The story below appeared at Adweek.com, written by a consultant specializing in agency reviews and searches. Scan through it and check out the brief MultiCultClassics commentary immediately following.
The Importance of Agency Culture
By Lorraine Rojek
In stressed economic times, an agency might think an assessment of its organizational culture is inconsequential. It is, after all, a bit of a soft topic. Yet there are four reasons why an understanding of organizational culture is an imperative if shops wish to survive and even thrive.
1. A distinctive culture is probably the most powerful way in which an agency can establish “chemistry” and display a real point of difference.
As advertisers seek potential partners, they look for agencies that stand out from the pack and offer a good fit between client and agency teams. Many clients consider “chemistry” to be essential.
How well an agency can articulate its organizational culture is a source of competitive advantage. How well the agency is positioned vis-à-vis its competitive set—with a clear communication of its value proposition—is essential when wooing prospective clients. An agency’s true points of differentiation are often grounded in its vision, service standards, creativity and other behaviors that are reinforced either formally or informally within the shop itself.
Knowing who you are and what is important to you is a fundamental step before an agency of any size or discipline can effectively solicit new business in the marketplace.
2. “Culture” is part of the promise that an agency makes to its clients. If that culture is not clearly understood internally, agency employees will not be able to fulfill that promise.
Articulating an agency’s culture and value system for the benefit of employees is critical. Beyond platitudes, agency leaders should define the specific behaviors that are of value to the organization and those that are not—with clear definition of values like risk-taking, innovation, responsiveness, collaboration, taking initiative and teamwork.
Cultural fit is an effective screening criteria for new hires and a training mandate for others. Individuals who align within their own respective organizational cultures are likely to be more productive and successful.
3. Clients admire shops with clear cultures. Having a dialog from the outset about cultural differences between client and agency sets expectations, creates alignment and helps to avoid problems down the road.
For clients, it’s a big deal to entrust the right agency to bring its brand to life externally in a strategically insightful and creatively compelling way. That requires the agency to work effectively within the client organization. Often, the pair must work together to build the case for the investment in advertising or to pursue a new strategic direction, creative idea or altered media mix.
For agencies, working with each of their client’s unique corporate cultures is essential to fulfill expectations, smooth out difficult relationship issues and stabilize the agency’s current base of business.
4. Agencies should evaluate prospective clients and new business opportunities through a cultural lens.
Despite a desire to be active in a specific category or engaged with a marquee brand, agencies should target clients with which they have some degree of cultural compatibility, based in part on their understanding of their own sweet spot and value proposition.
The simple truth is that people seek comfort and find solace in their harmonious relationships with others when the world at large seems brutal. And conversely, people are incrementally stressed by relationships that do not work.
Lorraine Rojek is president and founder of the Rojek Consulting Group.
This perspective actually makes a lot of sense. For any other business besides ours.
Holding companies have sucked the uniqueness out of most shops. Sister agencies appear to be, well, sisters. Bottom lines trump taglines. If you sense sameness in the work, it’s primarily because all agencies look alike. And think alike. And act alike. The industry that used to transform parity products via positioning and USPs has become generic itself. Swirl in a tradition of White men hiring White men and everything becomes vanilla.
In the world of advertising, agency culture is an oxymoron.