"Help us change what it means to work in the advertising industry"

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Our client was a 130-person PR firm with offices in Chicago, New York and Minneapolis. They attended one of our workshops because they were concerned that the prevailing work style in their industry (long hours, peer shaming anyone who left early, discouraging exercise) was not resulting in the best work they could produce for their clients. The leadership team tasked us with helping them understand what changes they could make to their culture in order to make their people, and their clients happier.


The firm created a new agency hero - "a mindful leader who enables autonomy, is constantly learning and encourages people to take care of themselves (seeing self care as selfless, not selfish)."

Project components:

Stakeholder Interviews: We held a kickoff meeting with the leadership team where we interviewed each stakeholder about their hopes and fears for this project. We also did some discovery – the team had recently performed an internal culture audit which the shared with us. In both the survey and the interviews we heard over and over the concern that the project would lose steam, guiding us to focus on short term wins, as well as long term results.

Survey Design: We re-configured our own existing culture assessment so that it made sense to individuals answering on their own behalf. We also worked with the leadership team to determine which types of demographic data to collect in order to make our analysis more robust. We gave the entire team two weeks to respond and ended up with an >80% completion rate.

Data Analysis: We used our context-based research framework to segment de-identified responses. For example, to analyze in the social context we looked at different teams, whereas for spaces we segmented by office location. We brought significant differences to the team’s attention, many of which were backed up by observational data.

Workshop Design + Facilitation: We took some of the workshop activities we developed previously and adapted them for a smaller group. We also added some new ones to address their culture specifically. These activities enabled us to better understand the leadership team’s priorities in relation to our analysis of the data.

Strategic Recommendations: We took our discovery documents, survey findings, and workshop insights and cross-referenced them with our decade of research into behavior change. We came up with a list of habits organized around the thematic elements the leadership team identified they wanted to go to work on.

Messaging: The project already had a compelling theme that had been introduced by a member of the leadership team. Although we all liked the language, there was concern that it already had some metaphorical baggage attached to it. We brainstormed alternatives and came up with “Disengage” – a play on the agency’s name and a cheeky nod to the idea that doing so is bad for business. The name stuck and is brought up in conversation frequently at the agency.

One thing that went well: We had an incredible relationship with the partnership team that was based on mutual trust. This allowed us to have candid, in-depth conversations about their culture, what might work, and what definitely wouldn’t.

One thing we could have done better: We could have updated the rest of the agency more frequently in our progress. 

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