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Culture Is King

Published on April 16, 2019, at 10:20 p.m.
by Olivia Lake.

It is undeniable the impact culture has on the success of an agency. According to a study conducted by The Drum, 100 percent of the 30 worldwide agency leaders it surveyed responded that “culture was a key driver of agency success.”

Michael D. Watkins tackled defining what culture actually is in his article published in the Harvard Business Review. Using LinkedIn as a platform to engage conversation, he pulled quotes from respondents to craft culture’s definition. One main facet of the definition was the use of incentives. Watkins wrote, “Culture is powerfully shaped by incentives. The best predictor of what people will do is what they are incentivized to do.”

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Krystin Warden, a talent acquisition associate for Golin, explained the agency’s incentives are an important contributor to its culture. Employees are provided what Golin calls LifeTime Benefits, which include unlimited vacation time and sick days, the ability to work from home once a week, enhanced family care and expanded paid maternity and paternity leave, and a $75 stipend to put toward anything benefiting their health, wellness or personal development (i.e., gym memberships, painting classes, cooking classes, massages, etc.).

“That [the LifeTime Benefits] really speaks to how Golin likes to treat their employees,” explained Warden. Golin trusts its employees, and this trust fosters respect from employees to the agency. Even though people have unlimited paid time off, statistics showed they only take one extra day per year than when they had an accrued amount. Warden said Golin offers this flexibility because they “really want to make sure there is a work-life balance involved and … make sure that people are focusing on their well-being, too.”

Flexibility is a common theme throughout agencies regarded with a positive culture, including the Weber Shandwick  Detroit offices. Located in the heart of the automotive industry, and directly serving General Motors, there are two Weber Shandwick offices spread across the metropolitan Detroit area. Caleb Hoover, a junior associate at Weber Shandwick Detroit in the Birmingham office, said he has the ability to work in the Downtown office if it better fits with his meeting schedules. Hoover further explained that the agency’s flexibility extends to working parents, giving them the opportunity to come in early and/or log on later, so they pick their children up from school.

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Flexibility is just one facet of Weber Shandwick’s perks. Solidifying Watkins’ claim of incentives shaping culture, Hoover said his favorite part of Weber Shandwick’s culture is the variety of perks with which the agency supplies employees. Hoover joked, “You won’t go hungry if you work in [an] agency. Food is around all the time. There is fun stuff going on all the time and you can even bring your dog to the office! … The culture here is really anything I could possibly ask for.”

Providing these perks is an investment for an organization, but Gerry McMaster, an assistant account executive at Allison+Partners, said when candidates get an offer from two different places, the final decision frequently boils down to culture. Allison+Partners, listed on PRWeek’s 2018 Best Places to Work list, has a culture that McMaster describes as “legit.” The agency lives by the statement “culture is king” and has posters throughout the Chicago offices reminding employees of that. Emma Gresser, an account coordinator at the agency, said her favorite part of the culture is tapping into the global agency mindset. Through the Allison+Partners’ network, she has the opportunity to work with clients and people from other markets and cities across the world. Gresser said the agency works to connect people across the globe by encouraging employees to work from other agency offices.

Additionally, there is monetary value in having a positive agency culture. Warden quoted Golins’ founder, Al Golin, noting, “Happy employees equal happy clients.” McMaster shared the same viewpoint as Warden, similarly saying if you put the employee first and treat them well, they will want to produce quality work for you and, as a result, make the client happy. While the perks of a positive culture are indeed an investment, agencies reap the benefits of investing in their people.

Hoover believes there has always been an emphasis on agency culture but claims that recently “the culture emphasis has shifted from the work to the individual.”

Moments before being interviewed for this article, he was attending a meeting focusing on work-life balance. At his office, there is an emphasis on efficiency, so you can achieve a true balance of the two. If you are taking 80 hours to do 50 hours of work, someone will pull you aside and offer assistance in prioritizing your time. “Everyone is more than willing to help you achieve that, so you do have your personal time, you do have your family time and you can go have fun. And, in turn, that just turns into a better work product at the end of the day,” said Hoover.

McMasters’ formula for agencies working toward a positive culture simplifies down into these three steps.

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1. Put the employees first. Treat your employees well and they will treat your organization and clients well in return.
2. Be available. Senior-level staff should cultivate genuine relationships with junior-level staff. Adopting open-door policies in the office shows that people are available to talk, no matter what their title may be.
3. Respect them, reward them. Reward employees for a job well done, and they’ll want to continue their hard work.

Culture is imperative, as it can end up being the deciding factor between two agencies. It has the ability to make people feel valued and propel them into producing next-level work because they genuinely want to. Investing in employee perks is a well-worth investment for agencies. Culture truly is king.

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