APAC Top Consultancies 2021: WFH and flexible working don’t affect efficiency

The pandemic may have permanently changed the ways agencies are maintaining and attracting talent. Agency leaders discuss navigating new workplace processes.

Tyler Kim, APAC CEO, Weber Shandwick
Tyler Kim, APAC CEO, Weber Shandwick

The events of last year didn’t only shake up agency offerings and bottom lines; it also revolutionised new ways for agencies and staff to work. Based on submissions for our APAC Top Consultancies 2021, we found that factors such as agility and flexibility were being tapped into as strengths in a way that weren’t before.

Weber Shandwick, which emerged as fifth place in the rankings table, said that while “2020 will leave its mark in many ways, an important lasting impact for us is a permanent shift to a more inclusive, agile workforce”. The agency surveyed teams on their remote work experience and thereon created a new hybrid workforce model called Juice which would continue to be implemented post-pandemic.

“Shifting to a permanent hybrid working model is only a logical evolution for our network,” Tyler Kim, Weber Shandwick’s APAC CEO, told PRWeek Asia.

“This year, Juice will become a tangible factor in the lives of all of our employees in the region. We’ll be offering even greater support around hybrid work arrangements. When a market’s government and health advisories signal a return to communal workplaces, our people will be encouraged and supported in adopting 60/40 split between working in the office and at home. Going forward, we see hybrid working as an even more essential aspect of our work culture throughout APAC.”

Zeno Group echoed the sentiment with its flexible working policy, and added that this gives mid-sized networks the opportunity to better compete with larger agencies by deploying teams that include the most appropriate expertise without being constrained by geography.

“We have also learned the value of being together in terms of culture. Finding the right balance will be critical as we emerge from the pandemic,” the agency said in its submission.

Allison+Partners said that ways of working will play a role in talent attraction hereon. “With the growing war for talent and addition of a new generation to the workforce, what tips the scales for the agency one chooses to work at and stay with is changing fast. A company’s purpose, culture, commitment to DE&I, technology innovations and physical workspace will play an important role in the new workplace,” it said.

Lee Nugent, regional head at Archetype, told PRWeek Asia that the agency took an employee-first approach throughout the pandemic. “In all honesty, I’ve been amazed by how little impact there was on our operational efficiency during the period. People adapted amazingly,” he said.

“The hardest part has been onboarding and introducing new team members across the region, without them being able to get face-to-face in many locations. Thankfully, it’s now possible in five of our six APAC countries for team members to meet and work together in the office if they wish, and that’s really made a difference.”

To help support its teams to work from home, Archetype provided equipment support grants for staff to purchase ergonomic seating, monitors, webcams, and so on. Nugent and his leadership team also ensured people were taking necessary breaks, and created moments for time-off, including the agency’s Archies Big Day Off, where everyone in the region were given an extra day’s holiday on November 11.

“During the pandemic, we’ve seen that some staff really do appreciate more flexibility, while others are really keen to return full-time. We’ve also proved that we can operate in this way successfully, without any impact on our clients. So, going forward, we will retain as much flexibility as we can, providing options to our colleagues and allowing them to have more choice over how and where they work,” said Nugent.

When it comes to client work, it was evident that the virtual nature of working wasn’t getting in the way of efficiency. “We’ve managed to retain our high pitch percentage win rate, despite the virtual nature of the presentations, which I think it testament to the quality of the proposals being presented and the team’s ability to adapt. We definitely had to move to a different kind of pre-pitch rehearsal technique and to practise on-screen presentation skills more often—but we still find that we can create good chemistry in most situations,” Nugent added. 

Golin’s APAC president Darren Burns, meanwhile, said at the recent PRWeek Connect event that the pandemic has managed to normalise cross-market collaboration. Where previously clients may have been hesitant about using talent and resources from overseas markets, travel restrictions and the ‘new normal’ have led them to believe that wok processes without the physical presence of a team can be just as seamless.

Many mid-sized operations also managed to avoid severe staff and salary cuts, a testament to efficient working and smart leadership in the region. Mutant Communications, for instance, rolled out an employee equity scheme that saw between 25 to 35 per cent of salaries from account managers and above going towards equity over a three-month period from April 2020. 

Essentially, instead of implementing a direct pay cut that was necessary to navigate the economic disruptions of Covid, Mutant provided the opportunity to sell back these shares through buybacks; or to hold onto their shares for a higher valuation.

“By acting early to save jobs, we avoided drastic measures and believe that this is why Mutant emerged stronger than many other agencies. We’ve had several employees reach out and share their gratitude and appreciation for our transparency and the regular financial updates that were provided,” the agency said.  

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