Tuesday, December 17, 2013

How Ad Agencies Grow and Retain Their Culture

Back in the late 1980’s, in Chiat/Day’s heyday, Jay Chiat had a quote which I loved.  He mused: “I wonder how big we will get before we get bad?”

It is really good food for thought. And it lead to this post.  Can companies, especially ad agencies, grow and retain their culture?

I have observed that some companies, as they grow, keep their essential personality – Wieden Kennedy is a good example as is Goodby, Silverstein & Partners.  Their success is built into their corporate DNA, especially since the principals remain at those agencies. Their corporate culture is clearly defined as is their mission; in fact, their culture and their missions are intertwined. There are other agencies, which, as they have grown, have kept their essential culture based on carefully grooming second and subsequent generations of management. 

Successful ad agencies are well defined.

There are agencies which have grown with the times – R/GA is a perfect example.  So is Grey, which has morphed into a very different culture than what it was only ten years ago; it was recently named global agency of the year – something which would have been impossible a decade ago.  These agencies have done it by the force of will of their leaders who have very clear vision and communicate it and insist on it being carried out.

I have seen small agencies turn into giants – Deutsch is a good example. And they did it by adhering to the principles with which it was founded, but setting the tone for their growth with careful nurturing of their culture.  Crispin Porter is another great example.

Kirshenbaum Bond is an agency which changed from a brash, upstart creative boutique when it started in the 1980’s, into a smart, strategic, but creatively driven shop which maintained much of the passion which Richard and Jon had in the first place. It grew mightily until 2009, when Jon Bond left, the agency. 

There are some agencies which find it impossible to grow.  My observation is that often their founders diverge and bicker or that their founders believe themselves to be indispensable and fail to develop the next level of talent.  Clients sense these things in new business presentations; former employees confirm it.  And the ubiquitous search consultants, who often control new business, know it. 

I have written about why many mergers are not successful – simply because the merged companies fail to maintain the personality and culture which generated their individual success in the first place.  I could name them, but everyone who reads this blog post can name them.

As the market place evolves, change and evolution is necessary and inevitable.  If there is no change, there is no growth.  Companies who fully understand who they are and how they fit into the marketplace tend to succeed over the long run because they can adapt but remain true to their principles. Look at BBDO, they are a perfect example of success and growth; they have remained true to who they have been for decades and yet they have evolved, but still adhere to their basic principles. When employees or clients go there, they know exactly what they will be getting.

Every good marketer knows that they cannot be all things to all people. To paraphrase Jack Trout and Al Ries, the essence of positioning is sacrifice. Knowing what that position is and acting within it makes room for growth and change.


  1. I didn't recall the "essence of positioning is sacrifice" quote, Paul. Great share. So true, so true.

    1. I have always loved that quote - which may be a paraphrase. Every really good marketer knows that they cannot be all things to all people.

  2. Thanks for sharing nice blog for ! Advertising Agency Advertising Agency .


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