Why ‘Culture’ is More than a Buzzword

Previously used to apply to art galleries, symphonies and cheese, the word culture has entered the mainstream workplace. It’s a buzz word that makes even the word ‘content’ look underused. Trend-spotters would associate culture with start-up greats like Apple and Google. Today culture is even trickling into the corporate world. Yet just like the culture behind a good brie, culture has always been present in the world of creative agencies. But it’s not just about an agency’s work-hard-play-hard culture, a kickass espresso machine or lunch-time yoga classes (although kickass espresso machines definitely have their place. Have you tried ours?) Creative spaces definitely make creative people more creative, but that’s not all there is to culture.

As we see it, culture is the cornerstone of everything we do. It informs the way we work, and the service and quality we deliver to our clients.

Our culture is about giving clients layers of delight. About simplifying complexity. About taking ownership. About collaboration. It may sound cheesy, but for us it underpins who we are as a creative business. But rather than just deliver a sales pitch, we asked our team, from the young guns to those of us who’ve been around the agency block a few times, to define culture.

Here’s what they had to say:

How do you define culture in an agency environment and what are its major characteristics?

Louis: Just look at your staff. Are they happy and balanced? If yes, then you’re on the right path. Respecting one another as people and as employees. Setting company goals together and having a shared company vision. Get the balance right between goals and respect and the coffee will taste better, the collaboration will come naturally and the hierarchy will dissolve.

Why is culture so important in a creative agency?

Sue: Culture shapes our creative outputs. When there is negativity in a studio, creativity suffers. Positivity breeds inspired ideas, happy teams and gives our staff the confidence to explore ideas that are way outside the box. This culture extends beyond our designers: it’s how our receptionist chooses to answer the phone, and how our project managers manage their projects.

Does culture ‘just happen’, or is it cultivated?

Sam: Culture is definitely cultivated. It’s an ongoing process of learning by the entire business, and leadership’s responsibility to ensure that momentum is not lost.

Miguel: Culture is present in every work environment, whether it’s consciously cultivated or not. It’s important. Left to its own devices, a culture could backfire with negativity, which tends to have a louder voice than positivity. We choose to craft our culture positively, as we see it as an opportunity to be better at everything we apply ourselves to.

Is culture a major consideration for you, as a design professional?

Louis: Yes, you spend 40+ hours a week at work. It will affect your happiness in a major way.

Sue: Yes it is. It determines the leadership style of the organisation and the value placed on each individual. And who doesn’t enjoy being part of an agency that values its people?

Hilary: The days of clocking in and out are long gone. Our work requires our engagement and participation, and what better way to inspire these behaviours than by working in an environment in which you have helped to shape?

What do you gravitate towards when it comes to agency culture?

Anton: Collaboration. It helps bolster ideas and artwork so that work moves from good to great.

Melissa: Collaboration is definitely key for me. When you collaborate you grow together, with the help of each individual. The whole is better than the sum of the parts.

Sarah: Collaboration, a unique working environment, a flat hierarchy system where each individual is the boss, a place where it is safe to explore, where vulnerable creativity can mature. Where leaders empower the team to act on what they believe.

Cindy: A collaborative space where people are encouraged to think for themselves. Everyone’s input matters, and everything we do, from the ground up, must point to our collective vision.

One more thought to close:

Agency culture is a well-choreographed company dance in which every dancer shines. You’ve got the quirky individual dancers who need to express their unique creativity; they’ve been carefully selected to fit into this creative company. And you’ve got the choreographer who gently yet steadily guides the company towards a shared vision, leading them by example rather than force and bringing out the best in each dancer. It takes months of rehearsals before the company is performance-ready. When they finally perform to an audience, the dancers are on a creative high, even before the thunderous applause begins. The next day, they regroup and start rehearsing for the next show.

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