‘Globalization creates opportunities’: how agencies diffuse inter-office competition
With co-workers flung across the globe, how can you maintain cameraderie and competition in equal parts? For our Globalization Deep Dive, we dig into some of the current realities and solutions for agency success.
Industry leaders say competition will, in the end, deliver toxic agency culture / Unsplash
A little friendly competition can be a good thing, but industry veterans will tell you the rivalries within holding companies and agencies themselves are very real. As agencies struggle for talent and look to get the most out their distributed workforces, keeping teams aligned has never been more important.
There is a lot history to battle against. After all, advertising and marketing has long been defined by large agencies with strong identities. As Ben Wiener, chief executive of WongDoody US, explains: “Back in the old days of inter-office rivalries, your tribe was defined by your geography.” Today, the story is somewhat different.
“Now, your tribe is defined by client teams – you won’t interact regularly with your department or geographical peers, but with the people you work with on your client’s account.”
A primary reason behind this sea change is, of course, the knock-on effects of the pandemic and the widespread shift to remote working models. With a proliferation of remote and hybrid hires, employees don’t always feel a strong sense of personal alliance or identification with an agency’s headquarters and the folks who work there.
This dynamic is a fairly new standard and, per Wiener, adland has yet to grasp the extent of how the shift has and will disrupt workflows and relationships within an agency’s walls. Certain benefits and drawbacks, however, have come into focus.
A sacrifice in culture
The shift to a highly distributed workforce hasn’t come without its share of downsides. While it has helped reduce inter-office rivalries and toxic cultures, for example, it also “got rid of a strong sense of identity,” says Wiener.
When employees are scattered around the world, rather than concentrated in a couple major hubs, it can be challenging to maintain strong, communal bonds – something that’s vital for many ad agencies. “You want to have enough of a common culture, common ways of working and common experiences so that if you turn up in a WongDoody Seattle or Berlin, it’s not alien but at the same time it is also uniquely Seattle or Berlin,” says Wiener.
The boon of connectivity
While the full effects of this new norm have yet to be revealed, some upsides are apparent. For one, communication and creativity are often made easier with access to talent from across the globe. As Pip Hulbert, chief executive officer at Wunderman Thompson, puts it: “We have 20,000 people across 90 markets, which puts a remarkable amount of talent and ideas genuinely at our fingertips. So why see it as a threat when you could see it as an opportunity?”
At the WPP-owned agency, she says, creative councils exchange ideas on a weekly basis and client teams have become truly global, helping to “cross-pollinate ideas around the world while also driving efficiencies and effectiveness.”
For Wunderman Thompson, the collaboration has paid off. “One of the reasons clients and talent come to Wunderman Thompson [is] because they can connect with teams around the world and be part of something bigger. We also regularly see talent move across markets but stay within the network, which is great for talent retention.”
Wiener agrees that new levels of connectivity have proved to be positive: “Globalization creates different talent opportunities,” he says. “I can offer a creative in London the chance to go to New York or Berlin, someone in India the chance to go to LA, someone in LA that chance to go to Shanghai. That’s a strength of global creative companies and they should continue to use that to help bring a global perspective to the work they do for their clients.”
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As rivalries die down, meritocracy wins
With the shift to remote-first and hybrid models, inter-office and inter-network rivalries are dissolving – a net positive, per industry players like Ian Millner, chief executive officer of Cheil Connec+.
“Whether it’s [about] external financial factors or a reaction to internal decisions, like the merging of brands or offshoring, inter-office or inter-agency rivalries are the exact opposite of what clients seek from their agency partners,” he says.
“A network that is all about competition with itself rather than collaboration will, in the end, deliver a toxic culture where everyone is only in it for themselves, driven by fear, vanity and short-termism. Businesses built on trust, pride and camaraderie are the beating heart of a successful agency network, and the ability to be open and collaborative is key.”
Other benefits of the shift to distributed workforces are more understated. The tie between employees’ social and cultural involvement in the agency and their career trajectory, for instance, is less tight than it once was. “The path for promotion before Covid was all about who put in the right words in a meeting, who stayed late on a Friday afternoon to kiss the boss’s ass,” says Wiener. “Now, a lot of unhelpful ways of gaining promotion have been taken off the table. This has made things a little more equitable and more of a meritocracy, which is good.”
For more on what marketers and their partners need to do to succeed on a global level, check out The Drum’s Globalization Deep Dive.