Agency Culture

My first bookmark file is called agency culture, and the bookmarks loosely fall into this category.

Agency culture is something that fascinates me, perhaps because it is not easy to define, and pretty difficult to control.

I’ve worked at several agencies, and ‘culture’ is more important at some than others.

I’d say I preferred working at the places that put culture, and the welfare of its staff at the top.  Pride in the place that you work and its culture is important – having an IIP plaque at the front door feels different to winning a top 50 place in the Sunday Times Best SMEs to work for.

We spend more of our waking time at work than anywhere else (or at least I seem to…) so it’s important that a workplace is fun, friendly, a place to grow and develop, and a place to create great things – create great things together.  A good agency culture can make a big difference.

So here are 3 observations and interesting bits and pieces on agency culture based on some of the stuff in my bookmarks (and my personal experience):

1. Culture can’t be built by hiring a particular kind of person

Agencies should be anti-corporate, hiring innovative, collaborative individuals who want to work together to do good things with their clients’ brands.  I went through graduate recruitment processes where I was told I was an ‘Agency X person’, but that so-and-so was more of an ‘Agency Y person’.

This is nonsense, but I’ve heard it so many times since.

Sure, the kind of clients an agency has will dictate some of the ways that people work, and particular personality types will prefer FMCG to financial, and so on, but this is something that happens naturally.

Hire the right person for the role, that’s all you can do.

2. Culture doesn’t just happen, you have to work at it

It might seem like navel gazing to want to work on agency culture, clients might not care too much about it, but if it makes a difference to the quality of people’s work (and their working life) then it’s worth it.  (Don’t pay any heed to the research that says we are more creative when we are miserable!)

Good culture can develop from:

  1. Regular meetings about the company’s work – creative sharing, and discussion of what’s worked, what hasn’t
  2. Celebrate staff’s successes in and out of work (new business wins, completion of projects, new babies, etc.)
  3. Clear leadership and direction from a single source (athough this can be more than one person)
  4. Emphasis on involvement in culture at every level – from receptionist upwards
  5. An almost competitive desire to share information and inspiration
  6. Training and development (role-related and otherwise – one agency I worked at contributed towards university fees)
  7. Perks that feel like they have the staff’s best interests at heart (i.e. good holiday allocation, home working options, help with travel, flexible hours, etc. Although it is a recession, some of these increase productivity rather than cost money.)

3. Belonging doesn’t just happen, you can’t force belonging

Practically every agency I have worked at has described its staff as ‘Agency X-ers’, as if adding the -ers suffix meant they automatically felt loyalty and belonging to that agency.  Loyalty and a feeling of belonging usually takes a long time to develop, and it has to be earned on both sides.

My ‘agency culture’ bookmarks:

Do ad agencies have a future, and if so, what does it look like?

Give away your best ideas.  Win more work.

Re-imagining the agency proposition

Made By Many: Paths, Processes and Behaviours

Six Secrets of a Successful Collective

The Psychology of Failure: Leadership

You’re Hired: The Six Attributes Every New Employee Needs



Filed under Work

2 responses to “Agency Culture

  1. N

    True; an agency is a sum of its employees’ parts–and so, the culture is crucial: the lust for ideas; the desire for fun; and the passionate for producing better work, every time. An agency without a energised culture creates tired work.

  2. katebordwell

    Absolutely; if we wanted to make money we’d be management consultants, if we wanted to change the world we’d be civil servants, and if we had something startling and completely new to say we’d be artists… We’re mostly here to have fun, with fun and clever people, meet like minds and do work that makes a difference to our clients’ business. Simples!

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