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The Social Element: the all-female leadership team disrupting social media marketing

The Social Element: the all-female leadership team disrupting social media marketing
Written by publishing team

Social Element won the “Leadership Team of the Year” at the Drum Awards for Agency Business in 2021. In this case study, gain a deeper understanding of what makes this agency special and successful, starting with the people at the top.

The Social Element was having its best year yet in 2019-20. The all-women leadership team has nurtured a mutually supportive and caring culture that values ​​new ideas, ways of thinking – and most of all – its people. Embarking on a journey to help clients connect the dots between data, their social channels, and humans at the other end, the agency’s direction has resonated with clients.

When the world changes, so does the leadership team. It has taken off, and a remote company can already focus on how they need to adapt to the situation.

The team took a three-dimensional approach that addressed how the agency needs change to work for: employees, clients, and clients. The leadership team each took a personal and pivotal role in ensuring that each of these areas were covered while managing costs and losses to keep everyone in a job. While taking a personal interest in providing support to the employees, the team found the time between them to learn the urgent needs of the clients as well.

By focusing on how to support customers with new resources — at no additional cost — and help them support their customers through tough times, The Social Element retained and earned new business at an unprecedented rate.

Overall, the year turned out to be one of the most profitable in the history of The Social Element, all while keeping a workforce motivated, engaged, and interested as happy as possible.

Team Structure

The social component is owned by women and led by women. All five executive positions at The Social Element are held by inspiring and well-connected women across London, Valencia, Aberdeen and North Carolina. The team nominated for this award consists of:

  • Tamara Littleton, CEO. Tamara founded the company in 2002 and will soon have spent 20 years at the helm of the agency.

  • Ashley Coxley, MD. Ashley has been with the company for nearly 13 years, and has been running the North American side of the company since 2019.

  • Emma Harris, Creative Director. Emma has been a board member for nearly three years, turning the social element into a creative force to be reckoned with.

  • Treena Hales, Chief Operating Officer, Valencia. Treena has been with the company for 13 years and is the central gear on the TSE leadership team.

  • Wendy Christie, Chief People’s Officer. After 13 years of service and dedication to making The Social Element a great place to work, Wendy has faced her biggest challenge yet with the pandemic – and rose to it wonderfully.

Last year’s achievements

In February of 2020, the leadership team at Social Element was about to embark on an amazing year of growth, heading up an agency that represents the best in the industry. With an incredible group of employees, we learned that our flexible remote working model gives us an edge in terms of employee diversity. Customers were responding to our rigorous data-driven and human-centric approach to social media as well as their customers.

But when the pandemic started, everything needed to change. Our executive team has taken a 3D approach and focused on: the Social Element team, the clients, and the consumers of the brand’s clients. While many companies were urgently focused on transitioning to remote work, The Social Element had the advantage of being established as a remote first company from day one, 19 years ago. Therefore, we have been able to focus more on the emotional needs of our clients and our team.

After refocusing our energy, we completely rewrote our strategy in three weeks. We have invested time and resources in our clients, including new services that meet their emerging needs (crisis monitoring, social listening and consumer sentiment analysis). We have also led free webinars to help them adjust to remote working themselves as an added value as we have gained years of experience in the field.

Tamara has participated in over 20 webinars and podcasts on telecommuting, preserving the culture and useful hacking of working at home as a way to give back to the industry.

It paid off. In the past year, the company has retained nearly all of its customers despite deep budget cuts across the industry, has hired new people, and its profitability is above target. Some existing customers have doubled their spending, while new customers include Visa, Olafur Eliasson, Parkinson’s UK and Peloton. The Social Component was featured in the Sunday Times and won three international awards in the field.

Evidence of inspirational leadership

Ensuring the wellness of our employees

Our number one priority was the mental health of our employees. To ensure a direct line in the leadership team, Wendy and Tamara provided 1:1 zoom calls daily to all employees — no easy feat for an agency of 255 people. They also provided personal support to people affected by external conditions – the pandemic, home education, protests, and more.

We hold webinars regularly to provide updates, transparency, direction and celebrate great work – to bring our community closer together. Wendy’s passion for people meant the company ended the year generating profits and growth with a happy, engaged workforce.

Sales Support

Tamara quickly led the Exec team through the process of creating a new vision and roadmap for the agency, focusing on customer support over sales, for example through additional insight reports to guide their strategy.

She was supported in this effort by Ashley, who led the North American team to gain some fantastic new clients like Peloton. Ashley has also developed existing client relationships, such as Keurig Dr Pepper, by developing a process for proactive pivot counseling in response to ongoing shifts in consumer behavior and attitudes.

New creative launch

Moving from CMO to CCO, Emma has expanded her powers by launching our new creative team after years of building our thought leadership and agency reputation. Creative display is socially unique and community driven; Focus on developing agile content that is statistically based and relevant to the emotional needs of our top brand customers. Emma is passionate about the art of socially defined creativity and encourages brands to avoid shortened versions of their ATL campaigns to create social content.

Diversity and inclusion work

Diversity is part of our ethos, but we wanted to formalize the importance of diversity and inclusion to us. Wendy led education about options and the display of gender pronouns across the internal and external systems. Wendy has also worked on creating gender-neutral job advertisements and freelance contracts.

Tamara led the mission of partnering with Creative Equals. Social Element earned a Bronze level. “The founder is an LGBT woman and we surveyed their company to find that it is one of the most diverse companies we have ever worked with,” commented Ali Hanan (her/her), CEO of Creative Equals.

Wide adaptation

Trina oversaw the move of the London office to full remote work and ensured the transition was smooth and secure while renegotiating contracts with our property and tech suppliers to maintain cost control. Treena helped deliver an ambitious cost-saving plan to ensure that this year, despite the challenges in the marketplace, was the most profitable year in our history.


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