Thanks to TV shows like “Mad Men,” the pop culture perception of ad agencies tends to skew toward regimented, bureaucratic environments where everyone is overwhelmed and overworked — and maybe not entirely sober, either.
In today’s world, however, such practices send up major red flags to potential employees, often causing the most talented workers to seek employment elsewhere. Unsurprisingly, when this happens, the results delivered by the agency suffer as well.
To maintain success in this day and age, it is essential that agencies create the right culture, one that will inspire employees to deliver their best efforts and stick around for the long haul.
To that end, I recently sat down with Troy Osinoff and Michael Lisovetsky, the co-founders of JUICE, an ad agency that has found great success by putting culture first.
Here’s a closer look at what they do to build a culture-first agency:
1) Hiring the Right Background
“When Michael and I first started JUICE, we didn’t want to simply pull in people who had spent their entire lives working at an agency,” Osinoff reveals.
“Our goal was to help other entrepreneurs accomplish their marketing goals — and who better to assist in that than other people who have founded or worked for startups?”
By emphasizing the hiring of individuals with an entrepreneurial background, JUICE was able to build a team that was truly passionate about helping other startups succeed.
Better yet, leveraging everyone’s diverse experiences allowed the team to come at clients’ problems from multiple angles to find effective marketing solutions.
2) Encourage Learning
The ability to learn on the job is one of the most important skills an employee can have, but gaining new skills doesn’t happen by accident. Culture-first agencies promote learning by avoiding compartmentalization so everyone can improve their skills.
“We like to bring together both generalists and specialists so we can cross-pollinate ideas,” explains Lisovetsky.
“We’ll have ad managers teaching copywriters the nuances of Facebook ads, account managers learning about e-commerce trends on Instagram, and so on. When our team members take an active role in teaching each other, it builds a sense of unity while increasing everyone’s ability to contribute to each project.”
3) A ‘Big-Picture’ Focus
While earning money is important, it’s no longer the be-all end-all of a successful business — or even a successful ad agency. Surveys have consistently found that millennials want to work for businesses whose values match their own.
In other words, today’s employees want to contribute to some sort of greater good. This means you need to establish your values and clearly communicate them from the get-go.
“We take great satisfaction in knowing that we’re helping grow other people’s businesses,” says Osinoff. “Many of our clients have inspiring stories of their own and are on a mission to change the world in some way. Knowing that we’re helping them bring these dreams to life is a big inspiration that helps shape our culture and make our work so rewarding.”
4) Allow for Autonomy
Though your employees require some level of supervision, research has found that workers are happiest and most productive when they have a sense of autonomy. This positive aspect of agency culture involves much more than simply not being micromanaged on each project.
It also entails being able to make key decisions on their own or contribute ideas that are taken seriously by upper-level management.
“We’ve gone out and hired talented people, and that means we have to trust that they will deliver quality work,” Lisovetsky notes.
“If we’re breathing over their shoulders the entire time, it’s hard for them to develop confidence in what they do. This doesn’t mean we’re completely hands-off, but by allowing for appropriate autonomy, our team members understand just how valuable their contribution is.”
5) Get Feedback
Just like a successful marketing campaign, building a strong agency culture isn’t something where you can “set it and forget it.” Culture should be at the back of your mind in everything you do, and employers should be especially mindful of whether a new initiative or idea contributes to or detracts from their desired culture.
So, how can you ensure you’re staying on the right track?
Get feedback from the people who are most impacted by changes to company culture.
“We find that one of the best ways to improve employee autonomy and confidence is by allowing everyone to share their input about workplace practices,” says Osinoff.
“They have perspectives and insights that we might completely overlook. By listening to their concerns or recommendations, we can ensure that any decision we make helps keep us on track with maintaining our desired culture.”
Culture for the Win
Studies have consistently proven that positive company cultures result in happier employees, which in turn leads to greater productivity and engagement at work.
Though client satisfaction and maintaining profitability are important, focusing on these concerns at the expense of culture will never help you achieve your long-term goals. Instead, by fostering a culture where your team members are motivated to give their best effort, you can ensure positive outcomes.