Kay Lawson Interview
The Great Resignation. Staffing issues. Talent shortages. Churn. Retention. Turnover. There are all sorts of buzz words surrounding employment, during the pandemic certainly, but in many cases before that too. It seems like no industry is immune to the conversations around hiring, firing, layoffs, and employee benefits — the media industry is no exception.
This summer, a survey conducted by World Federation of Advertisers and MediaSense, shared a staggering figure that caught our eye. According to their poll, a whopping 85% of media agencies believe that there’s a shortage of media talent in the market. Sure, we hear from other agencies that they have a hard time hiring or that retaining employees is a challenge. But 85% is mind-boggling to us because at Lewis Media Partners, our experience is different. We have no shortage of talent. In fact, it’s more accurate to say that we have a surplus of talent. We’re consistently growing our client roster, hiring passionate and talented employees, and are even expanding our office space to accommodate new positions and expand our offerings for our clients. We don’t have a revolving door of new employees or a high turnover rate, and that works to our client’s benefit — having consistency on your team builds trust, deepens knowledge of your business, and offers much needed continuity that is often lacking when working with media agencies.
This investment in our employees, and the development of our culture originates from the top down. It isn’t new. It’s not a sentiment that we throw around because it’s in vogue. It’s been built into our business from day one, when Aurelia hired her first employee. It may be 20+ years later, but we don’t take it for granted. As we continue to grow our team, we’re being intentional in our effort to maintain our unique culture that not only attracts talented candidates but keeps them engaged and on our team for years… several years… and many for over a decade.
As part of this concerted effort, this year, we hired Kay Lawson as our Director of Talent and Culture. Kay brings a wealth of industry experience to our team, but also a focused attention to hiring and fostering a supportive and rewarding environment where our employees can be challenged, develop, and grow.
Read our recent interview with Kay to get a peek into her day-to-day, and how her role is aimed at helping Lewis Media Partners continue to thrive in a time that’s proving challenging for many media agencies.
Q: What is your job title?
A: Director of Talent and Culture
Q: When did you join LMP?
A: June 27, 2022 (Started freelancing on January 18, 2022).
Q: How long have you been in the industry?
A: 35 years
Q: What part of your role do you find most fulfilling?
A: Solving people puzzles, whether that’s finding the right talent to fill openings or helping employees through growth, development, or relational issues. For me, it’s all about recognizing potential, seeing a way through, and enabling people to realize their dreams.
Q: Your title is more than “recruiter” nowadays. As Director of Talent and Culture, how do you see your role impacting the future of LMP?
A: As long as I’ve been a recruiter (20 years), coaching and career development have been a key part of what I do. The best recruiters are good counselors. We do a lot of listening, observing, and supporting. We’re great troubleshooters and problem-solvers. So I’ve never considered myself “just a recruiter.” I don’t have an HR background. I ‘grew up’ at an advertising agency where I worked in five different disciplines* (departments) over the course of 25+ years. That background has a lot to do with my approach.
At LMP, I work alongside the leadership team to nourish a shared vision, sense of mission, thoughtful communications, and teamwork. I’ll do my best to ensure that employees are challenged, supported, learning, and growing throughout their tenure at LMP. And of course, I’ll help to hire smart, skilled people who will enhance and thrive in our unique environment.
*Studio Art (Creative), Account Management, Project Management, Recruiting, and International Business Development
Q: What do you lean on most heavily in your role? A particular skillset? Networking and connections?
A: Most heavily I lean on my gut. My instincts. The only times I’ve run into big trouble are when I’ve tried intellectually to override what I felt in the pit of my stomach. Secondly, networking and connections are always important. The best hires are most often connected somehow to people one already knows. Following those threads is not only smart, it’s fun.
Q: You were pivotal in helping The Martin Agency open their first international office, how does the workplace culture differ from the U.S. to the U.K, and how does that impact your role as a recruiter?
A: People are people. Having worked in advertising agencies in Virginia and in London, one finds the same types of people, the same characteristics, the same wants, the same conflicts, the same stresses.
Q: You’ve worked as a recruiter in multiple capacities, for The Martin Agency, abroad, as the owner of your own recruiting business… why did you join LMP?
A: After I left The Martin Agency to start my own recruiting business, I thought I would love the autonomy of picking and choosing my clients and candidates. For many years I did. COVID brought everything to a halt and forced time to reflect. I realized that I am best from within an organization, where I’m not “just a recruiter” who is treated like a vendor merely handling a transaction, but involved and knowledgeable about situations and relationships and able to effect change.
Also, in order to recruit, I need to believe in the product I’m selling. Sadly, that was often not the case with some of the job searches I undertook as an external recruiter on a contingency basis. I have never been able to put a person in a bad job. I believe in LMP—the company, the product, the people. So with great relief and gratitude, I stepped back into an agency and have the opportunity to make a difference. I get to do work I love with people I love.
Lastly, joining LMP meant re-joining some brilliant and trusted colleagues from my earliest days in advertising. I feel like I’ve come home.
Q: And now that you’ve joined LMP, how does your position in our small, “boutique” agency, differ from positions you’ve held in the past?
A: I love the size of LMP and getting to know all the people. Relationships are important to me. Those are harder to build with every single employee in large companies.
Q: What does your day-to-day look like at the office?
A: Each day is a bit unexpected. At the end of each workday, I’ve always made a list for the next. I’m an achiever who loves to tick boxes. But I also love how advertising and marketing mean constant changes and require that you bob and weave and multi-task and adjust. Typical items on my list are sourcing candidates through research or networking, screening candidates, writing up their stories and presenting them to the hiring managers, arranging interviews, gathering feedback, and negotiating so that all parties are heard and satisfied. I also listen, guide, and coach as situations arise so most days I’m meeting with employees who need help, or even just an ear.
Q: What are some of the “green flags” you look for when considering someone for a position?
A: Do you mean as opposed to the red and negative ones? A roll-up-your-sleeves attitude. Thoughtful, considered questions. Kindness. Good manners that show respect. An interesting record of extracurricular or volunteer activities. Hobbies or passions that add dimension to a person. And always, a follow-up thank-you note or email.
Q: When you’re not in the office, you’re known for your artistic talent. Are there any opportunities to leverage your creativity when it comes to hiring talent?
A: I’ve never thought of that before. I suppose that I’m an acute observer. My art is very, very detailed. Not much gets by me. Those skills pay off during the recruiting process.
Q: There are headlines about labor shortages and “the great resignation.” LMP, historically, has a low turnover rate, retaining quality employees that build their careers at LMP year after year. What is it about LMP that cushions it from the labor issues being felt across industries? How does this “great resignation” impact your work and your role?
A: From what I’ve observed so far, people stay at LMP because of its culture. It’s not a culture of fear like some agencies. You are pushed, challenged, supported, and cared about. The leadership team cares that employees are happy and have opportunities to grow and develop. They are incredibly open to new ideas and ways of thinking. Because LMP is independent and doesn’t report up into to a big holding company, it can be nimble. Clients and scope of work are managed well. While no job is 100% secure, LMP doesn’t lay off staff as some agencies are known to do in cycles based on client wins and losses. There is more stability here because of the independence and the incredible care in how it’s run.