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Digital Agency Census: how Brainlabs beat industry giants to top talent

By Jo Lyall, UK CEO

April 27, 2022 | 6 min read

A strong reputation can do wonders for your recruitment efforts. That’s something Brainlabs would know a little about, having been ranked as the best agency in the country by its industry peers in The Drum’s Digital Agency Census. With the talent market in turmoil, its chief executive Jo Lyall shares how the agency managed to make new recruits a more compelling offer than its competitors.

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Brainlabs has taken lessons from the working culture of the pandemic / The Drum

One of Brainlabs’ core values is the idea that we are one team. Over the last year, the need to support each other, to pitch in and help, has been more important than ever. In an unpredictable period, with people in and out of the office and hybrid working becoming the norm, collaboration, unity and empathy among Brainlabbers has been paramount. Here are a few ways we’ve approached these trickiest of times.

Being set up for an ever-changing world

Through design, Brainlabs has always been set up to be future-facing, with our culture of experimentation enabling constant testing, learning and refinement. That DNA of experimentation has naturally been applied to testing new ways of working.

Recognizing that the situation was new to everyone and that we didn’t have a blueprint to follow here meant taking an iterative approach and listening to feedback. We certainly are not perfect, but we are open and willing to change toward something better. Giving some flexibility and trust goes a long way.

This has led to the creation of several initiatives including ‘Spring Days,’ meeting-free or screen-free days to collaborate with your team plus dedicated office and home days throughout the week.

Growth and opportunity is key

’We build for the future’ is another of our values, and over the last year we have accelerated our growth with a brilliant M&A strategy that adds new specialist capabilities to the mix. This has certainly kept things exciting for our teams and allows us to offer more to our clients when they need it.

While we have a hierarchy and fancy job titles that you will find in most agencies, the culture at Brainlabs means that everyone is approachable and that our groundbreaking work is coming from the teams up and not top-down. No one is too grand to help and get their sleeves rolled up when needed. Our global footprint has expanded significantly, and with this has come the opportunity to transfer our people to new markets. We launched Horizon30, a program that allows our people to work from somewhere new for four weeks a year.

Bringing the fun and positivity

Our industry has an inherently social reputation, and being kept apart for so long meant that last year was an opportunity to bring back some of the fun and social sides of our business. We kicked off with a Summer Sessions Series where we hosted a group of inspirational speakers in our auditorium, offering both in-person and online attendance.

We gave budgets to our team leads for socials and periodic treats were sent to every employee’s home – the December lockdown popcorn and Christmas brownies were a definite highlight. We have a food culture at Brainlabs and if you are in one of our offices you can enjoy a free breakfast and lunch together every day. It is great to be fed, but the real benefit is the communal aspect of sitting together and taking a break from your screen.

We do small things to make a positive impact such as planting a tree for every new employee and providing everyone with water bottles on their return to the office after lockdown. We also donated Christmas lunches to a local refuge.

Promoting inclusion, personal development and wellness

There has been a shift in what people are looking for from employers, and as an industry we have seen people voting with their feet post lockdown with the great resignation. Very few companies have been immune to this fact, but those weathering the storms best are the companies that recognize that great growth comes with happy people and a culture that promotes inclusion, personal development and wellness.

To tackle the talent shortage we significantly boosted our autumn and spring entry-level intake for graduates and apprentices where they embark on a year-long learning journey with both technical training and practical application of digital media. Wherever possible we promote from within and give our people the opportunity to step up. EQ or emotional intelligence has become one of the most critical skills for leadership today. With more complexity around what people are looking to get from work – plus a rise in mental health challenges – managers need the emotional maturity and empathy to support their teams. To address this, one of our most exciting initiatives coming this year is Coach Labs, our investment in building a coaching-led approach to management and development of all our managers.

All this has made Brainlabs a very attractive place to be because you can genuinely shape the future of the company. While there is no doubt that a scaling company requires hard work, I hope there is also the opportunity to have some fun as you go along.

Jo Lyall is UK chief executive officer of Brainlabs.

Check out The Drum’s latest Deep Dive over at our Digital Advertising hub.

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