Inspiring the new cultural shift at Primesight

From the lessons of Buddha to the growing importance of well-being, Primesight's commercial director, Chris Forrester, enters 2015 in contemplative fashion.

Chris Forrester: commercial director at Primesight
Chris Forrester: commercial director at Primesight

It has been an interesting quarter for Primesight. Along with the usual end of year/ start of next year pressures, we have again reached the time when we’ve asked our staff to take part in the Best Companies (to work for) survey. Last year we scored a respectable 125th, the highest placed media owner in the category, and although pleased with our two-star rating, we felt that we could achieve better.

Each year we conduct two additional surveys, one with staff to find out how they feel about working at Primesight, and another with our customers to get feedback on our performance across various aspects of our business throughout the year. The feedback from these surveys in 2013, although strong, has led us to embark on a process of change and work very hard on developing our behaviour, practices and most importantly, our culture.

How best to cultivate culture?

An interesting book I am reading about Buddhism cites the Chambers definition of culture as "the state of being cultivated". Being cultivated, according to Buddha, is a path of authentic vision, ideas, speech, action, forms of life, resolve, mindfulness, and focused awareness.

Culture is shaped by experiences from the past and responsibilities for the future. It is important because it measures our quality of life, our vitality and the health of our society and organisations.  Through this we develop a sense of belonging, personal and cognitive growth and the ability to empathise and relate to each other. All this feels very close to the journey Primesight (along with many other media companies) is undertaking.

Looking at those companies in the industry that feature, Best Companies is traditionally dominated by the big agencies. Most have well-established CSR functions, but will also have new recruits of the same general demographic as ours.  There are, of course, many differences, but in a funny way I've always felt that outdoor media owners share some similarities with media agencies.

In the absence of a consumer facing brand, we are heavily reliant on people, are celebratory by culture, and understand the necessity for collaboration and working for the good of the whole.  All of these coupled with the need to create a strong brand and definable proposition without the help of a consumer facing identity.

Over the last year we’ve had a discreet look at how agencies care for their staff and create strong support; in the main, I feel they are further ahead of media owners, but through necessity. Agencies often have to call upon their teams to deliver a vigorous step-up during a pitch. Very often following a loss the same people need to regroup and go again.

We ask our teams to step-up, reminding them that we need to start 2015 strong, whilst making  sure they are out saying ‘thank you’ and of course not expecting them to be late the next day.

The impact of the new recruits

To help shape my thinking, this year more than any other I have watched and analysed those at the more junior end who have entered the business. It's not that I have taken no interest in the past, but there seems to be a different behaviour of those that came before them (me definitely included). In my view, at Primesight, the newcomers are beginning to influence those already here. There seems to be some commonality that runs through them all to a greater or lesser extent.

Observation of the time spent in the office, more open conversations, and some of the responses in the staff survey results has led to the increasing realisation that what drives and motivates people has changed.

Increasingly across the business, but particularly evident in recent entrants to the industry, people are hungry to succeed and they display behaviour that has not been as evident in the past.

There is an overarching desire to succeed, work harder, longer and faster, but also to find a way of striking a balance between work, life and increasingly, wellbeing (whatever that means to the individual).

The importance of well-being

Interestingly, Nabs have picked up the importance of the latter, which is why in the midst of the last quarter (on the 11th November) we were visited by their Wellfest: ‘a travelling roadshow of workplace wellness, wellbeing and wellitude’. The Wellfest was making a journey across some of Adland’s finest - BBH, Facebook, Carat, M&C Saatchi - exploring health, nutrition, mindfulness and other areas important for us to feel invigorated.

To go back to the nature of the new media executives: they don't think that the world (or us on a more local level) owes them a living. Although keen to build networks within the company and develop close relations, they are highly competitive. While previous age groups demonstrated a competitive streak, this generation does things quite differently; they are comfortable talking publicly about great work that they've done and this isn't seen as showboating (especially important in a sales environment).

Alternatively, it represents the pride they take in their work and the happiness they experience when they share it - should they feel someone else may benefit from a smart use of scarce resource (namely them). Expectations of management, both line-level and senior, are higher, and the recent newcomers are certainly less forgiving;  they are open about underperformance that should be dealt with, the expectations they have of those above them and the company in general.

Earlier this year, we introduced a book club (exactly as it sounds...minus the wine and the fiction). Without wanting to sound like a cynical old git, I expected it to be at best warmly received, but most likely half-heartedly pursued. I couldn't have been more wrong. Everyone reads the book (one a month, the last was Adam Morgan’s Eating the Big Fish), but what left me fairly speechless was that some had read it twice, commenting the likes of 'it went in better the second time' and others even had two copies - one just for making notes.

More flexibility demanded in the workforce

The visit from Nabs was no accident. This new wave of behaviour and people also demands increased flexibility and to be able to work in a way that suits them and their life. I've worked in offices where there seemed to be an invisible silent bell that rang at 5.30 and the office was empty ten minutes later. These days I've noticed that our newer employees will stay until their work is finished, regardless of whether they are a sales function (with a bonus attached) or not.

On a different note, you can see their frustration when an eyebrow is raised if they're a few minutes late in the morning - something management (maybe of more traditional media sales companies) need to wake up to. When researching what it is that adds value to their job satisfaction, we found that apart from (the expected mentions) of benefits and remuneration, the importance of involvement in charitable causes and working with the community is significant.

CSR, it seems, is a major reason as to why they want to work for a business. Although we're focused on it and have raised hundreds of thousands of pounds through various initiatives company-wide, the message is that we have to step up in the future.

I'm not going to go into what we've put in place this year, not wanting to brag, but also wanting to keep what I see as a competitive advantage; now, I wait in hope that the work we do will in some way help us get a better score, but more importantly being a traditional (or ‘classic’ as I have recently heard it being called and I liked it), UK-only company, that continues to recruit shape and develop some truly great talent.

Chris Forrester is commercial director of Primesight

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