Partners The Union and BSSP Share Benefits of Talent Exchange Programs

We’re all familiar with the concept of studying abroad. Students around the globe have benefited from the knowledge, skills and experiences they gain by being immersed in a new culture for an extended period of time. Yet the opportunity to participate in this enriching experience stops once you graduate college. Why isn’t this opportunity made available in the workforce, when the exchange will have more a more relevant (and likely more studious, we know what really happened after classes ended!) impact on the individual’s skills and job responsibilities?

The main reason is that most companies do not have the international connections to make this exchange happen. But WPI partners do! Our network of more than 70 agencies in 43 countries creates limitless opportunities for partners to exchange talent for the benefit of all.

Two WPI partners recently participated in this type of exchange. The Union in Scotland sent one of their copywriters, Christine Stamati, to Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners (BSSP) in San Francisco for one month. We asked Christine, along with Gus Chalmers, Managing Director with The Union, and Patrick Kiss, President of BSSP, what they thought of the experience.

Why did you decide to participate in the talent exchange? 

Patrick: As a member of Worldwide Partners, it made perfect sense for BSSP to participate. We’ve worked with wonderful partners around the world and have gotten a ton from the network. This is a natural extension of being a good partner – actually having someone from overseas in our office to get a feel for how we work.

Gus: When we were planning our overall business approach to 2019 one key theme was how we could make Union Direct an even better place to work. From a selfish, commercial perspective, how could we retain our top talent and how could we begin to build a reputation as a great employer so we attract great people who want to work here?

One initiative we thought would help us achieve this was to tap into the WPI network by giving one star team member the opportunity to spend a month working at leading edge agency in a different market; an opportunity for them not just to feel rewarded but an opportunity too for them to learn new ways of working that they could bring back to Union Direct and to inspire us all.

Christine: I liked the idea of experiencing what it’s like to do this work within a different culture, and at a different type of agency. Learning happens when we step out of our comfort zones, so I wanted to give myself this challenge, to try something completely different. I looked at the work BSSP do and I thought there was so much inspiration and fresh thinking I would take from this.

Beyond work, this sounded like a really intriguing “sliding doors” type of life experience. You get a proper glimpse into what it’s like to live and work in a new city, new country, new culture, with the comfort of knowing you’ll always come back home.

How was Christine selected for this talent exchange?

Gus: We’re hoping this will be an annual programme and in future years (2019 onwards) we’ll be asking people to apply for the exchange. However, in this first instance, Christine had already been identified as a star performer who we wanted to reward in this way.

How was BSSP selected as the agency to exchange talent with?

Gus: I got in touch with WPI explaining what we wanted to achieve. Christine was keen to travel to work in North America and we were looking for a high-performing, award-winning agency that had a great client list and was working on the cutting edge of digital communications.

WPI came back with a shortlist from a variety of areas in the U.S. and Christine decided that BSSP looked like a great fit for our objectives – we got in touch and the rest is, as they say, history!

What was the day-to-day like during the exchange?

Christine: Work life was quite similar to the Union – with the only difference that I had enough time to really focus on one project at the time, without being pulled in different directions, or getting caught up with rounds of amends on ongoing jobs, as you would at home. It was lovely to get that breathing space to make the most of working on some great briefs. I worked alongside a few other creative teams on each brief, so most days were a mix of sitting down to write or think, and then getting together with the other teams to brainstorm, or “jam” (“jam” is my new favorite adopted Americanism!)

In terms of agency life, everyone at BSSP was lovely, open and welcoming, and there’s a great office environment (Kombucha on tap! Office dogs! Bagel Fridays! Occasional cheesy 80s playlists!) which really makes you feel at home.

How was the experience different than your usual work?

Christine: Two things really stood out for me: budgets and briefs. Budgets seemed huge compared to what we normally work with, and client briefs were lot more competitor-driven and “combative.” I suppose that’s U.S. advertising: everything is big and bold and brave.

I actually really enjoyed that – I had to change the way I’d normally think about a brief and the tone I’d write in (brands tend to be less assertive and audiences more cynical in the U.K.). But it was a great exercise – I think you can arrive at some great creative solutions if you always think of the brand as the best thing since sliced bread!

It was inspiring to work with and learn from some of the top people in the ad industry – in the U.S. and globally, especially CCO Matt Curry and his super-talented creative teams.

It was also wonderful to work in a creatively-driven agency, where everyone lives and breathes the work. (Anecdotally, in one of the first meetings I sat in, where I didn’t really know anyone, I was trying to work out what everyone’s role is. By the end of the meeting I still couldn’t tell. Creatives, strategists and account managers all talk about the work in the same way, with the same passion, which is a testament to the value BSSP place on great creative.)

The exchange also gave me an opportunity to work on some amazing brands we wouldn’t normally get to work with in Scotland – from a culture-defining video game to a cryptocurrency company that is changing the future of money. Only in California!

How will the experiences and skills you gained help you back home?

 Christine: I felt a bit like a spy while I was there (in the best possible sense!) I was taking notes of anything and everything that I found cool.

We’re now looking at how we can add some Californian sparkle to the way we do things at Union Direct. There is a lot I took from this, from day-to-day practical things, like working off collaborative docs and always putting the work up on walls to make it easier to review, to bigger inspiring ideas and innovations, and BSSP’s creative ethos.

As a copywriter I found the way writers approached work very useful – typing up 100 or 200 or 300 lines, to get the obvious ones out of the way and arrive at something interesting. And then typing up another 100.

Overall one of the most inspiring things I learned was to not settle. Even when there are dozens of great ideas on the table, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep going. There’s so much value in pushing just a little further for those ideas that are not just great, but absolute gems. BSSP are so good at this.

What did your agency gain from this experience?

Patrick: Despite what some U.S. politicians would have you believe, we’re very much in a global economy. Having diversity of thought and a multicultural orientation is fundamental to a good business model. Christine was fantastic and added much value. She’s a senior writer and I think that was a smart move. If you’re going to do an exchange like this, the person joining the firm has got to be able to add instant impact and be a self-starter. Everyone loved working with Christine and we hope she had a similar experience.

Gus: It’s early days of course, but our primary objective was to reward and inspire Christine and to demonstrate to the rest of the team that we’re sincere in wanting to invest in our people and make this a great place to work. If we also pick up a new perspective on how we do business by experiencing another operation in another market then that would be the cherry on the cake.

Will you participate in more talent exchanges in the future?

Patrick: Yes. It would be great for someone from BSSP to work overseas. Particularly someone eager to do it who perhaps hasn’t had the opportunity to work internationally. Myself and my other partner Greg Stern worked for many years in overseas markets and found it of enormous value personally and professionally. Our new chief creative officer, Matt Curry, spent many years working in China and touring Asia.

Gus: Absolutely – we’re planning to do the same thing next year, and in subsequent years.  We see this as a great hidden strength of WPI and if we can help to encourage similar exchanges across the network with our positive experience then that would be a fantastic outcome too.

Would you recommend other agencies offer this for their staff?

Patrick: Absolutely. It’s a no brainer for the right agency and the right person.

Christine: Absolutely. Not many agencies can offer something like this. It’s such a great way to bring fresh to your own work. And beyond work, it’s such a fun life experience! If you want to step out of your comfort zone for a while and try something different, there is a lot to gain from this experience. It’s also important to choose an agency that has what you’re looking for – BSSP couldn’t have been better hosts.

Gus: Definitely!

John Harris, President & CEO, Worldwide Partners adds; “As agencies, our people are our most critical assets.  As such, it is incumbent upon all of us to ensure that we are consistently creating opportunities that enhance their learning and growth. This generation of talent embraces – and expects – a breadth of work experiences, and aspires to contribute to and feel connected with something far greater than themselves.  

The global and collaborative nature of Worldwide Partners presents a unique opportunity to allow our agencies to create inspiring and challenging experiences for our people through initiatives such as talent sharing programs, and it is my hope that we see more and more opportunities such as this cultivated throughout our network.” 

It’s clear that both agencies and Christine benefited greatly from this talent exchange, and feel it was an enriching experience that will have a lasting impact. If you’re a WPI partner and would like to participate in a talent exchange with another agency in the network, please contact Rebekah Giaraffa