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How winning awards helped WE Buchan turn the talent tide

WE Buchan's CEO Rebecca Wilson and managing director Gemma Hudson talk to Mumbrella about growing pains, the 'four Fs' and breaking down silos.

What has been the biggest change for WE Buchan since winning Large Agency of the Year at Mumbrella’s CommsCon Awards in 2018?

Winning Large Agency of the Year this year was the result of a five year strategic plan to transform our agency. While WE Buchan had been a successful business for over 30 years, we have always recognised the need to constantly evolve, diversify and build the agency of the future. We’d long been the quiet achievers who deliberately flew under the radar – doing good work for good clients but rarely promoting it.

So this award and our other wins and finalists this year are a huge recognition of how far we’ve come and the agency that we are today. Winning has certainly increased our profile and reputation and driven growth by attracting new clients which in turn has allowed us to attract staff and further expand our capabilities, tripling the size of our digital and social team, expanding our strategy team and bringing on board in-house designers etc.

And of course, it’s been great for team morale and our overall culture.

Wilson is WE Buchan’s CEO

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

Like a lot of agencies, a key challenge has been balancing the pace of growth alongside finding the best talent in a talent shortage market to service that growth. We’ve taken the approach to invest for growth and hire ahead of the curve, created new roles, and introduce new capabilities across the agency.

Given clients buy our people, we’ve focused heavily on investing in our staff. We believe in ticking the ‘four Fs’ ensuring our team is rewarded financially, are fulfilled by the work they do, can see a future with us and have fun along the way. Focusing on this alongside career development and progress has allowed us to retain and attract great talent. And if you have the talent, the clients follow.

How has WE Buchan kept its culture while growing at a rapid rate?

No matter what size we’ve been or want to become, at the heart of it, we’ve kept focused on doing great work that we love and having fun along the way.

We are committed to a ‘one WE Buchan’ philosophy, where we break down silos and encourage cross team and company collaboration. A team structure is only really relevant internally; for each of our clients we are creating bespoke teams to ensure the right mix of skills, experiences and capacity. This collaborative culture has meant that as we’ve grown rapidly our teams pull together and feel supported rather than compete against each other.

We also strongly believe that culture is something that everyone is responsible and have established a ‘people and culture’ sub-committee to champion our culture across the business and encourage all of our team to have a voice and an influence.

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

Winning awards is obviously great recognition for both our clients and our team. It has a massive impact on staff morale and culture.

People want to work on the types of campaigns that are inspiring and ground-breaking. So winning awards helps us attract great talent which in turn allows us to keep evolving and delivering great work that win awards.

Gemma Hudson is We Buchan’s MD

How does WE Buchan aim to keep its momentum going and win more awards next year?

Like any successful outcome, it starts with the strategy that sits behind it and planning for awards is no different. We are increasingly putting our stand out campaigns and agency performance through a critical lens to ensure our submissions are strong and award worthy.

We want to stay fresh, keep evolving as an agency and keep challenging our clients to try new things. We encourage our team to be curious and take risks and this results in us delivering some game changing work. In addition, with our investment in growing our strategy, creative and digital offering we want to push this even further.

We’re really proud to have won or been shortlisted for 20 plus awards in the last two years locally, regionally and globally and our aim to is continue this trajectory in the year ahead.

What influence do senior leaders at WE Buchan have on the agency?

In an industry where your agency is only as strong as the people you have, having a present and high performing senior leadership team truly influences the agency. But this also extends to all our teams across the business.

When we set out on our transformation journey five years ago, we recognised that if we were to achieve our goals, it couldn’t just be the two of us driving that. We needed every person in the company to play a role from our leadership team down to our graduates – and feel empowered to do so. We wanted to create an environment whereby our team has a sense of ownership over our business and an ability to shape the direction of the agency.

We have an emerging leaders program to develop the next generation of leaders to support our growth and we’ve also put in place five sub-committees to drive agency priorities. This means every person has a role above and beyond client work in making us the agency we are. So when we when we won agency of the year, it was a win that every single person in the agency contributed to.

Looking to 2019, what are your goals?

It’s same same, but different. You can’t become complacent and think you’ve got there. Success is incremental and requires constant future gazing. As we meet our goals, we are setting new ones and we remain resolute on supporting the entrepreneurial characteristics that have influenced our success to date.

For 2019, it’s about the right growth, diversification, doing work that we love and using our skills for good. We’re a team of nearly 50 now so don’t want growth for growth’s sake but we believe scale and adding to our capabilities will allow us to meet the future needs of our clients.

Finally, in 2019 we will continue to give back, not just to the industry, but to society. We have an active giving program and this year donated more than $100,000 in time/money including our involvement in a primary school reading program, raising funds for charity, and providing pro bono communication support for Hearts and Minds Investments (supporting medical research), Plastic Free July and helping the parents of London Bridge Terror Attack victim, Sara Zelenak create and launch Sarz Sanctuary in her memory to support people experiencing traumatic grief.

So in the year ahead, we want to do more to allow our team to apply their skills to help others.

Wilson and Hudson will be speaking at Mumbrella CommsCon 2019 to discuss how protecting and managing your brand needs a fresh approach that combines consulting power with digital analytics, channel and content strategy. Essentially, businesses can’t be reactive, they need to become actively ‘resilient’.

Buy your tickets here

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