Our Fountain of Youth

Originally posted on @havaspr’s flagship blog.

This is the second in a series of posts about the rebirth of our agency as Havas PR North America.

If you were to travel back in time a few decades and take a tour of businesses (which would probably be a waste of your time machine, but bear with me), one thing would strike you immediately: Most businesses would look the same (rows upon rows of cubicles lined by management offices with doors closed) and have the same regulations. Back then, 9 to 5 was the expected standard, management hierarchy was strict and inflexible, and for the most part no one questioned it. Business as usual was the monotonous hell immortalized in the movie Office Space, and any corporation that diverged from this model was looked upon with some serious scrutiny.

Times have certainly changed. As the baby boomers begin to leave the office for the sun of Florida and Arizona, millennials are taking their place in the workforce. Millennials don’t think like their predecessors, whether boomers or cuspers (like me) or even Gen Xers. They like more freedom in the workplace, they like being able to interact with managers and they feel trapped if stuck inside a cubicle on a strict eight-hour regime.

The millennial generation works hard for sure, but they do it differently. I’ve always been envious of millennials (and have been a talking head about this generation and their work habits numerous times), with their support systems and their enlightened values toward life-work balance, conscientious consumerism and more. The new business environment that their generation has inspired might seem scary to some, but it represents the future. As a CEO with my office in the company bullpen, I think it’s about time.

Our agency isn’t afraid of this change, or any others. Yesterday we announced that as part of a global rebranding, we had changed our name from Euro RSCG Worldwide PR North America to Havas PR North America. Of the worldwide transformations, our global CEO, David Jones, said in The New York Times yesterday that they’re “part of a much bigger” initiative to create an agency holding group “for the future.” A decade ago, he also oversaw our move to put digital at the core of all our creative agencies, ahead of every other major communications holding company. That differentiated us then, and this simpler structure and unified culture will differentiate us now.

Supporting a new millennials-based culture will differentiate us, too, especially in public relations. The younger working generation brings amazing energy and incredible ideas—both particularly valuable to a PR agency. To stay in front, we need to do adapt to (many of) their changes and play to the strengths of this different kind of workforce.

Experience is crucial, too, of course, and we have many experienced employees guiding the way. But our work style at Havas PR demands something more. We are very much an Always On company; everyone is constantly connected to a smartphone—always in contact, always thinking and talking about what the next step is for our clients. (I personally have a very rare psychotic disorder that renders me mentally unstable if I go without checking email for more than two minutes.) To work here, you have to be able to thrive in that environment.

Living in a household overrun by semi-adults between the ages of 16 and 22, I can personally attest for the energy of youth. I’m no stranger to working through the night, but the 16-year-old is the most elastic and the 19-year-old is the most clear-headed through an all-nighter. They can work dusk-to-dawn with a certain flexible energy that just can’t be matched. That’s what we want at Havas PR—a new cataclysmic explosion of energy and passion that drives everyone to think outside the box and put everything they have into client services and thought leadership.

To maximize the potential of what our younger employees can and will accomplish, it only makes sense to change our agency’s culture to reflect their thought processes. This will mean a lot of things but starts with equipping our entire staff with more e-tools and moving away from the 9-to-5 workday of a bygone era. To fully provide for our clients, Havas PR needs the sort of flexibility that allows for working whenever the work needs to get done, not just between “work hours.”

Giving new life to our agency’s culture also means continuing to break down the walls, both physical and philosophical, that separate management from everyone else. Employees are coming to expect hands-on involvement from their bosses; they want input from them more than just through an emotionally void review once a year. This is a change that everyone should encourage, because every company can benefit from it without question. Consistent interaction and cooperation among all levels is the future. As the trendspotters we are, Havas PR, as always, refuses to be anything but at the front of that wave.

I’m sure some of you are reading this and thinking, Why do these changes require a complete reinvention? The answer is simply that the changes needed to fully adapt to the future run deep, right down to our core. We are reinventing ourselves to fully become the changes we are making, not just add them on awkwardly to an older body. (Like what this guy is doing with typewriters and computers/tablets—very cool, but it just doesn’t feel right to me.)

And so here we are, the brand-new Havas PR, with all the energy and passion needed for the years ahead. Some people are afraid of youth and change, but we think they’re absolute necessities.

Here’s to no sleep.

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