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Smarts thinking

By The Drum, Administrator

June 16, 2005 | 9 min read

As journalistic assignments go, you can do a lot worse than a weekend in Barcelona. It’s tricky deciding whether you want to be flown, free of charge, to Spain and put up in a four-star hotel for three nights, but sometimes duty calls and there’s not much you can do about it.

Well it’s a tough job, as they say, but someone’s got to do it.

Such was the case when The Drum jetted off to act as a fly-on-the-wall at the Citigate Smarts ‘Meet the Familia’ event in beautiful Barcelona.

The brainchild of Citigate Smarts group CEO, Rob Morrice, Meet the Familia was designed to provide the first ever get-together for the expanding Citigate Smarts network. It was a chance for the staff of all six offices to spend some time getting to know each other, as well as finding out where everyone else fits into the network.

Taking place from Thursday through to Sunday, the event was hosted in the city’s Hotel Senator, located a short hike from the boulevards of the city centre and, much to the delight of the agency’s football fans, a stone’s throw from FC Barcelona’s famous Nou Camp stadium.

Having got more than 100 staff assembled at the hotel, the company eased into its trip abroad on the Thursday night with some drinks and food, the staff of each office tentatively eyeing each other over plates of tapas and glasses of free beer, wondering what the directors had in store for them the following day.

The only one present not taking advantage of the hospitality was Morrice himself. Due to an administrative balls-up by the good people at the Hotel Senator, the main conference room had been booked on the Thursday night by the faculty of pharmaceutical students from the University of Barcelona. Apart from providing an influx of attractive young Spanish people dressed in their finery, this also meant that Morrice would have to get up at 5am the following morning in order to set up the room for Meet the Familia.

He wasn’t the only member of the Citigate Smarts team awake then, however. In an effort to improve international relations Dan Whedon, of the company’s Edinburgh office, had somehow managed to sneak himself into the student ball and was still there at 6am.

Having broken the ice over beer and tapas the night before, the staff convened in the main conference room on Friday morning to find out more about the company as a whole.

The morning was kicked off by a welcome from Morrice, who stated that the event was “to say gracias for the success of Citigate Smarts, culminating in a fantastic operating profit last year.”

This was followed by presentations from each of the offices themselves, detailing what business was being worked on and providing a glimpse of the personalities behind each part of the company. Some presentations took the form of videos, others were spoken, and one, from the company’s Belfast office, consisted of a team performance that had to be seen to be believed.

A quick break and then, planning director, Andy McArthur took the podium for a talk on ‘familia planning.’

Using clips from Coen Brothers’ comedy The Big Lebowski to illustrate his point, McArthur stressed the importance of strategic thinking in creating solutions for clients, and stated that the no-one in the agency should be thinking along the lines of any one marketing discipline.

“It’s about making a client’s spend go further,” he commented. “Getting a bigger bang for their buck.

“We do quality thinking; thinking that isn’t tied to any one discipline. We’re purists in the sense that we don’t have an axe to grind.”

McArthur was followed by Malky Brown and Rick Bingham, representing the digital marketing arm of Citigate Smarts, who provided their take on how to make online marketing stand out, as well as providing some examples of good and bad uses of new media in building brands.

The morning was closed by Scottish chief executive Mark Gorman, who provided the much-anticipated details on what the afternoon’s ‘Project X’ activity would entail. Prior to leaving the UK, the staff had been split into ten teams, each consisting of a mixture of employees from the different offices, and told to research the subject of their team name. These were: Chavs, Olympic Movement, Hippies, Romans, British Army, Bolsheviks, Victorians, Hell’s Angels, Surrealists and Greens.

Gorman told the assembled staff: “If you were running this company how would you run it? Imagine your group has staged an MBO of Citigate Smarts. What would be your policy on virtually anything?”

Each team was given the afternoon to devise a presentation around how their particular group would run the company, after which time everyone would reconvene in the conference room and present in front of their colleagues. The presentations were to be judged by Gorman, Morrice and The Drum.

After an afternoon of hard work – and, disappointingly, no bribes – each of the teams presented their unique take on how they would run the company, post-MBO. The Chavs were in favour of a rebrand to ‘Chavigate Smarts’, telling clients to “fook off”, watching Trisha all day and replacing company computers with X-Boxes, while the Olympic Movement advocated the formation of youth training camps and hiring motivational coaches in order to treat clients like athletes.

The Hippies were championing “one voice for a better world”, a profit-share system for staff, flexible timekeeping and, naturally, peace, love and understanding, whereas the Romans were decidedly more strict in their management techniques. Under their guidance, ‘Citigate Spartacus’ would adhere to ten rules, called the ‘X-Factor’, which included such guidelines as “Be all conquering”, “Constantly be in training” and “Use force.” Yikes.

The British Army, meanwhile, were no less aggressive. Vowing to “protect troops”, “secure territory” and “win the war” the team had the whole room on its feet chanting and marching. The Bolsheviks, meanwhile, showed some hitherto undemonstrated initiative by bribing the judges ten Euros each, before issuing flyers promoting their forthcoming reign, executing some of the company directors and promising to relocate the company to Moscow, where everyone would enjoy free vodka, a free Lada and, quite possibly, a free execution.

They were followed by the Victorians, who demonstrated what they could do for prospective client Hugh G Rection Chimneys in its struggle against rival companies Stacks ‘R’ Us and Chim Chim Chooree. Unfortunately the team’s head planner was off with syphilis, but head of client services, Mistress Whiplash, was on-hand to deal with any client needs.

Meanwhile the Hell’s Angels kicked off their presentation by declaring that there were “too many goody two shoes” in Citigate Smarts, and pledged to begin their reign, rather confrontationally, by killing the Hippies. This would be followed by burning each Citigate Smarts office to the ground for insurance money while riding motorcycles, wearing greasy clothes and generally acting a bit anti-social.

All this was tempered by the Surrealists, who plunged the room into darkness while handing out pieces of paper that would detail the company’s new manifesto. After a thoroughly surreal speech describing the “blank canvass of the mind,” the lights were switched on to reveal that everyone was holding blank pages.

Finally, the Greens pledged to take the initiative by issuing a share of profits to charity, making sure that everyone got a say in the running of the company and generally conducting business in an environmentally-friendly way.

With so many original presentations and performances the decision was a tough one, but the panel handed the top prize to the Chavs. Who could resist a management team that told its clients to “fook off” every time they phoned?

After a full day of teamwork and presentations it was time for the staff to let their hair down, and where better to wind-down than the prestigious Club Mirabe. Located in the hills overlooking the city, the club provided the ideal spot to enjoy some food and beer while reliving some of the afternoon’s highlights.

The official part of the trip over, Saturday provided an opportunity to see the city itself, before jetting back to the UK on Sunday, tired but in good spirits.

“You could send people away on professional training courses and they wouldn’t come back being able to present like that,” said Morrice of the Project X team presentations.

“Wages and salary are always the most important things for people, but they’re not the only things. People have got to get on with the people that they work with. They should get up in the morning and look forward to going into work and say, ‘There’s nobody going to be on my case today.’ You’ve got to think that way if you’re going to do something like this.”

As team-building exercises go, you can do a lot worse than a weekend in Barcelona. But all would have been for naught had tempers flared or colleagues been unable to work with each other. Fortunately everyone seemed to get on well with one another and genuinely enjoyed getting to know their colleagues from around the country. Perhaps the directors of Citigate Smarts really have succeeded in putting together one big happy familia.

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