Why a strong culture is also good business for media agencies

Executives explain why making employees feel valued not only helps with recruitment and retention, but to do better work.

Gone are the days where free lunches, unlimited vacation policies, bringing your dog to work or having a ping-pong table passes for corporate culture in some organizations.

Forbes magazine explored the idea of perks last year and concluded the business world “has conflated ‘perks’ and ‘benefits’ with ‘good company culture,’ assuming that one leads to the other. However, in practice, this connection doesn’t exist. While perks make for a nice bonus, they don’t matter if your employees hate how they feel at work.”

“At this point in the war for talent, every leader recognizes the importance of corporate culture,” says Helen Galanis, CEO of Initiative. “Regardless of where a company may be in the process of developing its culture, the value of it is indisputable and widely understood.”

Initiative invests significantly in its recruiting efforts, and Galanis personally meets every candidate because finding people who can enhance and contribute to the agency’s culture is a business imperative.

“Our culture has become a magnet for attracting like-minded individuals and retaining our top talent. And more than ever, clients are recognizing the importance of a strong corporate culture in their partners. A partner with a strong, stable, and engaged team gives clients confidence in their ability to deliver great work.”

Kevin Kivi, EVP and general manager at Horizon Media Canada, says that, in his experience, it costs nearly twice as much to fire an employee and bring a new one up to speed as it does to hire and retain a star new employee, once you factor in the slowdown in productivity that comes with reassigning tasks to remaining employees and training time.

“That’s why attracting and retaining the best talent is just good business,” he says. “Culture for Horizon is about that feeling you get. Its about being treated fairly. Its about belonging. Its about trust. Our data needs to support those two things. If there is a disconnect, we examine it and we make sure we resolve it. We don’t resolve it six months later.”

Kivi adds, “I read some research recently that said companies with a high level of engagement financially outperform others in their industry by up to 147%. That’s significant. Two in five workers in Canada would not accept a job that was a perfect match if the corporate culture clashed with their own values, according to research our HR department shows me.”

Corporate culture is a set of values or guiding principles that make a company unique.  Lesley Conway, CEO of Mindshare Canada, says the agency believes that its culture should weave through the fabric of the organization. Achieving and maintaining corporate culture is an ongoing, thoughtful, and iterative process that needs to be nurtured over time.

“Corporate culture is both a moral imperative and a business strategy,” Conway says. “We need to not only say who we are but live and breathe it for, and through, our employees. This became even more important during COVID where we were all removed from the day-to-day in-person live interactions with one another that we needed to focus on our people and ensure that corporately we were providing connectedness to others and our communities.”

When agencies discuss client relationships as good fits and partners that align in terms of thoughts and actions, Conway says this is an expression of cultural alignment. “You must have a shared set of values to be able to work fluidly together as an extension of one another’s business.  Understanding how an agency and client act, think and feel at all levels of both organizations is a critical piece of the decision-making process. It is important on both sides of the relationship and the decision to enter relationships.”

Corporate culture also impacts employee retention, as Conway recently found out. An employee who started with Mindshare during COVID left the agency to join another, but returned to Mindshare because of its culture. The reason was that within her Mindshare team she felt valued, listened to, connected, like she was being her authentic self at work. This woman has never worked in an office. Her experience of work has been from her home on her computer.

From her interviews to daily input, to moving another agency and then returning, she said no amount of money can replace the value she feels she gets from her Mindshare environment, says Conway. “This is what we want all our employees to feel. This is the goal we are continuously putting at the forefront. Finding and nurturing these environments across the organization. It is our culture that differentiates and defines us. It enables us to retain and attract the right talent for our culture and environment.”