Why Your  Agency Culture Should Be Your Competitive Edge

By Sarah Kent,

As strategic communicators, many of us talk to clients a lot about culture. ‘Your brand IS your culture’ we stress, ‘you can’t be on the outside what you’re not on the inside.’ We work with them to develop a clear purpose and values and a strategy for clear and consistent communication with their teams.

But are we, as agencies, taking our own advice? In a highly competitive industry, a strong culture is undoubtedly a competitive edge, helping to recruit and retain the right people, nurture creativity and provide a framework for individual decision-making which leads to better client service. Developing and nurturing a strong culture is an investment worth making.

Be clear on where you’re going

I won’t pretend that I set up Whistle on day one with a clear end-goal in sight. I knew what kind of company I wanted to create; one that made a commercial difference to our clients and offered a great place to work. But our direction definitely evolved over the first 12 months as opportunities presented themselves and people joined the business with new skills and ideas.

However, after the first year, we sat down as a team and developed a clear vision, mission and values. We looked at organisational goals, the critical factors for success and some of the challenges we would inevitably face along the way. We also laid out the reasons for our people to embark on the journey with us and what they could expect from Whistle in the form of a culture statement.

Setting out where you’re going let’s people know what they’re signing up for, the career opportunities available and the individual role they can play in the company’s success.

Look after your people

Creating a culture of wellbeing and providing genuine support for employees is not only morally the right thing to do, it makes good business sense. 23% of PR professionals say they have had time off due to stress, anxiety or depression and absenteeism can put a real strain on both the agency and the rest of the team who have to pick up the slack.

A focus on health and wellbeing needn’t be about expensive benefits or time-consuming initiatives. It’s simply about listening to your team, understanding their needs and creating a supportive culture where they can thrive, both personally and professionally.

We carried out a health and wellbeing survey to identify what would make a tangible difference to our people, introducing flexible working, resilience training and the opportunity for coaching and mentoring. We keep an open dialogue with staff, encouraging them to shout up if they feel like they’re approaching burn-out. The message that there is always support when you need it is a key part of the Whistle culture.

Empower your team

Culture doesn’t come from the top down. It’s not a set of processes and guidelines. It’s about a group of people coming together with a shared purpose and an understanding of the behaviours that reinforce your values.

Your people own your culture so lead by example but give them the freedom to let it flourish. At Whistle, we offer individuals the opportunity to lead on projects that have a real impact on the business, from creativity and client service to wellbeing and company socials. This collaborative approach encourages new ideas and initiatives that are driven by people other than the senior team.

Communicate (and Listen)

Whatever the size of your agency, it’s worth formalising your internal communications to make sure it happens regularly and consistently. We sit down as an agency every Monday morning and have more formal all-company updates every other month where we share our financial performance, new business updates and recognise and reward great work.

Regular feedback is also really important to make sure the kind of culture you’re trying to nurture is what is being experienced by your team on a day-to-day basis. Do a formal employee survey at least once a year but also encourage regular feedback through line managers, buddy schemes and mentoring.

Your culture is unique to your agency, it’s your personality, and that’s incredibly difficult to replicate. Get it right and you will have a culture, and a brand, that will set you apart from the competition. 

Sarah Kent is MD of Whistle PR which offers a range of integrated communications services including strategic consultancy, PR, social media and internal communications. 

Photo by Mimi Thian on Unsplash

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