Culture First: Making a Difference

In the second in a series of podcasts, Splice Agency’s cofounder, strategy and innovation Jonathan Peischl spoke to MM+M’s editor-in-chief Steve Madden about the importance of the company’s “culture first” mantra, and how the agency is working even harder to cultivate it throughout the pandemic, both internally and with clients by using a “double- sided coin” approach. 

“Both sides were focused on people first,” Peischl said. “On the internal side, we wanted to give our employees a place where they could work in an agency setting that wasn’t associated with the negatives people who have been in the business a long time have experienced.”

“But on the flip side,” he continued, “we also knew that in order to hire and pay people and be successful, we had to focus on the client side. So rather than try and come up with something different for each, we simply used the same approach, and realized that by building a staff that feels rewarded and respected by their peers, we were going to get great work for our clients.” 

When prompted by Madden to illustrate how Splice has curated a culture of positivity among its staff, Peischl said the first step was eliminating the stigma often associated with bringing your personal life to work. 

“We wanted to turn that on its head and say, ‘what matters to you and the priorities in your life matter to us, too,’” he said. “Paul [Hagopian, cofounder of Splice] often says, it shouldn’t be a work/life ‘balance,’ it should be a work/life ‘integration,’ and that’s a great way to put it, because there doesn’t have to be a conflict between the two, there should actually be harmony.” 

Peischl also noted that this level of commitment to culture has been paramount in helping to shape the company’s overall strategy and vision.

“We look at our staff more like a community,” he said. “We show that we truly value their ideas and opinions, and not just creatively in the sense of ad concepts, but in the sense of ‘Where should we go with the business?’ ‘What types of clients should we pursue?’ ‘What types of work should we be doing with those clients?’”

Madden asked Peischl to share some of the company’s “secret sauce” for maintaining this culture of shared values with the added challenge of all employees working remotely this past year.

“It’s all about experimentation and flexibility, and what we as a company can do to make life for our employees a little bit better and easier,” he said, citing the company’s policy of a “no-fly zone” (i.e., no scheduled meetings ) after 1 p.m. on Fridays, as one such example. 

“It seems small, but people were so excited to get that time back,” he said. “And it provides some flexibility. If you’re in a good place as far as your workload, it’s OK to go ahead and sign off early. Or, if you want to work extra hours in the morning so you can take the rest of the day off, that works too.” 

These small gestures of giving people back their time, as well as encouraging everyone to use their days off, were just a few of the ways Peischl said he and the rest of the leadership team were working to combat burnout among employees. 

“We’ve made that a priority this past year because, as we all know, time just kind of slips away from you when you’re sitting logged in, in the same place all day, every day,” he said. “We were noticing a lot of our staffers weren’t taking time for themselves, because they either didn’t have enough PTO or they didn’t want to go on vacation or travel anywhere due to COVID, and that spurred us to jump in and intervene, because it is still so important to get away from your screen and recharge. We want to make sure people are making their personal well-being just as important as getting the work done.” 

This notion of caring for the whole person as a way of nurturing a culture of respect is one that Peischl noted is carried over to Splice’s client base as well. 

“When we pitch a client, we make sure they know what our culture looks like and what’s important to us,” he said. “Oftentimes there’s a tendency to draw this hard line between your internal staff and the people you work with as clients, and I think that’s a mistake, because clients are a part of your culture, too.”

Watch the first episode of the Splice podcast series here.