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Growth vs. Culture
By: Dwayne W. Waite Jr.
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Though the economy is growing, and consumers are looking to spend more, it is still tough out there for the agency world. We've seen some growth — thankfully more growth than last year — but the growth isn't keeping up with the money being spent. Marketers and C-Suite executives are second-guessing agency relationships, especially the small ones.

It makes sense; small agencies, though more adaptable and agile in fast-changing environments, are highly susceptible to a volatile economy. Without a solid base of clients, few small agencies have staying power. We're in the small agency world of AdLand, so we like to stay on top of the issues that we and our colleagues are facing. We had an interesting conversation with one of our fellows who just launched a social media agency out in LA. The question involved whether they should focus on growing their agency as quickly as they could, or work on developing their identity first.

In theory, it seems like a no-brainer. But in this environment, we understand why they are a little squeamish to stay small longer than they "want" to. The background: Our friend, who is a partner in that shop, told us how they were worried about the dynamics in their agency and its longevity. They brought on a VC guy who agreed to help finance the agency, but demanded a seat at the table.

The pissing contest began.

Instead of an exciting and "start-up"-like environment in the shop, our friend told us that now they feel that the partners are constantly competing against each other to prove themselves to the VC rep.

When it comes to small agency, then, what comes first: growth or culture?

Our philosophy, whether it's right or wrong, is that the right culture will bring the right talent, and the right talent will produce the work that will ultimately make the agency grow. Unless you are a former exec from a big agency that can leave with a big client, you're going to have some growing pains.

Though our industry's attention span resembles the instant-gratification expectations of the society we serve, it takes time to grow, and some longer than others. 

But if you get the right culture in place (the culture you want for your agency), it's well worth waiting for the growth.

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About the Author
Dwayne W. Waite Jr. is partner and principal at JDW: The Charlotte Agency, a marketing and advertising shop in Charlotte, NC. He enjoys consumer behavior, economics, and football.
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