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MiNetwork Focus: Inventive incentives - is cash still king?


By Richard Draycott, Associate Editor

June 26, 2012 | 9 min read

To have a vibrant agency business you have to maintain a vibrant and dynamic workforce. That is often easier said than done, especially as the war for talent continues to escalate in the creative industries. MiNetwork looks at what incentives agencies are offering their staff and how effective they are at keeping staff motivated and loyal.

MiNetwork's managing director Richard Draycott recently hosted a roundtable discussion in London during which a number of agency owners spoke passionately about the challenges of keeping hold of staff in what is becoming an increasingly competitive agency landscape.Agencies – whatever their discipline - are desperate to find the best staff and this often means plundering their closest rivals when looking to fill a position. Obviously, by default, this means that said plundered agency has to do a similar things and the vicious circle begins.So, how can agencies keep hold of their best staff? Is it simply by throwing vast amounts of money in their direction or is there more to keeping your staff happy in these more austere times?Sarat Pediredla, managing director of Hedgehog Lab in Newcastle, said: "Money is absolutely not a driver for us or employees. We never compete on money with other companies. In fact, our wages are probably the least attractive part of our proposition and although they are fair, we would never ‘outbid’ another company for talent. The proof that things such as being treated like an adult and getting real job satisfaction are more important than money is the fact that only one employee has ever left us for a better wage in our five years.”IAS B2B Marketing's MD Rob Morrice agrees that money is not a prime motivator any longer: “Whilst money is naturally important for some, it’s not the only factor to consider in motivating employees. Motivation is getting others to do something because they want to do it. Motivating others comprises the ability to understand what drives people, to communicate, to involve, to challenge, to develop, to obtain feedback and to provide a reward as the end result.“The only way employees will fulfil your dream is to share in that dream. Reward schemes are the mechanisms that make this happen; anything from financial contributions, to a simple “thank-you”, or acknowledgement of a job well done. “Last year, we had staff arrange our very own agency festival. It was a genuine, bona fide music festival and all levels of staff, across multiple departments were involved. It wouldn’t have happened without them and our employees took great pride in putting on an event their peers, customers and friends would enjoy. It breeds a great company culture and, of course, self motivation.”Martin Heffernan, joint creative director at Midlands agency Chapter, believes keeping staff motivated is a balance between financial reward and other perks: “It is a balance. People need to be well rewarded financially, but I think it’s important to acknowledge there is more to life than money alone. Everyone is different and it can be hard to get close to people and find out what makes them tick but well worth the effort in the end. Having more holidays is a great incentive, a generous bonus adds rational appeal but, at the risk of sounding like a stuck record, if you have a genuine vision for your business it’s much easier to build a strong agency where everyone is focused – and everyone benefits.”So, what sorts of incentives do agencies across the UK offer their staff to keep them keen, keep them happy and keep them loyal?Tony Prosser, managing director of Preston-based CGI agency Realtime:UK said: “As a creative studio, we focus on what we call 'the artist's diet of work' as the biggest incentive for our creative people. We don't believe money is the biggest driver at all - unlike many studios we ensure our artists have a varied 'diet' of work in order to ensure their skills keep progressing and to keep their creative input fresh and inspiring.“We involved our team in defining the goals and values of our company and we regularly update them on our progress as we move closer to achieving them. We facilitate a continuous appraisal system so our people are never more than three months from discussing their performance and development with their line manager. About three years ago we defined and shared a set of salary bands with our teams so they can all clearly see the opportunities to progress their base salary - we feel the clarity and transparency of career progression is a very important motivator for our people.“In tandem with all our career progression and diet of work initiatives, we also offer an end of year bonus scheme where all of our staff have the opportunity to earn up to one month's additional salary. The amount they receive is based on their continuous appraisal reviews throughout the year. “We're also big on celebrating our successes and regularly arrange nights out and even summer events where we invite staff and their families to join in the celebrations. Regardless of opportunity to celebrate, we also arrange an extra day's holiday for all our staff to take part in a summer activity together - this year we're hiring barges for a day and stopping for lunch and dinner at canal side pubs on route!“Smaller incentives we offer are things like ‘duvet days’ for your Birthday where you can come in 2 hours later than usual or leave 2 hours early and a contestant supply of fresh fruit is brought into the office to keep us all healthy!Chapter’s Heffernan says: “We have a generous holiday allowance. Everybody gets a day off on their birthday. Everyone has an extra day to add onto a bank holiday and we also offer a fully paid six-week sabbatical to reward five-years of service. Chapter people also have the opportunity to win a day doing something they have always wanted to do by winning ‘The Sharps’, a quarterly competition rewarding sharp thinking. We run away days that are designed to bring the agency together to talk about the good stuff, fix the bad and also to have a bit of fun. We also have an attractive bonus scheme based on the financial performance of the agency.”Pediredla of Hedgehog Lab says that most of their incentives are based around offering flexible but emotional fulfilment: “We have no set working hours and our work from home policy is extremely flexible. As long as work is getting done, we don't clock people in and out or monitor their whereabouts. We want to hire responsible adults and we treat them as such.“We insist employees maintain work-life balance. Of course, there are exceptions in crunch time but we are unique as an agency that we don't impose overtime on employees. Those who work out of hours do so because they want to, not because they have to.Rob Morrice adds: “IAS currently incentivises staff by having an inclusive culture that allows people to be the very best that they can be. We are a value driven business; reflected in the everyday actions of employees at all levels, both individually and collectively. “Appraisals are aligned to business objectives, enabling people to see how their performance has impacted the results of the business. Employees therefore feel actively involved in their own development, the development of their team and that of the organisation as a whole. “We also recognise the importance of continuous learning; promoting the training of all of our people, all of the time. By doing so, we aim to motivate our employees, providing them with the opportunity to use their skills in a challenging environment. The use of other incentives - when carefully tailored to align with an organisation’s culture and needs - can help to create and sustain high performing workplaces.“Incentives currently offered by IAS include Performance related bonuses, death in service benefit, company pension contributions, employee of the quarter schemes, company iPhone or iPad, free gym membership and football and a Friday happy hour.”There is quite a range of incentives on offer from creative agencies, but what positive impact do these have for the agencies that are ultimately footing the bill?“Hedgehog’s Pediredla says: “I think the numbers speak for themselves. We have 300% growth in our business over the past year and our team is one of the most sought after in our region. Even our most junior developers are head-hunted for their unique skills and our employee retention levels are very high.”Prosser of Realtime: UK says: “The combination of all our initiatives has resulted in a truly engaged and motivated 'hyper team' and we're all extremely proud of the culture we've created over our 16 year history.”Heffernan Concludes: “From the beginning we have always understood how important it is to have the right team around you. Our approach has had a big impact on the performance of our people. People like to work in an environment where they are respected, valued and treated fairly. We are still a relatively small team but we can - and do - move mountains together. This simply wouldn’t happen without people that care. Yes they are rewarded but above all they believe in what we are setting out to do – and they all work hard at keeping us sharper and better.”For more information on how MiNetwork can help you raise the profile of your business visit the website or contact Chris Morton on 0141 559 6068 or by email.

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