Why Being a Great Place to Work is Good for Clients
Portrait of Signal Theory Chief Operating Officer, Jim Vranicar

Reflections from our Chief Operating Officer, Jim Vranicar

It is true in business just as it is true in life. The best spouse, partner, friend or business associate  is a happy, engaged one. I believe this to be the case with client-agency relationships as well. Clients get the most out of their agency partners when those partners have a healthy, trusting workplace. And that is why clients should consider the internal engagement of their agency teams when selecting marketing partners.

Ad Age Best Places to Work 2024 - Signal Theory graphicAs I reflect on Signal Theory being recently named by Ad Age as one of the 50 best places to work in the advertising industry, I can’t help but give credit for this amazing accomplishment to a foundational philosophy that guides how we run and measure our business. It’s what we call “The Four Gs.” 

Going on 30-plus years of our 52 years in business, Signal Theory has helped ensure our success by paying attention to each of our Four Gs: Great Work, Great Relationships, Growth and Great Place to Work. The inherent philosophy around this is that we know we’ll be successful if we keep these Four Gs in balance.

The 4 G's: Great Work, Great Relationships, Growth and Great Place to WorkFor example, if all we cared about was “Growth,” we’d be working our people way too hard, potentially burning them out, reducing their desire to do “Great Work” and making it difficult to be a “Great Place to Work.” Similarly, if we primarily focused on only “Great Place to Work,” we likely wouldn’t see many positives in “Growth,” “Great Work” or “Great (client) Relationships.” You get the idea.  We believe that having a balance across our Four Gs is imperative to our continued success. 

In 2013, we invested even more into this Four Gs management philosophy by creating a measurement tool we call “The Remarkable Rating.” It provides Signal Theory employee stockholders with an annual numeric performance score for how we did as an organization by grading ourselves with a raw score for each G based on measurable results such as staff retention rate, number of new business wins, client satisfaction ratings and creative awards, and industry press coverage secured. We’ve shared each year’s Remarkable Rating results at annual staff meetings for the last decade. Doing so holds us accountable toward continuous improvement. 

All of this is good business hygiene, but how exactly did we get to this place of being recognized by Ad Age as being a very best place to work in the North American ad industry? It took a commitment to making substantial improvements in two of our four Gs: Great Place to Work and Great Relationships.

That is when we realized that we needed to make some foundational changes in how we nurtured our culture. 

Beginning in 2015, we measured our employees’ engagement by partnering with Gallup to conduct the Gallup Q12 Employee Engagement survey. That year, we were disappointed to learn that our employee engagement ranked in just the 35th percentile as compared to all companies that conduct the survey. Only 29% of our employees were considered engaged. 

We thought things were OK, but those 2015 Gallup survey results showed us they weren’t. That is when we realized that we needed to make some foundational changes in how we nurtured our culture. 

So the charge for the last eight years has been to make a conscious effort to become a great place to work and a place where great relationships are valued.  In that time, we’ve successfully implemented the following strategies:

  • Leadership Transparency: According to the Harvard Business Review, 70% of employees say they are most engaged when senior management communicates openly. According to Slack, 80% of staff want to know more about how decisions are made at their company. Ali Mahaffy speaking to gathered Signal Theory employeesWe started realizing that if we wanted to be a great place to work and to build better, more trusting relationships with our employees, we needed to tell our people how decisions get made, how things work and how those things relate to the values we tout. So we’ve worked hard to develop and manage salary ranges for every single position. We have built performance matrixes for each position at Signal Theory to better identify and communicate the necessary skills for each and every level of each and every position. We openly share our staff promotion process with employees each year so they can better understand what it takes to advance in our organization. All this transparency has led to higher trust and engagement.
  • Feedback Culture Initiative: There are two aspects of Feedback Culture at Signal Theory. The first is our Connected Manager Training Program which provides ongoing training for all Signal Theory managers using Jenne Fromm, Several women sitting at corner of a conference room table leaning in and intently listening as the speaker gestures with her hands.an outside coach/training consultant, to teach managers how they can be more connected to the people they supervise. The second aspect involves training all staff on how to be more intentional about providing actionable, in-the-moment feedback to make constructive feedback a part of the cultural fabric of Signal Theory. This enhances our ability to give better employee-to-employee AND employee-to-client feedback, which improves the work and makes for more meaningful relationships. 
  • Enhanced DE&I Efforts: Since 2020, we have more fully committed to diversifying our staff in the following ways: 
    • We have revamped our hiring processes to find more qualified BIPOC applicants while working hard on equity and inclusion measures to ensure all employees feel welcome. This has led to our percentage of BIPOC employees rising from just 10% in 2020 to 17% in 2023 (+70%).
    • Babes Helpin' Babes at Signal Theory logoWe have instituted robust DE&I educational programming. With major help from our employee-led resource group called “Babes Helpin’ Babes,” our DE&I committee has provided our staff with educational programming on topics ranging from proper pronoun usage to race relations to ageism. 
    • 13 BrandLab KC interns pose for a group photo on the steps at Signal Theory’s Kansas City office.

      BrandLab KC interns pose for a group photo on the steps at Signal Theory’s Kansas City office.

      Signal Theory was a founding partner in bringing The BrandLab to Kansas City. The BrandLab’s mission is to change the face and voice of the marketing industry by creating more diverse, equitable and inclusive workplaces. Each year since 2020, we partner with The BrandLab to award a $10,000 Resonance Scholarship to under-represented high school and college students interested in pursuing a career in advertising and marketing.

Eight years later, our Gallup Q12 employee engagement survey shows that 81% of our employees are engaged, a 170% increase from 2015, which is now in the 86th percentile as compared to peer organizations. 

Why is it important that we made Ad Age’s Best Places to Work list and why should clients care? 

This recognition will help with staff retention and recruitment. Our staff turnover has averaged just 13% over the last 18 months as compared to the 30%+ average turnover in the U.S. advertising industry. This designation by Ad Age gives us even more to build upon.

John Deere team member from Signal Theory accepting a Signals of Culture award at annual meeting.But this recognition goes way beyond the obvious main impact of having happy, engaged employees. Being recognized as a great place to work by Ad Age should signal to current and potential clients that we are a great agency partner option to consider. Why? Because beyond the creative solutions we provide, clients can rest assured they’ll be working with an agency full of talented, engaged, happy and emotionally intelligent individuals who openly give and receive honest feedback. Clients will have an agency partner with teammates who are flexible enough to adapt to constantly changing business environments. 

Those are the things that continue to make Signal Theory remarkable, and I’m here for it. 

To see the full list of 2024 Ad Age’s Best Place to Work winners, visit https://adage.com/2024-best-places-to-work.

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