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History Will Be Kind’s Emma-Jane Granleese on her agency’s ‘no ego culture’

Emma-Jane Granleese talks to Mumbrella about starting her own agency, sticking to a singular vision and maintaining high standards while continuing to grow.

What has been the biggest change for History Will Be Kind (HWBK) since winning Midsize Agency of the Year at Mumbrella’s CommsCon Awards in 2017?

Being named Midsize Agency of the Year for the second-year running was an amazing start to 2017. We had collectively set the goal of making it our ‘Game Changer’ year, and the win bolstered our confidence. It was a truly awesome 12 months for HWBK, as we on-boarded a raft of fantastic new clients, grew our team and dialled up our focus on creating great work.

How important is staying a “midsize” agency to you? Do you believe it has an impact on culture? 

Being a midsize agency means we have a startup’s agility with a big agency’s capabilities. We don’t like to settle, and our size and independence enables us to pivot and improve wherever we can. Our scale also allows us to truly embrace shared successes.

But no matter how big or small we are, our culture is driven from a collective interest to embrace positive change and diversity. We’re an eclectic mix of PRs, designers, strategists, videographers and social specialists, united by a shared goal: to create great work.

Granleese: “We have a common drive to push boundaries and take risks”

After winning the award two years in a row, how do you continue to keep your momentum going?

When HWBK started in mid-2014, our vision was clear: to create moments in history for our clients. Today we keep the momentum going by adhering to this vision, challenging the notion of PR in the new communications landscape.

We have a common drive to push boundaries and take risks, developing new products and services and enabling us to execute gaming-changer campaigns. The team has a shared understanding that great ideas happen often, but that it takes bravery and entrepreneurship to bring them to fruition and raise the bar.

As an agency leader and employer, what is most important?

People and culture are at the heart of everything we do; the collaborative efforts to deliver big ideas, new thinking and agile responses are what helps us to achieve our goals and continue to grow the business.

It’s important to invest in the people that will make your agency great, to inspire creative freshness and drive every individual’s professional development.

What are some of the biggest challenges the PR industry is currently facing?

The agency landscape has shifted as the benefits of integration have become clear. This means we are competing against a raft of really strong integrated players and its key to stay ahead of the game, driving change not just being part of it. It’s no longer about the discipline, but about creating cultural currency and building a consistent narrative.

We each have an important place in the ecosystem and communications has a unique ability to drive credibility and loyalty with consumers. We need to harness the power of storytelling and articulate it in a compelling way across all channels.

What are some of the best clients to work with, and what is it that makes them so good?

A good client is one that helps us to facilitate a collaborative team spirit, driving projects and campaigns forward. It’s not about us versus them, but rather working together to facilitate joint thinking and form stronger partnerships.

We’ve recently put the full team through ‘Agile Agency’ training, to not only shift the way we work internally but to ensure we are driving true collaboration with clients, working towards team empowerment and a shared communication platform.

What has been the most rewarding part about starting an agency from the ground up?

It can definitely be challenging for an independent startup to stand out, and from a two-person team at launch in March 2014, the growth and success of the business has been phenomenal. What we’ve achieved has gone way beyond my expectations and the support of our clients and dedication of the team has been stand out.

What advice would you give to anyone wanting to start their own agency? Is there anything you would tell them not to do?

Don’t delay decision making. Weigh up the options, take a considered approach to risk and move on. For me clarity is also key. Develop a vision for what the business, team and agency will look like. Stick to this vision as you continue to grow and expand, as it helps to define your direction and values.

What importance does winning and entering awards have on the culture of an agency like HWBK?

To be recognised for our efforts, both internally and externally, is a big deal. It’s an acknowledgment that we’re achieving our goals and we know how great it is for the team and business. 2017 is testament to that.

What are some of the biggest challenges HWBK has faced over the past year?

Managing growth comes with a raft of challenges, key being hiring and supporting the best and brightest talent in the industry.

It’s a tight market out there, but showcasing our no ego culture, living our vision and delivering on our truly integrated offer has helped us make strides in terms of both talent attraction and retention.

On a personal note, it’s also really important to me that every level of the organisation feels valued and has the opportunity to be part of the vision and direction of the business. This sense of empowerment and collaboration makes the difference, and I think it’s helping us build a stronger team, and offer.

Maintaining quality of work during a time of rapid growth has of course been another focus. We’ve managed this by really honing in on a continuous improvement approach which sees us always looking at ways to enhance our thinking, ensuring we’re delivering solid counsel, quality outputs and great results.

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