important. Let us hope that with raised awareness of the importance of mental fitness and having a sense of purpose, that the next normal will be a healthier, more tuned-in and purpose driven experience.