With our partners Crown Commercial Service, NABS, the IPA, the Alliance of Independent Agencies, the Advertising Association and ISBA we’re calling on the industry to pledge commitment to mental wellbeing and creativity by signing up to the Brilliant Creative Minds Code of Conduct.
We’ve launched the Code to stamp out behaviours that impact employee wellbeing and diminish creativity in our industry.
The Code was developed by SoLo and the Brilliant Creative Minds partnership through a robust process of intelligence gathering. This included in-depth interviews with senior leaders across the client, agency, and procurement worlds including Government Communications Service; Stephanie Parry, Marketing and Procurement Lead at Crown Commercial Service; Tom Knox, Executive Partner at MullenLowe Group; Adam Skinner, COO at OmniGOV Manning Gottlieb OMD; and, Jane Asscher, CEO at 23Red.
The aim is to protect creativity by eradicating practices in procurement, commissioning and agency cultures that compromise mental health and wellbeing, for example: long hours culture and fear of job loss in agencies; excessive tender requirements and procurement processes; and unrealistic client timescales and demands.
Social & Local initiated, funds and manages Brilliant Creative Minds and is urging all agencies, clients and procurement professionals to sign up to the Code and embed its principles into their workplace cultures.
Our Managing Partner, Stephanie Drakes, says:
“Poor mental wellbeing is the enemy of creativity in our industry and our goal is to eradicate practices that cause unnecessary and dangerous levels of stress in agency environments. To meet our aim, Brilliant Creative Minds uniquely brings together three interdependent parts of the industry to work as one: client, agency and procurement.
“We’d like the industry to sign up to it and commit to embedding its principles within organisations to create an industry where negative workplace stress is reduced, talent is retained and the UK protects its pole position in the world for creativity as clients, once again, get the best out of their agencies.”
Sign up to the Brilliant Creative Minds Code of Conduct here.
2020 hasn’t been a vintage year, but we are completely delighted to be able to end it on some good news… We have won the Impact Company of the Year category in the 6th Annual Better Society Awards!
This is our fifth Award win of 2020. Earlier this year Steph was recognised at the Management Today Inspiring Women in Business Awards, the Timewise 2020 Power 50 Awards and in Campaign Magazine’s Female Frontier list.
The Better Society Awards celebrate the efforts that commercial organisations make to create a better society and are organised by the Better Society Network.
Social & Local was shortlisted in two categories: Consultancy of the Year and Impact Company of the Year alongside a blue-chip line up of others, including RBS, Aviva and Deloitte.
The judges applauded Social & Local’s commitment to social impact, our entirely remote-working model, and the fact that we are one of the only Community Interest Companies (CIC) in the business. We were recognised as an inspiring example of what can be done when business puts humanity at its heart and for proving that a people-centred business model is not only the right thing to do but goes hand in hand with business success.
Social & Local Managing Partner Stephanie Drakes says:
“In 2011 when we set up the business many of our peers were sceptical that we could survive and thrive in the virtual space alone – ten years on, accelerated by the COVID Pandemic, the world of work has changed forever enabling more of us to flex and balance our lives whilst delivering top notch services to our clients which means that silver linings do exist.”
Pleased to announce that following a three-way pitch we’ve been appointed to work on a high level strategic communications project for Met Office. This is particularly rewarding for our team because it re-ignites a relationship that we enjoyed over a decade ago now. Whilst under wraps, we hope to be able to share more as the work unfolds.
Why the most dangerous lie in comms is the one we tell about ourselves… and why we need a radical shake up to protect our industry’s Brilliant Creative Minds
The communications industry has long been an easy target for cynics who joke that it’s a breeding ground for professional liars. But the biggest and most dangerous lie in communications exists firmly within our own four walls. And it is this:
‘Our People are our greatest strength.’
This lie (sorry, line), or similar, is often found around five slides into an agency’s creds document – usually accompanied with a full bleed image of smiling agency employees in wetsuits from that one summer surf trip in 2012. The first question I would urge any agency to ask when this slide appears in your next agency pitch presentation is: how many of those employees still work here? Because the uncomfortable truth is that, until every agency has regard for the mental health and wellbeing of their people, many of those valued team members have moved on because their agency held out on long-earned promotions, offered below industry benchmark pay increases, or simply left good people to rot on sweatshop accounts or in monotonous roles.
Let’s be clear, this isn’t just about agencies – which are bound by the parameters set by client and procurement teams: too many agencies asked to pitch, excessive tender requirements, focus on price over quality, unrealistic demands, unwieldy approval processes and lack of awareness of agency pressure points. Client, agency and procurement all have a part to play in protecting our people’s mental health and wellbeing. And that means a deep, uncomfortable look at our own behaviours – the part for which we are each responsible.
I have been working in agencies for more than a decade, and the further up the ladder I climb, the more I see how dangerous this lie about our people is. As a grad at my first agency I was urged to believe in this sense of espirit de corps, this grand ideal of a team who would work hard, play hard and have each other’s backs. I was made to feel a sense of importance in how my own role directly benefited the success of our agency. And I drank the kool-aid…right up until they started firing people.
Which brings us to the lie.
The emphasis that agencies place on their people is staggeringly hypocritical in many cases. We talk about empowerment, but deliver ever higher workloads for ever smaller financial rewards. New challenges don’t come your way when the agency has you locked in and high-performing on an account no one else wants – but when the agency is pitching and it’s all hands on deck, empowerment becomes a tool for the emotional blackmail of frazzled account handlers – what does it say about me if I tell them I can’t take this opportunity on? Am I blacklisted for the next round of promotions?
We talk about flat structures and removing hierarchy – yet it’s often the junior designer earning £25k a year who is left cleaning up pitch documents at 2am. When it comes to bonus time and that pitch win is added to the annual financials, the top brass will take home more than that designer earns in six months.
This line around people being the biggest asset is perhaps the greatest sales pitch of all time. Of course it is, because when a client buys an agency, it’s the people – their ideas – that they pay for. And year after year it’s still working, even when we all know how broken the agency model is. It’s an incredibly smart piece of psychological manipulation. It says to the young graduate – yes, you’ll only earn £20k a year. Yes, you’ll be expected to work 60 hour weeks. Yes, you’ll give up weekends and put your social plans at the whim of clients and pitch work. But you’ll be empowered. You’ll be part of something bigger than yourself. You’ll have a real stake in the future direction of our business.
Except that when the chips are down – and right now in 2020, they most certainly are – that personal stake counts for very little in the fight to protect the bottom line.
Back to my first agency experience then. I heard about redundancies via my phone blowing up with increasingly excitable texts from colleagues the minute I stepped out of a client meeting. By the time I got back to the office, faces who had played a key part in my formative years in the industry were already gone, just empty desks left as monuments to the carnage. Let’s just reflect on that for a moment. For two years I was fed the line that the team came first, that people were the heartbeat. And in exchange I was asked to give all the time, sweat and passion I could muster. But when the business decided to look after itself, the ethos of open dialogue, transparency and honesty was instantly forgotten.
In some ways I was lucky. I learned early from that experience that when it comes to agency life, no one will look after your career better than you. But more than a decade on, I’ve seen history repeating in many agencies I’ve worked with. I’ve seen account handlers work full weekends and receive a single day in lieu back. I’ve seen young account execs expected to take the late-night tube home alone from event shifts, because the board members who order themselves private cars won’t sign off the cost of an Uber. I’ve seen colleagues work 72 hours straight on a pitch, leave at 3pm on a Friday and be whistled out the door with ‘half day is it?’ comments ringing in their ears. And each of those agencies has at the same time waxed lyrical about culture, and about how much they value their people.
When will more agencies realise how broken our people culture really is? When will we realise that it is these exact behaviours that impact employee mental health and wellbeing and diminish creativity – the very product we are trying to sell? How much more creative talent will agencies wave out the door because they wouldn’t reward hard work with fair pay… Only to then spend more than the cost of a pay increase on recruitment fees to replace the role?
When will more agencies begin to pay fairly, to reward the hard workers and star performers with tangible, financial benefits rather than meaningless job titles and the opportunity to take greater responsibility? I know of live examples in 2020 where agencies are attempting to offer a promotion without a pay increase. We all understand pay freezes right now are sensible. But whacking a ‘Senior’ onto someone’s email signature and doubling their workload is not a promotion – it’s giving nothing and demanding everything.
Whilst we’re on the subject of pay freezes and redundancies – in the current climate it’s a brutal reality, but one that most of us understand. But in the context of my very recent former agency (and for the record I left for a new role, not as part of redundancy measures) I know of at least one junior-mid-weight redundancy on a salary somewhere around £35k, when said agency have also spent more than £100k on freelancers chasing a combined total of zero pitch wins over the same period. Yet the next time they present to a client, you can bet that slide 5 will read ‘Our greatest strength is our people.’
When will we stop lying to ourselves and to the people who keep the heart of our industry beating?
Brilliant Creative Minds aims to stamp out behaviours that impact employee wellbeing and diminish creativity in the communications industry. By bringing together senior leaders from the client, agency, and procurement worlds the goal is a new Code of Conduct which eradicates practices that compromise mental health and wellbeing. The ambition is a diverse industry where people can freely develop their creative capability in an enriching work environment.
To help inform the development of the Code, Brilliant Creative Minds is looking for stories of good and bad practice from across the industry. Please visit: brilliantcreativeminds.org to share your views.
We are delighted to have been appointed by our alumni client Marie Curie to help them frame their messaging to Commissioner audiences. End of Life care is facing many challenges as winter emerges and with the added pressures imposed by COVID-19. We very much hope that our small contribution will impact on ensuring that everyone gets better end of life care going forward.
- People and pets: I live with my partner, two kids and seven fish (they wanted a dog, but it wasn’t going to happen).
- Favourite (communications) campaign: I love it when a brand is brought to life. AirBnB reinvented their logo – the Belo – a couple of years ago with an engaging story and animated content that I just loved, bringing together the stories of the company, their home owners and the people who come to visit.
- Quote to live by: In the middle of every difficulty lies opportunity (Albert Einstein).
- Something we don’t know about you: I often love the condiments more than the meal itself.
- Why the Social Life Matters: The “Social Life” means real flexibility to live and work in a way that makes sense for everyone. Not just me and my family, but for the team and our clients too. It’s just better that way!
#SocialLife #socialbusiness #social&local
As a seasoned home worker (10 years plus!), it won’t surprise you to hear that my ears pricked up at a Radio 4 Programme last week week (Positive Thinking) which considered whether or not working from home might catch on in a post-coronavirus world.
While enforced remote working in a pandemic is not flexible working (for many it is more about simple survival, at home, during a crisis, while trying to work!) but it has started some big conversations.
Against the advice of many, I set up SoLo eleven years ago to offer a fully remote and flexible working environment. I’ve seen first-hand the benefits of a remote model and called for smart businesses to join the flexible working revolution many times.
But I was interested to hear on the programme than a study has been done that proves what I know anecdotally to be true: that working from home increases productivity.
Thank you, Nick Bloom, Professor of Economics at Stanford University, California. Nick published a study of a Chinese travel company, Ctrip, that looked at the benefits of its working from home policies. The study found that a random sample of 1,000 employees were 13% more productive working from home than they were in an office – 9% of this was from working more minutes per shift (fewer breaks and sick days) and 4% from more calls per minute (a quieter and more convenient working environment). After the 9 month trial, over half of the home-working employees opted to return to the office – having fallen foul to the 3 great enemies: fridge, bed and TV – while the others continued working from home: this led to the gains from WFH almost doubling to 22%.
If there is one silver lining of the COVID pandemic, I desperately hope that employers reconsider the benefits of working from home – not just to the employee, but also for their business. Through productivity, staff retention and the ability to recruit some of the best talent going (much of which happens not to be able to commit to the 9-5 grind for whatever reason – parenthood, caring responsibilities, anxiety, age…), the benefits of home workers are clear. Indeed, they are assets.
Sure, working from home does not suit all sectors, all jobs, or all people. In our business, for example, while planners and strategist can work from home just fine, things get trickier with collaborative disciplines like creative.
There is also wellbeing to consider. As the mother of two 30-something advertising boys, I noted that for the “family” version, lockdown has delivered benefits (and challenges!), but for the DINKy it has been hard socially. Isolation and loneliness have been a theme for many during this enforced period of working from home, and many will be desperate to get back to an office.
But the conversation has started to be had, and for that – if nothing else – I am grateful to COVID. Let us keep up the dialogue about work being about what you do, not where you do it; about working to live, not living to work; and about putting people and their lives at the heart of what business does.
On 4 June, Steph was one of 21 inspiring women recognised at the Management Today Inspiring Women in Business Awards.
The Awards celebrate talented, visionary and ground-breaking businesswomen of all ages, at every level and across all sectors. Steph was recognised in the Championing Change category, honouring those making dynamic and brave changes within their workplace or industry.
The award is the fourth win for SoLo in 2020. Earlier this year Steph was recognised at the Timewise 2020 Power 50 Awards and in Campaign Magazine’s Female Frontier list; while SoLo was shortlisted in two categories in the 6th Annual Better Society Awards.
The judges applauded SoLo for disrupting the traditional and often harsh ‘bleed-to-succeed’ advertising agency model. They also praised us for being one of the only Community Interest Companies in the business (investing 50% of profit in social value projects) and our inclusive, remote working model which offers flexibility and work-life balance to mums, carers and OAPs.
“It’s wonderful to be recognised by so many organisations for our unique business model and hope that I have inspired others to understand that business should be a balance of reward and rewarding. Applause goes particularly to my team and the clients who have come on this journey with me.”
Yesterday I pootled up to Nottingham’s University Park to take a walk around the beautiful Lake at its centre. I’ve been there numerous times but never fail to be awe struck by its natural and built beauty endowed by philanthropist, Jesse Boot (of Boots chemist), in the early part of the 20th Century. (Once upon a time businessmen knew that whilst their purpose was to create profit this came with an equally important obligation to create employment and social improvement. You can of course rely on me to stick the boot in!)
Half way around the Lake I met (at a suitable distance) a local family – mum, dad, three young children. They admired my dog and the children played with her for a moment or two whilst their parents and I shared our lives in a nutshell. One of the children, a small girl of around four, headed towards me with a bunch of daisies and buttercups in her hand as a gift. I stepped aside but suggested she popped them on the grass where I could pick up safely and take a closer look and of course, check whether or not I liked butter (we agreed that I did). We smiled at each other, wished well, and went our separate ways with a memory of a shared moment and a simple kindness.
Half a Lake further and Molls (the dog) took a fancy to a middle aged man sitting on a bench with his bike propped beside him. He’d clearly done a few laps and was tucking into a container of cut fruit. He stopped to welcome Molly and to give me a smile. “Well done, Change4Life?” I remarked, which ignited a conversation about middle aged fitness regimes and a few laughs before he told me to keep safe as we walked on.
I travel these paths regularly, and have done for many years now, but right now it’s different. Deprived of simple day to day communication with others outside of our lockdown group, I am finding a particular pleasure in a face-to-face conversation with a fellow human being – just for the sake of it and just to wish each other well.
During London 2012 there was a mood of great excitement. Weird things happened, people started to chat to each other at random. It had never happened before on the London tube, and everyone was talking about a lasting legacy. Yet, how quickly we all stopped, reverted to familiar behaviours; folded back into ourselves once the Games were over. Everyone, but me, that is – I still smile and chatter to people on the tube, though I know that most consider this weird.
Let’s hope beyond Covid-19 we don’t lose ourselves in ourselves again. For my own part, I intend to pursue being weird. I hope others may do the same.
Action: Talk to someone you don’t know today and wish them good health.
This morning I decided to trot my dog Molly into the City as my diary is clear.
I had heard on the grapevine that a small Italian Coffee Shop (aptly called Solo Grano) was open for business and was dying for a pukka Cappuccino and as the sun was already blazing at 8.30am wanted to imagine myself in Athens as I should have been had it not been for lockdown.
The City was quiet except for a lonesome street-dweller and a clutch of construction workers pressing on with the development of City Centre flats and student accommodation. The City was clean and bright, its ancient mix of medieval (think Robin Hood) and Victorian splendour standing proud in the morning sunshine.
I’d clocked the little independent Italian coffee shop opening about a year ago, but had never visited. Perhaps habitually I was attuned to grabbing a Costa from the large soul-less café on the corner or worse going for the dispensed version at Sainsbury’s Local. This morning was different – they were closed. Social distancing observed, I bought my coffee for £2.25 (same price as Costa) served by the smiling (and rather good looking) young Roman at Solo Grano – a small wrapped biscuit (nod to our wonderful client the Food Standards Agency) placed beside it and vowed to reward his endeavours by becoming a loyal and returning customer.
Wondering about in Market Square almost alone other than the local mad MOD (now 75) driving his 3 wheeler version of a Vespa through the fountains fully adorned with badges, St. Georges flags and multiple other paraphernalia, I looked about.
The once heaving big corporate retail brands – Debenhams, New Look, Burton/Dorothy Perkins, Primark, Costa, Starbucks, Café Nero – were closed and empty, their large windows plastered with tacky discount posters, their displays a season old, the goods uninviting.
I wondered (and hoped) that beyond COVID and subject to some real common sense on behalf of the Council in terms of business rates, and taking advantage of all these emerging new flats, now might be the big moment for a resurgence of the Independent and family owned business able to flex and be versatile in times of crisis bringing back truly differentiated service with personality and individualism to the citizens of our City. I’m in.