It was perhaps surprising that in the first 18 months of our acquisition by MullenLowe Group, salt was awarded the Best Culture and Best Mid-Sized Agency to work for in the PR Week Best Places to Work awards. Surprising because I’m often told that it’s around this time that acquired company cultures disintegrate and other priorities take centre stage. It’s true that this new normal as part of a global network comes with new pressures but I’m humbled by the strength of salt’s culture, that it’s flourished, come out fighting, punching above its weight even, during this time of immense change.
I remember attending a business group meeting for MDs and CEOs about ten years ago. I talked about how Culture sat alongside Commercials and Clear Positioning (our offering) in salt’s business plan. I talked to our Behavioural Framework and how it was part of employment contracts; business imperative, not a nice to have. My comments were met with disbelief; how extraordinary to put such value on culture, the softer side of business. Did it make business sense by way of prioritisation?
It’s a cliché, but in our industry, people really are our most important asset. To ignore those factors that influence employee productivity and reduce issues like absenteeism, presenteeism and attrition is just bad business. One person leaving through health reasons for example can cost a business £120k when the cost of supporting employees to remain healthy is a fraction of that. Employees and prospective candidates rightly and increasingly demand a workplace that nurtures their wellbeing rather than destroys it. And the new war for talent is less between competing organisations but between employers and the emerging gig economy. Individuals need a reason to want to work for an organisation rather than operate independently. The power balance has shifted, so the Employer Value Proposition has to be about offering an enhanced experience.
Notable to this year’s Best Places to Work awards was the focus on mental health and championing this in the workplace. I’m not sure there are unique stresses to marketing services but I’d love to interrogate this more. However, 1 in 4 across the UK suffer from mental health issues and depression has surpassed obesity as the main concern raised at GPs. It’s true to say that there may be additional pressures that come from wanting to serve and delight, to please clients quickly, and from being only as good as the quality of your last piece of work. Our industry does attract high potentials who are proven to be more prone to give too much of themselves, often to their own detriment. This is where employers can provide coping strategies to help people deal with this ‘curse of the strong’.
Of the awards we’ve won over the years, I’m certainly most proud of these. The recognition gives us renewed confidence that we can make positive change through communications, inside as well as outside our organisation. Awareness around the mental fitness zeitgeist hopefully applies pressure to others to create nurturing workplaces where great work and healthy minds co-exist for disproportionate success. In simple terms, fit People + great Work = Growth. A commercial formula, grounded in culture, that does make business sense.