Here Are The Agencies That Made AFR’s Best Places To Work List And What The Industry Can Learn From Them

Here Are The Agencies That Made AFR’s Best Places To Work List And What The Industry Can Learn From Them

If King Kong, wearing a Tracksuit, Hatched a Cassette about what makes a great place to work, it would surely grab the attention of The Royals.

Lead image: Two of the agencies that made the top 10 list: The Royals (top) and Hatched.

Or, at the very least, the Australian Financial Review, which has listed the above five agencies among its top 10 best places to work in the media and marketing.

Others that made the prestigious list include Equality Media, PMG, In Marketing We Trust, Half Dome and Dentsu’s iProspect.

All of the businesses that made this year’s least – which is headed by The Royals – have between 20 to 99 staff and have provided innovation in how they recruit, manage and look after talent during a challenging economic environment.

B&T staffers Aimee Edwards, Arvind Hickman and Tom Fogden caught up with some of these leading lights to find out what makes these workplaces special, and what the industry can learn.

The Royals

Creative shop The Royals, which employs 45 staff, tops the AFR’s list for an ingenious way to motivate its team of creatives.

Working four client facing days each week, the business has turned the end of the working week into ‘Unnatural Fridays’.

Advertising agencies often run a lean operation and finding the time to provide creatives with clear thinking space can be a challenge.

Agency co-founder and managing partner Andrew Siwka came up with an idea to drive proactive creative thinking in the business outside of client briefs. Each week, The Royals lead creative asks staff to drop ‘client facing’ tools on Friday and work on a single creative idea, whether it is a pro bono brief for not-for-profit organisations or special business problems to solve without any pressure (or push back) from clients and budgetary constraints. 

Several ‘Unnatural Fridays’ ideas have been implemented, such as the Parental Work Skills Certificate, which helps mums and dads on parental leave turn a career gap into a career gain. The Royals brought this to life with the University of Melbourne and gender equality consultancy, GenEq. There has also been a campaign to raise awareness for brain cancer.

“It is such a common gripe that there is never enough quality time for creative thinking, and we’ve seen that it can have a negative impact on the quality of our work, and staff retention,” The Royals’ head of people and culture Kristy Camarillo told B&T.

“We can’t create additional time to work with, but we can carve out time – 20 per cent of the work week –  for creatives to be given that time and space to develop proactive ideas.”

The initiative, which began in 2022, has been well received by staff, with 94 per cent agreeing it has had a positive impact on creative thinking, 25 per cent saying it has improved the quality of the agency’s work and an 11 per cent increase in company confidence. There has also been a 50 per cent improvement in the agency’s creative talent retention scores and Unnatural Fridays are the second most cited reason why creatives join The Royals. 

“Being creative on demand against the time crunch of live briefs is the nature of our industry, but if you can carve out some time for creatives to be able to think more broadly and come up with proactive ideas, we find talent is really attracted to that,” Camarillo added.

Equality Media

Indie creative, media and strategy agency Equality Media has become a regular fixture in the AFR’s Best Places to Work list. Managing director Marilla Akkermans told B&T she was “chuffed” with the result.

“Creating a great place to work is something that I wanted to do from the outset of starting Equality. Rather than winning new business, I wanted to create a good place for people to come and work,” she explained.

That ethos bleeds into everything that Equality Media does. The company operates with a four-day work week — known internally as Equality Time — as well as Equality Care, which sees staff able to take leave days for cultural events that do not fit into the public holiday calendar, as well as gender affirmation leave, period and menopause leave, and flexible parental leave arrangements.

“I can see a new generation of leaders emerging and people that are more open to taking on new workplace structures and approaches and I think it’s really important as an industry and a country that we foster,” Akkermans added.

“We hire people and remembering that they are people is only going to be advantageous for overall business success in the future.”

Tracksuit

Brand tracking startup Tracksuit is one of the hottest tickets in town at the moment, having recently secured some $20 million in funding to fuel its push into the UK and US markets. However, Women Leading Tech Awards winner (and Tracksuit’s people lead) Christine van Hoffen told B&T that the company will never lose sight of its employee proposition and focus on an inclusive and engaging culture.

“Startup life is hectic, there’s always a lot going on and it can be hard to pick what you prioritise,” she said.

“Tracksuit being recognised for putting some of its focus on stuff that isn’t normal for startups to focus on feels validating.”

In fact, van Hoffen said it was even more validating given Tracksuit’s rapid growth with offices now in its native New Zealand, New York, London and Sydney. The company also takes great pains to ensure that its values — intentionally set by founders and B&T 30 Under 30 winners Matt Herbert and Connor Archbold — remain consistent across the offices and front of mind.

“I’ve worked in places where there are values but you don’t actually remember what they are… We really lean into them and they’re brought up constantly,” she explained.

In Marketing We Trust

Standing out with its unique blend of being an independent, global and remote agency, In Marketing We Trust came in at sixth place. The remote agency model sets it apart but also presents its fair share of challenges. Yet, the agency continues to foster a united culture where every team member is valued and connected, regardless of location.

“While our work can be demanding, the rewards are unmatched. We have the privilege of collaborating with some of the most talented individuals in our industry every single day,” said Paul Hewett, In Marketing We Trust CEO.

“Two things stood out to me during the awards. Everyone was talking about their DEI efforts. For us, diversity is baked into our DNA, not just a policy – that is one of the benefits of being a small global team. Many of the benefits we offer, like full-time remote work flexibility, helped companies secure the top spot.”

Hatched

The media agency Hatched made the list by offering an innovative parental leave policy and empowering all of the staff – irrespective of rank – to have a say in how the business is run.

Last year Hatched rolled out a prenatal leave policy that not only provides generous financial support to “Hatchlings” who are having kids – 12 weeks paid leave for mum or dad on top of the Government allowance – but also offers coaching for parents returning to work that they can take up anytime during their leave or when they return.

“We also offer them get in touch days, so that’s three paid days across their parental leave, when they can come into work for a Christmas party or catch up or any other celebrations or team days that they want to take part in,” Hatched head of marketing Lucy Seward told B&T.

“The whole policy was designed by a team of parents and non-parents around they wanted to create the best experience for new parents when they were returning to work.”

Hatched also has a ‘shadow board’ of junior to mid-level staff that helps design the company’s HR policies, such as parental leave and the return to work policy once Covid lockdowns were lifted.

There is also a Belongings and Connections team, which is tasked with advising the business on how it should operate.

Everyone in the business influences the areas that the agency advocates, whether it is to do with climate change and reducing carbon emissions or fighting for equality. These initiatives are sometimes picked up by Hatched clients and other agencies.

Hatched national chief executive Stephen Fisher believes it is this democratisation of decision-making that makes staff feel valued, particularly younger generations.

“Ownership gives our staff a sense of purpose and drive, and the real ability to affect change in our business. This has been a long-term journey for Hatched and we want to be a positive catalyst for change in our industry and beyond.

“The younger generations are really leaning into their workplace. There’s a real positive activism that exists within our people. It’s all about driving positive change and making the world a better place.”

Half Dome

This is Half Dome’s fourth consecutive placing in the list. Since 2021, it has been recognised in the list’s media and marketing category for its innovative workplace practices related to happiness, flexibility, learning, and well-being.

“It’s an honour to be recognised for the fourth year in a row on the prestigious AFR BOSS Best Places to Work list. In an industry that is continually facing skills shortages and difficulty securing talent, we’re incredibly proud of our track record for not only attracting but retaining our talented people,” Half Dome managing director Tom Frazer said.

“Since the agency’s inception, we’ve been committed to focusing on our most important product – our people. We know that when you create a space for people to connect, learn and grow, you get a multiplier effect that raises the bar on what we can all achieve – from happier, more engaged, and more resilient employees to helping build clients’ businesses and careers, not just campaigns”.

Cassette

Creative comms and content agency Cassette, unlike a lot of employers came out of the COVID pandemic with its staff having a renewed sense of purpose and, therefore, energy for their work.

“Being creative is what our people want to do the most,” Jess White, CEO and partner at the agency, told B&T.

“We developed our Year of Creativity which was all about how we could reignite the creativity within our business and team. We worked with the School of Life and the NGP to develop a series of workshops for the team that was all about different interpretations of creativity, including resilience, art therapy, the art of negotiation and communication.”

Cassette also takes pride in its huge Melbourne office. Standing at 900 square metres, its vast but 70 per cent of the site is reserved for collaboration, rather than rows and rows of desks.

“We want people to come into work and be working together, not sitting at a desk in isolation,” White added.

Cassette also has a 90 per cent female workforce and “very strong” female leadership and impressively high staff retention with some employees, White said, recently celebrating their 10th and 15th anniversary with the agency.

iProspect

Coming in at 10th place was marketing agency iProspect for its success in creating a motivating and productive workplace that doesn’t just bring its people together but consciously creates cultures, policies, structures, and environments that have enabled iProspect to push boundaries.

“iProspect is an agency that is built around accelerating growth, not just the growth of our clients’ businesses, but also that of our people and our culture. Our commitment to creating the very best environment for our people to be their best selves and realise their ambitions allows us to create innovative solutions for our clients’ business problems,” said iProspect managing director Marcelle Gomez.

“I am so proud of what we have achieved as a team, but I am most proud of the culture we have created and how happy our people are coming to work, sharing their knowledge and doing their best every day to live up to the iProspect ethos of where the ambitious accelerate the possible.”




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