Historically, most agencies did NOT think of culture as a priority It was very much a second thought behind signing new clients and increasing the bottom line.

We're all familiar with the abstract terms of “vision” and “mission", but they often become more of an unread portion on your About Us website page that they are actually known, enforced or followed.

However, the importance of a healthy culture has changed over the last few years. Employee engagement and retention are now top-of-mind as one of the key issues facing today’s owners. Attracting top talent now requires more than just a competitive salary and time off. The most talented employees are now prioritizing culture and belief fit when making their next career move.

Most agencies are still a bit lost though. The concept of culture is definitely subjective and ambiguous. Is it a ping-pong room? Pets at work? Fancy coffee machine and free snacks? A policy about a code of conduct? Is it written down, understood and followed because people believe in it — or is it just a series of rules no one really gets?

For the most part, culture is defined by the agency itself and the collection of people who choose to work there. Ideally, an agency is looking for people who are talented, dynamic and passionate about the work they perform daily, the work they are providing their clients, and the dreams and goals for the future of the company.

In a stressful environment of achieving results and satisfying the needs of all clients, if adding in a little more fun with boardgames and potlucks helps increase work satisfaction, so be it. But it doesn't end there.

The most important part of culture is hiring those people who align with the company’s vision. Like culture, vision will be unique to the company and vary from industry to industry. There is no one-size-fits-all. It’s up to the company to create it, hire around it and then scale from there.

By the very nature of the demanding work, agencies attract people who are passionate about what they do. They’ve mostly passed on the safer, more traditional routes and have instead followed their dreams of being an artist, designer, writer, programmer or marketer. It’s this same passion, though, that can result in burnout.

Many corporate environments mistakenly think they have established a positive culture without that actually being true. A few bean bag chairs, a soda machine and French Fry Fridays does not define culture. This is more about perks — not an alignment with a shared set of beliefs, values and an outlook on how to act in the world.

Why You Need to Take Agency Culture Seriously

A positive culture can help achieve two things right from the get-go:

Employee Retention: Today’s job seekers assign just as much value to the culture as they do to location and compensation. A good fit with culture is going to attract and retain those rock star employees that are the foundation of a successful business. And with the transparency of social media and other job review sites, it’s almost impossible to hide a toxic culture. The inner workings of a company will be written about: good or bad. The popularity of “best company to work for” lists in industry trade publications and, of course, the popular Glassdoor, proves it.

Top Clients: Top talent equals top clients. Top clients have the sophistication and resources to allow talented writers, talented designers, talented web developers, and talented marketers to do what they love and to do it well. This is of particular importance for agencies, because what we are selling is the results brought by the work of top employees who have cultivated their particular set of skills. 

This highlights clearly why a positive culture is so critical to a successful agency. Highly skilled and talented employees choose to work in positive and supportive cultures which in turn attracts top clients with the resources to allow the agency to do what they do so well. This brings better results and attracts even more top clients — and so on and so on.

A formula for a happy workplace and happy clients and a healthy bottom line.

So How Do You Build an Amazing Agency Culture?

#1 Start at the Top:  All culture – the good, the bad and the ugly – starts with the leadership team. All job postings, starting with management, must clearly state what the culture is. A culture of transparency and casual communication will not jive with a closed door and reserved manager.

#2 Write it out: The culture code needs to be written, understood by all, and visible as a friendly reminder throughout the work day. Clear expectations are much easier to follow than ones that are merely alluded to.

#3 Evolve and improve it: A cuIture code should not to be written in stone. It should be revisited, re-evaluated, and improved upon whenever possible. Speak with your best employees and those respected leaders within the organization and get their feedback on areas for improvement. Make sure to speak at a high level of the entire company overall and not just a personal or departmental viewpoint. Developing an annual anonymous questionnaire would be a great way to capture this honest feedback.

#4 Keep it simple:  With updates and changes, a culture code can easily go off the rails and become difficult to follow: its effectiveness completely diminished. Rather than expanding, trim and purge those key elements that no longer work or apply as the company grows.

Yes, it takes work to define and then live a positive culture, but it’s a critical component to a healthy and thriving business. Time invested in creating a clear vision, a defined set of beliefs, values and practices is time well spent. It’s the only way to ensure you continue to attract and keep the best talent, attract top clients and of course, increase the bottom line.

How do we do it ourselves? From our own story:

"At the heart of our operations beats our Culture Code: THRIVE. It stands for Transformation, Human & Humour, Results, Integrity, Vision, and Experience, Education, & Exposure. We combine our experience and shared vision to bring results through transformation. We keep things human and relatable and operate always with integrity."

We keep this code in mind with everything we do. And the result? A workplace where employees feel confident and encouraged to contribute. Learn a little more about us!