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It's a difficult time for agencies. However, it’s never been more important to treat valued talent as people, rather than commodities to be bought at a bargain price and then worked into the ground, says Jonathan Fraser, chief strategy officer and co-founder, Trouble Maker.

Agency treatment of their people is high on the agenda right now. Understandably, in the wake of Covid-19 agencies are re-thinking their structures, and how to keep vital staff engaged, motivated and emotionally looked after.

But there’s also a massive issue for agencies, like our own, which find themselves in the fortunate position of hiring, rather than firing. That’s because, due to a significant shift in supply and demand, the stories are plentiful of convoluted application processes, contracts laden with restrictions and one side salary negotiations.

Over the course of my career I’ve always felt there is an uncomfortable power imbalance going into a new agency.  Whenever I joined an agency and received a contract the only things I really checked were salary and holiday benefits, which is pretty naive. However, I bet that rings true for most people because you don’t really understand the other stuff, nor have the finance to pay for a lawyer to go through it with you.

Fortunately, it’s often not a problem, until it is. Once when rumour spread that I was going to leave a particular agency, instead of a positive conversation the result was a letter from a law firm telling me I couldn’t work in the industry for 12 months. I shan’t name that agency in fear of another letter from a law firm (as I only have one kidney left to sell). However, having had exposure to a worst case scenario it cemented in me how important it is for employee / employer relationships to start off on an equal footing in order to ensure a great partnership.

Right now I believe those of us lucky enough to be employing need to be going the extra mile to readdress that power balance not exploit it.  Our industry has been shaken up, as have the brilliant people within it.  It’s to be expected that people’s confidence and discernment might have taken a knock. However, to keep on producing the best work possible, on day one we need our staff to feel like they have found the perfect home, not just thankful that they have a job.

There are lots of ways this can be done, for example we’ve removed any contractual restrictions over future plans for all our staff.  But more than that, we’re encouraging a level playing field by emphasising the importance of new people reading their contracts closely by inserting ''Easter Eggs' in these documents.  

For instance, clause 3.3.2 reads: “If you feel the desire to start planning your own business on company time you must make us aware immediately. We reserve the right to help you make it as brilliant as possible.”

Beyond that, mental health is a large area of concern especially for people that might have found themselves unexpectedly out of work a few months ago. So, clause 3.4.3 states, “As an employee you are obligated to keep alert for any other staff member that feels they are suffering mental stress.  At any point you can confidentially request professional support on how to help them or permission to offer them lunch and a chat at the company’s expense”.

Confidence is a holistic quality so, as we work remotely we’ve also looked for other ways to support our staff. One way has been to sign people for MasterClass, the online training programme that allows you to be taught film directing by Ron Howard or writing by Margaret Atwood.

Yes, this is a difficult time for many agencies, but it’s never been more important to treat our valued talent as people, rather than commodities to be bought at a bargain price and then worked into the ground.

As an industry we should be pushing harder to help new employees feel they are on an equal footing so that they can bring their A game with them from the moment they arrive and go on to be better than we could ever be.