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How to create a thriving culture for your digital agency

New York, April 27th, 2017

Knowing what skills, attitude and knowledge are right for a particular job requires experience, intuition and fearlessness. Blue Fountain Media (BFM) has just that sort of person handling its HR department: Samantha Lambert.

Still on her tender 30s, Samantha started her working career at a real life ‘The Devil wears Prada’ type of job. Aged 22, and fresh out of college – where she studied PR, she got a job working as an assistant for Peggy Siegal, a famous publicist in New York city .

She planned Peggy’s events, organised Peggy’s life, and rubbed shoulders with celebrities at red carpet movie premieres. She had the inside track on news and high-profile drama before they even reached the general public. She received gifts from people who wanted ‘an in’ into one of her boss’ events. She ate for free at many of NYC’s top restaurants and got to see nearly every Academy movie before it was released.

The driven young Samantha knew she was doing a sterling job, still she felt unappreciated, she was criticised by what she wore or did, and she felt very undervalued. A little over a year later, to her parents disappointed, she quit the job.

Even though all of Samantha’s consequent bosses were, in her words, ‘like a Disney Musical’ compared to Peggy Siegal, the following years were not plain sailing.

“My parents, who helped me fund my degree, insisted I did something with it, so I worked in Public Relations at two different small companies. The clients included unknown self-help authors and pre-product launch brands. This was before the recession switched up my career path,” Samantha says, “Before joining BFM, which feels like a lifetime ago, I was working at ZEE TV Americas, a popular Hindi entertainment conglomerate, for the CFO and general manager supporting them and running the US HR function.”

The 2008 recession was what led me to work in Human Resources. I was on the receiving end of being ‘let go,’ ‘laid off,’ ‘downsized’ and ‘retrenched,’ despite always being told that I was a very hard worker; that my clients loved me; and that I would be impossible to replace. That was when I decided I wanted to be on the other side of the desk. I started working and volunteering at a non-profit organisation to learn State/Federal employment law and compliance.”

When Samantha joined BFM in 2011, little did she know she was going to be putting out fires from the word go. The day she started, someone broke their leg in three places during a work event. Far from freaking out and abandoning ship, she soldiered on.

The agency had grown rapidly, going from four people to over 50 employees without a shred of human resources input. She turned the place around culturally, helping BFM to thrive with employees that join the agency and want to stay.

Samantha confesses, I found a home here at BFM. I have been here at ‘the fountain’ for almost six years and I can honestly say, I still look forward to coming to work every day and helping my employees and making them smile.”

When do you go to bed and when do you get up?

My alarm clock (old-school!) goes off every weekday at 6:55am, and it is off at the weekends.

I prefer to be in bed by 11pm (with Bill Ritter from Eyewitness new). However, it will depend on what time I get home. Sometimes it is closer to midnight or even later. It takes a while for my brain to shut down.

What book or movie has had the greatest impact on you? Why?

I am still a page turner when it comes to reading. The book ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle maintenance’, by Robert Pirsig, resonates with me because it reminds me why it is important to live an authentic life and to focus on the journey, not the destination.

If I think about a movie, ‘Up in the air’ comes to mind. Granted, it might not be one that has had the ‘greatest’ impact on me…. but stands out. The message I rescue from it is: ‘no technology can replace Face to face meetings when delivering life-changing news of any kind.’

Can you briefly explain your career path to date?

I have been employed since before I could even sign my working papers, from the age of 14.

I believe every part time position and ‘gig’ I landed ever since, has paved the way for my career. I have strong work ethic; desire to help people and to fix things. I have also been very curious and keen to learn from an early age.

I started recruiting in college (Sophomore yr) when I worked part time in sales for a travel company. I built my first team and exceeded sales goals by Junior year. My first full-time job out of college was as a technical recruiter for a staffing firm.

I then went on to work ‘someone else’s dream job’ as assistant to Peggy Siegal on the red carpet of every NYC movie premiere. I was not impressed by the rich and famous though.

What do you believe has been the key to your success thus far and at BFM in particular?

I act as a nucleus in all that I do. I have been this way my entire life! I guess I should thank my mom since I take after her. I like to bring people, thoughts, things, places together and forge bonds, make connections.

The key to my success thus far, and at BFM, can be attributed to those I am surrounded by. I definitely lead by example and have been fortunate to have teams throughout my career with parallel work ethics and who are goal oriented and passionate about what they do.

I am also super organized and have a semi-photographic memory when it comes to names and faces.

How do you connect your organization’s overriding business strategy with your HR strategy?

I Listen. Many people hear, but not all actually listen. I work very closely with our Managing Director, CFO, VP of Bus. Dev. & client partners to understand challenges our employees face and how HR can assist.

Daily, weekly, bi-weekly chats enable us to stay ahead of business challenges and identify ways we can support our staff. We all have the same bottom line.

#TBT with some of our BFM veterans! #BFMLife

Una publicación compartida de Blue Fountain Media (@bfmweb) el

What role does talent management play at BFM?

A significant part of my job at BFM is managing the talent acquisition function; we are always looking to identify new talent, specialists, and experts to join our team. There is not one day that I do not look at fresh talent on LinkedIn to see who the next potential BFMer might be.

How do you select your specialists?

My team of recruiters work closely with the hiring managers of each team/department and we use LinkedIn to post jobs and search profiles based on skill sets. Applicants go through a screener call and technical questions with one of my recruiters before being scheduled with the hiring manager.

Which of these specialists are most difficult to find/retain?

Specialists are not difficult to find (when you have a team like I do… Shameless plug! lol) but they are extremely difficult to retain.

Technology makes it so much easier for anyone to find a new position or to be found for one.

The best advice I give my Heads of Departments (HoD) is to not worry about what else is out there, or who is trying to poach their team members. Instead I encourage them to make their people love working where they are, and also with and for the HoD. When this is the case, people won’t go anywhere!

What is our overall long-term vision and philosophy for the HR function?

To continue to listen to and support our most valuable resources, the people.

Tell us one thing you love the most about your role and what don’t you like
I LOVE watching success
(of all kinds) unfold: client accounts being won; upsells being made; revenue goals being hit; etc.

I also love witnessing the life-long connections that are made during and even after employment here: people being friends, becoming best friends, finding partners, lovers, co-workers elsewhere, and sometimes even resulting in marriages.

I don’t like… using Skype for inter-office chat? Slackchat is the best!

By Geny Caloisi.

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