Monday, July 25, 2011

How to choose the right agency to work for

Ideas, Awards, Clients, Reputation, Location, Salary? All these things matter but if your aim is to grow as a creative you should look out for another greatly important factor: agency culture.

It's a combination of all things together and beyond. It also takes into account what your expectations and goals are. I think agency culture is crucial for choosing a workplace – yet at the same time agency culture is hard to grasp by being a rather abstract term that's both difficult to define and compare.

Luckily during the Cannes Lions festival 72andSunny held a Masterclass about exactly that topic. They called it 'Company VS Culture'. While most other agencies showed a lot of their own work, 72andSunny instead used their time to talk about agency culture and presented ways on defining and understanding it. For Robbin and me this talk was especially relevant as we're talking to different agencies at the moment and trying to figure out the right next step for ourselves.

Matt Jarvis & John Boiler started their lecture with a strong but simple statement:
'The most important career decision you can make is the culture you choose to grow in.'

A thought that particularly rings true if you're young and starting out as it will define a big part of how you do things later on in your career. Their advice is to look for a culture that doesn't only produce great work but also great people. I guess most of us know deep inside it's more than work that matters, but what Matt & John did here was to break down agency culture into five points and shared simple ways on how to recognize it. The five values they see most relevant to an agencies culture are Collaboration, Generosity, Courage, Accountability and Ambition:

1. Collaboration
If you get into a culture that values collaboration, there's room for you to contribute. Places that value collaboration tend not to be about the person, they tend to be about 'THE BEST IDEA WINS'. This is not about people or ego, it's about the idea. How you recognize it:
  • How are people seated? Departments? Integrated? Floors?
  • Do they assign ideas to people? Groups? The boss? Name on the door?
  • How do they review work? In the open? Corner office? Small/big?
2. Generosity
Is important because your early career should be about learning, not just output. And it takes generosity to teach. A culture of generosity will allow people to explore their own ideas, potential, find their own voice and learn from failure. How you recognize it:
  • Do co-workers celebrate your success as their own? Do they want what you want for yourself?
  • Ask who has grown and developed the most last year. Do they actively think about it?
  • How do they give and share credit?
  • What's the approach to training and education? How do they handle career reviews?
3. Courage
As creative people, you should be wired for courage. You need an organization that stands up for brave ideas, or you will learn fear. How you recognize it:
  • Do you look at their work and ask 'How the hell did they do that?'
  • How many ideas do they bring to a pitch?
  • Have they ever resigned business for a creative or cultural differences?
4. Accountability
A culture of accountability quickly teaches that success or failure matters. Being accountable for the outcome, either positive or negative, is leadership. Be in a culture that shares your definition of success and that teaches you to lead. How you recognize it:
  • Do they embrace metrics? Do set them at all?
  • What is the ultimate win to them? Awards? $$$? Long relationships? Happy clients?
  • What is the compensation structure for clients? For staff? For leaders? What does it reward? Performance? Seniority? Internal political success?
5. Ambition
It's important to understand your personal ambitions and find an agency that shares the same ambitions.  If you're missmatch it's going to be a bad relationship. If you aspire to greatness, attach yourself to an organization that aspires to greatness. How you recognize it:
  • What goals do they aspire to? Success as defined by clients, industry or culture?
  • Do they talk about what they could do better more than what they do well?
  • Do they visibly push themselves?
  • Do they attract 'Challenger' clients and brands?

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For me this is a great check list and toolbox to have in the back of the head when looking into agencies and going on interviews. There might not be a perfect place that has all of these covered but it's important to have them in mind and also to ask yourself which of these of these five are most dear to you.

This whole lecture is quite in line with my learnings at Hyper Island. There I learned that there is great value in thinking about the 'how' side of things not only the work itself. One can be a happier and more effective creative when having certain expectations on your environment, workplace and coworkers and communicating them clearly. I think it all comes down to simply being a more considerate creative, thinking about what you want, what you want to achieve and finding a place that is best suitable for this. Thanks to 72andSunny for sharing their thoughts on this topic and to end on their words:
'Don't pick a company. Pick a culture.'


gellabeans said...

This is so true. Well, I say this as a suit. Thanks for sharing this, very insightful indeed. :)

Anonymous said...

How to choose the right agency to work for?

Easy Wal: the one that will give you a job.