How do you get a PR agency owner’s attention? One way is to whisper about employee burnout. That’s why a recent Digiday headline was so alarming. The article, “A crisis boiling under the surface: agencies confront employee burnout,” described a toxic, high-stress agency culture where 32% of professionals worried about their mental health.
I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw that the article focused on ad agencies, not PR firms. After all, we’re Ketner Group, not Sterling Cooper! However, I couldn’t stop thinking about the article. Several of our employees came from national PR agencies that expected them to bill 160+ hours a month. Late nights, employee burnout and high turnover were part of the culture.
That’s no way to run a PR agency — and it’s certainly not the way we do things at Ketner Group. We talk about KG as our “work family,” and it’s not a cliche. Our agency culture has evolved over time, and I think there are at least four reasons why.
#1: Create an Agency Culture Where People Can Thrive
Clear expectations and mutual accountability, combined with reasonable work hours and billing expectations, are fundamental to creating a positive agency culture. (And yes, competitive salaries and benefits matter, too.) These are table stakes, though. Everyone in an agency deserves a climate where they can continually learn, develop new skills and grow in their career, without sacrificing family or personal time. They also need a clear sense of how they can progress, both in salary and titles, and the reassurance that hard work will be rewarded. These are all things we’ve taken to heart at Ketner Group. That’s why we do employee reviews every six months instead of just annually. Why we value everyone’s opinion, not just the most senior staff. And why we do anything we can to help our individual team members grow and thrive.
#2: Trust Your Team
Do you hire great people? Then by all means, trust them. If KG team members focus on clients, consistently hit billing targets, demonstrate professional growth and are team players, then they earn our trust. That’s why we have a flexible work-from-home policy, especially given the headaches of Austin traffic. Trust is also the reason we’ve let KG’ers work abroad, from Dublin to Bali, not to mention our new offices in New York and Nashville.
#3: Exceed Client Expectations
Are you surprised that this wasn’t #1? Well, there’s a method to our madness. To do great client work, we believe that agencies must first create a positive environment where everyone thrives, and where there’s a climate of mutual trust, respect and accountability. Professional skills are a given, of course. But without these other attributes, it’s hard to create cohesive, focused teams where everyone focuses on exceeding client expectations. Great teams do great work, and we see it every day in our fantastic, hard-working team members.
(This isn’t me hyperbolizing, either. The VP Marketing of one of our clients recently told me that hiring Ketner Group was the single best decision he made for his company. And just last week, an editor told me we had the best PR team in the business.)
#4: Have Fun
This one almost goes without saying, but let’s face it: even at its best, PR can sometimes be stressful. And the best way to counter that is to leave plenty of time for fun. That’s why Ketner Group has Taco Tuesday, Wake-up Wednesday, frequent team lunches, and random outbursts of singing and laughing during the day. Yes, we use Slack primarily as a business tool, but sometimes a string of off-the-wall giphys is just what you need to laugh during a crazy afternoon (a Greg video or a random JK emoji can do the trick, too). And just this weekend, the KG team danced its heart out at Stacy’s wedding. The point is, committing to a fun work environment is one of the reasons we enjoy showing up every day.
There’s much more that goes into creating a great culture — frequent video chats and weekly check-ins with our remote team members. Taking time to chat with one another about life, not just work. Making sure everyone has each other’s back. Keeping the freezer stocked at all times with Amy’s frozen dinners. And occasional Rosé breaks. Team culture is always evolving at Ketner Group, and we’re working hard to make sure it evolves in the best possible ways.