Anna Hickey of Maxus: why agencies need to focus on attracting and retaining talent

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Diversity, agility, responsibility… we’re increasingly used to seeing these words used by businesses that want to promote themselves as modern and progressive employers. But looking beyond them, what do they really mean, why do they matter, and how do we actually deliver against them in a meaningful way?

At Maxus these are questions we have been asking ourselves a lot recently – not as a navel gazing exercise or a way of feeling smug about ourselves, but as a way, very simply, to ensure we offer the very best combination of career, wellbeing and personal growth initiatives and benefits.

Media and advertising are still highly desirable careers and we attract great people, but this is a competitive place to be, and so none of us can afford to rest on our laurels. Tech companies in particular are increasingly attractive to the kinds of people we want to have working for us, both at an entry level and further up the ladder.
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Agency businesses have to focus on providing reasons for people to work with them and to stay. Ultimately we’re a people business and if we don’t nurture and retain our very best talent as our number one priority, then we lose our greatest assets. Everybody thinks they know what makes a great to place work, but the real value lies in allowing that talent to define it for themselves. We undertook an exercise in crowd sourcing ideas from our staff to find out what they valued and what they wanted from their workplace. Three walls were painted in blackboard paint and for three weeks people were free to chalk up their ideas. We then took the hundreds of great ideas and boiled them down into a package that delivered what they found most valuable.

The programme is called Never Stand Still and it brings our culture to life in a tangible way that people could talk about clearly. It had to be head and shoulders above what others in the field are offering – we want to lead on this, because we want people to aspire to work here and to be proud to work here. To know that they are empowered not only to have the best careers possible, but to live the best lives they can.

Never Stand Still is a holistic programme that covers three pillars: For Work, For Life and For Growth. It builds on an existing set of employee benefits but radically expands and enhances them, and provides an umbrella under which all staff can strive to be the best they can be.

One of the most important strands within Never Stand Still is our commitment to Diversity. We have an extremely successful graduate recruitment scheme called Launchpad, but recognizing the vastly broad array of work we now do for our clients, we know that we can offer amazing careers to people from all backgrounds and educational bases. Maxus Calling is our attempt to expand the talent pool we draw from beyond the usual suspects. We have teamed up with the IPA’s Creative Pioneers and are inviting 50 local school leavers to attend an open day at Maxus in June. They’ll find out what it’s like to be part of Maxus, learn about the media world, and be given practical advice on issues such as CVs and selling their profiles online, and at the end of the day, five of them will be offered a paid 15-month apprenticeship, leading to an NVQ qualification and the chance for a full-time role at the agency.

The IPA recently initiated its Make the Leap pledge, something that we readily signed up to. It’s a recognition that if agencies are to remain relevant and thrive, they need to attract and retain people that look different to those they have required in the past. It is about fairness and diversity, but there is also an element of enlightened self-interest. By attracting and retaining the best, we remain the best at what we do, and that is what our clients ultimately expect of us.

unnamed-1Anna Hickey is managing director of media agency Maxus.

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