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Ep46: Women in Leadership: A Case Study, Featuring MKG

In this inspiring episode, we continue our exploration of equity, diversity, and inclusion by delving into a fascinating case study featuring MKG, a fully women-led experiential marketing agency with offices in New York and LA.

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Join us as we dive deep into their organisational culture, values, and resilience in the face of challenges, including the impact of the pandemic. We will discuss the unique insights, strategies, and successes that have propelled MKG to become one of the leading creative agencies in the US.

Episode Highlights:

  • Get an inside look at MKG, a trailblazing experiential marketing agency led entirely by women, with a team of 54 individuals.
  • Explore the compelling organisational culture at MKG, built around core values such as bringing one’s authentic self, continuous learning, open and honest conversations, being a force for good, and celebrating diversity.
  • Learn how MKG has overcome the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, including navigating redundancies, to emerge as one of the US’s leading agencies.
  • Gain insights into topics such as generational differences, equity and pay transparency, attracting and retaining talent, and fostering diversity and inclusion within the organisation.
  • Discover the key lessons, experiences, and strategies that have shaped MKG’s journey, offering valuable inspiration and guidance for other businesses and leaders.

We LOVED making this episode. If you’re looking for some serious leadership inspiration, this episode is must listen!


Connect with Christine Capone, President of MKG:

Connect with Lauren, Chief Creative Officer at MKG :

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The Transcript

⚠️ NOTE: This is an automated transcript, so it might not always be 100% accurate!

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Christine Capone 0:00
It was really tough. It was probably, to date one of the worst experiences, quite frankly and honestly and openly that I think this agency and anyone in this industry will have to go through. We had to lay off 50% of our workforce, and that really, really, really stung. It was very hard.

Leanne Elliott 0:28
Hello, and welcome to the truth live and workplace culture podcast brought to you by the HubSpot Podcast Network, the audio destination for business professional. My name is Leanne. I’m a Business psychologist.

Al Elliott 0:39
My name is Eileen, I’m a business owner,

Leanne Elliott 0:41
we are here to help you simplify the science of people and create amazing workplace competence. What are we talking about this week?

Al Elliott 0:47
So this week, we are talking about women in leadership is a case study featuring mkg, which is a fairly sizable agency based out of New York and Los Los Angeles, fully female led really interesting people. We’re gonna meet those guys in a second. However, you might remember that from our news roundup last week, where there was a survey by Barron’s, I think it was lawyers at sunrise. Yeah, that’s right. And they released the top CEOs of 2023 of the 25. Leaders 16% were women, which, at on first glance sounds a bit like, that’s not very good. But actually, when we think about it, if only 6% of CEOs are actually female, then that’s a pretty good result is neck because we’re paying approximately one in 20 CEOs are women, and one in six of the best CEOs in the world. So to a certain extent, the kind of smashing out there

Leanne Elliott 1:38
they are, they really, really are. And I mean, I have to admit, I do have a slight beef with the term women in leadership or female leaders, because why do we have to be gendered? Like you don’t hear like male leaders, men in leadership? I guess it’s the same when in like other industries, when you hear people say like, oh, female comedian, it’s like they’re just a comedian. So yeah, I have a bit of a beef with it. I don’t see the need to, to talk about women in leadership in that way. At the same time, I think it’s useful to continue the conversation point out the inequity for the fact we even start to talk about women in leadership as a thing, I guess, celebrate women in a really positive way, and in a way that will continue to drive change. So yes, for today, I’m embracing women in leadership, female leaders, and I’m very excited to explore this case study with incredible women from mkg.

Al Elliott 2:31
So before we meet them every time of the week, it’s news roundup here, the jingle. If you’ve never heard this before, then the news roundup was basically just tells us two or three stories that have caught our eye this week and cluding usually a word of the week.

Leanne Elliott 2:45
I do have a word of the week Word of the Week look, round eternity. Gram eternity to show the emphasis go Granton de gram tennety Okay, you losing the will to live

Al Elliott 3:01
these were the weeks they just I swear to God but I was gonna say that made up but of course the middle because all right, let’s just arbitrarily rearrange of letters or, or shapes into a certain word, but that just they just seem to get more and more weird. Can’t ever guess what it is. Please do? Is it when it’s not maternity for mothers or paternity for fathers? Is granddaddy for grand masters of chest No, for grandparents?

Leanne Elliott 3:29
It absolutely is. Yeah, so this was reported in The Wall Street Journal this week grand Trinity special paid time off the new grandparents hoping to keep older workers engaged sort of from retiring stop them from moving to other jobs as we’ve talked about before, we’re working much longer now to these things are are having to become a thing. So apparently this was first champion by machine McKenzie who is the Chief People Officer at saga and organization that how could not wait to be to be old enough.

Al Elliott 4:01
Those might sound a bit strange but Sagra got some great European car insurance. There’s only two companies in the UK that do great and cheap European car insurance even stay all year round. And that is a company called Stuart Collins and saga so I’m four years away from being 50 and therefore joining saga and enjoying paying little little bit less my car insurance feels like it should be an adverb Sargam

Leanne Elliott 4:23
it does but you know what this is also I haven’t thought about before there’s also a really good example of external consumer brand aligning with internal employer brand is valuing the older person as a consumer as an employee. So yes saga have rolled out five days of paid grand Tennessee to clean your teeth and ran Tennessee leave.

Al Elliott 4:47
But we don’t have to

Leanne Elliott 4:50
me in these time. Anyway, granted until the 2500 employees have been offered it and 32 So far, taking it up So yeah, it may well become a thing to engage our older workers and other companies that are starting to roll out also. They include tech companies, Cisco consulting firm Mercer, and hiring platform hire view. today. Go grunted.

Al Elliott 5:16
Interesting. So what else we got here?

Leanne Elliott 5:18
I have a little something that caught my eye this week that I thought might make for an interesting discussion. You haven’t seen A Bug’s Life. I’ve

Al Elliott 5:26
seen about four films and three of those a Bourne Identity ones.

Leanne Elliott 5:32
He’s just one film you’ve watched three times?

Al Elliott 5:35
Well, I have watched them all three times. But yes, that’s not the point. Anyway, what film what film you’re talking about today that I’ve not seen?

Leanne Elliott 5:41
So A Bug’s Life, you know that, you know, the scene with the flags. I’ve talked about this before. Like a fly with his with his knee. One of the Flies is like, flying towards the light. And he’s like, don’t go don’t do it. And he’s like, I can’t help but it’s so beautiful. Well, that’s basically how I feel about Elon Musk. Like I don’t, I don’t want to look. I don’t want to engage in the shite that he spat out. But I just can’t help it. I just can’t help it.

Al Elliott 6:11
He’s a he’s a very unique, interesting person. He, I don’t know whether he just doesn’t care what people think, or whether he’s clever enough to know. And he cares very much people think and then just said stuff just to get a little bit of engagement.

Leanne Elliott 6:27
Maybe maybe see what you think. So this week, Elon contributed to the comments under a an Islamophobic nonprofits video not so cool. Where commentators insinuated that single white women were turning France into a majority Muslim country. Mr. Musk claimed the childless have little stake in the future. At which point another commented, another user commented that democracy is probably unworkable, long term that limiting suffrage to parents, which basically means that only people who have children should have the right to vote. To which Elon Musk responded, yup.

Al Elliott 7:10
He just it just it just runs into conversations drops her hand grenade runs away doesn’t mean he really isn’t idiot eats at you know what I can see his point that we are childless, very happily childless and child free. I don’t want to one of those terms is like, good and one’s bad. I remember these poster child free or childless. But we to be fair, you know, in 50 years time, our linear just stopped. So I can see where he’s going with it. I still think it’s stupid, but I can see where he’s going with

Leanne Elliott 7:44
stupid. I’m like, what’s his name? Jeremy Plavix. Yeah, stupid. Stupid idea. Yeah. And this is why I think it’d be an interesting discussion point on LinkedIn, you can you can see the logic in that, that if you don’t have a legacy to leave, then you know, where’s your place define the future. But similarly, you know, the decisions that are made in politics today will still very much influence our present and our immediate future. And also as well, just because you have a child, I don’t think it makes you qualified to decide what the best future for the world is. You know, there’s plenty of parents out there that doing a pretty shitty job as it goes. So actually, do we then bring in a complicated Points Based System as to how good a parent you are to then justify getting the vote? I know it seems an unnecessary argument to me.

Al Elliott 8:32
My solution is that if at the point you die, you don’t have children. You’re not allowed to vote from that point forward.

Leanne Elliott 8:39
Oh, Sinead.

Al Elliott 8:42
You’re dead. And you don’t have children. You can’t vote. Okay. Fair enough.

Leanne Elliott 8:46
All right now, but yeah, I you know, what I think the problem is because Elon has a very, very large and public platform, and a lot of people listen to these very conservative right wing views that he has an AI Ag, and that’s fine, you know, freedom of speech. But there’s also lots of fake news in there. He talks about, you know, the decreasing population being one of the biggest threats to humanity. What he’s talking about is a decreasing white population in the US population as a whole globally is going up and is expected to continue to grow for the next 7080 years, which I think then puts it down to a case of it just being being racist, misogynistic, homophobic. And all in all, just I think YuLing is very divisive opinions that can have a very scary and have a very scary impact on our society, particularly in a minority groups such as women, such as people from the queer community, how many rights are we already seen? Well, back in the last few years, which is you know, the legacy of, of Donald Trump being president for for that time. So um, so yeah, this is worrying to me that this type of narrative is even becoming a thing. Your hands may tail, start to feel a bit more like possible future rather than dystopian fiction. But maybe I’m overreacting. Maybe I’m being overly sensitive. So should we put it on LinkedIn? Algae thing?

Al Elliott 10:08
Yeah. So go on LinkedIn, see people’s sake. So if you don’t follow us on LinkedIn, just type truth lives and work on LinkedIn. And you’ll find us. We’re everywhere on there. So shall we go to our guests? Okay, so quick story about mkg. I was we were doing the analyte. We’re doing an episode around about I think it was women led companies. This is probably going back to about January this year. This is currently being recorded in July. And so I wanted to try and find some people who be great guests for this. And I found this company and it was in New York and LA called mkg. Fully women, women lead. And also the more you dig into the cooler like the company looks and so I was like, brilliant. So I tried emailing nothing. I tried connecting to the the people on LinkedIn, totally ignored blank. I tried to find my Twitter couldn’t find them. So do you know what I did? I did what I did what the old school used to do, and I picked my phone up, and I called them and I left a message of their office. A bit weird.

Leanne Elliott 11:04
I love it was. I mean, it is a beautiful Jen XTrac Boomer move out and one I applaud you for. We’re awesome. As you’ve seen those videos, I’d say tick tock, tick tock like YouTube shores, the Tick Tock your YouTube shorts, where it’s like someone will do like a skit on how a different generation that’s the phone has been was like Hello, Gen X like hi, millennials, like, Who’s calling me Why would anyone call me and then Gen Zed alike?

Unknown Speaker 11:31
What what why,

Leanne Elliott 11:32
what? What is that? What? Why is it ringing? What’s happening? How times change?

Al Elliott 11:36
Anyway, I feel like we’ve digressed a little bit.

Leanne Elliott 11:38
So you own school mkg. And did they come back to you? Yes, we

Al Elliott 11:42
did. They put us on to our publicist, I think, who arranged the interview, got to meet the ladies. Oh, my God, they are so cool. I got such a business crush on them. They are just the coolest people in the world. Let me tell you a bit about mkg. Right. So mkg many do live events. So they do virtual events, live events, anything with social impact anything which is around what they call experiential marketing. So it’s an experience of the marketing. If you’ve ever been to like a festival, and you’ve walked into like something that’s been made out to be like, I don’t know, I just Dopey and future in a room or something. That’s the sort of thing they do. They’ve got 54 people. What’s interesting is, if you look at their about us, you will see that every single person who has a title with the word director in it presents a woman, which I thought was pretty cool, very mixed, very mixed bag of people there. But they have their values. So this is what I quite liked. The number one, bring your funky self. Number two, always keep learning one of ours the N. Number three, have open honest and brave conversations. Number four, be a force for good. And number five, embrace our differences and celebrate the diversity, which is definitely what they do with clients at Motorola. Mehta. Who else did they got they got target, HBO, Max, the huge companies who are definitely on board. They’re just a really, really cool company who are growing massively and probably going to be the titans of the future. A really

Leanne Elliott 13:09
interesting case study, because it’s not all as you’ll see plain sailing, this isn’t a story of success from from day one, or indeed overnight success, though, a really interesting example I think of, of how to navigate these challenging times. So let’s go meet our first guest, Lauren Austin, who is the Chief Creative Officer at mkg.

Lauren Austin 13:29
I joined mkg in 2007. Like, literally off Craigslist ad, I was not happy with my job. And was it at that point in life or just like, I’ll take anything and joined this little company that I had never heard of, that really had no place in the market yet. It was tiny. I grew a team there. And then eventually hired our first really creative team and grew that and eventually wound up where I am, which is overseeing all of the creative team and all of the production team and working in partnership with Christine who really runs the business.

Leanne Elliott 14:12
And our second guest is Christine compone. The president of mkg. I joined

Christine Capone 14:17
about eight years ago, and came here with no agency experience. So I think when I say that it’s very shocking to people and shocking to myself at this point. But I really worked in brand partnerships, that for the majority of my career, I worked at the USTA for the US Open Tennis Championships and really managed new business client relationships, partnership marketing, worked at a retail company and oversaw all of our sponsorship negotiations, executions and licensing. And I got a phone call one day and she was the former managing director here. And she had said, Hey, your resume came across my desk. And I am looking for someone that can add to this business and not just kind of fit into the business.

Leanne Elliott 15:06
So yes, two incredible guests, two incredible women, and two of the most influential leaders in the creative industry today. I’m looking forward to this one.

Al Elliott 15:15
We’ll start at the beginning, at the very beginning, because we’re going to hear a little bit later on about our crowd, Christine, and Lauren sort of got into into mkg. But Christine took over as a president around about December 2020. I don’t know if you remember, but there was some significant events that were going on around about 2020 2021. Obviously, the pandemic was in full swing. Now, can you imagine being an events marketing agency that just does live events in a time when we’re locked down for two years? Hmm. So I wanted to ask Kristen, what was it like running this marketing agency, and taking over what probably is one of the most difficult points in history,

Christine Capone 15:58
it was really tough. It was probably, to date one of the worst experiences, quite frankly, and honestly and openly that I think, this agency and anyone in this industry will have to go through, we had to lay off 50% of our workforce. And that really, really, really stung. It was very hard. What we sort of haven’t talked about yet is MK G’s, a really special place. And the people here are really special and having to do that really hit in a big way. But it was something that we needed to do to sustain the business and honestly, to get to where we are now. And we knew that clients stopped spending money. And we had to say, okay, in order for us to keep a place that people are going to be able to come back to when we know we can get to the other side of this, we have to make some really difficult business choices. I would say that the people that were a part of that, from management down, were incredibly empathetic to the situation supportive of all the decisions being made and did everything they could to help anyone that did not make it to the other side of this with us, land on their feet. And the good news is, a lot of those people are back, it did allow us the opportunity to bring on new amazing talent that we probably never would have met if something like that didn’t happen.

Leanne Elliott 17:34
And as Lauren discovered, it was also a great time to reset the company culture.

Lauren Austin 17:41
But also there were some really positive things that came out of it. For us for the business as a whole. It forced us to not only rebuild, but really like do some soul searching and examine our culture, and our core values. And really, with a shrunk, shrunken team and a core team, we really did a lot of like hard conversations with the people that did stay about what they loved about this place. And what we had an opportunity to change. And so a lot of the work that we did, maybe because we weren’t busy with client work, internal work. And, you know, thinking about how we were positioning ourselves how we were marketing ourselves, what we wanted to do the vision and the direction of the company, and a lot with our culture.

Leanne Elliott 18:39
You know, I think often the reason that leaders are reluctant to, to make a change to their their team or their culture is because they know that performance will more than likely suffer. I mean, it’s a really simple and often cited model for team performance by Bruce Tuckman. He talks about forming, storming, norming performing it’s a it’s a catchy name, I think that’s what it’s called. But basically, it does what it says on the tin. So whenever a team is formed, there is a sense of excitement, perhaps some anxiety, you know, to get started in and typically this team doesn’t have a clear mission. That’s the forming stage, when a team gets together. As a team gets to know each other, know their ways of working, then they start to potentially push against those established boundaries and true characters will start to start with I’m sure we’ve all been there. We’ve been a company for, you know, a few weeks, that’s the that’s called the storming phase. Then we get the norming phase, people start to figure out, figure out how to work together as of differences, appreciate each other’s strengths, and then start to really, you know, respect each other and their leaders as well. And then after that comes performing, that’s when everyone’s in flow. Everyone’s performing. Everyone’s cool, everyone’s happy. Everyone’s reaching their potential. And no leader is going to want to rock the boat in the norming or the performing stage because it’s just gonna make them things even harder, even if it does mean that rocking that boat might be better for the financial viability or sustainability of the business. So we understand it. And I think so when you’re, when you’re facing an external change, like the pandemic, like the financial crisis, like an acquisition or a takeover, it kind of gives you that because everything was changed anyway, and everything is disrupted. It kind of gives you that opportunity to rethink things, rethink your values, reevaluate what your mission is. And I think really embracing the opportunity that comes with teams being in that forming and storming stage. I think, you know, in terms of redundancy, in the case of mkg, as well, it really helps those people that remain to overcome that survivor’s guilt, often people feel, because you’re basically saying, you know, what’s, what’s done is done. We are now a different company with a different mission, and a different future, I think that can be really empowering any and engaging for any team members that are left behind.

Al Elliott 21:02
That’s a really good summary. And I I, I have I’ve heard you talk about these four before. And that’s the first time really kind of like being able to put it into like, Okay, this is that’s what the context is, I get it. So that’s really, really cool. Before we dive into the rest of it, I want to learn a bit more about the culture at MK G, around the same time a Christine became president, Lauren took a took the lead in the culture. And so I was like, what was it at the time that you wanted? What was your vision for the culture for mkg

Lauren Austin 21:31
culture had always been a really important piece of mkg previously, and I had been there, and I knew the magic of that culture. But I also knew the weaknesses or like the opportunities to improve that culture. So I wanted to really work to take what we loved and what worked well, but also grow in new directions, both with staff input, and with leadership sort of intuition. We worked a lot with our team through serving through conversation, to really discover what they cared about what aspects of our culture were working, what aspects of our culture were not. And we always try to take staff feedback. But we don’t follow staff feedback blindly. We take staff feedback, and then we apply what we know both about building a healthy business, longevity, maturity, we we add things to it to make final decisions, but we always try to put staff input and staff feedback at the center of decisions that we make, especially around culture.

Leanne Elliott 22:44
So the team are clearly really keen on social purpose. But how do we balance that with the commercial side of our business? Can we be both? Can we be purpose led, and commercially viable,

Lauren Austin 22:54
in the context of where the world was in 2020? A lot of the conversations that we were having centered around purpose and social purpose. And a lot of our team really felt passionately that they wanted the company to go in a direction where we were doing positive, making positive impact in the world. And I think as leaders, we had to reconcile. Yes, absolutely. That sounds great. That sounds great to both of us, too. But the reality of our business is we do brand action, and we do experiential market for some marketing for some of the biggest brands in the world. And we want to push our creative team and our strategists to create work or can pitch work that is, you know, creates positive change in the world and is socially good. But we also do work that is just great design work. So I think a lot of our job was trying to work with the team to understand, you know, how do we pay your salaries? How do we, you know,

Unknown Speaker 24:06
keep the

Lauren Austin 24:06
company going without moving in a direction of like, basically nonprofit, which I think at one point in 2020, our team would have gone all in on that

Al Elliott 24:14
what is really clear about these women is that they are balancing perfectly. leadership culture team, but also profitability. commerciality. That’s what’s so impressive. I think there’s so many companies out there who have moved on, they’re like, you know, all we’re doing a culture piece, and we’re going to do this. And it’s just what what are they talking about? Not Pillow Talk? What’s the word when you just pay lip lip service? That’s the one. So it’s just lip service, where and then the kind of the other end where they just like, oh, yeah, we just let everyone do what they want. And they can come in for an hour a week if they want. You know, it’s like, well, where’s the profit, but that’s fine for a company who was very, very high profitability, but for most of us were like, We need people to do the work. So I thought that was really, really interesting. I asked Christine about nonprofit and of course, she’s gonna say no, we couldn’t be nonprofit. but she seemed to think that you can get your sort of purpose from actually helping brands to

Christine Capone 25:05
be better. And if there’s a place for us to come in and try to make a brand better, we should action that and we should try to do so. And that is sort of the positive. And the work that we’re doing here. I think it was a, you know, a time where people really started to question who they’re aligned with, and brand values. And that was really tough, because we all question often, but we also need to, one keep people employed to put great work out there. And three, that sort of our, what we need to do as marketers is make a difference. So backing away from those brands and backing away from those moments, where we’re not helping anything. So the team

Leanne Elliott 25:50
mkg skews towards millennials and Gen Zed, which is actually really common for creative agency. So we asked Lauren and Christine, what are the challenges with having a younger team? What the difference is,

Lauren Austin 26:02
we do see differences between our millennial staff and our Gen Z staff. Because our millennial staff had the beginning of their career be somewhat, you know, what’s normal, but normal, a shared experience for the three of us, millennials had that experience, our younger team. This is their experience. They don’t know anything other than this. And so I think there is going to be, especially going forward a bigger generational divide as we’re depending on what happens with the future work, the future of company culture, the future of work from home, like all of these things are still so up in the air right now. Not just for us, I would say, globally. And I think it will determine a major generational divide. But yeah, I think purpose is something that you see in all the studies about Gen Z, it’s not just purpose and work its purpose across the board. And social engagement is such a big part of their generation, and they’re so engaged politically and engaged socially, and they’ve just grown up in such a different way than we have. I think, if we didn’t work here, we would probably have limited exposure to Gen Z. And it’s, it’s great. And especially in what we do, it’s, it’s invaluable to us. You know, I leave the creative team, but I’m always like, I’m the old person in the room, you guys, you guys, tell me like what what do you think we should do here? Well, you this is you are talking to you, you are the audience. So let’s talk about it.

Leanne Elliott 27:36
I think what’s really cool about Gen Zed is that actually championing things that are gonna make work better for all of us that we can all benefit from. I mean, having purpose is a definition it is it is a psychology phenomenon. It means that we’re doing meaningful work that typically is aligned with our values, and gives us a feeling of fulfillment, a feeling that our life is is you know, has purpose. That’s exactly what the definition is. And when we experience purpose most powerfully, it’s when it comes from various different aspects of our life. So some of our purpose gonna come from work, some is going to come from our community, some is gonna come from our relationships, it rarely will come from one source if we are truly, truly fulfilled. And what’s really interesting from a research perspective, is that we know purpose is really good for our physical and mental health. So typically, people who experience purpose have less instances of cardiovascular disease, and lower mortality. Research has also found that leaders that demonstrate clear purpose have happier more productive employees. And from a commercial perspective, purpose driven companies typically benefit from faster growth, more product launches, quicker speed to market, more successful change. It sounds really cheesy, but purpose is really good for the heart, the soul and for business.

Al Elliott 28:57
Yeah, and it’s quite interesting. When you think about the generational the way that the generations work, like Gen X, were kind of almost like innovation with money with finance, you think about that the 80s of the, you know, the Gordon Gekko and all that kind of stuff. And then you hit the millennials, where they’re sort of like, they were innovative with digital. And so you’ve got the Mark Zuckerberg in who built social networks, etc, etc. So we get down to the Gen Zed, and they’ve got two generations pod, probably three generations ahead of them, where people haven’t really talked much about purpose. They’ve just talked about either making money or making cool things. There’s no real life. There’s no sort of heroes for people about purpose. So I can see why they’re doing this. I can see why it’s important to Gen Zed, even though I’m what 30 years older than than the average Gen Zed or I can certainly be 20 years old. I can definitely see that and I think he’s really really cool. One of the other things which was really interesting was the MKT G have this pay transparency, now they’re big on equity. And so part of that is to ensure that Basically, they’re very transparent on pay. They’re very transparent, but all the finances. So I have to ask Christine a little bit more about

Christine Capone 30:05
this. I think equity is also something else this generation talks a lot about. And we’ve learned that, you know, the, we didn’t grow up having salary transparency. And all of this is really new and sometimes very frightening, honestly, as employers, I think, to have those conversations, but this generation is an advocate for equity. And that’s also, I think, really positive, honestly, it’s scary in certain settings and conversations. But I think it’s a really good thing in the end. And it’s really testing us and pushing us to our limits and sort of exposing whenever there’s inequity and causing a ripple effect in a way that hopefully will help things for generations to come. So I think the equity pieces is a really positive thing of that generation, what we wanted to do is make sure that we were one being equitable. Two, were being competitive. So we did an audit. And we’ll continue to do them at least twice a year, to better understand what the market is paying, at the present time, looking at our competitors, looking at the industry, looking at the size of our business, looking at locations, and making sure that if there is any gaps that we need to close, we’re closing those gaps. And in the future, every job here has salary bands attached to them. And we’re working towards really positive conversations with people when they’re saying, Hey, I’m at x, and I want to be at y. Okay, well, here’s the band. And this is in line with what the market is paying, here are our resources. Here’s where we pulled this information. In order for you to get to that point, here’s what you need to do. You know, in some cases, that might just be being at the top of the top level for that job. And in some cases, it might mean moving on to the next level and getting a promotion, etc.

Leanne Elliott 32:05
Yeah, there are many upsides to pay transparency, certainly in terms of of a talent acquisition strategy, we know that candidates like to see that pay transparency in job adverts, but you know, in terms of the organization, it builds trust with leadership. And it’s really fundamental, if you want people to go the extra mile because how decisions are made, how P is determined, having that transparency enables employees to feel a sense of organizational justice, that’s a feeling that decisions are made fairly and transparently within the organization. So what that means when we’re in an organization that we believe does have positive organizational justice, it has a direct impact on our attitudes and behaviors, we feel more job satisfaction, we go the extra mile, we’re more committed to the organization, we feel a sense of belonging, our well being is better, it really is such an interesting aspect of engagement, organizational justice, so having this transparency around pay is one of the key tenets of that that are gonna gonna help businesses like MK G, you know, reap the benefits of these positive attitudes and behaviors. Of course, you know, giving the financial pressures today the ongoing cost of living crisis, rising student debt, you know, rising house prices, the fact that many younger workers, you know, our Gen Xers have seen their parents be burned significantly during the global financial crisis and the mass redundancies that came, then it’s not a massive surprise it for a younger generation, that is an element of show me the money. Have you seen that film out?

Al Elliott 33:43
As we find out from the previous week? No, I haven’t. I’ve just seen that scene. But I promise you, we will sit down. We’ll watch all the films I’ve not seen Rocky. I’ve not I’ve not seen mark yet. So we’ll we’ll take care of that this weekend. Okay, so back to him. Katie, I had a question around this. Because if everyone gets paid within the same bands, then what happens when you have a Don Draper style? I’m sorry for the cheesy analogy, but man, she got the absolute superstar comes in, you’re like, Yeah, you know that they’re getting it, then they won’t get out of bed for the amount of money that everyone else is getting paid because they believe they are better. And in some cases, they might be. So I had to ask Lauren, what how do you deal with that? Does does the pay transparency? Does that risk not getting these kind of people pay equity

Lauren Austin 34:29
has been overall I would say very positive for the team. But there are some negatives to it. On the employer side. It’s challenging because sometimes we lose people, because we can’t. They want more than the band allows for and to be equitable. We have to say no, like this is the cap of the band. And either when we’re hiring, we’ll lose somebody amazing, because we literally they’re asking for something that’s way outside of our salary band and it would be unfair to our current employee. is or will lose super performers. You know, 10 years ago, you had a super performer at an agency and you were able to give them bonuses or increases or, you know, get them to a place because you wanted to keep them and keep competitive. You can’t do that anymore. You have to use sometimes lose amazing employees, because there is not a promotion available. So as an employer, it’s, you know, I think it’s, it feels better for us, because we want to be equitable to our employees. And we want to be transparent to our employees. We’re incredibly transparent with our finances to our employees. But there are some drawbacks for us to which is that sometimes you miss out on or you lose great talent in this scenario that you didn’t before.

Leanne Elliott 35:47
I think Lauren’s right, you know, there will be instances where they will miss out on talent, but that’s going to be talent that probably wants something else wants a different career path or wants more corporate organization with that accelerated trajectory in terms of development and pay scales. But you know, remember, we talked about a few episodes ago, the toxic superstar, we don’t always want those Don Draper’s in our organization, they can be disruptive. They can be, you know, counterproductive, we think they’re going to elevate performance. But what the psychology shows us is it actually brings performance down as a team. So often, I think, whilst there may be times where Now Lauren, and Christine might think, oh, that person would have been great, I would question whether they actually have the the unity in their culture that they have now, if they have brought people like that into the business, and particularly on a different pay scale.

Al Elliott 36:40
Makes perfect sense. We’ll link to the episode about toxic superstars. Really, really interesting. I think we get Ryan Sherman on it, too. We we do

Leanne Elliott 36:47
wine Sherman, and the founders of audax, which is an experiential team building, this is a match made in heaven. Yep. So

Al Elliott 36:55
we’ll link to that in the show notes.

Leanne Elliott 36:57
So when it comes to attracting and retaining talent, we had to ask Christina and Lauren, how are they currently doing it? From their experience, what are recruits looking for in a company in 2023?

Christine Capone 37:07
What everyone wants right now is to be thanked to be encouraged to learn every day, and to feel like they’re getting paid what they’re worth. And that is how we’re trying to lead and everything else in the background snacks in the office, you know, tapi hours, etc, are really important. And we’re going to focus on them and concentrate on them. But we’ve taken a big step back and, you know, we we want to focus dollars money attention there.

Lauren Austin 37:38
What we think is, you know, part of the selling proposition of coming to work here is our culture. And the work that we do, and the, you know, learning opportunity that to build a career or start a career often because we’re we are talking to younger people. But I think, you know, we, again, generationally, we come from a place we’ve worked at many places, we, you know, we’ve been around the block. So we know that there’s salary is incredibly important. There’s no denying that, but there’s more to a happy career than salary. And we, you know, try to create a place and create an agency that is a great place to work, I think we both agreed that having in office time and in Office experience was key to building a company that we wanted to work at. We didn’t want 100 satellites floating around zoom, we wanted the community and the friendships and the work relationships that we had grown up with. And that made not only mkg a great place to work, but previous places that we had been at as well. So that was really important. But we also knew that flexibility was really, really important to our employees. So we chose to do a Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday in the office, which is not unique. And that seems to be the the sort of standard thing in New York and LA and I think many other cities. But what we also did was try something new, but to be honest, we’re still experimenting with called core collaboration hours. So our team is for the most part split between New York and LA, there’s a three hour time difference between those two offices. And it’s always been problematic because when you’re collaborating cross coast, you know, there’s mornings where la people are expected to be on the phone at 6am. And there’s evenings where New York people are find themselves on a client call at 9pm 10pm. So what we wanted to do was kind of sandwich or smush our day into a more overlapping and reasonable little chunk of time where people were expected to actually collaborate. So core collaboration hours are different in New York and LA, in intentionally so that they overlap more. So in New York, were 11 to five, and in LA, were nine to three. And we set those hours as saying, These are the hours where you can set meetings, have brainstorms do calls, because those are the times when like, it is okay to lean on and collaborate with your cohorts. Outside of those hours, you do you get your job done, we expect you to get the job done. But if you’re a morning person, and you’d like to wake up at 6am, workout, then be at the office by 830. Do that. If you are not a morning person, you’re 25 and you were out late the night before. And 11am Sounds like a better time for you to clock in, do that. It works better for people who have kids, I had two young kids during COVID. And my whole schedule is totally different than it was when I was 2627. So we tried to create a schedule and a work expectation that was flexible for lots of different people at lots of different life stages.

Leanne Elliott 41:17
So one idea that Chris and Lauren had was to allow their employees to work from anywhere in the world.

Lauren Austin 41:22
And then on top of that, we added some other benefits. And so we have something called work from wherever, where, depending on tenure, every employee is allowed a certain amount of weeks of the year where they can work from wherever. So if you want to take a month and go to Bali, as long as you’re, you’re able to keep working, you can work from there. If you want to get a house share in the Jersey Shore for a month in the summer, and work from there, you can do that. So we tried to add that flexibility. And then we also on Fridays added something where it’s essentially no meetings are supposed to be set on Fridays. So it’s called Focus Friday and it’s just time that set for you to like catch up on your week or do the the work that requires real focus for you.

Al Elliott 42:15
I mean, that is pretty cool. You can like we work from anywhere in the world, but then we work for ourselves. I can’t think of many jobs where or companies where you could just go in and say okay, right I’m off to Bali for a month in mind. You don’t go to Bali go to Lombok barleys horrible, sorry Bali, Balinese, but barley is not a great place to go. But Lombok is great top tip there. But anyway, where was it? Before I ranted about barley.

Leanne Elliott 42:39
You’re not sure of any Orgonite many organizations which would allow that will just allow you

Al Elliott 42:43
to go right I’m off. I’m off. And in fact, if if you go back and read the The Four Hour Workweek that he has an entire forget the guy’s name, I always forget his name, I can’t remember. But he has an entire like way in which you can exit from the workplace and then go and live on it on a tropical island. But don’t need to do that anymore if you work for mkg. So these are all brilliant perks. But I wanted to ask Christine, the President, I want to say, Are these actually translating into better engagement and better retention?

Christine Capone 43:14
When we give people flexibility, people tend to want to stay. And it shows that we have trust in them. And I think that we’re treating them like the adults we expect them to be. So it takes a little bit of layer of that out of things. And as long as people are which they are respectful of client needs, their co workers need needs and are willing to sort of work around when they need to work around what those core collaboration hours are, or if they’re traveling clients seem to really find this to be very future forward. You know, they’re excited about it. They think it’s cool, they talk about it. So it’s it’s actually a pretty marketable part of our business besides just being an employee perk. The I wouldn’t say downside, by any means, because I don’t think there’s much downside, but the constant question is, you know, are we always employing a true workforce that is that understands that while we have these amazing perks, and we have these amazing office, technically in office hours, the expectation is to get your job done, and to get your job done well. So, again, we put a lot of trust in our people. We have a lot of honest conversations, but that is sort of the one piece that Lauren myself and the full leadership team under US has to keep an eye on and we expect them to keep an eye on. What we need to do is make sure that it’s not being abused, because if it’s being abused, there’s no gain for us. I did a

Al Elliott 44:53
bit of research and mkg as you’d imagine I would and someone’s told me that they’d never met an unpleasant person has mkg, which I thought was such a cool thing for, for someone to describe your team as. So I told Lauren and Christine that this is what I’d heard and said to them, what do you think the secret is to building a happy team

Lauren Austin 45:12
for the record, there have been unpleasant people that they didn’t stay very long. And I think that’s the testament to our culture. We’ve, we’ve always had core values, and they’ve changed over the years. And but I think one major, major tenant that’s kind of like an unspoken piece of our culture, is, we are a culture of kindness. We

Unknown Speaker 45:38
no Asshole Rule,

Lauren Austin 45:40
that’s the nice way of saying it, that’s our role we do its work is hard enough, you spend so much of your time, whether it’s actually in the office or on your computer, working and with your co workers that work with jerks, or to work with people who are unkind to one another is absolutely a deal breaker for both of us. So it’s an unspoken part of our hiring and recruiting process. And, you know, we are, we are not looking to hire people that we want to be friends with, you know, we’re constantly looking for additive culture adds people that add new skill sets, new experiences, diversity of many kinds. You know, we’re trying to grow our business, we are looking for people who come from outside of our industry, there’s lots of ways we want to add to our existing business and our culture. But you have to be kind, you have to be respectful and kind and empathetic and pleasant to work with.

Christine Capone 46:46
I think that’s the other unspoken thing that’s sort of the in between with our people being kind and why our flexibility works. If you don’t care about the work we’re doing about, you know, meeting expectations and deliverables for your co worker, if you’re not adding to what we’re doing, if you’re detracting from it. Lauren, I tend to have those conversations pretty quickly. We want not only people to be kind, but we want them to have fun here and be as committed as they should be to a job. You know, this isn’t life, but it’s an important piece of life. So I would add, you know, they need to care. And they do, which is great. But it really

Leanne Elliott 47:25
does sound like an adult to adult relationship. And that’s something that we’ve championed for a long time. And trust is really fundamental, and I won’t go into this again. But if you don’t trust your employees, why did you hire them in the first place? You know? And I think another thing is that being nice is really underestimated. I’ve had clients say to me, no, I think they might be okay at management. I think they’re just a bit too nice. I think that’s it, I think it’s an abused word. And I think it’s a, it’s it’s totally underestimated how being nice is important, you know, as a leader, transformational leadership, the main pillar of that, which is still a dominant theory of leadership today, is being likable and nice people are likable, or when it comes to civility in the workplace, is that a case of of working with your best mates and having really, really, you know, close personal relationships, it’s being civil, it’s being respectful of each other. And we know that those behaviors, those civil behaviors, directly impact employee job satisfaction, wellbeing, organizational commitment, the quality of products and services that come out of the organization, employee retention, among loads of other things. So I think being nice, being civil, is probably one of the easiest things that you could try and do within your business that will have the most impact. So one of mkg is core values is being diverse. And this certainly changing the status quo by having an all women leadership team, but how do they achieve this particular industry that often doesn’t have many people from underrepresented groups within it? So we asked them, How do you do this? How do you make a diverse culture? And is there a danger here of positive discrimination? We’ll hear from Christine first and

Christine Capone 49:06
then Lauren. One of the things that we did, I would say in maybe early 2021, is take a look at our recruiting practices. And I would say that has been a unspoken unspoken focus of Lauren and mine since that day is let’s add let’s bring additive talent here, and additive talent and all different ways. In background, you know, in race and sexuality and actual skill set. You know, there’s so many different things and we tried to really focus on okay, if we’re going to be representative of the world through the work we do this organization needs to be representative of that too. We took a look at all of our job postings and went through them to make sure that there were, you know, they were not biased in any way. One thing we’re actually starting to do now we haven’t done it yet is behavioral style interviewing for all of our people to make sure that there’s no biases in how we’re conducting our recruitment conversations. And then we really took a look at the places we were going to for talent, job boards, etc. And made sure that they were casting a wider net, to allow us to really attract that that talent. So it’s really about doing the right things and taking the right steps. And a really amazing workforce will pleasantly just be on your website one day,

Lauren Austin 50:36
this is not an this was not a unique problem that we had. This is like an industry wide problem. There was, especially with the black community, there’s just not a lot of black representation within advertising and marketing, and especially on the creative side. So working with yellow AC in particular has been amazing, not only because it’s helped form a new pipeline for us, where we have committed and are one of their partners, we’re about to do our second year of a VLSE internship class with the hope and intention of you know, hiring full time from that internship group. But it also is, you know, we’re trying to mentor and foster talent for the future of the industry as well, which there’s been a lot of amazing programs that have popped up since 2020. in similar ways, trying to get more diverse, creative voices into the advertising community. For us. For many years, a lot of the talent looked exactly the same, it was a lot of like young white females. And it was very easy for us to hire them because they had the right resume. But we had to say, we have to stop just looking at like the right resume, we have to look at potential, we have to look at other kinds of experience. And for us that wasn’t just about diversity, it was about growing our business strategically, it wasn’t about just diversity of our talent, like by the numbers it was, if we’re going to grow if we want to go from being an event, experience agency to a creative agency, we need people who come from other aspects of advertising and marketing. So it was kind of a lot of things that worked out really well in our favor and have contributed to us really being a stronger agency in a myriad of ways.

Leanne Elliott 52:31
I think this ties in so much with what we were talking about last week in our EDI one a one for leaders episode with incredible Sonia Thompson, she talked about this a lot. And it really comes to diversifying your candidate pool and what to watch you say fish where the fish are, which is a really simple way of putting it, we give lots of examples of how you can do that the various ways that you can diversify your talent pool without resorting to positive discrimination. So go back to last week’s episode and check that out.

Al Elliott 53:03
So at this point, you’re probably an agree with us that they’re pretty incredible women, I wanted to know what they thought their superpower was. So here’s Christine,

Christine Capone 53:11
I grew up in the Jersey Shore. And my dad owned a slice shop like a pizzeria, you come in, you get a slice, my mom worked. I’m one of three kids, I am very much a fixer middle child, welcome to my fixer life in this role today. Um, and, honestly, it’s really interesting, because I never would have taken my background and looked at it and said, You’re going to be running a marketing agency one day. But it makes a lot of sense. And I say that because this role has me not just trying to fix but trying to make things better bring things together, bring people together, my parents didn’t go to college, you know, it’s like a very deeply emotional subject for me, because my parents were beyond proud. But what I would sort of say to anyone, and if there’s like, I’m not sure if anyone young listens to this is, if I could do one thing earlier in my life, it’s recognize what I was good at, and lean into it. I sort of fell into this place. And then one day said, Oh, I get why I’m here and I get how my upbringing and my big Italian full of love. Childhood got me here. But it took me a really long time to realize that it wasn’t luck. You know, it wasn’t luck. It’s life experience. It’s understanding how to navigate people. And now when I’m coaching someone that’s out of college or younger person here, I say to them, recognize what what you’re good at, recognize what makes you you and lean into it. And then also be fully aware of what your strengths are not and then lean into someone else for them. was, but don’t hide it, you know, it’s who you are. You are, and it’s a great thing. And I, I wish everyone recognizes that I wish myself would recognize it more in every moment. But hey, you just got emotional, emotional Kirstine

Lauren Austin 55:16
I’m like the fuckup of my family. Um, so my family all, you know, went to very prestigious grad schools and, you know, Columbia, business school, Columbia Law School and I sort of accidentally fell into this business. I, I went to college and moved back to New York thinking I wanted to be a writer. I was always very good at writing. And so I think I knew immediately I’ll lean into what you’re good at. I was great writer, I’d always like, been really easy for me. I went to, I want to say it was Conde Nast, it might not have been, but I had an interview with like a HR person at Conde Nast, word editorial assistant, or not even assistant editorial internship. And in the interview, she was like looking at my resume. She was like, I see here that you studied religion and sociology in college, where you’re going to go into the cloth. I was like, oh, boy, oh, veg, I think I’m in the wrong. Um, so I very quickly realized that I needed, I was not, like, well suited for a big corporate place. So my next job was to a marketing company. And it just kind of like happened from there. But I would say opposite of Christine, for me, my advice was, or what worked for me was not necessarily leaning into what I was good at. But leaning into what I actually enjoyed, there, were there things that I’m good at, that I don’t like doing. And I’ve built a career, where I don’t have to do a lot of them. Or ask her saying, I just procrastinate, and don’t do that. Um, but so for me, it was like, I, you know, I tried production, I tried to count there were aspects of those things that I was good at, there were aspects of those things that I was very bad at. But I knew that what I actually enjoyed doing was creative and thinking and, you know, working with clients in that way, working with them to like, bounce creative ideas, and come up with something cool and come up with something new. So I just carved a path where I was like, This is what I liked doing. So I’m going to figure out, I’m going to build a team, I’m going to hire really great smart people to make me look good and teach me. And I just that was sort of my path.

Leanne Elliott 57:53
Some really great lessons there, I think from from Christine and Lauren. And as I said, you know, it wasn’t a an overnight success. It wasn’t a journey without his challenges and bumps in the road. I think that one makes it more interesting story to make some more authentic as leaders because you they’re there, they’ve demonstrated who they are in the good times and the bad times. I think there’s some really practical things that we can, you know, leaders can also apply within their business.

Al Elliott 58:22
Yeah, totally agree. So I mean, as a psychologist, what what do you think your main takeaways are?

Leanne Elliott 58:27
I think my first takeaway would be that the creative industry could be a really interesting place for more case studies when it comes to generational differences, because they do have this higher saturation of, of Jen’s ed, and they’re, you know, at the forefront of managing these challenges and these differences in how we approach work and what work means to, to our younger generations. I think it could be a really interesting breeding ground for research for psychologists to really dig into that and see what’s working, what’s not what impact that that’s having, both on the individual on the organization. Yeah, I think I’d be really intrigued to see if there are any universities currently partnering with creative agencies to kind of kick off this type of work.

Al Elliott 59:12
Interesting, I suppose by their very nature, they are innovative and creative. So we’re gonna see some, some interesting things coming out of there. I think I was really impressed that there was pay transparency, I was really impressed that there was the hybrid working and also work from anywhere, but the same time, and I’m not taking anything away from mkg. But at the same time, this isn’t rocket science. This is just This is just basic marketing. They just said to their workforce, what do you want workforce probably gave them a list of 20 things. They said we can give you six of these happy with those? Yeah, find out what they want and give it to them. It is really is as simple as that. So if you’re overcomplicating workplace culture, stop trying to reinvent the wheel. Just find a work policy that’s flexible enough that works for them but also allows for color ration that kind of thing is not rocket science

Leanne Elliott 1:00:02
is really not we’ve set that along, haven’t we? It’s adult to adult conversations adult to adult relationships, gaining the employee insights to try and give people what is going to be of value to them and what they need. It’s not that difficult, really. And I think the other thing that I would say that what I can what I can gather, and Kim mkg doing particularly well, is having this intention behind it, and I keep seeing intention. But I think what that means is it’s not a scattergun approach, or what benefits can we throw out? Let’s add Grande, Tennessee, because that’s a cool trend. Yeah, all of their employees are under 30. Which it could be possible, it’s unlikely, but it could be possible. But I think that intention is really looking at everything that you have, or the benefits that you have, or the policies, you have the ways of working that behavior expect, how do they fit into your values, gathering everything up. So you have this comprehensive view of, of what you’re doing. And I think that in itself, is a great place to start just to realize what you have realized, what you can enrich potentially, based on your employee insights, and how you can make sure that anything that you’re doing any decision you’re making is intentional. It’s feeding into the culture of your organization.

Al Elliott 1:01:14
Love it, love it. Anything else you took from that,

Leanne Elliott 1:01:17
I think it’d be an interesting thing for me was leaders from bringing leaders from other industries. I think that’s always a really interesting thing to do. Because I think this kind of cross pollination between industries often brings in very different perspectives. I’ve heard of that quite a lot before in the other aspect of my life, which is executive branding and coaching. But I think what’s really cool about that is that leadership is a completely different skill set. Industry is context skill set is the leadership.

Al Elliott 1:01:43
Interesting. Interesting. Okay, anything else to add? Or shall we say goodbye?

Leanne Elliott 1:01:51
I think I think I’m done that was a lot out.

Al Elliott 1:01:54
Now you take the piss out. Okay, so if you liked this, then I was a good chance you’re gonna like everything else. There’s about 42 other episodes unfortunately, not on YouTube, although we put them on YouTube but they’re just going to be audio only, and that you can work your way through if you’ve got an idea for an episode come and find us on LinkedIn or go to the website truth or lies and work nearly got that wrong truth lies and and you’ll find a way to suggest guests to suggest ideas and to get in touch with us also on that website will be all the show notes as well because Spotify iTunes don’t really allow us to put too long a show note and we liked we like a shown over here, don’t we? Yeah, we do enjoy show note. And what are we got next weekly,

Leanne Elliott 1:02:34
a really exciting episode. So next week’s episode is all about corporate lessons on workplace culture, and we have some big hitters in here we have some senior leaders from you ready for the name drops, go Microsoft, Jaguar Land Rover Accardo group, and Langer walk. Nice. Nice. Yeah, it’s nice. It’s nice. And also I just mentioned that three of them are also women. Cool. So if you liked our new video podcast, maybe maybe subscribe we’d love to have you on board and part of our truth and live community and I think as well there’s some kind of belly

Al Elliott 1:03:11
we don’t want to be those those youtubers ago, please ring the bell and subscribe and all that.

Al Elliott 1:03:16
But I’ll tell you why. You’ll notice we’ve got no subscribers because a brand new channel so if you subscribe and you email us and you’ll find the email on the website truth lives and work if you subscribe, and we’ll give you something special. How about that?

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