The Art Of Building A Successful Agency: No Offices, No Titles, No Egos

The advertising industry is a tricky one. Those that are in it speak the language with fluency, and those standing on the outside look within and wonder if the TV show Mad Men is an accurate depiction of reality.

For Ed Mitzen, founder of the wildly successful advertising agency, Fingerpaint, he has been in the agency game for quite a while. And after exiting from his first agency in 2006, he decided to take some of the lessons learned and do things even better the second time around. He didn’t want to be like every other agency out there, structured by the same hierarchy you might find in the banking industry, for example: corner offices, and big fancy titles given to even the most novice employees to make them sound overly proficient—Senior Vice President.

Hearing it straight from Mitzen, he makes you realize just how silly the whole process can be, and how it takes the focus off all the important things (like the work itself).

“Having sold an agency prior to Fingerpaint, I could keep the things I really loved the first time around and get rid of all the other stuff that had always bothered me. I wanted an agency that would really value every person, regardless of their level in the company. So I got rid of titles, I got rid of offices. How we operate is a sort of flat, decentralized structure. Sure, we have an org chart, and people know who they report to, but most ad agencies give everyone the same prestigious title and you can’t tell who really does what. And the clients don’t understand it either, so I figured why keep it at all,” said Mitzen.

That’s reassuring advice coming from someone whose company has been on the Inc. 5000 list for 4 years in a row—a difficult feat for any company.

But when you look at the type of energy and effort Mitzen puts into cultivating his company’s culture, it makes sense. Culture is a hot topic in the world of entrepreneurship and business, primarily because it is not a “one size fits all” thing. There are no real recipes for building a perfect company culture, since culture is the result of people—and every group of people is different.

“We make it a point to create a people-first culture here at Fingerpaint,” said Mitzen. “I really work to instill that in our management team so that everyone is taken care of, and we are always doing right by the people in our company. And the reason for that is simple: a better culture and happier people is going to translate into better products, happier clients, and a more effective and successful company as a whole. So we’re always looking for ways to reward our employees.”

You can tell it’s this underlying vision for collective success that drives Mitzen—and is a quality worth noting for all first-time and aspiring entrepreneurs (and even seasoned ones as well).

The other big piece of advice Mitzen shared in terms of hiring and building a quality company culture is to not be afraid to bring people on board that are better than you are. This is where so many teams and leaders go wrong. They almost feel threatened by someone who comes in that is more knowledgeable, in fear that they will lose their spot or position. But Mitzen reassures that the upside to surrounding yourself with more talented individuals far outweighs anything negative.

“You can’t be afraid to hire people that are better than you. It’s not a weakness if you’re not the smartest guy in the room. There is a Steve Jobs quote that says something to the effect of, ‘We hire smart people, so they can tell us what to do—not so we can tell them what to do.’ I really believe that. Every time we hire somebody that comes in, and we know that they’re going to rock our world, good things tend to happen.”

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