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January 7, 2004
Haute Culture: Bringing the Concept of Culture into the Agency Trenches

The only meaningful difference between agencies today is their culture.

That’s it. That’s my line in the sand.

Sure, there are some differences in capabilities and areas of expertise, but at a certain level, the rock bottom line is culture.

Our business, The Rojek Cutcher Group (RCG) has been the early adopter of focusing agencies and clients on the importance of evaluating their cultures to help both sides leverage this critical aspect of their work.

We feel strongly that the cultural compatibility and awareness of the cultural differences between agency and client is the greatest predictor of relationship success.

It’s no secret that agencies are under intense competitive pressure today to fight for accounts and growth. An often-overlooked (and hard to measure) weapon is the quality of your team’s relationship with your clients.

The status of this relationship impacts the team’s ability to produce highly effective and results-oriented work. And the key to unlock the mystery of what makes for a truly great agency-client partnership (between two organizations with fundamentally different business models) is understanding the corporate culture of each.

Lack of “chemistry,” code for culture, is often cited as one of the top reasons for the failure of agency-client partnerships. Key differences in cultural attributes like the following can quickly unravel the best of relationships:

  • Risk-Taking
  • Decisiveness
  • Analytical
  • Willingness to Experiment

At RCG, we measure and understand culture using a proprietary tool called CultureScans Profile. The output and benefit have been validated making the profile an important consideration in all our agency-client search and evaluation work.

When we created this technique ten years ago, the links between culture, business performance and relationship effectiveness were emerging insights. Now, trade publications like Advertising Age often reference the importance of the subject given the similarity of services from an industry impacted by decades of mergers and agency consolidation.

But how can agencies predict the nuances of such an intangible thing?

Understanding the relative cultural values important to the relationship, like Sharing Information Freely, Taking Initiative and Confronting Conflict Directly is critical to the health of the partnership.

We recommend an annual performance review as the appropriate forum to step back and assess what’s working and what’s not. Then a deep dive into the cultural aspects of ‘what’s not’ often reveals the action steps required to improve things.

I’ll say it again - the only meaningful difference between agencies today is their culture.

And, as a result, when better to demonstrate your point of difference then during a review?

We’re often asked by agencies, how they can improve their review performance - use your agency’s culture as way to distinguish yourselves and make it clear to the potential client how that culture impacts your work.

Culture and chemistry continue to come into play when the agency team you’ve identified meets with the client in an agency visit or presentation.

“We just clicked,” “I felt very comfortable with them,” “I could see myself working with them.” You’ve heard it all before—and it often sounds like you’re considering a date, not a business partnership. In a way you are. We’ve always compared the path of agency-client relationships to that of a marriage.

So don’t be afraid to ask the consultant or client how your team was received. Staff changes at this point can make a difference in how your agency progresses through the review.

Once you’ve got the business and the honeymoon is over, take the lead in establishing a comprehensive foundation of practices and processes to ensure that your cultural differences are used to everyone’s advantage and don’t get in the way of accomplishing good work.

By seeking to understand your agency’s core values—either during a search or in an existing partnership - advertisers can ultimately develop a partnership that works. Now that’s a meaningful difference.

Check out your Culture IQ Over the years, RCG has collected cultural profiles of over 135 advertising, direct marketing and promotions agencies of all sizes and geographic locations. Here are the Top 12 Agency Attributes from 135 RCG CultureScans Profiles. How well does your advertising agency measure up?

1. Results Oriented

2. Innovative

3. Emphasis on Quality

4. Enthusiasm for the Job

5. High Expectations for Performance

6. Taking Initiative

7. Team Oriented

8. Clear Guiding Philosophy

9. Action Orientation

10. Working in Collaboration with Others

11. Quick to Take Advantage of Opportunities

12. Achievement Orientation

CultureScan is a service mark of the Rojek Cutcher Group, Inc. All rights reserved. Copyright 2003 RCC Group, Inc.

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Advertiser-agency matchmaker and all-around good guy, Ralph Cutcher helps some of the world's most recognized brands improve their marketing resource effectiveness. Principal of The Rojek Cutcher Group, a marketing consultancy based in Cleveland, Ralph has a point of view that just may help an agency win and keep more business in 2004.

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