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Guest contributors at Commercial Break
over 3 years ago by Guest contributors at Commercial Break

Change Starts with Three Simple Steps

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One major and welcome change across adland has been the continued focus on talent diversity. It's clear that many agency leaders are looking at how to create more balanced teams and we are heartened by how many businesses are putting this on their long term agenda.

Here is some advice from our friends at Commercial Break who are helping transform agencies and get them ready for diversity...


Since our open letter to the ad industry we’ve heard from a lot of agencies wanting to change their approach to attracting and retaining talent from working class backgrounds.

Those agencies vary wildly in size, focus and personnel, but one thing they have in common is, despite their desire to do things differently, they don’t know how to start that process.

So, here are 3 simple things that you can be doing right now to ensure that you start off the journey towards change on the right foot.


1. “Up periscope”

The first step to any change process is awareness.

It’s only when we’re consciously aware of our environments that we can actually start changing them.

Sounds obvious, right?

It’s not.

The reality is, most of us are rarely aware of how we behave in our workplace because we do what’s instinctive to us in the moment. We’re even less aware when it comes to what our impact is on others.

When it comes to the diversity conversation, the easiest is to notice what you can see; what does your company ‘look’ like? Who is on your board? Do existing and previous employees look like they’re all from the same type of white middle-class background or are they different?

That’s the easy bit.

The real difficulty is in noticing the nuanced signifiers. The conversations that people are unable to join in because they don’t have the same terms of reference. Those that hold people from different backgrounds back from Friday night drinks creating the misconception they are unsociable because they don’t join in the standard office banter.

This example from Chris Sawyer, a Radio 1 producer, explains:

Swap ‘radio’ for ‘agency’ and you can start to see your own blind-spots.

2. Work out WHY you want to change

When change is on the agenda it’s all too easy to accept it at face value. But change for change’s sake isn’t going to work. You have to work our why your agency wants to change.

It’s better to take a moment to figure this out instead of rushing into making changes because it seems the ‘right’ thing to do.

Real change takes commitment and undoubtedly. Having the leadership team agreed on the most motivating reason(s) for change from the start will help.

These reasons need to FEEL compelling enough for you to stay focused on them. The recession is hitting hard, pitch deadlines still have to be met and client projects delivered. Unless your reasons for change FEEL important enough to the whole team, then they won’t override the endless demands from Unilever and procurement bosses.

3. What’s going to rear its ugly head and stop you in your tracks?

Whenever we try and change anything, we will meet resistance.

If you can identify them as early as possible within the process, then you can prepare strategies and plans to manage them when they do crop up – because they will.

What do agency resistors look like?

  • People in your team who are resistant to change

  • Time, time, time

  • Billable clients to manage

  • Pitch deadlines

  • Making a profit in a recession

And 100 others. If you don’t spend time identifying them, you’ll fall at the first hurdle, think it’s too hard and then wonder about carrying on.


It's always tempting to think change happens through a combination of good intentions and effort. And that’s true to a certain extent. But if you can take a moment before you dive in to figure out what your real compelling reasons are for change and what will be required to facilitate that, the road ahead is likely to be a good deal smoother than you might imagine.

 Susie Burdekin and James Hillhouse are the founders of Commercial Break.