Playing to win: How gamification put PHD on the podium

We harnessed the power of gamification into a new strategic digital media tool to foster greater collaboration for clients and recast our corporate culture into a Millennial-friendly place.

Media agencies are being challenged more than ever amidst the explosion of ‘big data,’ which is eroding the monopolies of buying power and proprietary audience insights. Traditional buying agencies that were once big, dominant forces have become smaller and more nimble in the wake of big data and tech-fueled buying landscape. In the wake of big data, iconic industry names like PHD have morphed into a challenger brand.

At the same time, agencies also face the task of how to entice the new generation of employees into organizations that are more appealing to them and that provide more meaningful work. Millennials are eager to work in environments that are recognized for real time, innovative, collaborative environments.

PHD, one of the challenger brands in the media agency space, asked us to help address these problems – and in particular help to develop a proprietary new product that could illustrate the agency’s strategic value to clients. The directive was to create a strategic digital media tool driven by data and designed as an engaging platform that acts as much like a game as a strategic work tool. Like many digital platforms, the new system provides points and incentives to collaborate.

The measures of success would be steep: how much the business had been transformed so that it could leap ahead of larger rivals, and whether the agency had fostered a greater culture of innovation.


Our answer was a brand new kind of technology platform for PHD. Source is a proprietary global operating system, designed to encourage participation and collaboration across a global network of 2,500 employees throughout 70 markets by using gamifaction techniques.

Effectively, we turned PHD into a global, massively multiplayer online game.

Knowing one of our objectives was to foster high levels of collaboration across all channels of our business, it made sense to help everyone within PHD work together in real-time, using game mechanics. PHD thinkers earn ‘Pings’ for contributing their ideas to Source. The more contributions (whether in terms of audience profiles, messaging models, even investment plans) the more Pings earned. Performance measures and contributions are visible to all within the agency and agency users are able to see how they’re performing on a real-time global leader-board, which also tracks top contributors and shows connection trails.

Source has the effect of fostering truly global strategic planning, making planning a daily activity and pushing the best ideas to the top. The platform puts hundreds of people to work on client business on a global level at one time and incorporates local teams and worldwide influences to inform decisions.

If users achieve added tiers, they can leverage their Source performance to apply for inter-office transfers. This added features has enabled Source to quickly become a vital tool for development and retention of PHD staff.

Source has comprehensively transformed PHD’s business and culture. More than 1,500 planners in 75 countries now use it every day, and it has accelerated the service PHD offers, bringing real-time data tools, advanced strategic modeling and optimization algorithms to all clients.

As well as driving talent strategy, business development and marketing, the program has helped PHD win multiple Agency of the Year awards, and new global clients including Unilever, Kraft and VW.




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