Renewing staff motivation is a dilemma every PR executive faces at least once during his or her tenure. There are times when even an agency's brightest stars seem to lack ambition, become disinterested, or are just plain burnt out.
More and more firms are tackling this problem by finding new ways to make the office stimulating.
For Barkley PR, a recent effort to encourage collaboration and foster creativity was driven by a move. When the Kansas City, MO-based agency relocated from what EVP Mike Swenson calls "a typical suburban office space" to the former TWA headquarters in the city's artsy Crossroads district, Barkley used the opportunity to create a new kind of office atmosphere.
"We were able to create the type of work environment that fosters creativity, with more than 60 different meeting places," he says. "People spend much less time in their offices than before because there are so many places to work."
The firm also made sure there were a lot of spaces where staffers could let off some steam when concentration was lagging, including an outside deck, a shuffleboard area, and even a lounge with beer taps for those late work-nights.
"We know we're going to lose focus during the day, so we'd just as soon have people be able to get together," Swenson explains. "They end up having discussions and talking about things they're working on and collaborating."
The inspiration to change its office culture was what got the folks at Toronto-based High Road Communications thinking, as well. One aspect in particular that needed fixing, they thought, was the way in which the agency conducted its brainstorming sessions.
"Brainstorming tends to be 'We have an hour in the boardroom.' There's no creativity driven through that process," says Mia Wedgbury, High Road president.
So the firm put every employee through a new training program designed to breathe life into brainstorming sessions. The program introduced easy-to-incorporate elements such as "silent brainstorming," in which staffers would arrive with a few already-prepared ideas, ready to discuss.
There were also a number of big changes, Wedgbury adds. For example, High Road began inviting clients into brainstorming sessions, allowing them to be a part of the creative process from the get-go. The agency also began testing staffers to discover what type of "innovator" each might be.
"You need a mixture of people in these sessions," she says. "If everyone thinks the same way, you [won't] get anywhere. Learning how people think was important."
Sometimes it's the simplest things - factors that some firms overlook - that make the biggest differences when it comes to renewing employee motivation, says John Bliss, principal of New York-based Bliss, Gouverneur & Associates.
The first thing for any agency manager to do, according to Bliss, is make sure staffers are working on accounts they want to work on.
"We open our new accounts to pretty much anyone in the company," Bliss says. "Even though we're a focused company, we have not split up the company into discrete groups... We think there is knowledge to be gained by working on a variety of things."
An office environment with a variety of formal and informal meeting spaces can help encourage collaboration and creativity
New brainstorming practices can keep staff motivated and inspiredSimple things can make big differences, like making sure execs are working on accounts they enjoy