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Greenville Business Magazine

Top Workplaces Diversity Award: Alison South Marketing Group

By Leigh Savage

Cynthia South is president of Alison South Marketing Group, which she co-founded in 2010. With 38 employees, the Aiken-based firm works with clients on branding, strategy, print and digital materials and more, and prides itself not just on the diversity of its team, but on the diversity of concepts and ideas the company brings to each client.

In Top Workplaces surveys, Alison South was cited by employees for its encouragement of out-of-the-box thinking, innovation and variety. Employees say they appreciate the opportunities to express themselves and to work with people of different backgrounds and talents.

In her decade leading the organization, South says diversity has played a key role, and is an integral part of what makes the company a Top Workplace. Here, she discusses the ways diversity is baked into the company’s mission and culture.

How do you prioritize/encourage diversity in your staff?

Diversity is important to understanding our clients, their customers and our community. By having a diverse staff, we are able to develop more effective marketing and communications plans. We implement personality profile assessment on each team member and share that information with staff so they can better understand how to communicate and work with each other.

Why is diversity an important part of being a Top Workplace?

Our culture at Alison South thrives on the variety of viewpoints expressed by our diverse team. Our essence is creativity – in design, communication and strategy, and that creativity blossoms from diversity – age, sexual identification and race. We also embrace diverse conditions of family members, from Down syndrome to autism.

Does a diverse workforce benefit your bottom line?

As a marketing agency with a diverse team, we are better able to connect with our customers, their clients and our community. By providing this depth of awareness and understanding, we are better equipped to deliver results. Our clients also are diverse in race, sexual orientation and age. They appreciate the diversity of our team.

What factors make you a Top Workplace?

At Alison South, we have a strong culture of “We Are South!” What does that mean? It means everyone has a stake in our success, and we are all in it together. We celebrate each other and our successes.

Some of the key factors include weekly nominations and awards for innovative thinking called “Think Forward,” weekly professional development to learn the latest technology or trends as well as brush up on internal processes, benefits including health insurance and 401(k) match, monthly free Fridays for personal enjoyment, and committee participation – Mentoring, Culture Club, Alison South Marketing Website and Social Media.

Mentoring brings together a cross-section of staff from different departments, experience and backgrounds to learn from and motivate each other. The Culture Club maintains the “Southie” vibe through team-building events and activities, such as wearing crazy socks to recognize family members with Down syndrome. Free-style Fridays invite a cross-section of staff to join in developing creative solutions for a variety of clients. During these sessions, we typically address four projects during an hour – bringing a wealth of ideas to develop new concepts for clients.

How do you maintain effective communication within a diverse company?

Leadership represents the major divisions of our company – accounts, design, operations and financial – which enables us to keep our finger on the pulse of the organization, correct problems early, and plan ahead.

We also communicate regularly with our team through bi-weekly company-wide staff meetings and weekly accounts meetings. In addition, our internal Slack channels provide updates as well as social interaction.

What do you think your company is getting right when it comes to work environment? What are your priorities for improvement?

We have a successful production management system that coordinates production tasks and billing. We also have developed processes for consistency and efficiency across all disciplines. By having these systems, regular communication, training and recognition, we are able to appreciate each other, reduce frustrations and achieve more.

How does diversity fit in with your mission statement?

Our mission statement addresses key elements of trust, accountability, performance, collaboration and community. It is the sense of community that brings us together.