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Five Keys to Driving a Connected Culture

By Virginia Devlin, CEO, Current Global

Absence makes the heart grow fonder, but does that apply to your professional life, too? For our more than 200 global employees, who have developed strong, interpersonal relationships in their offices and across our network, it is critical that we maintain some sense of normalcy during these unchartered times. This is particularly true with our agency’s connected culture, which is key to any organization’s success.

Whether running an organization during good times or a global pandemic, driving a connected culture means focusing on five key areas: leadership, culture, talent investment, trust and infrastructure.

Leadership: Lead by example

In the service industry, when something challenges our clients’ businesses, it has a direct impact on ours, too. Through COVID-19, we have seen clients lean on us more than they ever have before and others putting programs on hold. As a leader, it’s important to be transparent when communicating the challenges and opportunities that lay ahead for your business. Sharing the facts clearly, openly and calmly helps build trust and ease nerves amongst your team.    

Outside of running day-to-day business operations, it’s important to find fun, unique ways (virtual coffee chats, office-wide playlists, meme challenges, etc.) to keep team members socially connected while also encouraging mental and/or physical breaks throughout the day. However, it’s not just a leader’s responsibility to communicate these company-wide initiatives. You must participate – say by sharing a homemade cocktail recipe in advance of the virtual happy hour, dying your hair blue for whacky hair day, or turning your computer off on a Friday afternoon because you told the rest of your team to do the same. If you don’t practice what you preach, how can you expect your teams to follow suit?

Culture: Create a culture that is connected, collaborative, communicative

We’re in the business of communications, but for some agencies, that can be a situation like the cobbler’s children having no shoes. You get so consumed with helping your clients communicate, that you can deprioritize your own employee engagement. That’s not the case at Current Global.

We’ve transitioned our monthly agency meetings to weekly, using them as a chance to provide updates on our business, answer employee questions, which are submitted through an anonymous inbox, and spotlight innovative account work and team members. We also have regular leadership meetings, a bi-monthly internal email newsletter, virtual HR office hours and updates on social media celebrating our successes and people. When new, high-importance developments have occurred with our business, we’ve made a point to schedule meetings with our entire team to provide real-time updates.

Despite everyone working from home, we’ve seen collaboration and information sharing surge to even higher levels. While real-time media updates have continued amongst our team, we’ve also begun disseminating daily reports across the network, including what our contacts are or are not interested in covering, whose beats have changed due to COVID-19 coverage for the foreseeable future, new story opportunities and deadlines, and more.   

Talent: Invest in invaluable resources, regardless of geography

Long before this pandemic, we prioritized hiring people who were the best fit for our culture and our clients’ needs. For us, it’s not about where you are, it’s about who you are and what you bring to the table.

While we have 15 offices worldwide, we don’t assign team members by geography, unless the client requires it. And some staff always work remotely where we don’t have offices, like Charleston, Kansas City and North Carolina. Because our people are accustomed to working across offices and regions daily, our rhythm as a team hasn’t missed a beat and has made for a seamless, invaluable transition.

We continue to encourage participation in learning and development opportunities, from educational webinars and trainings provided through our network, to the free online courses offered by Ivy League universities on Class Central. Now is a perfect time for people to invest in their personal development.

Trust: Assume positive intent, and empower your team to work where, how and when they want (within reason)

Key to any business’ success is hiring and nurturing talent you trust to drive meaningful results. To be a place where the right talent wants to work, you must show compassion and appreciation for the lives people live outside of your business. Following those two principles establishes mutual trust and understanding that everyone is doing everything they can to add value to your organization’s bottom line, even while our industry and global economy have slowed.

We have the utmost trust in our team to get the job done on behalf of our clients and our agency, while doing it under these unusual circumstances. We’re ok with hearing partners, children, pets and other noise in the background during a call, or with a team member taking breaks throughout the day to care for a loved one. That support system sparked the launch of a virtual babysitting service, where several times a week our talented employees will sing, draw, puppeteer and do whatever else they can dream up to help give colleagues with kids a chance to meet a deadline or have some “me time.”

I saw a quote the other day that read, “You're not working from home during a crisis. You're dealing with a crisis while trying to work.” We acknowledge that people are doing their best, while also grieving for what this pandemic is doing to the world.

Infrastructure: Put the technology and processes in place to enable connection and collaboration from anywhere in the world

For business owners and leaders, investing in and continuing to upgrade your infrastructure is critical to running a successful organization no matter what’s happening in the world. But it’s not just having access to the right tools and technology, it’s important to provide regular employee trainings on how to use those assets to ensure your investment delivers the intended business results your clients and you need.

Being able to communicate daily with our clients and each other over Teams, Skype, Zoom or Webex has been seamless for our team, and having access to Trend Kite and other analytics tools remotely has allowed us to continue to deliver best-in-class client solutions. The positive experience of pivoting so heavily to rely on these tools will likely have lasting effects on how we approach ongoing communications well after we are cleared to return to our offices.

By having a proven infrastructure in place, we have been able to remain flexible and sustain our business through predictable and unpredictable industry changes, something we’ve counseled and helped instill with countless clients over the years.

Our approach for establishing a connected culture has helped us navigate COVID-19 as a company and as trusted counsel for our clients. We continue to be grateful for the daily work being delivered by our team, the crucial communications we’ve helped our clients deliver during these uncertain times, and the opportunity to help our clients continue to reinvent their businesses once this pandemic eases.

About The Author

Virginia Devlin is Chief Executive Officer of Current Global, a midsized communications agency that is part of the Interpublic Group (IPG). Current is focused on influencing behavior where real life happens – in the moment. For clients, that means forging meaningful connections to powerful moments in people’s lives to create lasting outcomes.

An ace at operations and hands-on leader, Devlin has achieved 14 years of profitable growth for Current. Today, the agency boasts more than 225 team members in 30 offices around the world, with major operations in the U.S., U.K., Germany, Brazil, China and India. Focused on establishing long-term partnerships, her first client assignment for The Clorox Company in 2006 has grown into ongoing and award-winning work for brands including Brita, Hidden Valley and Kingsford. With expertise in consumer, corporate, healthcare and technology marketing, Current’s client roster includes Applebee's, Champion, FedEx, Microsoft, Pfizer, Omni Hotels & Resorts, Radio Flyer, Shamrock Farms and Vulcan.

An active client counselor and employee mentor, Devlin thrives on challenging both sides of her brain to develop results-driven campaigns that combine business strategy with creative savvy. Her leadership helped Current win 15 Cannes Lions in recent years, including a Gold PR Lion for Teddy Gun, a pro bono campaign for the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence.

Prior to launching Current, Devlin spent nine years at IPG agency Weber Shandwick, rising to the rank of executive vice president. There she demonstrated a talent for winning new business, driving organic growth and mentoring teams. Earlier in her career, she was an account supervisor for Publicis in both Chicago and Seattle, where she created and executed marketing programs for commodity and consumer packaged goods accounts.

A 2017 PRWeek Champion of PR and 2014 PR News Top Women in PR Award honoree, Devlin earned a bachelor degree in journalism from Northern Illinois University and completed additional public relations studies at the University of Washington. Her board experience includes the PR Council, the US trade association for public relations firms, and the Public Relations Society of America Chicago chapter. She has judged various industry award competitions including the CLIO, PRWeek and SABRE North America awards.

Devlin is a member of the Economic Club of Chicago and serves on the board of the Ryan Banks Academy, whose mission is to build Chicago’s first residential boarding school for underserved urban youth. She is an active supporter of WE.org, a charity and educational partner that believes in a world where all children are free to achieve their fullest potential. She lives in Chicago with her husband and teenage daughter.

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