Becoming Edelman’s first Toronto general manager
Lisa became Edelman Toronto’s general manager in 2009. Previously, the position didn’t exist in her office. The CEO for Canada oversaw the Toronto office until that time.
As the office grew, there was a realization that to continue to grow, it needed someone specifically focused on that branch of the firm – Lisa became that person.
“The opportunity came as a surprise,” she remembers. “I didn’t necessarily think of it as the next step but I was very intrigued and flattered when I was approached about it.”
Lisa saw unrealized potential within the office and was thrilled to tap into its resources from a GM’s vantage point. “I knew we needed to reinvent our office culture and effectively create a culture-centric business model,” she tells us. “Happy and engaged employees create exceptional work – it’s motivating to work in a fulfilling atmosphere doing gratifying work. There’s no question that engaged employees help grow your business.”
The goal was to create a more collaborative environment through a variety of engagement programs that would build a thriving new culture. The leadership team successfully took a communications agency, already known for its creativity and made it even more innovative.
The Edelman global network has been responsible for some of the world’s foremost communications innovations in its 60-year history and is widely recognized for its workplace improvements, winning Global Agency of the Year in 2013.
Now the world’s largest PR firm with 67 offices and more than 4,800 employees, the firm had just 60 in Toronto when Lisa took over. It wasn’t the city’s largest PR office; it is today, with more than 130 staff members.
“As is often said about service businesses, the inventory – our people – goes down the elevator each night; when it returns it has to be productive, happy, creative, challenged and motivated.”
Her focus was culture: it wasn’t unified. She wasn’t sure it even existed, specifically in Toronto.
“I focused on Toronto’s growth. The culture in silos was a barrier preventing us from doing our best work. My first task was to engage and involve employees in the process. One of the most important questions surrounded what Edelman employees wanted that culture to be. Input was solicited from all levels.”
She explains that asking for input is the first stage – and holding the leadership team accountable for continually executing on the plan is another, ongoing significant effort. Town Hall meetings were set up to keep the cultural changes at the forefront. All employees were regularly encouraged to comment freely on personnel and workplace issues and often saw their suggestions adopted.
An open-office concept was also adopted. “It’s an office, but there aren’t segregated areas—in fact, there is just one closed-door office, and it’s for HR. The entire leadership team is out in the open. Individual practices, such as health, consumer, corporate & public affairs, digital and technology, are scattered, rather than tightly grouped as in most agencies. It is non-hierarchical. It’s liberating, and creates a culture of transparency and accessibility.”
Other efforts have included the adoption of The Little Give, initially conceived by Edelman’s Vancouver office, as the firm’s national corporate social responsibility initiative. It challenges employees to solve a specific problem off a roster of charities in 48 hours. Each team is provided with $2,500 in Edelman seed money.
To encourage employees to think differently about how to tell stories effectively, Edelman developed StoryLab, a program that encourages people to tell stories through different creative mediums — painting, comedy, photography and more – (stories of course being the heart of the business).
Finally, Edelman has diversified its offering, most significantly in building up its digital expertise and capabilities. Today, Edelman Digital consists of more than 60 employees dedicated to digital strategy, production and technology across its four Canadian offices.
“We began hiring different kinds of people, broadening beyond traditional PR practitioners. We want to present the best thinking possible for clients, that’s what they look for. As a result, we have to be laser- focused on coming up with creative, channel-agnostic ideas,” she explains. “Clients will appreciate that we aren’t just trying to sell our services, but are instead working hard to provide solutions to their business and marketing challenges.”
As a result, employee turnover has been minimized; it has become a choice employer for those in PR and digital; revenue has doubled and so has the staff size. “Our growth has been predominantly organic and it is exponential. We now have a unified culture, and are being recognized with industry accolades for our client work and as a top employer in Canada.”