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December 16, 2014
Attracting the Best People Starts With a Focus on People
As a native New Yorker, making the move to the West Coast was a decision I did not take lightly. As an HR professional, I’ve spent much of my career helping to build dynamic agency teams on Madison Avenue and had my pick from a large pool of high-caliber candidates. While many things are still an adjustment for me after moving to San Francisco just shy of one year ago — like stores closing at 6 p.m. on weekdays, no access to subways, and let’s just call it “less than ideal” pizza — one thing that has stood out the most is how small the talent pool is in comparison to what was available to me in New York.

What gave me the confidence to take a leap of faith and relocate 3,000 miles away from the city I’ve known and loved my whole life was the opportunity to make a mark in one of the most dynamic and influential tech areas of the country.

MEC, a leading global media agency, offered me something that, in my opinion, didn’t exist everywhere — a genuine focus on people. We have a manifesto — "Don’t Just Live. Thrive." — that centers on pushing people outside of their comfort zones to help them develop and grow, wherein clients and brands can then do the same; it’s a win-win situation!

Not only was I moved by this on a personal level, but I was also inspired by the challenge of bringing this to life in the company’s MEC West Coast offices. This highly competitive environment presents a meaningful opportunity to ensure MEC truly stands out from the enticing world of start-ups and tech firms promising our talent a slew of perks within a "cool" environment. Sometimes we find ourselves blinded by the bright, shiny objects put in front of us, but often you need to dig deep to see the whole picture.

Placing importance on building a culture centered on the growth of people can enable any organization to truly thrive. While it seems like a simple message, it can be difficult to bring this concept to life. There are three main areas where this commitment to people can be a differentiator when it comes to attracting and retaining talent.
  • Building A Strong and Thriving Culture. Creating an environment where your people define what culture means to them is critical to the success of any organization. This grassroots, bottom-up approach puts ownership in the hands of the people, driving positive interactions that enhance and sustain the overall working experience. At MEC, we’ve created a Culture Committee, which consists of a group of employees who are tasked with owning and driving positive initiatives that enhance and sustain the culture of the office, while ensuring we have fun every once in a while, through initiatives such as the Halloween Spooktacular costume party, a hula-hoop contest, and a summer picnic in Golden Gate Park.
  • Providing Inspiring Growth Opportunities. Designing training and development initiatives that go beyond a person’s specific job function is incredibly valuable to an individual’s personal development. We introduced a Media School for our entry-level talent that trains our people through real-world cases. In this six-week program, participants are exposed to all areas of the business by some savvy teachers — their own colleagues. This approach not only encourages integration and collaboration, a particularly difficult hurdle to overcome in the media agency environment, but it also encourages mentorship relationships, nurturing the talent at every level.
  • Cultivating Happy People. Our belief at MEC is that happy people have the ability to achieve extraordinary things in both their professional and personal lives. Happiness is not something we’re born with; it is something that can be managed, cultivated, and developed just like any other skill. In the client-service business, this is incredibly important to driving success at all levels. With this in mind, we offer a full-day Happiness Training program in our West Coast offices that explores the various facets of happiness to teach our people ways to live happier, more meaningful lives both in and out of the office. While it’s never easy to open up and show vulnerability in a room full of your colleagues, creating a forum that encourages sharing is already delivering incredible rewards.
What it all comes down to is building a place that is distinct in its vision. If you do this right, the best and brightest talent in the business will come. So while San Francisco will never be New York, and MEC will never be Google (we’re not trying to be), through the creation of meaningful, people-focused initiatives we are keeping our people engaged, happy, and doing their best work.

As the infamous “New York, New York” singer Frank Sinatra said about San Francisco: “Now, there’s a grown-up swinging town!” And at MEC San Francisco, we’re living and breathing that.

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Danielle Rutigliano writes about people and culture for MEC - West Coast lead.
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