Ogilvy's Plan to Attract, Grow, Keep the Best People
Charting the future of public relations
Holmes Report

Ogilvy's Plan to Attract, Grow, Keep the Best People

Faced with an industry-wide talent shortage and escalating turnover our challenge was to develop a strategic plan to “Attract, Grow and Keep” the best talent.

Paul Holmes

  Faced with an industry-wide talent shortage and escalating turnover our challenge was to develop a strategic plan to “Attract, Grow and Keep” the best talent.  Our objectives were as follows:
  • Become a “WOW” agency that attracts employees
  • Enhance skill levels that in turn lead to better client service
  • Position Ogilvy PR as a career destination and not a stopover
  • Build a sense and a reality of one company
  • Reduce staff turnover
Research was conducted prior to the program’s official launch at the April 1999 Leadership Forum in San Diego with an employee survey to find out what mattered to employees, why they stayed and why they thought others were leaving.  As part of a comprehensive project conducted in conjunction with PricewaterhouseCoopers, over 55 focus groups were conducted, including 600 interviews, across the company to listen to what was on employees’ minds.  In addition, we annually survey all our employees to get their feedback on morale, understanding and support of company direction and other employee satisfaction indices.
The results of the research indicated that compensation was not the biggest issue with employees, as we had believed.  More important to them were the opportunities for training and development leading to advancement, clear career paths, work-life balance issues and improved guidance and direction from their supervisors.
At the firm’s leadership forum (held in May ’00) more than 300 company leaders devoted three days on how to attract, grow and keep the best people (“AGK”).  In the process we not only created the program ideas but also gained tremendous buy-in for leading the efforts on a local basis.
The strategic litmus test for designing and implementing employee programs became the response to this question: Will this program (policy, initiative) help us attract, grow or keep the best people?  If it did it was worth seriously considering for implementation.  If it didn’t it wasn’t worth the time or effort given our other human resource imperatives. 
We bolstered our Human Resource department by hiring three additional dedicated professionals.  We established a company wide AGK committee, comprised of 46 account staff (run by Kym White, Co-Managing Director of our Health & Medical Practice), to devise and test new initiatives.  A key part of the program was the use of our own internal “celebrity spokesperson” in the form our Chairman and CEO, Bob Seltzer, who traveled from office to office speaking about and pledging our commitment to AGK.  Bob also announced new programs and major enhancements to existing ones.
Here are just some of the AGK components:
“Attracting”: These helped us deliver on our objective to be a “WOW” agency that attracts employees.
  • Established a global job posting database to advertise and sell every opportunity to employees thereby encouraging them to consider positions outside their home offices and practice groups.
  • Hosted open houses in all US offices to tap professionals from outside the PR industry. This proved hugely successful.  In Chicago more than 200 potential employees attended the open house held in Sep. ’00.  Washington, DC’s open house resulted in five hires and FKH’s open house attracted four new employees.
  • We created new messaging for our recruitment advertising focusing on Ogilvy PR as a great place to work.
  • Enabled 401(k) participation on the first of the month following employment
  • Pumped up the volume on our university outreach, which included increased participation in career fairs, targeted hosted visits and an enhanced presence and role in virtual career fairs.
“Growing and Keeping”: Training and Professional Development
  • This has been the cornerstone of our strategies to position Ogilvy PR as a career destination and not a stopover while enhancing the quality of our client service.
  • Rolled out a comprehensive Management Skills program to “build a better boss.”  All managers participate in a five part workshop series focused on building real skills in managing, coaching and leading.
  • Expanded Core Curriculum into all offices to support basic public relations skills development for all assistant account executives and account executives.
  • Created the agency’s first Client Service College, which brought together 40 client service leaders and our management team to share best practices, hear from clients and learn how to improve our skills.
  • Created a 3 ½ day Tech Boot Camp to cross-train PR pros in tech skills.  This initiative helped us meet increasing business demand while expanding the skills of our employees and helping retain those who wanted the opportunity to work in the tech space.
  • Enhanced orientation programs in all offices to accelerate acculturation and integration.
  • Launched Work-Visit program to enable staff to live and work for up to three months in any Ogilvy office around the world to foster personal development while creating relationships and fostering integration.
  • Enhanced our Professional Development Fund, which pays up to $2,500 per year, per person for programs and other resources that encourage staff to invest in their continuing education.
  • Demonstrated our commitment to performance management by mandating annual 360° reviews for senior staff and general reviews every six months for all staff
  • Launched O-village, our company-wide Intranet site to facilitate knowledge sharing and learning and to create an on-line community for our often far-flung colleagues.
  • Increased vacation allotment from 2 to 3 weeks for staff up to VP level and 3 to 4 weeks for SVP and above.
In just twelve months, AGK has helped us reduce turnover by 30%, add an additional 400 new staff and grow 35% in revenue in ‘00
According to our annual Employee survey (conducted in Nov. ’00):
  • 81% of staff stated they “buy-in” to company goals.
  • Overall morale has and continues to improve.
  • After the initial AGK initiatives were rolled out, on a 10-point scale, employees rated our AGK efforts as a 6.9.
  • 68% of employees say AGK is doing what it set out to do.
  • On a grass roots level employees demonstrate the highest overall level of commitment to AGK as a 4.4 on a 5-point scale.  They also perceive an exceptionally strong commitment to AGK on the part of Ogilvy PR management, their local office management and their immediate supervisor, rating all three groups a 4.0 on a 5- point scale.
Initiatives continue as we strive to add depth to our benefits package, improve work-life, enhance knowledge sharing, and broaden professional development.  It is accurate to say that AGK is now the heart of Ogilvy PR.
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