CEO of Next PR, an award-winning, full-service public relations firm with offices across the U.S.
With a long-standing reputation as ultra-competitive and cutthroat, the PR industry can be a taxing trade. Agencies often juggle client demands with tight deadlines and endure an environment in which there’s no room for error—sometimes, the tiniest mistake can mean immediate termination.
At many firms, management has no qualms about sacrificing their teams’ personal time or mental health to satisfy a marquee brand or secure a hefty retainer. It can be exhausting and quickly lead to job burnout, especially for young professionals. It’s also become completely unsustainable for agencies looking to retain the best and brightest talent.
Today’s workforce has much higher expectations for work-life balance. Having a sense of purpose in their work and feeling valued by their employer is now a requirement. As the “great resignation” has proven, employees are not afraid to quit and go elsewhere to find that balance.
PR firms must focus on doing work that aligns with their core mission and values—it’s essential for attracting and retaining talent. And let’s face it, leaders feel the same way. Just like my team, I also want to spend 40 hours a week doing work that gives me a sense of personal satisfaction and makes the world a better place. I, too, want to feel fulfilled and excited to get up in the morning because I get to do this work, not because I have to do it. I’ve seen firsthand how aligning our work with our values makes our team feel more motivated, passionate and inspired to do their best work for themselves, our agency and our clients.
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Here are five strategies to align your work with your agency’s values and make your firm a better place to work.
Articulate your mission and business principles.
If your mission and values are copied from the generic motivational posters hanging around the office, you’re doing it wrong. Be thoughtful about the type of organization you want to create and articulate a guiding mission relevant and meaningful for your team. For us, that mission is simple: Tell stories to change the world. We devised four principles to put our mission into action and guide our business decisions. Every move we make must be grounded in those principles or we don’t pursue it.
Live your principles.
It’s not enough to post your principles on the wall—you have to live them every day. You can’t say you value innovation and then ignore team members’ ideas every time someone suggests a novel approach. You need to demonstrate what it means to live those values by suggesting actual tasks or behaviors team members can enact to put principles into practice.
You might even consider rewarding your team for doing so. For example, we recently completed an eight-month contest where we provided a list of tasks related to each of our principles, and every team member who completed the tasks was entered in a raffle to win prizes like extra PTO, tech gadgets, travel and spa gift cards. The grand prize winner earned an all-expenses-paid trip to Ireland—a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity she says would never have been possible if it wasn’t for living our principles.
Be selective with clients.
Before taking on new business, we consider a prospective client’s alignment with our mission and culture. Will our team enjoy working on the account? Is it interesting or meaningful? Are there opportunities to learn, grow or make an impact?
Every account must connect to the greater good. We’ve had the opportunity to work with clients like the Sachs Foundation, an organization that is helping bring more Black teachers into the classroom, and Bloom Health Partners, which helps companies prioritize workplace healthcare. We want our team to believe in their work, which manifests in outstanding results for our clients and our firm. In fact, since we started operating this way, we’ve doubled our minimum retainer and increased overall revenue.
Don’t be afraid to say no.
Being selective also means potentially turning down business or walking away from a lucrative opportunity when it doesn’t align. As a leader, you have to care about your team’s mental health and well-being as well as your firm’s reputation more than the payday. We’ve walked away from a hefty retainer after just a few days—even though the project seemed like a perfect fit for our mission—because the client was overbearing and made outrageous demands. We protect our people over profits, and it’s made all the difference in maintaining and retaining a happy, healthy workforce.
Corporate social responsibility should be a big part of your mission. Consider offering volunteer time off (VTO) and Conscious Capitalism programs. At Next PR, every team member is provided 24 hours of VTO per year to support missions and causes they care about. Additionally, each year we choose a business to support with agencywide pro bono work. This year, we’ve selected Brewability, the nation’s first fully inclusive brewery that employs adults with disabilities. These programs support our mission, give our team opportunities to learn and grow, and support PR efforts for clients who couldn’t otherwise afford to hire a firm.
Aligning your agency’s work with your mission must be a core part of your business, as employees increasingly look to the companies they work for to provide a sense of purpose. When personal purpose aligns with organizational purpose, the result is an outstanding culture that fosters stronger engagement, greater loyalty and a drive to succeed.
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Author: Heather Kelly, Forbes Councils Member