“My number one agenda when I came to Exposure was to disrupt the tired, traditional HR model and deliver in the same way our people do for our clients.”
Kate Thurlwell is a highly experienced leader who loves to embrace change. By adopting the disruptive style of her industry, she believes in taking a game-changing approach to people management. Her motto ‘belief precedes reality’ is borne of her passion for innovation in talent and organisational development. Exposure operates in a vibrant creative space and Kate has nurtured a high performing HR & Talent team to align with the performance principles of the business.
Kate, tell us a bit about how Exposure works and what your role is.
Exposure is an independent group of content and communications agencies: Exposure, Exposure Digital, THRSXTY & SEEN Group – (all in the UK) and Exposure, Exposure Digital Inc. & Beauty Seen (in New York).
I‘m the Chief Talent Officer for the group, so I’m responsible for our people operations across all seven of our companies. I deal with everything from culture, to growing future leaders to identifying how to help some of our companies grow through discovering and acquiring high calibre talent.
Your workforce is young and creative. What are the challenges and highlights of this in terms of managing and motivating them?
Young and creative people are a gift and they make up our life here at Exposure – it’s why every day is different and why we love life here.
Authenticity and freedom are the key to their motivation. If we don’t develop our brilliant brains-they die, as does the engagement with Exposure. We need to make sure that everyone feels like they are moving forward and it’s our duty of care to help everyone develop in a way that suits them. There’s no one-size- fits-all methodology.
Conversely, we need to keep everyone working to the same business objectives, so balance is key.
Has having an agency-side, client-facing background informed the way you approach talent management?
Absolutely! I am really conscious of the challenges our people come up against in a client-facing environment and have been able to train my team to this way of thinking. It’s really important that we walk in the shoes of our talent so that we can drive the talent agenda sympathetically, and with maximum effect. Having grown up agency-side, I understand the need for flexibility and can relate to client demands. I also understand how to adapt my style to get the best results from very time-poor people.
Exposure is no stranger to disrupting consumer attitudes and perceptions towards some of our most famous brands. Do you think the disruptive trend in the HRTech market will benefit the creative industry?
Totally. My number one agenda when I came to Exposure was to disrupt the tired, traditional HR model and deliver in the same way our people do for our clients. It’s essential we speak to our people in their language; so adopting a clean, clear and intuitive system like bob, which has a great aesthetic, is vital if we want to tie together all our companies across the globe. I call it the ‘internal pipes’ of the business.
Exposure has seven companies within the group. How do you drive a consistent culture and sense of belonging at the group level?
Good question. There isn’t a hard and fast solution, as we don’t like things to be too rigid or static. It’s not easy and is continually being reviewed. My department is constantly walking the floors, talking to people and quite often can relay real-time information from group to group.
It’s imperative that the companies within our group have their own personality, brand identity and values though. They are all extremely different. It’s also important that everyone in the group has a sense of belonging to the Exposure Group, so we create constants that bring people together regularly. Things like a Friday night bar each week; our gallery, where team members can display their personal artwork within the office space; monthly department parties; sharing news every first Tuesday and ‘Exchange’, where New York and London employees can swap lives.
Exposure has some interesting internal comms techniques: town hall meetings, encouraging employees to show their own art in office gallery spaces, and individual quotes on business cards. Could you tell us a bit about finding the balance between encouraging individual expression and interpretation and maintaining a strong corporate culture and sense of belonging?
The simple answer is, if you respect the individual and encourage them to express themselves, and really listen to them, you can create a collective sense of purpose.
We call ourselves the original social network. The hundreds of industry friends and how we value and champion the individual is testament to this.
The word corporate doesn’t come up that much at Exposure, we sometimes don’t even refer to ourselves as an agency. More a place where you are encouraged to be the best version of yourselves whilst you are here and just do really great work.
Kate previously worked as a Client Director agency-side before focusing on talent as a career. She has previously worked with clients such as Pernod Ricard, Unilever and Santander and joined the Exposure group in 2014 to head up their talent and HR remit. Her hands-on client servicing experience means she understands the nuance of agency life, the importance of top tier talent and the vital everyday role that culture plays. She currently runs Exposure’s people operations globally across all seven companies. Kate is a tidy hoarder with a mountainous magazine and footwear collection.
Connect with Kate on LinkedIn.