A satisfying career in the advertising and media industry needs more than the shaky but comforting progress of the drinks trolley leading the way to another weekend.
The industry is currently going through something of a talent squeeze with some roles in high demand and the prospect of strengthening salaries.
Brands have returned to the market post the pandemic year of 2020, pushing media spend to growth for the first time in years.
This means opportunity. So, if you’re trying to decide where to land next take a look at this list, a top 10 in order: PHD, L&A Social Media, King Kong, Half Dome, OMD Australia, Active International, Hatched Media, M&C Saatchi, AFFINITY, and Hotglue.
They are from the 2021 AFR Boss Best Places to Work list for media and advertising. The assessment of the agencies was made up of a staff survey and a written submission on policies, practices and programs.The methodology is underpinned by Inventium's Workplaces of the Future framework, which identifies ten factors to employees feeling motivated and engaged.
What made these agencies so special? Why would someone want to work there?
A few quotes:
Hotglue founder Nick Smith: “We firmly believe that what is good for our employees, is good for our business.”
Hatched Media’s Virginia Scully: “In the past year, we have walked away from 50% of new business opportunities. This is because we understand the impact of pitching on our people and their mental health.”
King Kong founder Sabri Suby: “I expect a lot from my team, but my job as their leader is to make sure their workplace first gives them even more.”
L&A Social Media’s Caitlin Gregory-Layman: “We have an environment where it is safe to fail and make mistakes, where opinions are heard, and healthy debate is encouraged.
Half Dome’s Lisa Lie: “Team happiness and motivation is at the heart of Half Dome, it’s our guiding principle and goal at the end of the day.”
Active International’s Cameron Swan: “With the right people in the right roles, and a flexible workplace environment, Active is cultivating a winning culture for each team and each individual.”
OMD’s Aimee Buchanan: “Performance with Integrity is what we stand by and it filters through all facets of our business. It’s not just writing on the wall, but rather something that we live and breathe every day.”
M&C Saatchi’s Nathalie Brady: “It would be easy to itemise a long list of benefits, but the reality is that we simply strive to set our staff up for success and empower them to contribute to a culture of collaboration and outstanding work.”
PHD won first place for its commitment to the wellbeing of its people, including learning and development.
Mark Jarrett, CEO of PHD Australia, says it’s been a continuing ambition for many years to make the company a great place to work.
“I think it's a combination of a number of things… having a clear purpose, trying really hard to give the team and everyone opportunities to develop and be really engaged in their work,” he says.
“And also a sense of fairness and integrity in what we're trying to achieve. I don’t think it’s one thing but those are some of the main points if you spoke to people here.
“The longer you're here, the more holidays you get. We certainly focus on wellbeing and mental health and we're running a number of things for our staff to ensure that they are looking after themselves.
“We invest a lot in learning and development and training. And we're also really clear on the company's purpose and vision. And there are a whole heap of social events.
“There are drinks as well, but also events with no drinks involved, whether it's the boot camp we're running in Sydney or the annual tennis tournament in Melbourne.”
In his five years at PHD Jarrett has enjoyed seeing the agency evolve and grow.
“Also a lot of the people, who have been along for some or all of that journey, have evolved and grown and changed,” he says.
“It's been really rewarding seeing the journeys so many different people have made over that time.”
L&A Social Media
Caitlin Gregory-Layman, executive manager, people & culture, says flexibility, democracy, and belonging were three of the biggest drivers in placing the agency on the best place to work list.
“We provide a flexible environment that encourages autonomy amongst our team, promoting a balance not just in work and life, but of social time and deep work time for ultimate productivity tailored to the individual.
“The entire team has a say in where L&A is going. We have an environment where it is safe to fail and make mistakes, where opinions are heard, and healthy debate is encouraged. This in turn creates a strong democratic environment where every role plays an integral part in what we do and where we go.
“Our team development processes, including recruitment and reviews, are designed to eliminate personal bias.
“We want all team members to be welcomed and feel that they belong at L&A, regardless of race, sexuality, gender, or where they come from in this world.
“We know that a more diverse team means a stronger team so by making sure everyone belongs in the culture at L&A, we all create a welcoming, and stronger, environment.
“Overall, L&A fosters inclusion, connection, and growth in the individual and in the team. We have a culture of development, encouraging our entire team to step outside their comfort zones, be unafraid to fail, and learn every single day.”
Founder Sabri Suby says the judges commented on King Kong’s commitment to workplace bonding, motivation and productivity, and all-team rewards.
The company has a meritocratic methodology that rewards not on the number of hours worked but on the quality of output.
“When you find people that are super effective and are very good at getting the outcomes that you want, it’s not about pushing them as hard as you possibly can and making sure that you’re getting eight or nine hours out of them,” he says
Each year King Kong sets ambitious goals. If they are reached, the entire team -- from admin, through to sales -- are rewarded.
“Pre-COVID, the entire team headed to Thailand, and another time before that we all went to Bali together,” says Suby. “It serves as a fantastic team bonding experience and brings the whole company together to achieve the goal.”
King Kong also has a company-wide mental health day, monthly offsite team leisure and enjoyment activities, and regular team lunches in person and via zoom. There’s also volunteer leave and staff are encouraged to support charities and fundraising.
“A strong and defined culture is palpable and will attract the right talent,” says Suby. “Your business’ culture is so important in setting the tone for how enjoyable, purposeful, dynamic, supportive and challenging it is to be part of your team.
“I expect a lot from my team, but my job as their leader is to make sure their workplace first gives them even more.
“And for my business to continue to be Australia's fastest growing digital marketing agency, training and development is critical to maintaining quality and scaling the business well. It is also a big part of King Kong’s work culture, and is something that helps propel the business forward. We constantly hear from job applicants that their desire for continued learning is a reason for changing jobs.”
Lisa Lie, people & culture lead, says Half Dome has Thrive Days (extra leave days to recharge and reset) and dedicated budgets to individually support the team’s physical and mental health.
She says the best place to work listing recognises achievements and practices relating to learning and development, such as real time performance feedback, team goal setting and achievement, and shared values.
The whole Half Dome team takes part in Mental Health First Aid training.
“We’ve created transparent and open conversations around mental health, and work with an internal performance coach (outside of the direct line manager) to work through any challenges a team member might be facing,” she says.
“We are utilising a wellbeing program through The Resilience Project, which aims to help the team deal with the demands the industry can place on people.
“Flexibility and choice allow our team to work to their own productivity rhythms, with standardised office days and choice around what office and WFH days might look like. We’re currently in phase two of a bigger flexibility trial and our learnings will be shared on that in the coming months.
“We invest in learning around human skills, things like resilience, cultivating change, empathy and mindfulness. For example, we’ve worked with organisational psychologists and neuroscience to drill down into the tools that help people create change that’s clear, easy and desirable.
“Team happiness and motivation is at the heart of Half Dome, it’s our guiding principle and goal at the end of the day.
“We have a growth culture that is based on learning, feedback and improvement, as well as gratitude for the effort that goes into it. It’s something that the team thinks about and acts on every day.”
CEO Aimee Buchanan: “Many OMDers say that coming to OMD is quite an eye opening experience in that they are often surprised by how much we offer our people. You would think that delivering a people strategy at scale wouldn’t result in the family feel of a company being lost, but in fact the opposite is true at OMD where new starters are often in awe of how this is possible to maintain with over 600+ staff.
“We don’t believe there is one magic bullet when it comes to why OMD is a great place to work, but if you were to start somewhere it would probably be our company ambition.
“Performance with Integrity is what we stand by and it filters through all facets of our business. It’s not just writing on the wall, but rather something that we live and breathe every day.
“We don’t settle for the status quo and we are constantly looking for new paths to evolve. Where performance is our push forward, integrity is what grounds us, meaning we do what we say we are going to do. This in turn builds trust and an environment where we have each other’s backs. It also gives us permission to push back if it means a better outcome for our people and our business.
“Last year is a great example of how we constantly look at new ways to grow and evolve. Despite everything that we faced, we still led with purpose and rallied OMDers when they needed it most.
“We connected with our people and were able to continue to inspire with development opportunities in our new virtual world, despite training budgets being cut. We also didn’t lose focus on what was important, delivering great work for our clients and focusing on broader issues such as diversity and inclusion with the launch of a charter and clear objectives set to 2024.
“We also put a lot of focus on policies that help our people lead more balanced lives. From our flexibility policy which we introduced in 2017 and continue to further develop as we move into our new hybrid working model, to our efforts in parental leave policies which help us to retain top talent in the industry. We place a lot of emphasis on getting these right and finding new ways to support our people.
“We have built up OMD’s renowned culture over many years by never settling and we have been recognized annually for this across most industry culture awards. Although it was our first year entering the AFR award, we have consistently appeared in the top 50 companies across Australia in the Great Place to Work ‘Best Places to Work’ study for the last 12 years, ranking #7 in 2020.”
Cameron Swan, group managing director: “The company heavily invests in employee wellbeing and has in place an employee-led wellness committee to help keep everyone in peak form, physically and mentally.
“Active Wellness is a company-wide initiative offering education, support and awareness to all employees with the aim to improve their wellbeing holistically through physical, mental, social, financial and environmental health.”
Benefits include insurance, discounted gym memberships and free flu shots, a calendar of events with a wealth of activities aligned with world events such as Earth Hour and International Women’s Day, and employees can tap into huge resources online, including financial podcasts and health webinars.
In 2021 Active launched its online learning program, Ad Learning Exchange (ALEx), which has more than 50 courses.
Active Wellness program ran during the COVID-19 pandemic. And long before the corporate world started talking about “core business hours” – and allowing staff to work flexibly around them – Active International had designated 10am-4pm as the time for all hands on deck.
Even before the pandemic, most staff could work at least 50% of their contracted hours from home, job-share, work part-time or take parental leave as needed.
“Active’s teams across each department are built to be strong, independent and empowered with extraordinary talent,” says Swan.
“Active has a proven track record of harnessing and retaining talent, with many employees having been with the business for over a decade, following their desired career path and advancement within the business.
“With the right people in the right roles, and a flexible workplace environment Active is cultivating a winning culture for each team and each individual.”
Virginia Scully, people and culture director, says Hatched set out with the goal that the industry deserves better than the current media agency norms.
“That starts with the way we care for our people,” she says.
“Our industry often overlooks talent because they are different or challenging, and years of hiring like for like has not worked out so well.
“We recognised that traditional business silos and roles, which assumed we could all fit into one box, was seriously limiting potential. So unlike the traditional agency hierarchy based on a top-down reporting chain which can often be bureaucratic, Hatched implemented a circular structure.
“The grouping of complementary behaviours and skills facilitates peer coaching and learning and makes it easier for employees at every level to communicate their views. Motivated by team goals and playing to strengths leads to happier, more satisfied teams and clients.
“To improve every Hatchlings experience of life at work, we created a Realising Potential program. Realising Potential combines behavioural profiling with job crafting and replaces outdated and arguably ineffective industry performance and development practices. Using behavioural science, we build more powerful teams and celebrate individual differences. Our size and our independence also enables a more personalised development or learning path.
“Individualised approaches that support growth, connection and well-being – both in the workplace and at home. Many businesses promise flexibility but seem to be missing the critical fact that you can’t separate the two. We work to understand and celebrate all of our people’s roles in life and build genuinely flexible plans that accommodate and make work motivating in each of their unique situations.
“Everyone at Hatched takes responsibility for helping every Hatchling thrive in the new world of work. We liken introducing a new Hatchling to bringing someone into the family home to meet the kids, we have a careful selection process, and we also train our people to become coaches rather than managers or peers.
“Genuine Listening – we use a range of listening strategies to understand, review and then act upon feedback. Monthly 101s, Culture Amp and our Shadow Board (a board of team members who represent agency opinions to our executive team) are some examples of this.
“In the past year, we have walked away from 50% of new business opportunities. This is because we understand the impact of pitching on our people and their mental health.”
Nathalie Brady, group general manager: “Last year, more than any other year, the M&C Saatchi team truly felt the cultural connectedness and spirit of collaboration that we are so proud of, during a really difficult and isolating time in COVID. This obviously came through in the survey results.
“We accelerated our efforts to provide our WFH teams with support and connection, with the launch of new comms channels and cultural moments, the roll out of flexible working kits to set them up for success at home and the team truly felt the freedom and empowerment come into play.
“Our early adoption of the Google Suite of products a few years ago, meant that cross-geographical collaboration was the norm for our teams.
“We ran regular qualitative and quantitative surveys to identify our “live” learnings whilst we were WFH, which enabled us to pivot and focus on important areas such as wellbeing across our teams, as well as solve operational and business challenges on the go. A key metric we’re really proud of is that 97% of employees felt they received transparency from the group during COVID.
“All of this ongoing testing and learning helped us accelerate an evolved workplace strategy and initiate the $8 million Workplace Transformation that we are currently undertaking.
“With the entire team enabled to continue working and collaborating remotely, we were able to pivot and respond strongly to accelerate the efforts of some of Australia’s most important brands, across retail, finance, tourism and FMCG - creating work that made our staff proud to be a part of.
“The intensity of COVID and a challenging marketing climate didn’t slow our resolve to break new ground in terms of our people benefits, with the introduction of Special Compassionate Leave policy for early miscarriage, as well as changes to our Domestic Violence policy, announced internally on White Ribbon Day.
“It would be easy to itemise a long list of benefits, but the reality is that we simply strive to set our staff up for success and empower them to contribute to a culture of collaboration and outstanding work.
“We listen and ask their perspective when solving business challenges. We are transparent with what’s going in the business. And we give them the best operational set up we can, always driven by what they actually need, not what we think they need.
“During one of the most challenging years within our industry, this culture came to the fore, was tested and thrived.”
Angela Smith, chief brand officer: “Why we were listed as an AFR Best Place to Work 2021:
“Purpose – Having a true North Star. We’ve focused a lot of energy and thinking into delivering an outstanding employee experience (EX) for our team over the past few years.
“We did this by being ultra-clear about, and unwaveringly committed to our purpose – about putting our thinking first and on delivering outcomes in all we do.
“We’ve worked hard to ensure our purpose was clear to each and every team member, what their role is in being part of that purpose and enabling them to exceed in their role.
“Our ways of working, methodologies, our systems, our reporting and so on have been rebuilt from the ground up to consistently deliver on our brand promise and our (EX). The knock-on effect is a consistently outstanding client experience that ensures our clients get the outcomes their business needs.
“So I think we ranked (in the AFR BPTW) because of this unerring commitment to what we’re here to do both internally and for our clients. It’s intrinsic to how we work together and the ways in which we innovate and develop systems and IP. Essentially it keeps all aligned and inspired – we know what we’re here to do and why.
“Equality and Inclusion. We probably also ranked highly thanks to our genuine commitment to diversity and gender equality – from the top down we have a 50/50 split of male:female for example and we have salary parity across the board. We’re also progressively training our entire team in recognising and managing unconscious bias.
“Mental Health. We’ve also championed great mental health across our team. We have had an EAP program in place for a couple of years, doona days without questions, meditation sessions, free lead-yoga classes, mindfulness training and an office dog. We encourage our team to work collaboratively in their day to day and have built a culture where it’s ok to not have all the answers and seek help and the perspective of others – it’s all part of learning. We’re genuinely proud of the supportive and collegiate culture we have here.
“I think this is best evidenced by our entire team choosing to return to work as soon as they could post lock-down last year despite being offered and enabled to WFH. Our team genuinely enjoy each other’s company and missed the in person brainstorming or those corridor conversations that lead to a laugh or a break through. They missed the energy, laughter and the banter over playlists. Nothing beats IRL.”
Founder Nick Smith says Hotglue implemented a policy during the pandemic that allowed employees to work from anywhere at any time, so long as they were contactable during business hours.
“We've continued to stick with this policy, and only require our staff to come into the office once a week now that the office has reopened,” he says.
“We ranked extremely highly in the elements of Wellbeing, Learning, Democracy, Challenge and Belonging in the Workplaces of the Future Framework.
The benefits of working at Hotglue?
“Great people, clients and processes, matched with policies that allow our staff to grow and work in the way that best suits them,” Smith says.
“We firmly believe that what is good for our employees, is good for our business.”
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