Bringing Working Culture into the 21st Century

By Charlie Carpenter, Managing Director at Creativebrief.

Earlier in the year, and for the 4As, I spoke about the work Creativebrief is doing to modernize the traditional pitch process. To the detriment of our industry, not just in the UK but worldwide, it remains an archaic process that has nevertheless clung on whilst almost all around it has evolved and streamlined to fit our times.

Aside from the quite remarkable statistics to come out of the survey we conducted, the biggest learning for us was how often the topic of creative working culture came up. More specifically, the pressing need to bring it into the 21st Century.

For too long, our industry has tolerated pressure-cooker working environments that have meant personal lives are sidelined for long hours and all-consuming pitches. Whilst factors such as affinity bias and a crippling lack of diversity have led to boardrooms being populated by the same white, middle-class, male faces. The impact of this has been serious talent drain and a dearth of inclusive ideas that in the long-term will undoubtedly lead to a negative transformation for the industry as a whole.

Yet however much change is needed, this is no small feat. And a key reason for that is the disjoint between brands and agencies on the topic.

To counter this, we conducted another survey with the intention of opening the discussion out to relationships between brands and agencies as a whole, and not just around a single topic such as the pitch. Whether diagnosing the problems we face or forecasting how we reach the solutions, we wanted to explore the state of working culture today.

We started our survey by asking 50 senior brand CMOs with remits covering both EMEA and Global, whether they had considered the impact their demands and expectations have on agency working cultures. 88% of them said yes.

But when we asked 50 senior agency CEOs, with the same remits as their brand equivalents, whether they thought brands were aware of the impact their demands and expectations had on agency working cultures, 70% of them said no.

This gulf in opinion not only shows the continuing struggle for agencies to establish accommodating, flexible and inclusive working cultures, but also the need for both brands and agencies to work more closely on the issue. However much brands are convinced they are on the same page as agencies when it comes to the impact their needs have, it’s clear that there’s not a lot of listening happening. Or conversely, there’s not a great deal of talking.

It might seem quaint to suggest as much, but conversation can be a real problem-solver for our industry. The strains of what is, let’s face it, a service-led industry can cause agencies to have legitimate fears over whether a brand will see their focus on working culture and staff wellbeing as a distraction from the task at hand. It sounds harsh, but outcome is ultimately what brands are interested in – something I’ll come back to later.

Yet when we asked brands whether they should shoulder more responsibility in driving change in the working cultures of agencies, 80% said yes. This is clearly not the response of a disinterested client base. Rather, it shows us that brands are prepared to take the subject seriously, even if they need more clarity on how they can better contribute to progress.

The responsibility does not lie solely with them. In fact, only 67% of agencies agreed that brands should drive the change. I see the stat instead as a mark of intent; that working culture is on brands’ radars and that they recognize its importance. That they realize they should be asking themselves what they can do to support agencies and to work with them in ways that lead to new, better working cultures and relationships. And, to return to outcome, ways that everyone agrees lead to far better work.

A more interesting way of framing this conversation could be in the context of how working culture affects creativity.

This thought led us to ask agencies whether they thought their working cultures or the diversity of their team had a positive impact on winning business. 85% of them said they did. When we asked brands whether a flexible working culture and the diversity of an agency’s team positively impacted on their decision to appoint an agency, 81% said it did.

The cohesion between these two results is a considerable boost to the value of a responsible working culture and a diverse and inclusive team. It says how the value is multipurpose – alongside wellbeing, it can truly improve output and create better and more successful work.

What is needed is more conversation around the topic. But the clock is ticking.

If the industry can pave the way to bringing creative working culture into the 21st Century and arrest the rot, then the knock-on impact will mean the ability for all parties to create more responsible and ethical working cultures that in turn will create more inclusive and truly diverse working environments and work forces.

That will be a big win not just for the industry ecosystem, but also for creativity as a whole.

Participating brands and agencies include Barclaycard, McDonald’s, Starbucks, Britvic, Iceland, adam&eveDDB, VCCP, Iris, The Beyond Collective and Portas.