culture and your agency

The past couple days I wrote about my experience with reinvention, corporate culture and managing the changes triggered by mergers, acquisitions and the market’s love/hate relationship with your product.

Lengthy, but I had a point to make: Your company culture, that you so enthusiastically cite as the reason you are awe-inspiring, can define or destroy creativity, innovation, and your agency.

The companies I wrote about made and sold stuff. Computers, cars and clothes – tangible things.

But advertising is different. Or so we ad folks think. At the end of the day, we can proudly say that we created a fabulous idea so the guys mentioned above can sell more of their stuff – better.

We struggle to find ways to actually measure what we do, and lately, clients are demanding it.  

Ad agencies have a hard time working within those strict limits, because it interferes with their culture.

After working in and with many agencies, I have found that culture is all too often defined by work hours, office layout, foosball tables, wacky parties and beer Fridays. That is not culture. But neither are rules.

A good, strong culture doesn’t create an atmosphere of exclusivity, punish the outliers or stifle creativity. It also is not a free-pass to be different, just for the sake of being different.

Traditions, camaraderie, the inside joke (or stories of our past escapades, most of which we’d rather forget), the ability to rely on one-another – and ability to call-out each other if something goes haywire – these are things that create culture. We know what to expect from our colleagues and management. We know we can create and innovate and still be okay.

Having the word Advertising on the front door doesn’t automatically mean you have an amazing culture. It starts from the top – down.

Can you define your agency’s culture without using the words engage, brand or beer?