Working in media isn't what it used to be... and that's OK

Genuine employee engagement has been proven time and again to be driven by one critical factor, writes Anna Hickey - a meaningful, purpose-driven vision

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What's the deal for people working in media these days? The work is hard and constantly changing. It's not the whirlwind of social events and entertaining that it used to be. Salaries can be tough compared with other industries and, if you believe the hype, everything's going in-house or automated anyway.

So what's the reason for getting up every day and walking into the office with a smile on your face?

When it comes down to it, your success is your people: their talent, their passion, the energy they bring every day to the business and its clients.

Yes, of course you need exceptional tech and tools, time and space for creativity, partners who can collaborate with you... You need all that. But people who are engaged by and aligned to the company vision are happier, more fulfilled, and more committed. Because of all that, they're more productive.

So how do you cultivate this state of Zen with your staff, when they're being slapped in the face daily with industry headlines of doom?

Genuine employee engagement has been proven time and again to be driven by one critical factor - your vision.

With a clear company vision which is heard and felt daily in the business, which staff are empowered directly to contribute to, which is motivating, differentiating and emotionally meaningful, staff engagement flies.

The 'meaningfulness' of the vision is the key. If it's about profit, then it won't generate the deep-seated sense of belonging and commitment that is the goal. It might generate some great outcomes from staff who are demon sales-people, but they'll just as happily jump ship and deliver those outcomes for the next company that pays them better.

Nearly 40 years ago academics published the Pyramid of Corporate Social Responsibility (Carroll, 1979). It identified the base level responsibilities of the business to be economic, making money for the business, but at the pinnacle of the pyramid is a set of philanthropic responsibilities.

The ultimate high performing businesses are good corporate citizens, which seek to improve the quality of life for their community and who give back to society.

The Harvard Business Review reported earlier this year that Fortune 500 companies spend $20bn per year on CSR activities. These companies have likely recognised that rewarding staff with social and philanthropic incentives creates a sense of purpose and fulfilment that monetary rewards fall short of.

The vision of the business must enable leaders to engage their staff in activities that are meaningful to society and the community, as well as value-adding to the business.

And this is why, last month, we took all 700 of our staff out of the office for a day. They worked in partnership with Rural Care, offering up 4900 hours (which is what 700 people working for a day equates to) of free labour to enable Rural Care to transform its site at Aldenham.

We laid pathways, built structures for animals and staff, renovated tired and ageing equipment, planted shrubs and borders, cleared ponds and waterways, painted signage and even emptied mountains of cow dung from sheds.

The sense of achievement and transformation delivered from the united purpose was palpable. The agency returned to work the following day with a renewed sense of commitment. A subsequent staff survey showed a marked uptick in staff satisfaction and engagement, and the stories about the day continue to bubble up at the coffee machine.

It may sound obvious, but what goes on inside a business has an impact outside, too. A recent Channel 4 study found that four in ten young people claim to have boycotted a brand because they didn't agree with what it stood for.

And Unilever's CEO Paul Polman was right when, speaking in the media in recent weeks following the FMCG giant's quarterly results, he said that businesses would be "stupid" not to lead on purpose-driven products and campaigns.

But it wasn't just advertising output he warned about; he was talking about internal company health too. "If you're not a desired employer brand or your employees are unhappy... you won't make it," he added.

And so despite the fact that the deal for working in media these days may not be what it used to be, that's okay, as long as we can unite our teams behind a shared vision that empowers everyone together to achieve something that is truly remarkable.

That's better than a few free beers on a Friday lunchtime.

Anna Hickey is COO at Wavemaker


Wavemaker exists to be Future Makers: to build brands that pioneer the future, inspire society and move customers to action. What started with a blank page and a fresh perspective has resulted in building an agency of future. Bound together by our Purchase Journey approach, we help clients translate audience behaviours and insights into smart decisions today, for a prosperous tomorrow. Our organizational capabilities and specialisms, along with the talents of our 8,500 people are united through our focus on understanding, accelerating and optimizing purchase journeys. Our obsession with purchase journeys is apparent in the solutions we create for clients, in how we structure ourselves and in the expertise of our people.