Every agency has its own unique culture, but the general stereotype is that agency life is fast-paced and creative, and that a successful PR professional is one who can “sell” an idea. It takes a special environment to enable employees to promote their ideas both internally and to the editors and others being pitched. In my experience, the most successful agencies are those that foster a productive, creative agency environment in which individual employees feel passionate about their work, feel empowered to bring new strategies, take initiative, and share a sense of team spirit. This environment enables the fulfillment of client, agency and individual goals. The agency I am a part of, Vantage PR, is not the only agency that has developed a culture of inclusion, but it is my “home,” so I will use Vantage as an example of an agency that gives power to its people.
In Maslow’s Hierarchy of need, the most basic needs are those related to food, clothing and shelter, but not far behind are social needs including a sense of belongingness, affection and love. It is critical that employees feel that they belong to the organization, not in the sense of possession, but in the sense of belonging to a club or feeling valued. Vantage enables employees to pursue interests that are of value to the agency. For example, an account coordinator at Vantage demonstrated success with clients while displaying a natural interest and knack for employee development. When these talents were recognized, a plan was created to expand the AC’s role to include her passions. She now heads up the Vantage Intern Program, or VIP, where she has revamped the intern training program and now serves as a go-to leader and mentor for all interns.
At Vantage, employees go the extra mile to find opportunities to showcase clients. In 2013, California experienced its driest year on record; lawmakers were urging Governor Jerry Brown to declare a drought emergency. In an effort to gain mainstream media attention and widespread exposure for the client that owns a desalination plant in Southern California, the strategy was to jump on this timely trend and pitch a story idea to a few key mainstream editors around water desalination as a drought-proof solution, and how our client is helping to combat California’s water scarcity. This strategy paid off with interest from TIME Magazine, NPR and Bloomberg.
Yes, most people need to work to make a living, but it is crucial that one enjoys his/her job and this is evident when employees do not hesitate when up against the clock or faced with a challenge. When a FOX Business reporter called with a tight deadline and wanted to speak with a client within the next hour on the Healthcare.gov snafu, a Vantage account coordinator was able to quickly juggle client schedules to connect someone with the reporter on the phone, resulting in great coverage.
When employees show such enthusiasm they are rewarded with virtual High Fives and Wow points that go toward a raffle for a gift card or item from the gift drawer.
4. Team Spirit
Whether cheering on the success of a coworker with client coverage, taking a short break for Ping Pong or Darts or joining together for a great cause, it is great for morale to join together in the spirit of cooperation and competition.
One of the pillars of Vantage is giving back to the community. Vantage hosts a company-wide paid day-of-service when employees volunteer for a cause about which they feel passionate. Last year, Vantage employees volunteered at local food and at the Ronald McDonald House. In addition, when one of Vantage’s employees was diagnosed with cancer, the agency organized a walk and helped pay her medical bills. This year, the Vantage team organized charity party fundraisers and raised over $2,000 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. The team ran at the 2013 Wipro San Francisco Marathon on behalf of its fellow employee.
Even as a multi-location operation, Vantage is able to build camaraderie. Through a Monthly Vantage Activity, all employees participate in engaging and entertaining activities via Skype. Activities can consist of anything from Name that Tune to Vantage’s version of Jeopardy or Pictionary.
Even when a strong culture exists at an agency, there is always room for improvement in order to keep things “fresh.” Focused efforts must be made to ensure employees are engaged, challenged, but not burned out; that they feel recognized and valued. Accomplishments must be recognized and rewarded even in small ways in order to keep momentum. The ideas in this article have worked for Vantage, but each agency needs to develop the culture that works best for the atmosphere it wants to develop. Please feel free to offer your ideas in the comment section.
Lynda B. Starr is an Account Manager at Vantage PR, an award-winning public relations agency specializing in high technology.