How to Foster Agency Culture in This Hyper-Fast World


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This article appears in the latest The SoDA Report, due to be published on May 5. 

If you can foresee the future, you’re most likely applying your prediction skills somewhere outside of the digital creative field. For the rest of us, we never know what’s going to happen next. We can, however, get our inner Nostradamus on and make a prediction that’s pretty certain: in our industry, change is right around the next corner.

That’s the kind of forecast we can bank on. Our client base will change, we will welcome new staff into the mix, agencies will come and go, and Apple and WordPress will update and change things, forcing us to alter everything we’ve previously developed. These constantly shifting elements are usually where the blame lands when it comes to discussing the challenges of creating, developing, and sustaining a strong agency culture.

It’s the consistency of change that inspired four partners in an office above a Burger King in a dodgy Vancouver building to outline five simple rules for our culture.

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These rules govern Pound and Grain, keeping our focus on what’s important. It has seen us grow from three to 21 people and from a single-city to a dual-city agency in just four years.

Here’s how we apply these five rules:

Hiring and Introducing New Staff

A culture lives through its people, so our five rules are a significant part of our hiring credentials. If one of these rules is missing from a potential candidate, we know the two of us won’t fit well together. We’ve seen some incredibly talented people walk through our doors, but if there’s an indication that the value of a rule is missing, we just keep looking. Some of the benefits of this approach include us finding people from all over the world to work with, which creates an interesting dynamic. It’s a melting pot of Canadians, New Zealanders, South Africans, Australians, the Irish and English, as well as a Nicaraguan. We’re a regular mixed bag o’ nuts.

Creating the Right Work

We also use our rules to assess work and guide us throughout a project. Is the idea big enough? Have we had enough fun with it? Does it work hard for our client and with the latest digital trends we all love? Is it nice to consumers? This brings a consistency to our work and ensures we maintain the expected caliber across every project from beginning to end.

Teaming Up With the Right Clients

When there’s a clear statement of intent in the very first meeting, it shows clients exactly how you like to work. This has caused clients to fall in love with our firm, and it has also made some clients realize that we are not the right fit. If a client is not into “loving digital” or “thinking big,” we probably wouldn’t be good working together anyway. So it’s a great way to attract and work with clients that are on the same mission as we are.

Building New Offices

We recently opened a new office in Toronto, and central to this expansion is our five simple rules. While the locations might have a different look and feel, the rules remain a compass for both offices. They ensure we maintain consistency across our agency despite the time and temperature differences. We’re able to find new clients that we know will be a great fit versus changing the type of agency we are just to fit in with a city’s attitude. Clients, like us, want to enjoy a great working relationship and create awesome digital experiences for their audience — irrespective of location.

So how do you put something like this in place at your own agency? Start with a meeting that includes your senior leaders. Get them excited about what you’re aiming to achieve. Make sure everyone is aligned with a clear understanding and passion for your purpose. Share your thinking with the wider team to incorporate different points of view and dynamics. Think about how this can integrate with your current processes, staff reviews, hiring policies, work assessment, pitch process, staff inductions, and agency credentials.

Lastly, if one part is not working, don’t be afraid to review, alter, or optimize your mission. The goal is to ensure you create a solid foundation. Make sure your entire agency is involved in this kind of change — people united will never be divided.