Paul Frampton: chief executive of Havas Media Group, UK & Ireland
Paul Frampton: chief executive of Havas Media Group, UK & Ireland
A view from Paul Frampton

Agencies are failing their clients if they put their talent second

Agencies all have one thing in common. Their chief asset is talent and they should cherish it, argues Paul Frampton.

Talent, chemistry and creativity are the lifeblood of success in any agency. Businesses that genuinely engage and empower their talent have been proven to grow faster.

Culture can often be intangible but done well, it is visible to all as a unique sense of belonging and a set of common, shared beliefs.

Why then do too many parts of the agency community still persist with a top down, command-and-control approach?

Co-creation and collaboration are essential attributes for an engaged workforce, yet too often the tension is palpable between agency mandates, and dominant egos versus a millennial workforce that yearns for responsibility and growth.

Results can be delivered without involvement and engagement, but that success rarely lasts long.

In 2016, Nabs reported that calls for emotional support to their Advice Line were up 68% year on year, and by a further 37% in the first half of the year. Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.

Havas recently opened a new chapter by co-locating 1,700 people in a new custom-built environment in Kings Cross.

We call this our Village because we want the environment to be seen not as a workplace, but a community of talented individuals who together make a bigger difference.

Moving in to our exciting new home has prompted re-appraisal of whether we are doing enough to fulfil this ambition. A cleverly designed building, where every floor is connected, is basecamp.

This new environment has become a catalyst for how Havas better cares for and grows its talent – that’s what culture is made of. 

Putting talent first is a lot more than having a diversity programme. Agencies are at their best when they have a fruit salad of personalities and backgrounds.

At Havas, inclusion is a higher purpose than diversity. Agency talent must feel able to bring their whole selves to work and know that they have equal opportunity, no matter their gender, race, background, education or mental or physical state.

I have just experienced the joy of my fourth child. Some years after my first brood, this has gifted me a unique opportunity to actively learn and empathise with new parents within Havas.

Juggling sleepless nights with unforgiving client demands and pitch schedules is exhausting. Productivity suffers first and then emotion starts to overpower rational thought and teamwork. These conditions will neither produce happy staff, nor the best work.

A recent Nabs survey found 48% of parents find managing workloads the biggest challenge, followed closely by fatigue at 45%. A third have been made to feel uncomfortable about parenting responsibilities.

These stats are pathetic. It is incumbent on agency leaders to take notice and act.

Every single person, regardless of seniority, brings his or her own baggage to work every day. Historically the management has expected this to be left at the door of the agency.

It’s time for agency leaders to open their eyes to the invisible.

Staff welfare should be the number one agenda point for any leadership discussion – agencies must be more flexible, understanding, accepting and supportive places.

We are operating in a climate of greater uncertainty than we have known for some time, so more empathy and reassurance is not just nice to have, it’s business critical.

Kathleen Saxton’s annual Shipping Report, published earlier this month, revealed the gap between leaders aware of the need to offer more support for physical and mental wellbeing (95%) and their managers (45%) who agreed enough is being done.

Saxton’s pioneering Psyched programme is evidence that we have a community of talent crying out for more support, but as an industry we are yet to serve that need.

Much like getting greater diversity around the table, I’m willing to wager that prioritising the physical and mental wellbeing of our agency talent will pay back in spades.

It also makes complete sense as a benefit to clients, as they will seek out good agency culture as a surrogate for both fit and quality of output.

It will be those brave enough to truly put their people first, ahead of their customers – as preached by Sir Richard Branson – that re-define what success looks like. 

What about the unforgiving daily delivery demands, I hear you say? No one said it was easy but agency leaders need to empower their teams to vocalise the importance of staff wellbeing with clients.

The majority will appreciate the pay-off to deliver better outcomes, but equally the word "No" is too rare in agency land.

Collectively, we must encourage it to be used with more frequency or at the very least be prepared to challenge unfair demands that impact staff welfare.

Much has been made of the #failfast mantra as a positive driver of empowered culture – #failfast combined with #peoplefirst (not customer or mobile first) feels like a happy union.

Agency talent must be free to operate without fear of failure but also without fear of being judged for working non-standard hours or dressing differently.

Any business in its right mind would do its utmost to protect and cherish their best asset. It’s pretty simple for agencies – that asset is our people and it is people power and collaboration that are emerging as the winning formula for business.

Putting people first, accommodating their mental and physical needs and nourishing them will lead to more delighted customers, better work and, in turn, hopefully fewer new business pitches.

Paul Frampton is chief executive of Havas Media Group, UK & Ireland.

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