How to foster an agency culture that inspires growth

Culture is an important part of your brand. It permeates everything that you do and says much about what you stand for. Some of your clients might even consider your culture to be your most important differentiator. Yet, many agencies still fail to give their culture the attention it deserves. And those that do, often do so only to create an impression that is as superficial as their commitment to whatever abused cause is currently trending. In this blog I’m going to outline what it takes to foster an agency culture that encourages growth and then explain why it is so important that you partner only with clients and agencies that share that culture. But first, let’s take a look at a definition of agency culture.

You can't fake it.

Your agency's culture is your shared values, beliefs, and behaviour. You can try to project a certain image without practicing or believing what you preach, but such a facade will eventually crack. Marketing is only ever good at creating first impressions for prospects who've had limited experience with an agency. And the relationships built on such first impressions tend to come to an end when the act falls apart like a poorly rehearsed parody. More than one company has tried to paint itself as a “fun” brand when it is actually staffed by stiff suit-wearing droids who confine themselves to their little cubicles, only ever leaving their private spaces to stab their colleagues in the back. When their customers figure out what these companies are really about, they are very quick to tell others about their experiences with these posers.

Culture needs to be fostered.

It should be clear by now that filling your coffee machine with Fair Trade coffee and hosting Pizza Fridays does not amount to culture. Nor does furnishing your office with bean bags and putting craft beer in the fridge, though these might be a move in the right direction. To foster a strong agency culture, an agency's directors need to make a concerted effort to instill positive values that will guide everything that the agency does.

The first step is to hire people who are a good cultural fit for your company. If your agency's culture is already strong, you won't have much trouble attracting the right people. Bright, young talent is most likely to be attracted to a digital marketing agency that has a fun and creative vibe. The hard part will be choosing applicants with the right attitude over applicants with great portfolios. Just remember this: you can teach skills, but you can't teach attitude.

Once you have hired the right people, you need to cement the right values, the most important of which is respect. It's possible to have people with vastly different personalities and backgrounds work together if they respect each other. At this point, it would be useful to imagine yourself as a parent. And parents lead by example. Take everyone's views seriously and make it apparent that you value their contributions.

Parents also know what children need to grow. If you are a director, you need to give your employees the freedom they need to realise their potential. It's no use going to lengths to hire brilliant creative types if you are going to thwart that creativity. They need to be able to explore ideas, take risks, and find personal fulfillment. And they need to feel that you trust them. Again, set a positive example by playing a supportive role.

When setting KPI's or goals and when reprimanding an employee, remember these values. Consistency is an essential element of good parenting. It's difficult to respect people who act cordially only when things are going well. It is essential that your treatment of your staff is fair and measured even when things go wrong. That's not to say that you can't be stern. When it’s needed, be stern but fair.

Once you have established a culture of respect, trust, and all the other laudable values you deem essential, there is no reason you can't tell the outside world how wonderful you are. Outline your values and beliefs on your website, but make sure that your work and workplace atmosphere speak for themselves.

Only partner with agencies and clients who share a similar culture.

To derive the greatest benefit from your awesome agency culture, you need to partner with agencies and clients who have similar cultures. They will be the easiest to work with and will contribute to your creative workspace atmosphere. The perfect client is one who values open and honest communication, and if there is one particular value you should look for in a partner agency, it's accountability. Such an agency will have an interest in reliable analytics and real ROI. Join forces with these businesses and your agency will realize true partnership.

Our culture inspires growth.

At MPULL our purpose is to grow agencies, and our agency culture is about growth and embracing the change that comes with it. This aligns nicely with inbound marketing, which also focuses on the growth of clients. When we onboard clients, we encourage staff to ask them difficult questions so that we can accurately identify potential for growth. As an innovative digital marketing agency, we realise that the world of digital is always changing and that we have to focus on learning about our clients and industry if we are to continue growing.

Free guide to scalling your agencyAuthor: Daryn Smith