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14 Agency Hacks To Keep and Motivate Your Best Talent

By Published on .

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Agencies can't be blamed if they sometimes feel like hotels, given the rate at which talent checks out. Ways to help build loyalty are all the rage, but in a quest to go beyond the usual suggestions (like office kegs and yes, free lunch), we asked experts to give us their smartest, most innovative talent hacks. Their answers ranged from trapeze lessons to opening up the books. Read on.

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1. Use your words

Employees who don't know where they stand can feel they're dropping the ball when they're actually excelling, says Steven Piluso, executive director-head of media and integration at New York-based Media Storm. Piluso lets people know whether they're crushing it or need some direction. That could come in a positive shout-out in a staff email or an impromptu conversation.

"Stop someone in the hallway and say, 'Hey, I hear you really killed it in that meeting yesterday,'" Piluso says. It doesn't matter where or how you do it, he says, as long as you don't wait for that infrequent employee review to heap praise or constructive criticism.

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2. Care about families (including Fido)

"Whatever we can do to support whatever family you may have, we'd like to do that, from birth to bereavement," says Erica Casey, senior VP-talent at Publicis Groupe-owned global agency DigitasLBi. The agency, for instance, reimburses up to $10,000 to help employees pay for adoptions and surrogacies. "Families are made of all different types," says Casey.

The company also allows employees to take five days of paid bereavement for immediate family, or one day for other loved ones—pets included. Additionally, it gives a $100 stipend for pet adoptions, whether it's for a puppy or a guinea pig.

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3. Show 'em the money

When the leaders at indie media agency Noble People are impressed by someone, they put their money where their admiration is: on a check. "They should feel the growth of this business, because they're part of the growth of this business," says Lindsay Lustberg, partner and chief operating officer at the New York shop. If someone comes into their leadership office to share big news, she says, she and CEO Greg March might call that person back into the office to say the bonus will be in his or her account the next day.

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4. Play together

Sometimes the best ideas come when you're suspended 20 feet above ground—upside down. Digital agency Firstborn has had its team take trapeze lessons, classes in pizza-making and blind sculpting (sculpting with your eyes covered), and taken a field trip to Storm King Art Center an hour north of Manhattan, where the Dentsu Aegis Network-owned shop is based. It also hosts an annual employee pop-up art show at The One Club to display their work for friends, families and clients.

"Great work is impossible to create without high-functioning teams," says CEO Dan LaCivita. "If you create an environment where people can do things together and begin forming team relationships, they bring those relationships back into the agency."

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5. Open up the books

Employees at marketing and advertising agency GYK Antler are offered financial transparency. "We will literally share everything except salaries," says President-CEO Travis York of the Manchester, N.H.-based shop. The opportunity to know exactly how well teams are performing, not to mention the health of the overall business, helps employees understand the value of their own contributions, which helps the bottom line. Just as importantly, he says, employees gain a more intimate appreciation of the reasoning behind certain leadership decisions.

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6. Try a mile-high club

Lifestyle marketing agency MKTG understands that leadership can't know every time an employee stays late or has a great idea. So the Dentsu Aegis Network-owned, New York-headquartered shop started using a peer-to-peer recognition program called "Become Legend," in which employees can gift each other points good for swag and things such as helicopter rides and basketball games.

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7. Look inside before outside

A fifth of the employees at media agency Essence were promoted in the first half of this year—nearly the number of people it elevated in all of 2016. How did the shop do it? About a year ago, the company, part of GroupM, assembled a "Resource Management" team to get its aces in their places. Its goal is to get to know employees across the agency, diving deep into what they're doing and what they dream of doing. Then, when a new position opens up, the team thinks about who might be ready for additional responsibilities before it even thinks to start an external search.

"We want to focus on our people first," says Jennifer Remling, chief talent officer. One result has been giving a leg up to people who may be great for a new role but waiting for a nudge. "We proactively reach out to [them], we don't wait for people to raise their hands," she says.

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8. Love somebody? Set them free

Great agencies know employees need the opportunity to network and learn outside the company—even if that prepares them for a future outside of the company.

"We've hired several people who said to us, 'My ultimate goal is to have my own company and to do 'X' or 'Y.' We absolutely see that as a great thing," says Chris Sinclair, head of people operations at Fort Worth, Texas-based digital agency PMG.

"Those are the types of people that will come in and have ideas and be
innovative and be driven—they'll do great things." The agency then works with employees to develop the skills they need to get to that next place, whether it's through conferences or other means of professional development.

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9. Tough talk

Last year, DigitasLBi created "Brave Space," a forum for all employees to gather and discuss topics that are, well, hard to discuss, such as cultural appropriation and "locker-room talk." The programs have taken place in six offices, usually on a monthly basis, and deal with topics suggested by employees.

"These are topics that you don't typically have addressed in the work environment," says Ronnie Dickerson Stewart, VP-group director, talent engagement and inclusion. "A lot of times if you see them addressed, you see them addressed in a kid-glove, PC manner, and perhaps there's no action or feelings or movement that comes out."

The conversations have broken down some of the walls that existed in the past, she adds. "People can communicate more directly, and on a more even plane."

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10. Stave off the burnout

Burnout is real. So Fetch, owned by Dentsu Aegis Network, is helping teach employees that the world won't fall apart if they take time off for R&R. It has a flexible time-off policy, which means that as long as someone has a manager's OK, "take the time you need in order to be productive when you are online," says Alisa Grange, U.S. head of talent, who works in Fetch's San Francisco office. So far no requests have been declined, she says.

Plus, office culture includes activities geared toward mental health, whether it's a hike or yoga classes. Fetch also plans workshops to navigate stress and a partnership to give staff access to a mental health startup.

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11. Scratch the travel itch

For agencies with a global presence, showing off other offices to employees and giving them a taste of new places can be a win-win. London-based GroupM's Mindshare offers a "+1" program in which staffers can tack a day on any trip to a remote office—on the company's dime. Mindshare North America's Chief Talent Officer Lisa Dallenbach says helping employees get to know different internal experts and leaders can make their "bubble" bigger and help them grow.

Huge, the Brooklyn-based digital shop part of Interpublic Group of Cos., offers a "global resourcing" program that lets employees do projects or relocate within its offices across six countries.

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12. Bring in the side hustles

Creatives love their side projects, so why not bring them in-house? GYK Antler has acquired a drum maker and a motorcycle-focused magazine for employees to work on as they would with any client. "These were done with certain people and interests in mind," says York. "The agency takes a majority of the risk and the talent is focused on ... what they're excited about."

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13. School them

Many agencies give employees opportunities to beef up their skills, whether for work or some other passion. Offerings include in-house lunch-and-learns, webinars and monetary help for additional education.

PMG, for instance, lets any employee pitch to attend any conference in which they're interested. "PMG will pay for the conference pass, travel, incidentals," says Chris Sinclair, the head of people operations. "The only thing we ask is they share with the wider team what they learned."

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14. Let non-leaders lead

Omnicom Group's New York-based media company PHD USA has created a council of next-generation leadership that can work on new initiatives from the bottom up. "We have a philosophy that everybody's job is equally important," says Annie Griffiths, chief marketing officer at PHD USA. "None of us are better than all of us together."

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