How agencies can weather unforeseen crises by putting people—employees and clients—first

One of the silver linings of a crisis can be that it reveals exactly what your business’ core values are. Here's how one of Ad Age's Best Places to Work dealt with multiple crises simultaneously by doubling down on...

How agencies can weather unforeseen crises by putting people—employees and clients—first

When you make putting people first the foundation of your business, being there for your employees during the most challenging period many of us can remember is second nature.

Being selected as one of Ad Age’s Best Places to Work would be an honor during any time, but after this past year the accomplishment is especially meaningful. In this unprecedented time of a deadly pandemic, roiling social change and divisive politics, our agency’s leadership has faced events head-on, and we have done it with empathy and honesty.

One of the silver linings of a crisis can be that it reveals exactly what your business’ core values are. At The Marketing Store, dealing with multiple crises simultaneously revealed the benefits in doubling down on our values: displaying empathy, spreading positivity, creating communities, being honest and making connections.  

Here are five ways our business rose to the occasion over the past year:

We went right to work. After the pandemic struck early last year, we quickly moved into action with a proactive, people-first approach at the heart of every decision we made.

We formed a COVID Taskforce to transition our people from our downtown Chicago base to their homes. We created a “thrival kit” that included valuable resources on the coronavirus as well as guidance on health and wellness, including mental health. We also implemented initiatives such as the Chill Anywhere program, featuring daily livestreams on mindfulness, yoga and stress management. We established a work-from-anywhere policy, encouraging flexible schedules to accommodate our employees’ family needs.

We built a digital ecosystem. Digital tools we launched included TMS Connect, a Microsoft Teams channel featuring parenting advice, workout videos and conversations around diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I), and TMS Share, which enables our employees to share whatever’s on their minds. We also formed an innovation incubator, TMS Thinktank, aimed at identifying ways our employees and clients could thrive in this new normal. We researched past pandemics and other crises to arrive at our POV on the future of marketing, and pivoted our strategies accordingly.

We listened to our people. The pandemic and other turbulent events may be front and center in our lives lately, but human beings are not defined by our challenges so much as by who we are as we rise up to meet those challenges. We certainly feel that way about our team members. Over the last year, we have been there for our people not just because they are our employees but because they are unique individuals who bring a range of special qualities to bear on our business.

We have built not only an agency that delivers results for our clients but also one where our people are encouraged to bring their whole selves to work every day. We believe that if our people are at their best, then what we deliver for our brand partners will be better for it.

We doubled down on diversity. DE&I has long been a priority for our agency, and that commitment has only grown stronger during the pandemic. This past year, we established an Inclusion Team, a diverse group of individuals from across our company who work to ensure that inclusion is at the heart of our business. Their efforts led, for example, to our making Juneteenth a paid holiday in the U.S., providing resources to support Black-owned businesses and hosting panel discussions with guests from the LGBTQ+ community.

Crucially, DE&I also informs the work we do for our client partners. The way we see it, a representative workforce strengthens our creativity and innovation as well as our work family.

We recommitted to the work. Again, our work is at the core of everything we are—it’s why we’re here. What we create is seen by millions of consumers each year. We understand that our job—the job of communicating, with the mission of educating and illuminating—is an important one, and we are beyond proud of the brand messaging we put out into the marketplace. As we push ourselves to be the best, we propel our clients to be their best.

I’ve been asked before what makes our agency so special. I truly believe it is that familial spirit we have fostered that has made us one of the best places to work and the most effective partner for our brands.

People first is in our DNA, not only helping us to weather a global health crisis and historic societal change but also positioning us for the challenges and the rich opportunities to come.