• Don't Sacrifice Your Agency Culture For Profit

Don't Sacrifice Your Agency Culture For Profit

Don't Sacrifice Agency Culture

Not long ago, one of our group creative directors was scheduled to lead a brainstorming session with a major client. He’d been involved in developing the campaign concepts and was the logical choice. But, the meeting coincided with his wife’s birthday and he requested not to travel. Instead of giving him an ultimatum, we made it work and tapped someone else to lead the session. 

Soon thereafter, we had a big pitch with a prospective client and really needed the same GCD to seal the deal. As luck would have it, the date overlapped with his family vacation in Florida. This time he adjusted his plane ticket so he could attend the meeting and then rendezvous with his family in the Sunshine State. We won the account. 

He probably wouldn’t have been as willing to alter his travel plans if we’d said no to the birthday conflict. It goes to show that if you take care of your employees, they’ll take care of you. People first is the North Star my partners and I have followed like a beacon since founding our creative agency eight years ago.  

It seems so simple but using the people-first barometer to guide your business decisions is a failsafe way to build a very profitable company and a healthy culture. No one is forced to choose between a fulfilling job and a full life. Contrary to popular belief, it is possible to do both. Here’s how: 


Aiming for maximum profit comes at a cost to culture. When setting an annual profit margin target, dial it down a bit and set aside a healthy budget for employee perks. Invest in benefits such as weekly catered lunches and a well-stocked snack cupboard; regular fitness and meditation classes; occasional happy hours; and built-in volunteer hours to cultivate an uplifting office vibe and general goodwill. You might have more capital if you pass on these programs but you won’t have as much fun. A positive atmosphere encourages employees to stick around and facilitates better work in the end. 


When you’re at a crossroads or grappling with complex problems, remember your non-negotiables. If you value collaboration, hire the team player instead of the brilliant lone wolf with attitude. If you’re serious about preserving a manageable workload for employees, don’t sign on to a brand that expects all-nighters. This way you won’t feel bad about turning down clients whose culture and demands don’t align with your own. It’s not easy to leave a sizeable account on the table, but the impact to mental and physical well-being is equally important. 


Increased revenue, office expansion and juicy accounts are good news for any agency. But you’ve got to put stock in something greater than growth. Believing that you are part of something bigger is a helpful daily reminder. Employees have a much sharper sense of purpose when they have context and understanding of why the work is important. It also breeds a feeling of connectedness and reminds us that we are part of a company that is part of a community, a city, an industry. Aspire to be a force for good in all three. When you have the opportunity to improve people’s lives in a measurable way? That’s truly rewarding. 


Relationships are everything, and in this business, reputation falls into the same camp. When you get right down to it, advertising is a fairly insular industry and decision-makers at top brands tend to rub elbows with their C-level cohorts at other major companies. Clients who are pleased with an agency’s work, results and general ethic are likely to recommend them. Business that comes through referrals is the ultimate compliment and I think it all goes back to the state of employees. As I mentioned before, when your people are motivated, rewarded and treated well, they’re apt to produce killer work. Great product leads to happy clients. Happy clients refer their friends… referrals become new clients. Of course, a hearty referral doesn’t guarantee landing the account and prioritizing long-term vision over short-term profit is a bit of a gamble. But, I like the odds.

Original article posted on MediaPost Agency Daily here.

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