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Friday, 01 August 2014

Know their staff

Encouraging employees to develop their passions has put Best Place to Work winner Flamingo in the top ranks of market research employers.

Fourth time was the charm for Flamingo London, winner of the 2012 MRS Award for Best Place to Work. Highly commended in the category in 2011 and shortlisted in 2010 and 2009, they were praised by judges this time for their efforts “to do something really different, with staff aspirations at the heart of their approach”. For David Burrows, group brand director at the agency, Flamingo’s award success is inextricably linked to a review of its brand identity, which has fed all the way through to its staff development and management strategy.

“The Flamingo brand positioning is ‘Through Culture to Big Ideas’, and we spend a great deal of time and energy helping everyone throughout the company truly live that ethos,” he says. Cultural event days, inter-office secondments, international away days, community projects for charity, sustainability sessions, collaborative brainstormings and client seminars are all part of life at Flamingo. In addition all staff receive performance reviews with senior management every six months to monitor satisfaction and address any concerns.

Making an impression
The awards judges praised the firm for going “above and beyond the normal requirement to make their organisation a great place to work” - and they weren’t alone. Flamingo also featured at number 41 in the Sunday Times Top 100 Best Small Companies to Work For 2012 and won the newspaper’s Best Training and Development award. The agency has also been recognised by parent company Omnicom’s Advanced Management Programme as a model for how to motivate employees.

Sommerville says: “What we’ve realised is that by making sure we have a budget allocation for these opportunities, it all ensures that every Flamingo employee has a personal development plan to build their expertise in people, cultures and brands all over the world.”

And it seems that staff development feeds through to product development. Anniki Sommerville, managing partner and head of talent at Flamingo, says the company’s weekly brainstorming sessions have helped to introduce new methodologies which have enhanced client campaigns, and helped harness the ideas and innovating thinking of staff across the organisation.

“Perhaps our biggest benefit from making the change is that we have encouraged people to share their personal passions and thoughts on the industry, which help to accelerate the development of our new offers.  It ensures we’re continually moving forward, and continually inspiring our people to contribute to the journey we’re on,” she says.

Employee insight also fed into a brief from Channel 4 to help the broadcaster with transgender subjects (see box).

Sommerville concludes: “For us, these elements are an essential part of what makes us different and gets people to consider us as an employer. We’ve been MRS Best Agency three times, but the title of Best Place to Work has always eluded us. Now that we have it, we hope that people will get a better idea of what makes us different and relevant.”

How Flamingo staff discussions helped Channel 4 tackle transgender topics

Flamingo’s commitment to being an industry-leading environment in which to work extends not only to how it looks after its people but in the ways it seeks to make public its values, and in the issues and agendas it is prepared to tackle. Channel 4’s commission of Flamingo to explore the issues facing transgender people in contemporary Britain exemplifies this.

The project aimed to increase Channel 4’s knowledge of this group giving the broadcaster the confidence to portray them with accuracy and sensitivity. Josephine Shaw, director at Flamingo, said: “We needed to bring some clarity and insight to the debate. Most of the rest of the media were, and still are, largely clueless on this issue and the discrimination being fostered by inaccurate portrayals on TV and in the press causes real harm.

“The project, Ten Trans Lives, was a world-first for Channel 4 in this field, and sums up many of things Flamingo cares about.”

The project involved a diverse team at the agency, and started with gaining the trust of participants from a community very wary of media interest. It involved the creation of ‘life dossiers’ on the participants after sensitive depth interviewing and having them create week-long audio diaries. The team then invited expert participation, hearing from professionals from the NHS, the world of psychology, speech therapy, support groups and even an academic from the University of Hawaii. To this was added extensive desk research.

The project culminated in a day-long encounter workshop between participants and Channel 4’s commissioning teams, a 63-page book called The Transgender Primer (with over 500 copies now in circulation within the broadcast community and advocacy groups), and a 30-minute narrated audio documentary, used internally within Channel 4. Many of the insights from the project have gone on to shape Channel 4’s programming (including My Transsexual Summer).

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