Agency culture. Two words that will be spoken or written about innumerable times, probably even while you’re reading this blog.
They’ll definitely be used by agency heads looking to attract new staff, as in: “You’ll love our agency – we have a great culture”. And 100% they’ll be used by the same agency’s business development team when trying to convince potential new clients, as in: “We think it’s our agency culture that sets us apart from our competitors”.
Those two words are also used occasionally by agency heads looking to push up the value of their agencies when in discussion with my business partner Dom Hawes (to no avail, I might add). (Although you could argue that agency culture forms part of the goodwill we pay as part of the consideration for agencies, in reality it’s impossible to put a financial value on it).
Which makes the whole topic so fascinating. As in why do so many people prize something so highly but it can’t be quantified (or measured, come to think of it)?
What’s more fascinating is that it’s darned difficult to make in the first place, it’s practically impossible to replicate and once it’s gone, it’s incredibly difficult to get back.
In an interview that I had recently (on an episode of Flagship’s ‘Commanding Conversations’ podcasts. If you’re interested in hearing it, then click here) I referred to an agency’s culture as the glue that binds an agency together.
A better definition I’ve heard used to describe it was “It’s just the way we do things around here”. Which is probably as good as it can get given that if it can be documented, codified or systematised then it probably isn’t a culture.
Agency cultures are so…ephemeral yet play such an important part in agency life. It’s why Ed, Dom and I agreed when we set up Selbey Anderson not to change them when acquiring agencies.
Because you tinker with an agency’s culture at your peril. Flagship’s, Greentarget’s and Orckid’s are all equally strong, equally important but fundamentally different.
Of course the agency’s founder, owner or senior management play a significant role in creating them in the first place but, interestingly, the culture can live on long after they have left.
I was reminded about this recently when reading all the positive comments posted on LinkedIn about Mulberry Marketing Communications, which is celebrating twenty five years in business.
Mulberry was set up by an old friend of mine, the late Chris Klopper who poured his (considerable) energy into building up the agency, setting up offices in London, Chicago and Melbourne in the process. And it’s the managers from those offices who have now picked up the baton that Chris tragically (and unwillingly) had to put down.
An agency culture that continues long after the founder passes away. Now that’s what I call a strong glue.
Simon Quarendon is a veteran marketer and communicator with a career spanning nearly 40 years. He has bought, built, sold, rescued, led and mentored just about every kind of creative communications agency in existence and run global accounts for the best in the world. Today, Simon runs the business end of Selbey Anderson, working across the group to make sure clients get the best and the agencies all prosper.