You don’t have to be a CEO to bring positive change

TBWA Sydney strategic planner, Natalie Rempalski
By TBWA Sydney strategic planner, Natalie Rempalski | 14 December 2017
Nat Rempalski

In an industry where change is constant, it creates a culture that favours the new over old. New technology, new formats, new talent; it’s a cultural shift that’s making us lose sight of the importance of people.

In our agencies today, it’s rare to see employees over the age of 40 or employees who’ve been there longer than a few years. It’s not uncommon for young people coming through the workforce to have four jobs by the time they’re 32 – nearly double that of the generation before them1. And this trend extends beyond agencies, we have CMOs who are changing roles faster than ever, causing agencies to have to throw out existing work and start from scratch instead of building on existing, often proven successful, platforms. With work that’s forced to have immediate short-term impact alongside inhumane deadlines, it’s shifting the way we operate to prioritising the work over the people, which is resulting in agencies burning through talent and leaving people feeling unhappy in their jobs.

The most difficult challenge we face as young people starting out in this industry is feeling powerless in the face of these variables. It makes us feel like, “I’m not a [insert senior leadership title] so what can I really do about it?” We’re in the early years of our careers, we don’t run a department, we’re often the youngest person in meetings, we’re naïve to the challenges the industry faces and we’re still learning every day – but what I do know is that your title doesn’t determine the positive impact we can make on our agencies.

As strategists, we don’t have ‘partners’ like you do in creative. Traditionally, we’re expected to magically uncovers insights, solo. Technically, we wouldn’t have any reason to get to know people in design, production, finance and we’re not overly encouraged to hang out with the creatives for too long… As someone who believes wholeheartedly that collaboration and teamwork are essential to producing amazing work, I had a fundamental problem with this siloed model. In my experience, I’ve found that breaking the rules, for good, is how we can create positive impact on our agencies.

What do I mean by us breaking the rules? Recently a Planning Director and I were working on a brand strategy for a client and were blankly staring up at a wall of research we’d been looking at for days... we just couldn’t articulate that single, punchy line that would capture everything floating around in our heads, inspire creatives and excite the client. We knew we needed to talk to someone who thought differently to us to get a fresh perspective. Instead of continuing to torture ourselves with this writer’s block, we walked over to the creative department and asked (begged) a creative team to help us because we were stuck. They agreed, politely walked over and listened to us ramble through our thoughts, and then magic happened. They said the most beautifully simplified version of the paragraph we’d been staring at. It was a pure collaborative moment where strategy and creative came together to make something even better than where we’d started.

Break. The. Rules. Walk away from the computer, talk to people, go outside, ask for help. We didn’t schedule a meeting or book hours or do anything other than ask some friends to help us out (and then thanked them with doughnuts afterwards). We felt comfortable asking for help because we had built a level of friendship and respect with people outside of our department – and we weren’t scared of someone else cracking the line. We’re all the future of our industry, we aren’t jaded by old agency habits, we’re unafraid to go outside our traditional lanes and collaborate with others, regardless of titles and departments, because we all have a shared desire to make cool shit happen together. My hope is that we don’t lose this natural openness we have with each other.

We can all be these people, but it requires parking our egos and focusing on building relationships with all of the different types of people sitting next to us. It’s the small everyday stuff – saying thank you more often, asking people how they’re doing, letting other people know when a team member killed it, praising the little wins. We all too often overlook the power of these little everyday efforts, but these small efforts add up to big change; by building respectful relationships with each other it naturally builds loyalty, fosters collaboration and creates environments where not only the best work can be created, but where people want to stay.

We know the long-term impact of creating collaborative environments where people feel respected and valued – in an 80-year study by Harvard (one of the longest studies of adult life) it found that embracing community and connecting with others helps us live long and be happier. And fostering environments where employees feel happy isn’t just nice to be around, it’s profitable for business. In a 700-person study conducted in Britain, researchers found that productivity increased as much as 20 percent in happy individuals.

We need to remember that we don’t have to be a CEO to bring this type of positive change to our agencies. If we truly believe good ideas can come from anywhere, we need to keep challenging the traditional model and focus on creating diverse environments where we feel comfortable to collaborate because when we harness the power of collaborating with people from many walks of life, it’s more powerful than any new piece of technology ever will be.

By TBWA Sydney strategic planner, Natalie Rempalski 

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