The idea of agency culture is powerful. Culture can be defined several ways. It could be a culture based on intimidation, paranoia, or political infighting. Culture can also be nurtured trust, from that, productivity develops. Ideally, culture within the company goes a long way to allowing those things to come to fruition that make us fulfilled in what we’re doing.
Studying other agencies have given me a perspective. At one time, culture embodied around company social interaction (crazy parties like they used to have before sexual harassment litigation, or dram shop lawsuits). When that stuff waned, agencies took on a casual style – torn clothing, sandals – disheveled chic — shorts — bowling alleys – ping pong tables and so on.
Is that culture, or comfort and playtime? I don’t know, but its sounds like recess. How many big ideas come from playing ping pong? How ticked off is a graphic designer buried with her nose in work while listening to guys drinking beer and shooting the crap about shagging girls?
Whatever form it is, culture should be positive. Everyone in an agency should embrace it because company culture is simply taking care of business the right way. Agency culture does not start with recess on the client’s time, but truly exists if the agency functions with cohesion.
Culture, or projected positiveness should be voiced by every member of the team. Interns, middle and senior management included. Everyone. Each is an ambassador of an agency, and should understand the shop’s motives and goals.
When asked, they should be able to enunciate it. It doesn’t require a lot of words, but whether or not we provide good work is demonstrated by the actual product. If it is memorable advertising, or the brand is made memorable by our work, it’s also evident, it is consequential by how we do things.
In the past I’ve written that I’m from the city of Boston. The NFL Patriots Football Team have a special place in my heart. I love the way that team operates – I love their culture. Our agency has a culture called the “CDM Way,” patterned on the “Patriot Way.” We’re gaining structure and a desire to be exceptional.
Here’s what the “Patriot Way” is: Cohesion. It starts with Mr. Kraft, to Coach Bellichek, to the players and staff. Individuality is not discarded, but loyalty and purpose are stressed to attain a goal: The championship. If one player or a group of them become susceptible to injury and cannot play, they are replaced by players who believe that they can get the job done. That is the Patriot Way. “Do Your Job–” Coach Bellichek exhorts.
The CDM Way is to do good work that enables a client’s products to sell. Consistency must be good year after year. We developed and mentored an excellent art director at CDM, but for whatever reason she left. She was also associate creative director, making her within a small percentage of female creative directors in the United States (that was regardless of agency size. Perhaps she did not understand or appreciate it.) She left with her work undone and it had the effect of an injury on the rest of us.
Her replacement was able to adapt her graphic styles to our style – the CDM Way. The work product is always supposed to stand for excellence, integrity and be respected for the workmanship. The same held true of copywriters. When a copywriter left, another replaced him.
When culture is real, the true objectives of an agency speak loudly. Quite honestly, when it is not, presentations a much harder, and RFP responses seem to be circular arguments. Whoever we are is represented by what we claim. That is not bragging, it is to simply state what we can provide that’s different than other agencies.
We are many things: a work in progress, a ‘dark horse’ unknown group in a nondescript building, but since we are developing, what we are today, will be tomorrow’s memory. We can’t be intimidated by relative smallness of staff. The Patriots didn’t capture a Superbowl until they had an earth shattering change in thinking. Prior to that, the team had been good, but the infusion of the culture of winners birthed a dynasty. History speaks to that.
I’m confident history will speak to the consistency of the CDM Way and its efforts to make a client’s brand memorable. That can only occur unless our agency culture is that of winners and believers.
Bernard Alexander McNealy