5 MINUTES WITH RUSS LIDSTONE: ON LEADERSHIP, INCLUSION & MOTIVATION
Russ Lidstone, CEO of The Creative Engagement Group, is a leader in the field of creative communications. The TCC interviewed Russ to learn more about his expertise and experience, as well as his thoughts on one of the most important issues in our industry today: inclusion. Diversity is a topic that keeps coming up more frequently and it is important to pay attention to it.
Can you explain your job role?
I’m responsible for the overarching vision, performance, strategy and team at The Creative Engagement Group. I oversee 8 divisions and 500 people across North America and UK. Our company works in live and virtual events; film and digital; behavioural science; capability development; employee engagement; scientific training and engagement; digital learning and training.
What motivated you to work in this field?
I fell into advertising a long while ago now, but I’ve always been motivated by people, businesses and brands. I was attracted to the creativity, the variety, the intellectual and creative challenge – and ultimately, I like people, so I really wanted to work in a ‘human capital’ business.
“Lead by example and take care of yourself. Make the most of downtime.”
What is the hardest part about your job? Does it take a toll on your well-being, and if so, how do you overcome that?
The marketing communications industry and creative economy can an intensive industry to work in because it’s less uniform and predictable than other industries – and agencies as services businesses have to react to client needs. Whilst it’s part of the reasons why people like me enjoy it, it’s also important that we look after the wellbeing of our team. This has especially been the case during the pandemic and is one of the reasons why we have such a strong partnership with Mind the mental health charity.
Personally, I try to lead by example and try to look after myself through exercise, a relatively healthy diet, and making the most of downtime. Fun is important – and after the last year having a laugh with your colleagues becomes more important than ever.
What do you enjoy the most about your job?
The variety and the people. At The Creative Engagement Group our business is so varied that every day is different, we’re doing many breakthrough things and I’m surrounded by supremely talented people with deep expertise in their fields. It’s a joy and I get a huge amount of pride and personal growth from being part of it.
Do you feel like the industry is diverse enough in terms of different cultures, particularly at the leadership level?
Diversity is a big topic and means many things – but in short ‘not yet’. Different companies will have different types of diversity challenges. There is much work to do – we have an ethnic diversity challenge at a senior level, but in terms of gender diversity for example we’re strong. Our DEI group are helping the business to enact plan to help attract and retain more people from different backgrounds, but it will take a little time for this to impact to the degree I’d like – but it’s a priority for me.
As Chair of the charity Creative Mentor Network, I’m also focused on trying to help get young people from lower socio-economic and diverse backgrounds into the creative economy. It’s an industry challenge and I know many companies are taking the issue very seriously.
Can you give some examples of how there has been more support towards women in our field?
Ensuring parity for equivalent roles (which is a legal requirement) is key and reducing gender pay gaps is a well-documented topic in the UK. But alongside that, creating a more inclusive working environment, ensuring flexibility around hours and working patterns, putting in place policies to attract and retain senior female leaders is key. Ultimately the key to success is ensuring a fair and equitable workplace – for everyone.
What does your agency do to foster diversity and inclusion?
We have a range of policies to help us try to achieve greater diversity and inclusion - but fundamentally this is about leadership, engagement and ensuring voices from across our business are heard and recommendations acted on.
It is also about ‘working with not for’ - our mantra which highlights that no-one in our business is more important than anyone else. Everyone should and needs to respect each other and our differences.
We have a very active DEI working group from across the business and we regularly engage in employee listening activity to ensure we can make the right steps in being an even more inclusive business. I’m actively involved so that we can take action swiftly and so actions and policies have buy-in at a senior level.
Fundamental is ensuring we are a safe space for our team to raise concerns, make suggestions and discuss key topics openly.
Is there an ad that you regard as a template for how diversity should be portrayed?
Not really – it might be easier to call out the ads or communications that have a slightly outmoded or anachronistic view of society.