Maxine Winer: Role of Culture in Achieving Success

Maxine Winer

Maxine Winer

At FleishmanHillard, the secret to success has always been the firm’s culture. With its global headquarters based in St. Louis versus Chicago or New York like most other global PR firms, Fleishman has always prided itself on its Midwestern roots and a culture rooted in respect for the individual. That was incredibly compelling for Maxine Winer, General Manager of the agency’s Chicago office, as she considered taking on the role six years ago.

“One of the main reasons I decided to accept the position was because I knew it meant I was going to be able to have a direct hand in determining the culture of the office,” she said. “I joined FH from another large agency, which had more than 500 people in its Chicago office; I didn’t know everyone on my floor, let alone everyone in the office. So coming to a much smaller office – we have about 80 people in Chicago — in the GM role was really exciting to me because I knew I would be able to get to know everyone personally and that really appealed to me from a culture stand point.”

In Winer’s view, her people – or FHamily, as they often refer to each other — are the reason for FH Chicago’s success, which is why creating a dynamic, inspiring, supportive culture is so important to her. “It influences everything and makes the difference between having an engaged, motivated team that brings the smartest, most creative thinking to our clients every day versus a team that just goes through the motions; that’s not us.  We bring our best every day.”

“Bringing their best” is what Winer credits with their new business success. The Chicago office added several big-name clients to their roster in 2016, including being named Agency of Record for Quaker Oats and being part of the Omnicom “We Are Unlimited” agency of the future that was built to service McDonald’s exclusively. They also began a partnership with The Ounce of Prevention Fund, a public-private partnership that prepares children for success in school and in life. 

Winer says the key to winning new business is putting together the right team. “No matter what the company or industry, no matter what they are trying to sell or what issue they are trying to solve for, winning the business really comes down to chemistry. That’s what clients are buying.  They are interested in learning how we think, how we will work with them, whether we have not just the experience to help them, but the passion and desire. They are buying the team; that’s why the easiest way to lose the business after you’ve won it is by playing bait and switch with the team they met during the pitch.  We don’t do that; we bring in the people who are going to work the business. And then they really do work the business.”

That focus on team means recruitment and retention are Winer’s top priorities, which brings her right back to culture. She works hard to encourage and support a Chicago-centric culture and has found it is one of the “benefits” candidates really respond to when interviewing.

In addition to a weekly office newsletter updating the team on each other’s personal and professional achievements and the “Treat Cart,” a Thursday afternoon ritual that provides staff with a selection of beer, wine and assorted snacks and, more importantly, time to take a break from whatever they’re doing and get together with their colleagues, another major aspect to office culture is the idea of giving back.

The office provides pro bono support to many local organizations including Junior Achievement, the Juvenile Protective Association, and Foundations of Music. There is also a “Get Involved Committee,” which was formed last year to provide ongoing ways for team members to get involved in charitable endeavors throughout the city, in both big ways and small. At the end of last year, the team got together on a Saturday to join their White Sox client as part of their Volunteer Corps; another day, the office brought in lunch for a group who spent the noon hour cutting up plastic bags to be recycled into “yarn” that is then spun into soft sleeping mats and distributed to the homeless.

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