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“Culture eats strategy for breakfast” – that’s what management consultant Peter Drucker said about the power of corporate culture.
He asserted that strategy is important but that an organization’s culture is the true path to its success.
Lots of PR agencies brag about their culture. Their social media channels and website share pictures of their employees having fun, and tout employee programs and benefits such as yoga classes, Flex Fridays, dog-friendly offices or Taco Tuesday lunches.
And while those things may help them in attracting the attention of potential new talent, an agency’s culture doesn’t come from the programs it offers or the cool accoutrements it scatters around the office.
True culture evolves over time from the agency’s people, their actions and their passion. It embodies how they interact, how they operate, what they value, how they treat each other, and how they feel about their clients.
Some firms, in their quest to be an “employer of choice” or a winner in the local “Best Places to Work” competition, offer all kinds of flashy programs, yet in reality have deeply toxic cultures where employees live in fear of their managers, their clients and each other – and hate going to work.
So don’t let the cool PR agency office trappings fool you.
If the agency’s people are not passionate about helping their clients, about their job or about their organization, all the programs and perks in the world won’t improve their performance on your behalf.
A positive, healthy PR agency culture offers many benefits to both the agency and its clients. A great culture:
• Creates loyalty, ownership and continuity of purpose;
• Strengthens resilience during times of adversity that inevitably come up;
• Drives people to want to do their very best;
• Inspires people to go above and beyond expectations;
• Replaces fear with encouragement, empowerment and fun; and
• Provides results that strategy alone cannot achieve.
So, how do you know when a PR firm has a great culture?
Here are a few telltale signs:
1) The agency staff demonstrates that it enjoys doing the work, working with their clients and working with each other. They’re enthusiastic, upbeat and excited. They enjoy the challenges clients present. Their clients look forward to talking or meeting with the agency personnel. And the employees often hang out with each other outside of work.
We’re often puzzled by the agencies that talk about how they instill fun into their work by equipping the office with a billiards table, a ping-pong table or a rolling cocktail cart. Our belief is that if PR agency employees really need those things to have fun doing PR, they’re either doing it wrong … or they’re in the wrong business … or both.
2) The agency employees have a long tenure with the firm. Turnover is a problem for many PR agencies, and some have turnover rates of 20 to 35%. So, if most of the employees have been with the firm for more than 5 or 10 years, you can bet that a positive, supportive culture is a big part of what is keeping them there.
3) The PR firm’s relationships with its clients are long-term – often stretching 10, 15 or more years. In the PR business, where the typical client-agency relationship lasts three years or so, longer relationships can be a strong indicator of a positive agency culture and healthy mutual respect.
Such long-term relationships suggest the agency is more focused on being a long-term, valued business partner rather than in scoring some quick billings and moving on to the next target in a churn-and-burn mentality.
4) The agency’s clients rave about the agency, its work and the integrity of the firm’s account people. There is nothing more telling, or more powerful, than when a happy client recommends their PR agency to their colleagues and peers.
Ultimately, the PR business is about relationships and trust. And a PR firm’s culture plays a huge role in how its relationships with its clients will develop.
Brian Chesky, co-founder and CEO of Airbnb, sums corporate culture up this way: “When the culture is strong, you can trust everyone to do the right thing.”
And isn’t that what you want from your PR agency?