What Agency Culture Are You?

We often talk about the agency brand, and a big part of brand is your agency culture. No, we don’t mean that green stuff growing on last week’s lunch in the kitchen ‘fridge. Agency culture encompasses a number of things, among them:

  • Leadership
  • Employee Empowerment
  • The Work
  • The Mission and Vision
  • Agency Values and Purpose
  • The Workspace
  • The People
  • Attitudes
  • Hiring Practices
  • Clients
  • Operational Procedures

All of these things come together to create a culture. How do these elements combine in your agency?

Four Agency Cultures
Are you collaborative/social? In this kind of culture, cooperation, fairness and equality come to the fore. Leaders work in the trenches with employees, and employees are given the chance to lead. All ideas have value. The work environment is open and designed to encourage opportunities for collaboration. You hire for diversity, welcome wide-ranging opinions and experiences and serve clients that appreciate the collaboration process.

Or, are you more corporate, doing things "The Company Way"? This culture is more traditional and formal, tends toward rationality and considered solutions over more radical and high-risk answers, and takes pride in its systems, processes and work ethic. Leaders lead; employees aspire upward. Clients are often in step with this same corporate approach. 

Your culture might be growth-oriented, where everyone “Gives Our Best to Grow.” There is an emphasis on productivity and perfectionism. People are detail-oriented, strive to deliver the best possible end product, and aim to grow with every account won and project completed. This culture tends to develop on the strength of aggressive, competitive employees and seasoned, capable leaders.

Or you may have an agency culture that is all about agility with an edge. This culture fosters risk-taking by employees, and serves clients willing to embrace risk. The operational model may be a bit more chaotic than process-oriented, focusing on speed and adaptability more than on “making it perfect.” This agency hires innovative thinkers in all positions, and recognizes the need for on-the-spot decision-making, giving employees greater autonomy to get the job done.

Where Do You Stand in the Culture Matrix?
No model for agency culture is more or less successful than another; but generally, most agencies lean more toward one specific cultural category. Following is a matrix on which to plot your agency’s cultural position. Be honest in your assessment; you may aspire to a particular cultural model, but may in reality have a different culture in operation. Also, don’t claim the model you feel is best for marketing purposes—you’ll be expected to back it up with your actions and behaviors!

That said, it may be possible, with a firm commitment by the agency principals and employees, to move your culture toward the aspirational model you prefer. But first, examine your strategic focus and the needs of your clients and public/community audiences to ensure that aspirational model will best serve the agency.

Agency culture can dictate how your brand will compete in your market, what kinds of clients you attract, and what kinds of recruits flock to your door. Figure out what culture your agency has, and decide if that is where you really want your agency to operate. You may find it worthwhile to shift to a new culture, rebrand and emerge in a better competitive position. Or, you may discover culturally unique selling points, and be able to strengthen your brand as a result.

Keep in mind, culture tends to develop whether you are thinking about it, or just letting it happen. It is everything you are, how you think, the actions you and your people take, your attitudes and practices, even the way you interact with one another. It is not easily changed once it is established. Conduct a cultural audit to see where you stand, and then give careful consideration to how your leadership can help steer the culture toward a stronger position, one that can help your agency grow and improve.

Download a copy of the Agency Culture Matrix.


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