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Creating the Vibe to Thrive

Illustration of a magnet

This article originally appeared in Lēad Magazine, Issue 15: The Value of Brand Attraction.

By Stephen Brown, President, Partner, FUSE Marketing Group

As the president of the Toronto-based brand activation agency, FUSE Marketing Group, Stephen Brown has a unique perspective on employee value proposition and employer brand proposition. After all, how many organizations out there hold axe-throwing contests to boost employee morale? Drawing from his experiences, Stephen explains how attracting creative thinkers is about more than having an exciting brand – although, that is definitely important. Rather, it’s about building a creative-friendly culture on a foundation of hard-nosed facts and realistic goals.

When I first started out in marketing, I was pretty green. Fresh out of university, interviewing at agencies, I didn’t have the “top factors” for employee satisfaction in mind, such as job security, opportunity for advancement, and proper wages to name a few. I just wanted a job. But there was one thing I was keenly aware of; something that can be sensed from the reception desk all the way up to the president’s office: vibe. I didn’t know it at the time, but what I was feeling was essentially an agency’s culture. It, above everything else, can be the deciding factor in an organization’s ability to attract great talent and produce great work.

At 11 years old, my agency, FUSE Marketing Group, is still a young, vibrant, and passionate place to be. That kind of atmosphere is something our management team has nurtured from the first day we opened our doors. It’s something we actively pursue to this day, and it can be read in the core values we developed collectively: passion, achievement, integrity, collaboration, and courage, or “PAICC” (pronounced “pace”) for short.

PAICC is about people. After all, in the marketing industry every success is 100% about people. That’s why you want the best, most talented, and most passionate people you can find – or why you want them to find you. Ultimately, if we can’t attract the very best, we can’t be the very best.

With that said, championing culture can seem a little counterintuitive to our clients. While we want prospective employees to know about our internal culture, our outward-facing proposition to clients can appear to be something else altogether. We’re in a unique space. We provide 360 degrees of thinking, which means we compete against ad agencies, digital agencies, customer relationship management shops, and more. Additionally, our focus is on data, insights, and results. So the question we always ask is, How do you attract creative thinkers – be they a digital strategist, account director, or junior writer – when your business is based on pragmatics, such as analysis and measurement?

The truth is that, to keep your people and your clients happy, you have to be both creative and pragmatic. In fact, the pragmatic supports the creative. This kind of thinking ensures that you’re delivering big ideas and results. We sum this approach up in our mantra, Fearless thinking. We find that before you can even get to the big idea, you have to see the big picture. With data-driven research and insights, you’re freed from the unknown and empowered with unwavering clarity. What it comes down to is this: when you see everything, you fear nothing. Attracting, supporting, and nurturing the individuals who help us achieve fearlessness brings us back to our culture – our vibe. That’s why we provide a work environment that breeds curiosity and creativity as well as a willingness to root everything in data. How do we do that?

It begins with our space. We’re fortunate to work in a brick-and-mortar location in the Fashion District of Toronto. If you want a workspace with character, the Fashion District is the place to be. The open concept layouts found within its former clothing factories encourage collaboration, which is why we invest heavily in our surroundings. We’ve even gone so far as to shut down the agency for half a day to ensure every member of FUSE can attend offsite training sessions in brainstorming and ideation techniques. These sessions have resulted in tangible and actionable solutions for both clients and potential clients.

We also maintain a “work hard, play hard” mentality. We regularly schedule onsite and offsite events that encourage participation and interaction. Sometimes they involve our work and the marketing industry; sometimes they’re simply fun ways to strengthen our team. Here are a few examples from the past year:

  • Tailgate Party – The best way to get psyched about a Blue Jays game.
  • Axe Throwing – Just what it sounds like. A friendly competition of throwing axes at wooden targets – not each other, of course.
  • Mechanical Bull Riding – Actually, our Christmas party. Nothing celebrates the season like beer and bruises.
  • Show and Tell – A chance to share the best and brightest discovery you’ve made in our industry.
  • Monday AM Status – A first-hand account of what’s happening at the agency each week.
  • President’s House BBQs – What better way to celebrate our successes over four months?
  • Tuesday Games Night – Old-school board games to stretch our minds and skills in new ways.

Thanks to our approach, we have a remarkably low turnover rate and news of how we treat our employees has spread by word-of-mouth, attracting some of our best talent. In fact, 90% of all of our hires come from referrals. When you love the place you work, you want friends and colleagues to know about it, and better yet, you want them to experience it for themselves. (The $1,500 finder’s fee we offer doesn’t hurt, either.)

We also attract talent through social media. Every event is photographed and posted to our Facebook and Twitter accounts as well as to our website, allowing us to show the marketing community what it’s like to work at FUSE.

Culture – healthy, collaborative, and engaging – is crucial to attracting talent, both raw and refined. It allows our people to pull evermore original ideas from the ether while keeping their proverbial feet planted firmly on the ground, rooted in what’s real about the market, about our clients, and about our industry. And this culture gives off a vibe – one you can feel from the reception desk up to the president’s office.

About Stephen Brown

Stephen BrownA former account director and vice-president of client services, Stephen Brown co-founded in 2003 FUSE Marketing Group, which leverages data-driven research and insights to craft innovative and effective marketing campaigns for some of Canada’s best-known brands, bringing their businesses to new heights. Since forming FUSE, Stephen has launched four more marketing companies. Additionally, Stephen is a member of the Young Presidents Organization, he sits on the board of directors for the Canadian Marketing Association (CMA), he is the master of ceremonies for the CMA Awards, and was the chairperson for both the CMA’s National Convention and Fashion Cares, Canada’s largest HIV/AIDS fundraiser.

About Lēad

Since its first issue in 2007, Adecco Canada’s Lēad Magazine has been keeping employers on the cutting-edge of developments, trends, and breakthroughs in workforce management. Featuring articles from some of Canada’s foremost economic, legal, diversity, political, and HR experts, Lēadis an invaluable guide through the dynamic and ever-changing world of employment affairs. To view past issues, please visit our Lēad archive.

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