Let’s Talk: Ad Industry’s New Frontier

“Culture drives great results.”

– Jack Welch

The ability to articulate the most remarkable aspects of organizational culture can be elusive for both client-side marketers and advertising agencies.  Both parties seek to find each other, work well together and produce brand communication with hyperbolic traction in this fluid marketing environment.

Agency leaders show ever-increasing appreciation for the impact of organizational culture on their success.  Few agency leaders would dispute that cultural fit is the lynchpin in building client trust. Cultural self-awareness is key in recruiting and engaging talent. Cultural differentiation is smart for business development.

Client company leaders also care about their culture and those of their partner suppliers because, as Jack Welch simply affirms, it drives results.

A Loss for Words?

In the same way we pause to search our mental word banks to find the authentic expression of our individual values, passions and qualities, advertising agencies struggle with the easy expression of what is arguably one the most important aspects of their offering. Instead agencies revert to commonplace keywords to define their organizational cultural as part of their go-to-market strategy. Videos to express or demonstrate agency culture are produced from a similar skin-deep place.

So the industry cultural conversation starts to feel cliché. And clients struggle to understand the authenticity of agency claims.

As consultants advising companies on the strategic selection of advertising agency resources, we take in a holistic view of the industry. We observe, synthesize and contribute thought leadership to bridge better understanding between client companies and advertising agencies.

“Survey Says…”

We recently reviewed a collective 70 agencies of various types for recent client sourcing engagements. An informal tally of the descriptors used to articulate agency culture revealed that thirty percent of mentions included the following words (in rank order of frequency): collaborative, creative, passionate, accountable and innovative, followed by smart, fun, curious, entrepreneurial, open-minded.

Culture drives great results.

– Jack Welch

Yep. Sounds like the advertising industry. (Collaborative appears to be the go-to adjective of choice.)

Noteworthy, less than one percent of mentions included cultural descriptors that clients hiring agencies find compelling: performance or results-driven, customer-centric, client or relationship-driven, empowered, effective, adaptable, responsive, fast, intellectual.

Also not frequently mentioned to describe agency culture: strategic, disciplined, competitive, forward-thinking, agile, diverse, provocative, transparent, independent.

Even core values that both inform and reflect organizational culture e.g., honesty, authenticity, philanthropic, integrity, trustworthy, candor were infrequently used.

Think the list includes mad-men adjectives like audacious, cool, edgy, irreverent, disruptive, dynamic? Nope, not really.

The data summary did reveal the stretch for more uncommon, differentiating descriptors of culture (not to mention an affinity for B-words): bubbly, ballsy, brave, brainiac. And the dubious choices of mean, mentally-fit, simple.

Mars vs. Venus

For the Martians among us who prefer to know just know the requirement and solve for it, I have bad news. The answers to more productive conversation about culture and cultural alignment are not easily identified, labeled and acquired, like one dons a fresh spring wardrobe.

A Venetian-like discovery process with careful listening, and applied empathy, perception and intuition will more likely reveal what makes an agency remarkable and incomparable. As the agency business evolves its knowledge-based business models, what we are and how we think is an important as what tasks are to be performed. This is hard to discern for a group or an organization. Regardless of creative, media or ad tech service offerings, agency people perform better and more confidently when they feel like they fit in the cultures in which they operate. Agencies with a strong sense of culture that align effectively with client organization culture can shine in this crowded universe.

So what’s an agency to do?

Beyond discovery of what makes an agency so uniquely one of a kind, agencies can up their game in the inspired creative expression of their culture to various stakeholders. In language, in video, in practice.

The world will take notice of the advertising agency with a culture that is uniquely and authentically _______________.

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