High culture: the modern approach to working life in performance marketing

What ‘good’ or ‘not so good’ looks like when it comes to organisational culture, and what is shifting the dials and attitudes. We spoke to eight experts from across brands and agencies in the industry to see how they are adapting.

“A lot of companies talk a good game when it comes to culture, work/life balance and career development. It can be very time consuming to take the time to research companies who actually match rhetoric with reality.” 

A blunt but honest view from one of our survey respondents that perhaps resonates with us all. If there’s one thing that organisations need to take note of when it comes to differentiating themselves and their workplace atmosphere from the competition – indeed, other industries, then this is it.

Culture tops the list of priorities for our panel in the PMW Workforce Survey. With the perhaps isolating experiences of lockdown performance marketers have had to face on and off over the past two years, ensuring a sense of value, purpose and worth has perhaps never been more important, both in the work you do and who you’re doing it with.

But a ‘good’ (or if we’re shooting for the stars) ‘fantastic’ culture means different things to different people. Speaking to our industry leaders we find out what a good culture means to them, how their organisation ensures that this aligns with what their teams actually think, and how they, and the industry, has had to adapt to a new breed of workforce.

“Gen Z: an incredible mentality focused on mental health and their wellbeing”

We often label the ‘Gens’ when it comes to who to target, but what about when we consider the attitudes of our workforce? What our experts are clear on is that Gen Z is bringing an arguably refreshing shift in how to approach work, and the work/life balance, compared to what perhaps some of us have experienced in the past

“I’m not expecting my team to check in on weekends or work through the wee hours. Especially the younger hires we have.  Gen Z have an incredible mentality that is focused purely on mental health and their own wellbeing – a lot of Millennials, Gen X, Baby Boomers were focused on growing and developing their careers at any cost and that included time, money, whatever. Gen Z won’t have that - so if you start pushing those boundaries that’s not going to work. 

“They grew up on technology consistently. Millennials – we grew up with or without the internet and we remember a time ‘before’. With Gen Z they look at and adopt new trends very quickly. They’re focused on diversity and their hiring possibility with respect to representation.” - Adam Walker, Head of Performance Marketing, Feel Unique


“The new people that are coming in have got a different view and a different outlook on work ethic. Obviously there’s still people who boast about doing 20 hour days and expect that from the rest of their team, but people are pushing back now. You don't keep them, you don't retain them. If that's the ethic, then they go and find something else to do.” - Dale Fisher, Global Head of Paid Social and Display, Superbet


“One of the good things that the young people coming into our industry are pushing us on is you don't have to work 60 hour weeks to be amazing at what you do. You should be judged on the results, on the great work that you deliver. People are looking for that work/life balance in a way that has a slightly different meaning to how we've talked about it before

“I think that people have an expectation of work/life balance that has fundamentally changed, but actually probably means if they're in an organisation where that is enabled, they'll be happier. Retention will be higher. People will stay longer.” - Anne Stagg, UK CEO, Merkle 

“Inclusion: what are the pillars?”

Like many industries, performance marketing has been on a journey surrounding diversity, equity and inclusion. But there is still a way to go.

“Everyone should forgive themselves through the journey – it is not going to be perfect, it's gonna be messy and you're not always going to get it right the first time. We've been on a bit of an inclusion journey over the last four to five years. A lot of businesses fumble through it, trying to understand what are the issues, how do you organise yourself, what are the pillars? 

“We've established lots of employee groups across women in tech to a black employee alliance. But you cannot ignore intersectionality within the workplace – so whilst I'm  advocating for women in work, I also want to advocate for fathers in the workplace because I don't want to ignore ‘the other side’. Inclusion truly means everybody. We've had to develop these systems and tools and pillars so we could elevate certain marginalised and underrepresented groups through our business.” – Rakhee Jogia, International Managing Director, Rakuten


“We have DE&I initiatives to bring in more diverse talents. Our talent team helps us build ahead of demand. And I think we have really good communication between the business leaders who will share their strategy for the future. 

“The things that we probably need to think about in terms of change more quickly, are things like what are the new and different things that we can do to bring, for example, more women into tech at a faster pace so that we can bring that talent through our organisation.” – Anne Stagg, UK CEO, Merkle

“There's a real class issue, which isn't being addressed. It's not as bad as in the creative industry, but part of that is the South East bias. The fact that there's so much that's located in the South East means that there's people outside the South East and from Wales, nobody knows this world exists. The fact that it isn't even an option is a real problem that we have to solve.” – Andrew Spurrier-Dawes, EMEA Head of Precision, Wavemaker 

“It's about the people, the learning, and just having some fun as well”

Support for wellbeing and mental health is of course not a new concept, but the conversation has definitely been heightened over the course of the pandemic. How have performance marketing organisations taken that on board?

“I have a general feeling that perhaps we put more pressure on our people now than we did when I started. And I just feel like, particularly when you are coming in, it's not about the money, it's about the people, the learning, and also just having some fun.” - Marc Pearson, Global Head of Performance, Wavemaker


“Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be one of the top companies that people come to – but to do that, what is that you offer? It's things like training academies, really amplifying the training and development. You're creating flexibility and options for people. And you are bringing an inclusive touch to the way you do things through that happiness element. Because it's not just about work, it's about wellbeing - how do you take care of your people in the workplace?” – Rakhee Jogia, International Managing Director, Rakuten


“I think that what the last two years has done is that companies have had to focus more on those elements of culture. Because that's all you had. Havas have been amazing with the amount of wellbeing activities that they promoted and created that could be accessed remotely during the pandemic. 

“And then that's continued since - really helping people focus on their mental wellbeing and physical wellbeing. We had online Zumba classes, yoga classes, fitness classes, people talking about stress management. And we have been very easy about coming in [to the office] or not coming in.” –- Matt Dailey, Chief Performance Officer, Havas


“I do think the agency sector has transformed itself and it predates the pandemic. It is a very resilient sector [and has become] a very forward thinking sector around how we treat employees and learning and development benefits, a great working culture, a great environment to be in – especially when I speak to friends in other sectors.” – Martin Kelly, UK and APAC CEO, Kepler