The best culture means the best people and best clients

There are a number of agencies across the world full of talented teams who all can do great things for a brand, and they deliver on that capability. The difference, then, once you've met that qualification, lies in being someone with whom clients truly want to work.

It's a Wednesday near the end of October, and I'm slumped in a cabinet in the dark. I hear footsteps approach and, as the door opens and light floods in, I hear the gasp and scream of my latest “victim.” I can't see, at first, because I have fallen to the floor and am playing dead, but as I open my eyes, I catch the last glimpse of surprise before the realization sets in that this is all part of my latest “Shocktober” prank.

The tenth month has become legendary in our agency for such shenanigans, as have our regular Groundhog Day and Squirrel Appreciation Day celebrations, our annual miniature golf tournament, and many others, and these moments of silliness in the workplace are not without reason.

They are part of a carefully tended culture, instilled with the goal of creating a “best place to work.” In our creative, deadline-driven marketing and communications environment, it's crucial to maintain a deliberate focus on relieving some of that pressure. More broadly, a strong culture plays a critical role in recruiting and retaining the most talented employees who want to achieve great things for great clients.

There are a number of agencies across the world full of talented teams who all can do great things for a brand, and they deliver on that capability. The difference, then, once you've met that qualification, lies in being someone with whom clients truly want to work. When you choose someone to trust with your brand, someone with whom you'll spend many hours working, you'd better choose someone whose company you enjoy.

It's important to note that culture is more than fun and games, though. As agency leaders, we must ensure that culture also translates into top quality service for each and every one of our clients. Our cultures must foster a commitment to truly understanding our clients' businesses and a willingness to propose big, bold ideas, and push the envelope a little. In doing so, the agency stands to differentiate itself as well.

Perhaps the most telling sign of a strong culture is how it endures amid the highs and lows of agency life. While we cannot predict with certainty when these fluctuations will occur, I can say with certainty that the best approach to protecting the culture is to take care of our team members. We can do this through competitive benefits, the support to give back to our communities, opportunities to feel valued, and constant challenges for learning and professional development. Upon this solid foundation, one can then add the flavor unique to each agency or company's own brand.

When I take a step back and choose the most valuable thing a CEO can do in this industry, I believe it is establishing and nurturing a collegial and collaborative culture – a culture that thrives on winning and achieving measured success. You must give associates at all levels the freedom and authority to take action and influence change. Such an atmosphere attracts and keeps the best people and clients, and lives and thrives well beyond the career of any individual.

It seems to me that if we can make deadline-oriented work fun, then we can instill a collegial culture of creativity where the best people will want to work and the best clients will want to be our partners. And, to me, that makes nearly breaking your arm while falling out of the cabinet in which you were hiding all worth it.

Neil Mortine is president and CEO of Fahlgren Mortine.

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