The Social Element won “Executive Team of the Year” at the Drum Awards for Agency Business in 2021. In this case study, deepen your understanding of what makes this agency special and successful, starting with the people at Mountain peak.
The social element had its best year yet in 2019-20. Its all-female leadership team had created a culture of mutual support and caring that valued new ideas, ways of thinking and, most importantly, its employees. Embarking on a journey to help clients connect the dots between data, their social channels, and humans on the other end, agency leadership resonated with clients.
When the world changed, the management team changed. She sprang into action and, already a remote company, was able to focus on how she needed to adapt to the situation.
The team took a three-pronged approach that addressed how the agency needed to change to work for: employees, clients, and clients of clients. The management team played a personal and central role in ensuring that each of these areas was covered while managing costs and losses to keep everyone in a job. While having a personal interest in providing support to employees, the team between them also found the time to see to the urgent needs of customers.
By focusing on how to support customers with new resources – at no additional cost – and helping them support their customers during a difficult time, The Social Element has retained and won new business at an unprecedented rate.
Overall, the year became one of the most profitable in The Social Element’s history, while keeping a motivated, engaged and caring workforce as happy as possible.
The social component is owned and run by women. All five leadership positions at The Social Element are held by well-connected and inspiring women in London, Valencia, Aberdeen and North Carolina. The team nominated for this award is made up of:
Tamara Littleton, General Manager. Tamara founded the company in 2002 and will soon have spent 20 years at the head of the agency.
Ashley Cooksley, General Manager. Ashley has been with the company for nearly 13 years and has led the North American side of the business since 2019.
Emma Harris, Creative Director. Emma has been a board member for nearly three years, transforming The Social Element into a creative force to be reckoned with.
Treena Hales, Chief Operating Officer, Valencia. Treena has been with the company for 13 years and is the central cog in the TSE management team.
Wendy Christie, Director of Human Resources. After 13 years of service and dedication to making The Social Element a great place to work, Wendy faced arguably her biggest challenge yet with the pandemic – and met it beautifully.
Achievements of the past year
In February 2020, The Social Element’s leadership team was poised to embark on a year of dramatic growth, leading an agency that represented the best in the industry. With an incredible cohort of employees, we knew our flexible, remote working model gave us an advantage in terms of employee diversity. Clients were responding to our nuanced, data-driven, human-centric approach to social media, as were their clients.
When the pandemic started, however, everything had to change. Our leadership team took a three-pronged approach and focused on: the social element team, customers and client brand consumers. While many companies were urgently focused on shifting to remote working, The Social Element had the advantage of having been created as the first remote company from day one, 19 years ago. As a result, we were able to focus more on the emotional needs of our customers and our team.
By refocusing our energy, we rewrote our entire strategy in three weeks. We have invested time and resources with our customers, including new services to meet their emerging needs (crisis monitoring, social listening and consumer sentiment analysis). We also organized free webinars to help them adapt to remote work themselves as an added value, as we had accumulated years of experience in this field.
Tamara has participated in over 20 webinars and podcasts on remote working, maintaining the culture, and helpful hacks for working from home as a way to give back to the industry.
And it paid off. Over the past year, the company has retained nearly all of its customers despite significant budget cuts across the industry, the hiring of new people and its profitability above target. Some existing customers have doubled their spending, while new customers include Visa, Olafur Eliasson, Parkinson’s UK and Peloton. The social element was featured in the Sunday Times and won three global industry awards.
Evidence of inspirational leadership
Ensure the well-being of our staff
Our first priority was the mental health of our staff. To ensure we had a direct line to the management team, Wendy and Tamara offered daily 1:1 Zoom calls to all staff – no small feat for a 255-person agency. They also offered personal support to those affected by external circumstances – the pandemic, home schooling, protests and more.
We have held regular webinars to provide updates, transparency, direction and celebrate great work – bringing our community together. Wendy’s passion for people helped the company end the year in profit and growth with a happy and engaged workforce.
Support on sales
Tamara quickly led the Exec team through a process to create a new vision and roadmap for the agency, focusing on supporting clients on sales, such as through reporting. additional analysis to guide their strategy.
She was supported in this effort by Ashley, who led the North American team to win impressive new clients such as Peloton. Ashley has also developed relationships with existing customers, such as Keurig Dr Pepper, developing a process to offer proactive advice on pivoting in response to constant changes in consumer behavior and attitudes.
Launch of a new creation
Moving from CMO to CCO, Emma expanded her tenure by launching our new creative team after years of building our thought leadership and agency reputation. The creative offering is uniquely social and community driven; focusing on insight-based agile content development that connects to the emotional needs of our big brand clients. Emma is passionate about the art of specific social creation and encourages brands to avoid scaled down versions of their ATL campaigns to create social content.
Work on diversity and inclusion
Diversity is part of our philosophy, but we wanted to formalize how important diversity and inclusion is to us. Wendy led education and options for displaying gender pronouns in internal and external systems. Wendy has also worked on creating job advertisements and gender-neutral freelance contracts.
Tamara led the charge to partner with Creative Equals. The social element has achieved bronze level accreditation. Ali Hanan (her), CEO of Creative Equals, commented, “The founder is an LGBTQ woman and we surveyed their company to find out that it is one of the most diverse companies we have ever worked with. “.
Treena oversaw the migration of the London office to fully remote working and ensured the transition was smooth and safe while renegotiating contracts with our property and technical vendors to keep costs under control. Treena helped implement the ambitious cost reduction plan to ensure that, despite market challenges, this was the most profitable year in our history.