How Fostering Longevity Has Helped Us Thrive in a Pandemic

Five lessons from my three decades at Y&L

While the past couple of years have been some of the most uncertain of our lives, Young & Laramore has thrived, not only growing our client base but also growing our staff when other agencies were struggling to retain people and clients. Attributing our success to any one factor is tough to do, but I do think the core of it has to do with the longevity and tenure of our talented team. The reason we've been able to work so effectively virtually is likely because we have logged so many years together and can lean on the social and professional ties we've built with each other over the years. In an often-transient industry where people are resigning or bouncing from agency to agency, we've benefited from creating an environment where people want to stay for years and years. 

As a personal example of that longevity, I thought I'd share what I've learned after three decades at one agency.

Don't assume there are greener pastures.

Sure, Indianapolis isn't an advertising hotbed, but our view has always been that great work can come from anywhere. We've never had the attitude that we should settle for small ideas—or clients. We've sought to build an agency where people know they can do the best work of their lives, without having to go to a bigger city—or mega agency. Our high standards have created a kindred spirit that has allowed like-minded people to bond, both professionally and personally.

Celebrate the people who stay.

While the advertising business can often seem like a transactional business, we reinforce the satisfaction of building relationships and establishing roots by celebrating the people who stay. During my early years at Y&L, it struck me odd that we would hold going-away parties for people who were leaving the agency. As my tenure grew, I often thought, "What about the people who've stayed? Why don't we celebrate them?" So, back in 2002, when a couple of my colleagues reached their 10-year anniversary during the same month, I created an unpolished little video on iMovie featuring their work and photos taken during their time at Y&L.

Recognize milestones.

As more people crossed the 10-year mark, we would present something special to them at our weekly all-company meeting. This tradition has evolved into creating picture books and more sophisticated videos, and even inviting families and parents to small celebrations for each 10-year and 20-year anniversary. Our efforts to celebrate milestones continue to evolve, as we've expanded our recognition to include "Championship Banners" in our renovated, hundred-year-old school building's gym to recognize employees who have worked here for 10, 20 and even 30 years. Among our 70 employees, we now have 22 who have been with us for 10 years or more, and 11 that have been with us for 20 years or more We also post mini-tributes on Instagram and Linkedin to celebrate these milestones.

Milestones can be small ones, too. 

And upon our post-lockdown return to our School 9 offices back in October, we presented every employee with a Young & Laramore felt pennant reminiscent of college pennants. And we gave them a set of custom-designed recognition pins for each single year and each five-year milestone. With these pennants and pins, we can now formally mark every employee's anniversary with Y&L, presenting a new pin each year. Over time, the recognition pins may evolve to specific events or accomplishments. We initially created the "Global Pandemic Survival" pin, but I guess the jury is still out on that one. 

Getting back together is important to staying together. 

Given the onset of the Omicron variant, we started the year working remotely again, but can't wait to reassemble this unbelievably talented group of people we've been able to attract. Like any organization, we're certainly not perfect, but we're doing what we can to balance the varied desires of work and life outside of work. And while many of our employees enjoyed their work-from-home time during the pandemic, once the Covid case numbers began to come down in October, we asked everyone to come back to the office—with Tuesdays and Fridays as optional remote days—establishing a 100 percent vaccination policy to be in the building to create an environment that's as safe as possible. 

When we come back, everyone in the building will be boosted. Our impetus to return is the belief that we all need human interaction to maintain and grow our community, fearing that our culture would erode it if we were to convert to a completely remote model indefinitely. We're hopeful that this modified plan can give people a newfound desire of flexibility, while continuing to build the culture that's created the kind of organization that people never want to leave. 

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