How agencies can become more socially conscious while navigating today's uncertainty
My team and I spend a lot of time thinking about how we navigate our dynamic world. The days of indulging in fancy offices, elaborately catered meals, large account teams and all-nighters are over.
Being intentional in the way we operate is even more critical now, as our society faces serious, complex and urgent issues around systemic racism, economic disparity, political polarization, women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, health care and climate change, among many other things.
My team and I try hard to be mindful of the decisions we make as a business by doing our best to balance people, the planet and profits. We also think hard about who we work with, what type of work we do, what brands we partner with and, ultimately, what kind of world we want to live in. Now more than ever, it is time for agencies and their leaders to live with more awareness and intention.
What does it mean to be conscious and create a conscious agency?
Choose the projects you work on carefully.
Make sure you believe in the brands you’re helping. Gone are the days where you leave your personal values at the door. Agencies have got to start thinking about the impact they are making on the world and embody their values in the business.
When considering any new initiative or a new client, ask yourself two essential questions:
• First, can we help this brand do something positive for the world, whether it’s moving the women’s movement forward, promoting regenerative business practices, fostering diversity and inclusion, supporting individual self-care, or nourishing local communities?
• Second, is there a mutually respectful relationship between the agency and the client — one where we can engage in honest, direct dialogue and where we know we each have our areas of expertise and we’re both invested in the best possible outcome?
Be mindful of the people you hire and with whom you work.
When it comes to my own team, we take our cues from the Hollywood model: We create teams with people based upon their superpowers on a project basis. In other words, I recommend looking for creative and strategic thinkers who you believe are the best, rather than assuming one size fits all. I've found that this approach allows you to produce better work and better margins.
When hiring, it's also important to think about how the candidate will add to and complement the rest of the team. Are they a good collaborator? In my company, for example, our team members are often part-time working moms and dads, graduate students or experts who live in different time zones and countries. They represent diverse perspectives and backgrounds — whether it’s age, gender identity, race, career or life experience.
Look at how you work and how you operate.
Encourage everyone to bring their authentic selves to work, including their personalities, experiences and quirks. At my agency, we laugh, get frustrated and sometimes cry. I believe when people are allowed to be their unique, authentic selves, they are their best selves, and they create their best work.
Being conscious of how you work is also about being respectful and protective of your most precious resource: time. To foster the best work, grant a lot of autonomy. Build in time for everyone to work independently, as well as time for everyone to come together for creative, collaborative teamwork. It's also key to allow time for chaos and messiness — I've seen that’s often when the best ideas emerge.
One more action you might consider is walking away from hourly rates. My business has done this; we give our team members budgets to work with, and they can take as much time as they need to get the project done. For us, that means no more time sheets and no more micromanaging and expecting people to be at their desks from 9 to 5.
Be conscious of how your agency defines success.
Success is multifaceted. At my company, we honestly don’t think about the number of awards, the size of a business or the publicity it garners. To us, success is about delivering good work that is strategically and creatively solving a problem for our client. Even more, I consider success to be about making a positive impact — through the collaborative process and resulting work — with our teams, our clients and the world.
How can you measure success holistically? One way is to start by articulating your company’s core values and using them as a way to guide your employees and business partners. You can go a step further by creating a framework by which individuals and the collective organization can assess themselves on an annual basis.
Always remember to pay it forward.
One of the things that gets me energized is mentoring the next generation of creative directors, strategists and business leaders. I've found that I can learn just as much from the person I'm helping as they do from us.
Furthermore, I believe it's important that your creative ideas and actions don't leave a negative and unnecessary impact on the environment, your community and society. Instead, ask yourself: How will I pay it forward and ensure my company is leaving a lasting, positive impact?
Do your best to be intentional about your decisions — small and large — to create an agency that you want to work for. We’re all human, and we don’t get it right all the time. But at the end of the day, I believe that by being proactive, we can sleep well at night.