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The Three Types of Company Cultures at Agencies

When we talk about culture at digital agencies – visions of foosball tables and kegs often come to mind. But the thing is, that’s not culture. Those are perks at best, and more likely just office clutter. Culture is the intangible concepts that define who we ARE at our core – I recently defined it this way in another article:

  • “…culture is the DNA of a company. It is the sum-total of the behaviors of all colleagues. It is what the colleagues do. It is how they treat each other. It is how they interact. It is what they prioritize.”

Throughout my career, I have partnered with dozens of agencies and worked for several. I started to think about what made these agencies the same and what made them different as it related to their corporate cultures. The more I reflected, the more I realized that company culture starts with the founders, owners, or leaders of an agency. The leaders of an agency set the tone. They influence the direction and ultimately the hiring – so it is natural that they form the culture. They hire and promote other colleagues who align with who they are and how they behave. Can colleagues at a company change the corporate culture? Perhaps, but to me, it would be challenging. More likely than not, the culture changes colleagues – good cultures positively affect them, and bad cultures can inculcate bad habits and attitudes.

If you look at how most agencies start, it frequently aligns with their corporate culture. In my career, I’ve seen three primary corporate cultures that seem to be present at most digital agencies. And all of them align with how or who founded the agency:

  • Sales Culture: These agencies are typically started by self-proclaimed entrepreneurs. There is a strong focus obviously on new sales within the company, but also revenue and new products, services, or markets. Accountability is seen as committing to targets and trying to exceed those targets. Additionally, the most value in the company is typically the sales team or those who support the needs of the sales team. The colleagues who typically thrive in a sales culture tend to love the chase and winning.
  • Creative Culture: These agencies are typically started by designers or creative types. The focus is centered on creating something new, different, or better for clients. In a creative culture, you usually see a diverse set of personalities and often a little bit of ego, as it is often about who can create something newer or better than before. These types of agencies innovate and often help move brands forward.                   
  • Delivery Culture: These agencies were typically started by a developer, strategist, or individual who was previously responsible for delivering work to a client. A delivery culture is typically focused on the team that delivers the services or creates the product for clients. Colleagues in this culture are typically empowered to see everything through the eyes of the client and to make decisions on what will best benefit the client. Accountability is seen as sharing your load of the work and delivering high value to their clients. The focus is centered on hiring the best and celebrating the team that supports the clients.

It is important to note here is that none of these corporate cultures are right or wrong. They all have their strengths and opportunities. Also, an agency may not cleanly fit into just one of these cultures, but instead, straddle between two cultures or even all three.

However, what is important is that you hire an agency that best aligns with your own company’s corporate culture because when you are hiring a digital agency, you should want to hire a partner, not just a vendor. You are hiring a team to learn about you and your business. You are hiring a team to help create, build, or maintain your web presence and how your end-users or clients view you. The best success will come from hiring an agency that is aligned with your culture. This means you first must take a real and honest look at your own company’s culture – and be fully honest on how your company truly behaves.