As I look at the array of shirts hanging in my son’s closet, it occurs to me, gone are the vibrant greens, blues, oranges and yellows of his elementary school days. Now the tees hang dully, reflecting the middle-school teen’s choice of various shades of blue, black and gray.

Looking into the professional closet, the same can be said for veteran companies in the public relations and advertising industries. Once revered to be colorful, cutting-edge places to work, they can now be seen as stodgy and staid. How does one keep from fading to gray?

A recent New York Times article suggests that our industry is a step or two behind the start-up and tech businesses in recruiting young talent, thinking outside the box and most importantly, retaining talent. It’s a far cry from where it was 20+ years ago when a job in advertising and PR was considered a career booster. Many companies now have to mirror the likes of Facebook and Google by offering perks such as yoga, beer, and free lunches in order to recruit and keep talent.

Can window dressing alone work? Probably not.  Employees need more than flavored coffee to be motivated – they need an environment that fosters creativity, idea exchange, collaboration and one that has a clear company vision.

For instance, taking it one step further after having all the required employee perks in place, last year a San Diego agency posed a question to themselves ‘Can we run our business solely by our culture?’ This lead to an overhaul of company philosophy, client interaction and end results and, ultimately, the TAO of DT – a simple way to use their culture to guide every aspect of their business (

It’s an impressive exercise to say the least!  I’m not suggesting every company needs to go that far but taking a step back to objectively evaluate all aspects of their work environment is time well spent.

Here are a few takeaways to help bring back a little color to your company:

  • Develop a company philosophy – words to work by each and every day for each and every employee
  • Create an open environment both physically and mentally
  • Challenge the norm
  • Be kind and mindful
  • Realize the potential in everyone
  • Reward your employees
  • Don’t settle for mediocrity
  • Have fun – celebrate the successes large and small

Now about those shirts… at least my son wears crazy socks.