You want agency culture? Then try sticking around, Holmes.

October 29, 2013

culture needs something to grow on…

I’ve been thinking about agency culture or the lack of it. By definition, a “culture” forms in/on something that has permanence to it, like mold on a piece of leftover bread. I know that’s a gross analogy but it’s not inappropriate.

In Adland, we like to talk about our respective agency cultures. It seems vitally important to everyone, old and young. The CEO makes impassioned pleas about it, resurrecting old ideas from old dudes. Yawn. Even more insufferable, the under-30’s rhapsodize about culture’s importance and how f—king awesome it is at that other agency, you know, the one over there, the one with the culture. News flash, kids! Culture is an old-fashioned idea. It ain’t trending…

I can relate to culture. After all, I “grew up” at Leo Burnett in Chicago and was part of its second golden age (88-98); I swear on some days it seemed even the sewage spewing out of 35 Wacker smelled like Pillsbury biscuits baking in the oven. Back then Leo Burnett had one hell of a culture. From a work perspective, it was all about rolling up your sleeves and telling a good story. It was also about long-term relationships and big ideas. And not just with clients but with each other. People stayed at Leo Burnett -for the above reasons and an Xmas bonus that would take your breath away like a fishbowl martini at the Drake. I was there 18 years! I made a lot of ads, a lot of friends and a lot of money.

Needless to say, that culture is long gone. Like a vampire sprouting new flesh after its silvered, LBCO endlessly reinvents itself. Or tries to. And I’ll wager a lot less people are getting a lot less bonus. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a big, important shop (certainly among the best in Chicago) but its culture has been greatly and necessarily diminished.

Remember culture?

I say, “necessarily diminished” because, honestly, all agency cultures have suffered greatly or gone extinct. Why? It goes back to my gross analogy about mold growing on stuff. For better or worse, advertising (or whatever you call it) is simply not a permanent enterprise anymore. Not for anyone. For myriad reasons (most of them shitty) clients and employees don’t have loyalty to a company or its people. Everyone leaves.

And what about you, Gentle Reader? How long have you been at your present job? Thought so. When did we start counting in months? That’s life in Adland. Commercials are now 6-second Vines. Work is all project based.

Therefore, why should one’s career be any more permanent? Maybe it shouldn’t. But don’t talk to me about culture. How does anyone expect a culture to grow if no one sticks around long enough to cultivate one?


4 Responses to “You want agency culture? Then try sticking around, Holmes.”

  1. JAD said

    This post has given me much mental/emotional food for thought. I was at LB for 7 years and still miss it. I made lifelong friends there so to me, it’s the people, not just the work that makes an agency a great place to be (and stay). In the past three years, I have made the mistake of accepting jobs at places because they offered me good money. This made me forget vetting the day to day and who I would be interacting with on projects both on agency and client side beforehand. The result? I’m fucking miserable and not able to use my creative skills to their maximum potential. As far as culture goes, I’ve been in law firms that have more life and humor within their walls. I can talk about this subject forever, but for the sake of brevity I will stop now. Parting thought: Let’s just say the mantra of “One Day at a Time” has taken on a whole new meaning for me.

  2. […] You want agency culture? Then try sticking around, Holmes. ( […]

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