The advertising industry, and the marketing agencies are known as the busiest offices, with the tightest deadlines. There are many different variables that go into the process of creating a client’s strategy, or a campaign. But, don’t take our word for it.

We’ve talked to Andre Filip, the CEO of ELA, a global creative ad agency, about how his team manages to stay productive in such a busy environment.

Workpuls: Hi everyone, welcome to another episode of Workpuls Productivity Talks! Bojana here, as always, and today with me I have Andre Filip. He is the CEO and owner of ELA, a global creative agency. So Andre tell us first a little bit about what it is that you guys exactly do?

Andre Filip: Yes, so we are a global creative ad agency so we build brand campaigns for a variety of clients, from entertainment to CPG, Tech clients. We are really a strategic agency. We launch products in the world both national and globally, agnostic of medium, so anywhere from TV to digital, to video, social, all those things.

Workpuls: Okay, cool. What would you say that productivity is, first of all?

Andre Filip: It’s interesting, there’s many ways to answer that. I think the cleanest answer would be, productivity is really having a set of, let’s say goals and getting there as quickly and efficiently as possible. But I think that to me, productivity is a bigger topic. And what I mean by that is, I think that people need to understand the spirit in the buy-in of what everybody is trying to do. I think that once people are emotionally connected to what the bigger plan is, an expression of that deeper and bigger understanding. And then people start working together in a different way, in a more collaborative way that gets them to the goal because they understand it versus having a small little milestone to hit. I think that that's easy. I think the bigger thing is getting big buy-in on what the goal is. 

Workpuls: Okay, and do you think that it can be, the productivity, can be quantified somehow and measured?

Andre Filip: I think there is a science part and an emotional part. I think obviously the simplest way to do it, is to say these 10 things need to be achieved and did those 10 things happen. But I think that the bigger measurement is how collaborative and how people work together to achieve those goals. So, I think that productivity is not just based on putting in the hours and the time but I also think it’s about being efficient. And I think that for us, for example, we are constantly looking at our process and seeing, “Are we being as efficient and effective as possible?” And I think that having a lengthy process could be great. But I also think that we always look for, “Is there a better way to achieve our goal? Are we doing it in the most efficient way? Are there steps that we need to add or take away?” And sometimes, that’s very critical, because sometimes you need to add a step to speed you up. It’s not always, let’s do it in the few steps possible. I think sometimes it’s adding a few extra steps so that you get there in a quicker way, even though, at first glance it might seem like we are adding an additional layer of a conversation, a meeting, a process, a document, a piece of  technology, whatever that is. At first glance seems to be counterproductive but I think that process is critical and questioning your process consistently is also critical.

Workpuls: Okay, and besides questioning the process, what it is that you do with your team in order to maximize on everyone’s productivity? You work in a creative environment so productivity is the most essential probably to get the creativity flowing around.

Andre Filip: Yeah, I think so. We have insane deadlines in the advertising world and we have to be productive and creative but also be effective. And I think that what we do to implement that is we always start with the end in mind. We never work towards a goal, we work away from a goal. I think that if we ever work towards something, we would fail and crash and burn, because there are many layers of productivity and what people need to do. So we always start with the end in mind and work backward in the very logical format to say, “ Well, if this has to happen by, let’s say Friday – what must happen on Thursday, Wednesday, Tuesday, Monday?” And you back out of it. And that kind of gives you a roadmap and I think that without a fundamental roadmap, you are just walking towards something, and you are victim to realizing that the day before something’s due that you are missing five things that nobody thought about. So, I think that having a micro and macro perspective at all times, is critical to productivity. Know where you are going, take and then work back. And then focus on hitting those individual milestones, because it's like a domino effect, if you don’t get that one, things have to change. You have to be flexible, but you need to understand the roadmap. And I think that sometimes the roadmap is in the mind of the people who created it, but not distributed and completely bought into by every single human being on the team that is working on it. So for a team, you should be able to walk up to any team member and ask them, “What’s the plan for the day, and what’s the goal and what’s our deadline?” Everyone should be able to answer that. An extension of that is “early and often”, what we will like to say. We do early and often check-ins, and not just once a week but once a day and sometimes two, three, four, five times a day, depending on the intensity of what we need to do. And I think when you check-in on your productivity, on your workflow, on a goal and it’s very aggressive. You can’t afford to lose a day so therefore you can’t find out at 5 PM that maybe we’re only 50% there when we should be 90% there. And so I think early and often check-ins within the entire team is something that ensures that you hit those deadlines which goes back to, that may sound very cumbersome to some people listening. But the amount of time that you save by having 10 or 15 minutes conversation is a lot more than having to undo or redo something for the lack of that one hour of conversation that you had.

Workpuls: I guess it really depends on the industry. Your industry is completely different so you have to be, because of those high deadlines and everything, you have to be on top of what’s happening every day in and out. In some other industries it’s not really like that. so people have a bit more space to work at. They don’t have deadlines that are as tight. They don’t have the clients that are waiting for them and so on. But it’s a good way to operate in the industry that you are operating. I wanted to ask you… I heard managers complaining, they want to implement something. They are looking to start doing this new thing that could help them increase productivity but they aren’t really sure how to get employees buy-in on that. What do you think was the best way to get employee buy-in on any of the strategies that you are trying to put in to increase productivity or basically anything else that you want to change? 

Andre Filip: I think it’s getting first of all, it’s getting egos out of the way because no one wants to be told like, “Hey, we need to be more productive,” because what people hear is, we’re not productive enough, and people are still working and they’re working hard. And I think that productivity is not, it has to be very clarified that it’s not a matter of how hard you work, it’s about how efficient we are. So I think it’s not a productivity conversation, it’s an efficiency conversation. And I think that’s something that business leaders and managers can have with their team is - efficiency. Because productivity sounds very personal, like it’s an attack. “Hey Bob, you aren’t being productive.” versus “Hey Bob, how can we be more efficient?” Completely different - same topic. So I think that efficiency is the right way to look at it and not productivity. We don’t use the word productivity, it’s like how can we get there easier, faster, more effective. So I think that would be my biggest advice into your earlier point. I consulted with businesses that are completely outside the advertising and marketing world, but I would say that communication is the one thing that I have seen across any industry that is lacking. It’s because everybody is in front of computers, they are typing, they are emailing. But the real conversation, the real dialogue, you would be surprised that it doesn't happen at the largest organizations, that people aren’t talking to each other. And I think that a good old fashion conversation down the hallway is something that is priceless to me, as old school as that sound. 

Workpuls: Well, it is. It makes sense. I think we've seen that now, in the situation that we are in, where everybody is working from home and you don’t get to see your team and you don’t get to walk up to somebody’s desk and… You are messaging, you are sending emails. Okay, we do meetings, video calls and all but still you’re not talking to those people as frequently as you used to do when you are in the office so you can really feel that difference and it’s…I am not sure how can people just work in an office and not have those types of conversations throughout the day, no matter how busy they are.

Andre Filip: I agree. For us, we have been implementing, even though everyone’s working from home, what we have been doing is saying, “Okay, you know what, let’s try to increase the amount of Google Hangouts that we have” so that we can actually see each other and still kind of mimic the conversation but in a digital format versus using Slack, or texting or emailing. It’s just, “You know what, let’s just get on a quick call.” That’s proven to be a good band-aid approach to that process.

Workpuls: I noticed that we try to do daily meetings, then we realize daily meetings were too much for what we were doing, so we cut it into two meetings per week, like a weekly meeting. And then today we realized that it doesn’t make sense to do two, it’s better to do just one. So we are still trying and testing what we can do because it’s the first time that we are all out of the office at the same time, we do have work from home policy but it has never happened that the whole company is out of the office at the same time. 

Andre Filip: Yeah, yeah. 

Workpuls: It has been a trial period for everyone, but luckily enough we have a couple of people also who have a lot of experience working in remote environments and they have been really helpful throughout this process when it comes to everything. 

Andre Filip: Right.

Workpuls: Setting up at home, managing your workload from home and all the other things that we need for support so that’s a good thing. I want to check also, have you tried any of those standards or usual time management techniques that are supposed to help you increase productivity or stay on top of your to-do list, or whatever. Have you tried those yourself or with your team and what were the outcomes for that?

Andre Filip: Not so much from a time management but more software that allows us track and I think that tracking is the biggest thing because part of productivity is ownership and I think that’s another thing that I have seen in a lot of organization, is there a lot of people working on one thing but who’s the quarterback? Who is the one that’s ultimately owning this project and what is everybody's role? Because sometimes there may be an owner of this project and then the next project their support peer person on that, on that team. So we played around with different ways of doing that and tracking that, and again every business is different. We may have 30 to 50 projects in a given day.  Part of it is making sure that if we do have a software or something that we are using, that also has the human element because somebody has to be in there live time always tracking. I think that for us it’s been very helpful too. Again, we have a global, let’s say a GANT chart, if you will, for lack of a better term, that we understand where we are on everything and I think that having multiple projects or multiple deliverables, is important to see... Maybe, one day you have 10 things going on, but we know that in two days we have 50 things going on so we edit flow. I think part of productivity is forecasting, so it doesn’t catch you by surprise and I think you would agree, we need to know what’s coming. Although the project that you are on is the most important thing, it lives in a bigger ecosystem which affects resources, which affects your timing and things like that, and we see it time and time again. You might need to get an approval, and the person is completely booked and you can’t get them for two days but it’s due in one day. Is that because the person is so busy or because we didn’t forecast for it? So I think that forecasting to me is critical to productivity and having a technology that’s able to see what’s coming, so that the wave doesn’t hit and that all the players that need to be involved, absolutely know ahead of time what’s happening in their lives and what they need to move around or be available for.

Workpuls: I guess that goes in line with a planning strategy that you have going from the end to the start line and planning from the end to start what needs to happen everyday. I guess it makes it easier to forecast all together what’s going to happen within the next few days or within the next few weeks. 

Andre Filip: We are a product of our environment when it comes to, for example video production or a film. When it comes to video production you may be on set for one or two days, actually shooting. The preproduction that goes into is a month to a month and a half for one day. I share that with you and the audience because I think that having more time up front to plan and to think about all the things that we need but also that can go wrong and developing a plan is critical, so that there is a planning phase and then there is an action phase. And an example of that when we shoot commercials is, we might be planning for a month but we’re not thinking onset, we are executing the plan; and so I think there is a time for planning, a time for execution. And I think that when you are planning and executing at the same time productivity is absolutely affected and that’s where bolts start getting dropped, because it’s two sides of the mind. So that’s another example of slow down to speed up. It might seem like we are wasting time but the more clarity and the more specificity we have on the front end because everybody is excited. We want people to be excited. We want them to want to run and go, but we really want to plan out so that when you actually making, building and executing you have 99% of your questions answered and now you are in execution mode and those are just two different sides of the brain. 

Workpuls: It does make sense. When it comes to my end and when it comes to the question that I had, then that would be all. I don’t know if you wanted to share anything else if I skiped something or something like that?

Andre Filip: No. Again, I think my biggest advice to anybody is when everybody is working as one, at ELA we the spirit of blend, we work like a task force that moves together. And I think that keeping people together, even though I know that right now we are physically not together but keeping everybody in the loop. So, a lot of time what I see is there could be a team of, let’s say, on one project there is 15 people on a team but only four people are having the daily conversations. I think it’s important to get everybody involved on the team, even if you don’t think that they’re critical to this conversation because you would be surprised that how many times somebody that you don’t think is maybe executing something and if you don’t think they should be apart of the conversation, actually adds a ton of value to the dialogue, actually and it has a perspective on something. So I would say move as one, work as many but we move together so I think that that to me is ultimate productivity and that emotional buy-in everybody and there is no different people working in different zones, everybody is moving together.

Workpuls: Okay, great. Thank you very much for taking the time to talk to us today. It was really interesting to hear the perspective of somebody who is working in such a busy environment usually, so thank you very much for that.

Workpuls Productivity Talks is a podcast about productivity brought to you by everyone’s favorite time tracker software - Workpuls. With every interview we’re bringing you new tips from people who are experts on productivity, but also from managers and founders who have found a way to really master productivity in their teams.

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