#AgencyLife attracts dedicated, type A, work-hard-play-hard people, so it’s not uncommon for advertising agencies to suffer from the challenges that go along with hiring people who want to go into advertising.
The things that make working at an agency great, and that make those who chose to work there great at their jobs, can also create a culture that is not great: ladder-climbing, back-stabbing, silo-working, and, of course, employee burnout and staff turnover.
When Ed Mitzen started Fingerpaint on April Fools’ Day 2008, he wanted to build a better agency, one that had its priorities straight and took care of its people. Fingerpaint is hard-charging and attracts determined and dedicated people who want to be a part of something special, cultivating a culture that isn’t fueled by egos or corner offices.
This is evidenced through office perks, like all staff having automatic days off on their birthdays and four-week paid sabbaticals for every five years of service to de-stress and reconnect with loved ones and their individual goals. Additionally, the company covers 100% of every employee’s healthcare, has a kid and pet friendly culture, and employees are encouraged to take personal time or work from home whenever family needs necessitate. Finally, we are a charitable force in our communities, donating our time, talents, and money to help those less fortunate.
We’ve seen the positive effects of this strategy. For one thing, our employees stay with us. Employee turnover rates in our industry are notoriously high, but Fingerpaint enjoys low turnover year after year. When you maintain a consistent team, your clients are well-served and continue to remain loyal. Want further proof this approach is working? Employees who have made it to the five-year mark come back from their sabbaticals refreshed and looking for a challenge (and already planning the next one – only five years away!).
Teams are also better connected to – and invested in – each other. Employees are more likely to help each other be present for life events, step in to allow team members to work from home to take care of family and pitch in when the workload becomes heavy. There is true celebration when someone takes that sabbatical, even though it means those other team members will need to cover.
This employee-centric approach drives our processes and operations, as well. We are a no-titles organization, which means that everyone at the table is expected to participate and offer their best ideas and solutions. There’s no VP at the head of the table, which empowers individuals to progress and encourages leaders to emerge.
A flat, non-hierarchical structure also means we work in an open environment, where C-Suite level employees sit with general team members. Ed sits in a cube on the second floor of our Saratoga Springs office right next to Bill, who helms the office. Their cubes are no different from everyone in view. And while there has been debate over the benefits of an open office environment, we believe it works. Our seating keeps teams together and underscores the commitment everyone plays in producing great work. The result is real collaboration and efficient workflow. Teams work together, respectfully and with purpose.
We are also committed to not laying people off. In marketing, layoffs are an expected part of the deal. As brands come on and off the market, and clients come and go, there is an understanding at most agencies that jobs will come and go with them. For example, when we lost a big piece of business, we hustled, we sold, we took work that might not have considered the year before, and understood it might not be profitable. But we didn’t lay off a single person. Even though that was a tough year, we continued to grow in the years following, and we ended 2016 with more than $30 million in revenue and a fantastic staff nearing 200 strong.
In an era and an industry where growth is key and profits are everything, it might seem antithetical to put your employees’ well-being in front of the company’s bottom line, but when you treat your employees like family, they act like family. Except they don’t borrow money or call you from a Canadian prison needing to be picked up. Well, maybe sometimes they do.