Reboot and get back to basics
A view from Neil Simpson

Reboot and get back to basics

After going through a buy-back process, The Corner initiated a root-and-branch rebuild of its company culture during the pandemic.

Advertising history is littered with stories of start-ups selling. It's not often you hear about a buy-back, but that's just what we, The Corner, did nine months ago.

Rather than debating the reasons why we decided to do that and discussing the benefits of independence, which are crystal clear – flexibility, pace of decision-making and collective commitment to a cause being just a few – I want to discuss how we rebuilt during Covid, and prepared ourselves for a fully reopened work space.

The agency we bought back was politically battered and culturally contaminated. So a reboot meant back to basics rather than business as usual.

Like most agencies we were able to alter our working practices through lockdown, but we needed to understand the underlying impact on our cultural infrastructure.

We felt the best way to audit our current status was to challenge ourselves by entering awards, such as the IPA CPD accreditation or Campaign’s Best Places to Work. Both of these and others, such as the Sunday Times Best 100 (which we successfully achieved in 2019), force you to shine a light on all corners of your agency. 

Every process and policy across development, training, inclusion, environment, culture and innovation – to name but a few – is highlighted. It’s not just about narrative and intention, you have to demonstrate actions and results.

These awards and accreditations force you to recognise where improvement is needed, and what you need to implement in the future. Proudly, I can say that our efforts have been recognised with an IPA CPD Gold accreditation and a lofty but humble 17th in Campaign’s Best Places to Work.

The process forced us to open up and be more flexible, focus on promoting positive wellbeing and give our people more time to do the things that are important to them, whether that's spending time with their family or working on their side hustles (since we launched The Corner we have operated a support programme, called Second Life).

We hired a head of people, diversity and development, who now checks in with everyone individually on a regular basis. We have begun to repurpose our office space, creating more “quiet” meeting pods, breakout spaces for collaboration and upgrading our tech. 

We are currently open three days per week, and when restrictions fully lift, we will be open five days and operating a flexible working environment – based on trust. It’s nonsense to specify days that the office will be closed for remote working, as our people and clients need more flexibility than that.  

As leadership you must create the right environment, but the culture is organic and owned by your people. You know whether that culture is thriving when it self-generates. 

Last month we welcomed the first 10 candidates to embark on a HeadStart work experience course at The Corner in partnership with London Youth.

We've also just launched a programme called Soho Starters, which offers paid placements and an introduction to creative business and life in an agency. It's designed for school leavers who are unable to move into further education and believe our industry excludes them.

Both initiatives were conceived, driven and implemented by teams in the agency. This injection of new blood invigorates us as a business, with each of our staff taking time to share their experiences and skillsets. It’s been a great reminder to all of the journey our lives have taken, what we love about our jobs and how much we enjoy them.   

Therein lies the best piece of advice for any agency, young or old, sold or bought back: liberate your people to effect the change they want to see.

Neil Simpson is founding partner and chief executive of The Corner