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Thought Leadership

Leading by Example: Charae Warner

Haley Robinson, Senior Copywriter

October 13, 2022

Today we’re doing something a little different and speaking to one of our leaders behind the scenes: Charae Warner. She is our Senior Director of People & Culture and has been instrumental in establishing a healthy (and happy!) work culture for our hybrid agency. From human resources to diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I), Charae is our guiding light for keeping our people first and foremost.

Haley Robinson: Thanks for chatting with me, Charae! Let’s get started with how you first got into advertising.

Charae Warner: My first ad job was at JWT (now Wunderman Thompson) in NYC. Eventually I moved and joined the Atlanta office. Right before that I worked in the music industry at Sony Music.

HR: That’s fascinating to go from music to advertising. What made you interested in Hothouse?

CW: I’d heard of Hothouse since moving to Atlanta, but I hadn’t known much about them. When I heard that they were looking for a lead of People + Culture I did some research and was impressed by the client roster and the caliber of their work. For a small agency they had an impressive resume and client base. It was also a good signal to me that they were at a stage in their growth that they wanted to have a role dedicated to focusing on people and culture.

HR: What drew you to a small agency?

CW: I refer to Hothouse as small and mighty! Again, although small, they were working with a lot of big brands. I’d also left the agency world for a bit and I knew if I was going to come back to an agency, I wanted to go an independent shop and be at a place where people were valued and were at the forefront of the decisions being made. I wanted a place whose leaders were conscious of not just the clients and the business but also the folks doing the work. I wanted good vibes, no egos, or jerks. People who enjoyed the work and each other. And Hothouse checked all of those boxes.

HR: How did you go about shaping the culture at Hothouse? Did you have a vision in mind?

CW: No place is culture-less – every company has a culture and hiring one person with “culture” in the title doesn’t give them magical powers to create or change a culture. It’s a system comprised of people with all of the complexity we bring to the table and the behaviors, experiences, reinforcements, rewards, and detractions that are all working together. One of the things I appreciated coming to Hothouse is that it had a culture where people were engaged with each other, connected, and knew each other well. They were connected to the work and the goals of the organization, too. People wanted to do their best. That showed me there was a good foundation.

With hybrid work, post-pandemic life, and the Great Resignation, my goal was to be intentional in maintaining those connections, being deliberate about the parts of the culture we wanted to keep and start filling the gaps to get to our goals. This isn’t done just by me, but also by our leaders and all of our employees who show up each day creating the company and culture we all want to be a part of.

HR: I love that. Okay, changing gears quickly… We’ve all heard a lot about The Great Resignation (you just mentioned it yourself). What are your thoughts on the phenomenon?

CW: I actually prefer the term Great Re-Prioritization. It better describes what is happening. During the pandemic, we all had time to think about what is important to us. For a lot of people, work had become all encompassing, but many realized deep down that there was something wrong with that. There are other outlets for being fulfilled and social and living a happy life. Having an employer that understands and supports that is important and companies who had figured this out before the pandemic are the ones who are leading the pack.

HR: What are your thoughts on “quiet quitting”?

CW: It’s another way to talk about that re-prioritizing and is a backlash against the imbalance of the employee-employer relationship that existed for so long, but it also points to a lack of engagement. It’s not just about work/life balance, but it’s about people who don’t feel connected to the company or team and are simply doing what’s needed to check the “work” box. It’s critical to have employees who are passionate about the company and their goals and can see themselves as connected to each other and the company’s future. Leaders play a big role in this – checking in on team members, giving feedback about performance, connecting them back to the overall goals of the company, clarifying how their contributions are helping us to be successful – but also employees caring for and checking in on one another and wanting to win together as a team is huge.  

HR: When it comes to DE&I, do you think the industry has improved?

CW: Yes, but there’s still room for improvement. I’ve been lucky to work for people who recognize the importance of hiring diverse talent, but overall, the advertising industry has had a challenge growing diverse talent and ensuring there are more diverse people in leadership. There has been progress in entry-level roles, but when you look at senior roles, those numbers dwindle. We have to continue to invest in people to help address that.

Something that helps is alleviating barriers to entry by being thoughtful about what’s truly needed for someone to be successful in a job. We need to look at each role and instead of defaulting to resumes where someone has previously had the title at an agency, we need to think about the skillsets that are needed and whether someone has gained that experience, even if it’s packaged under a different title or industry background. And similarly, being thoughtful about what’s needed for someone to grow and be promoted. Feedback, mentorship and not letting biases or discomfort get in the way are key to allowing this to happen. 

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