Less Talk, More Listening: Empowering Talent During a Crisis

By Alastair Taylor, Chief Executive, Publicis Media Canada

As more people spend time at home, it has opened the floodgates for a wide range of social content – from sharing personal experiences throughout the pandemic to personal opinions on politics, government regulations and business issues of all kinds.

In recent months, I’ve seen an overwhelming number of LinkedIn posts from leaders within the media industry sharing details of their next virtual speaking opportunity on a hot topic such as data usage or privacy issues. As I reflect, I wonder if there is a more beneficial way to spend time on the platform.

Whenever I look at LinkedIn, it serves as a reminder that people in leadership roles need to go back to the fundamentals. In the wake of COVID-19, the business leaders that will succeed are those that empower, trust, support, and listen to their people. In turn, they’ll deliver great work, and help the industry solve today’s biggest issues at hand.

My company was able to come out of 2020 on a high note despite the challenges the unprecedented year presented by going back to the basics and simply listening to our talent. We ensured we were all moving in the same direction by opening a two-way dialogue, collaborating with clients and embracing empathy across all of our agencies, including Starcom, Spark Foundry and Zenith.

Within weeks of the pandemic, we were pushing as a leadership team to make working from home a permanent solution for staff to give our people more flexibility and a choice when it comes to their work environment. We also encouraged our people to have conversations with their manager to tell them what they need. For some, that’s us delivering lunch to their home for the family once a week. For others, it’s shutting down access to work-related content over the weekend to provide some separation between home and work worlds. More fundamentally, our team leaders know to ask people “what help do you need?” and “what works for you?”

Ensuring our employees’ mental health and overall wellbeing was more than just what we did internally as a company. It was also about how our clients and partners supported us and allowed our teams to be flexible and work with one another in this new normal – granting extensions on deadlines, agreeing to no meeting lunch hours, allowing staff to shift their hours to better accommodate school hours and more. By having a listening process in place and an open dialogue, people felt comfortable enough to say “it’s not working, we need help.”

Through the pandemic, good leaders have embraced the opportunity for empathy toward their teams as they have opened up their homes and personal lives to colleagues on video calls. Those windows on computer screens are also windows into teams’ lives, giving leaders the chance to better understand people’s motivations and challenges. Empathy is vital because our industry still has talent turnover rates that are far too high. We recognize that our people are our greatest recruitment tools, and there’s only so far salary rates and benefits can go. We want everyone who walks through our doors to remember how well they were treated throughout their time at Publicis Media Canada.

That spirit informed our fast reaction and forward thinking on working patterns as COVID took hold. Despite all of the change and uncertainty, we were still able to achieve a successful run of competitive new business pitches, winning prestigious clients including Walmart, Lowe’s and NFL Canada, demonstrating that happy and connected employees  make our work stronger than ever.

In the end, what the past year or so has taught me is that nothing is permanent, everything is going to change, and anything is potentially possible. I’ve also learned that our business will continue to flourish as long as we spend less time talking and more time listening.


Publicis Media Canada is a member of the Institute of Communication Agencies. Report on Marketing is where leading Canadian agencies showcase their insights, cutting-edge research and client successes. The Report on Marketing provides a valuable source of thought leadership for Canadian marketers to draw inspiration from. Find more articles like this at the Report on Marketing.

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