As a media agency that blends creative solutions and data analytics in its solutions for clients, Blue 449, a Publicis Media agency, uses a similar formula to create a positive workplace culture. "An emphasis on community, outreach and inclusiveness inspires employees to do their best work and attract clients to the agency," says Dave Ehlers, CEO of Blue 449 and Publicis Media Canada.
The agency was recently recognized as a “Best Place to Work” in several of its markets, including New York, Texas and Indiana, following several years of similar accolades. To find out the secrets to its success, MediaVillage got the download from Ehlers, who explains how every staff member gets a voice, why unusual training sessions like working with an improv troupe help build presentation skills and how Blue 449 creates a cohesive culture across five offices nationwide.
Alli Romano: In a creative field full of standout companies, Blue 449 is consistently recognized as a top place to work. How would you describe the company culture at Blue 449?
Dave Ehlers: If you were here, walking the halls right now, I think you would say that we're a boutique agency with significant resources behind us from Publicis Media. That means that managers and executives and supervisors are hands-on with clients and staff at all levels. It gives us a family sense. I think people come here because we have a vision; a vision for our clients and for our talent, and I think people appreciate that.
We have a number of great benefits, which have a focus on a positive work/life balance, such as Mindfresh Wednesdays wellness programs, confidence and leadership training through partnerships with body language expert Linda Clemmons and Second City Works Improv and Blue 449 Gives Back charitable initiatives. What makes our programs so successful is the fact that we have a driving vision and a supportive culture.
Romano: What are some of the most important attributes to running a successful agency and building a positive workplace?
Ehlers: As a leader, I've learned we really need to be in it with talent. Talent is a big reason why our clients choose to work with us every day. We need them engaged and we need to be able to retain them. Clients don't want to see their intellectual capital -- the people that they have as their partner -- walking out the door and going to competitors. We're in the client service business and clients are buying talent, so how are we going to keep the talent? We offer a lot of different opportunities that help with retention and recruitment.
Romano: Can you give us a few examples?
Ehlers: Through our mentorship program, we identify high-potential people early on and bring them under our wing. These people are going to add a lot of value to our organization. We also know that talent want a robust career, so we've invested in different training programs. We have a vast online learning academy called IQ Academy. We also do staff surveys to find out areas they’re interested in. People at all levels have said they are looking for training that will make them more charismatic in front of our clients, so we brought in body language experts and improv organizations. We're in the business of new business presentations, client retention, selling back to our clients and great media campaigns, and part of that needs to be the salesmanship. We want to make sure that people are well-equipped for that.
We also have our best campaign awards, the Blue Triangle Awards, and we give out outstanding awards for people who go beyond the call of duty and service.
Romano: You mentioned the importance of recruiting. What are some of your initiatives to identify and bring in new talent?
Ehlers: I try to get people excited about a career in media. This summer, we had high school interns who came from the Opportunity Network and Futures and Options. We were able to connect with 10 people that probably never thought about a career in advertising or media. They were not here just answering phones and doing Excel charts. We had them shadow us on conference calls and gave them project work to get a taste for a career in media. We also worked on marketing themselves, like their LinkedIn pages and creating proper resumes that will get recruiters’ attention.
Romano: How do you support minority, LGBT and underrepresented communities?
Ehlers: We work with great organizations, including the Opportunity Network, Futures and Options and the Multicultural Talent Pipeline that bring talent together. We try to source talent from the best places possible. We’re also an organization that likes to give back. For about five years, we have partnered with GLSEN, which raises awareness about bullying in schools to kids that are in junior high and high school. As a media agency, we can craft media plans for them and try to get them additional pro-bono exposure. We’re all so excited to be part of this effort.
Romano: How do you cultivate an inclusive work environment and how do your clients benefit from that?
Ehlers: Our clients expect us to have a talent pool that's really progressive and reflective of the U.S. makeup, and that's our goal. Also, people need to feel comfortable in their work environment, so that spirit of being inclusive is important. People now have a voice here and we emphasize communication. We have regular town hall meetings and an effort called the 411 on 449, which is information about our organization. People can ask questions and talk. When people feel that they have a voice at an organization, that just unlocks the inclusive nature that we're trying to aspire to.
Romano: In that spirit, what do you do to address your staffs’ concerns and conflicts?
Ehlers: We live in a challenging world, right? There's going to be conflicts at home, conflicts at work and conflicts in society. I think people need to feel that we have an outlet or an opportunity for them, and that's an important service to be providing. We have a fantastic human resources talent team that’s really connected. Through our town halls we host intimate conversations with employees when something big happens in or around the office. This allows people to go in a smaller group setting, where we would have a counselor there, so people can speak their minds and address current issues in our industry and the broader society.
Romano: With employees in San Francisco, Seattle, Dallas, Indiana and New York, how do the Blue 449 values translate across offices?
Ehlers: I meet frequently with the executive team, either in person or on the phone. The initiatives that we're working on for the company are customized for those markets. For example, we have a "Give Back Week" in September, and the charities that we're contributing to are going to be different in our Seattle and New York offices, but we’re all going to be giving. The key is to do something in tandem on the same week and build momentum around that but customize it in each of the individual cities.
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