Reframing the Story: How Ad and Marketing Agencies Can Beat High Turnover


Veronica Moul - featuredBy Veronica Moul, Copy Editor, Merkle, Inc.

Anyone who’s watched an episode of AMC’s Mad Men knows that advertising has a complex, storied image that doesn’t necessarily cast the industry or its employees in the best light.

On the one hand, advertising as a job has captured the American imagination as a glamorous, grand effort to move hearts and minds around the world through campaigns that expertly balance the priorities of capitalism and creativity. On the other hand, many people can’t help but think of advertisers and marketers as soulless hucksters willing to trade their creativity and strategic expertise for drudge-work to earn a quick buck.

This perception of life in the advertising and marketing space is not just inaccurate—it’s also becoming a major problem in the industry at large, as turnover rates rise, job satisfaction sinks, and talent retention becomes a recurrent challenge for firms big and small.

While these problems exist, it isn’t written in stone that these problems have to sound the death knell for advertising and marketing firms. Tackling turnover, attracting talent, plus bringing the best out of employees and keeping them for the long haul—all of these are things we want. How we go about doing that, I think, has a lot to do with how we choose to engage our teams—how we intentionally create workplaces that spur creativity, inspire effort, and build long-term satisfaction through one intentional action at a time.

Break Down Silos, Build Up Communication

Marketing and advertising organizations are quickly coming to understand the importance of integration across silos in their business outreach. These same organizations could benefit from adopting this line of thinking into their broader company culture, breaking down communication barriers to facilitate open discussion, shared knowledge, and improved morale.

Like many agencies, the team at Merkle spends a lot of hours hard at work. I don’t know that anyone would say that toiling throughout those hours in silence would be their idea of a good time. Fortunately, at Merkle, our team members are encouraged to be open with one another, regularly sharing feedback about experiences across the many accounts we touch, as well as encouragement.

When work hours get to be long—as they often do in our field—it’s important to know that you have team members who are there to root for your success, and offer encouragement when times get tough.

Beat Drudgery With a Good Story

It isn’t hard for people to come to the conclusion that, by virtue of coming into work, they’re simply doing what they have to do to punch-in, clock their hours and collect their paycheck. Disengaged employees usually come to this conclusion on their own when they feel that their work doesn’t matter much and that they’re little more than cogs in a corporate machine.

It’s important that we make sure employees know that their contributions to the team mean more to the company—not to mention their peers, and the clients they work for—than their ability to do rote labor.

While not every task in advertising and marketing can be accurately described as glamorous, all of the work that team members contribute is important. Communicating this to employees isn’t just a nice thing to do—it’s smart, because employees who feel their work is meaningful tend to be more satisfied with their jobs, and satisfied employees are generally more productive.

Merkle does this in a way that should come naturally to agencies like ours: we build the value of our team members into the company story. Employees know that the work they do is valuable, and understand the tangible benefits of their work to the company, their teammates, and the community at large.

Don’t Just Tell; Show That You Care

Continuing along the lines of keeping employees happy to combat the advertising and marketing world’s most prevalent retention problems, I think it’s important that we remember a key finding shared by Andrew Flynn in Insight, the Stanford Business School publication: a little gratitude goes a very long way.

Consider the following from that same article, “Individuals often withhold help because they are uncertain about whether beneficiaries will appreciate their assistance. Expressions of gratitude can signify that a beneficiary values, needs, and accepts one’s assistance.”

Simply put, people who feel their work is appreciated are more likely to remain helpful, to do more, and to do their best. People who don’t feel appreciated, conversely, do the bare minimum because they don’t find that their work seems to be of any consequence to the people they serve.

At Merkle, we show how much we care about and appreciate our employees in a number of ways. One way we do that is by espousing a culture of trust—our team members enjoy “rule-free” vacation time and a casual dress code that tells our employees that we know they’ll do right by their team members and the company at large if given the choice. Another way we do that is by extending valuable health and dental benefits that make life off of the job easier, thereby encouraging team members to stay.

Wrapping Up

Agency life is hard work, but that doesn’t mean it has to be a source of misery for employees. In the face of high turnover and low employee satisfaction, companies that choose to intelligently engage their employees, entrust them to make empowered decisions, and provide them with the tools they need to succeed in and out of the workplace are in a position to change agency narratives, attract top talent, and keep their employees as their bottom line grows.


 About the Author: Veronica Moul is a professional editor living in Montgomery County, PA, and is a graduate of Philadelphia University. Her previous projects include the blog Widen the Gap, which was developed into a series of articles for Flying Kite andKeystone Edge (produced by Issue Media Group). She was recently named by YouEarnedIt as one of the Top 10 Most Recognized Employees of 2016 while working at Merkle Inc. 

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