As closerlook passed 100+ employees last year, I began to reflect on what makes (and keeps) an agency healthy. Although there are many qualities that one might attribute to a healthy agency, I’ve boiled it down to four main traits or characteristics that I think are key, at least in my experience.
The first trait of a healthy agency is clarity. The agency should be clear about what they do and don’t do. A healthy agency’s focus is rooted in deep expertise and a clear understanding of its business value.
In other words, a healthy agency knows what role they play in the business of their client. They know what kind of influence they have. Healthy agencies don’t think of themselves as just executors of strategy, but thinkers — they have brains, not just hands. Successful agencies want to have impact. They want to move the needle, not just deliver on tactics. They really see themselves as a business partner for their clients.
This is in contrast with the mindset of a suboptimal and ultimately unhealthy agency that simply plays the role of an outsourced tactical resource because the client can’t hire the full time equivalent employees inside.
A healthy agency that is clearly able to see themselves as true business partners is able to create a strong culture and attract top talent.
Confidence & Expertise
A healthy agency has the confidence and expertise to always speak the truth even when it challenges the status quo, yet do it with respect and not arrogance.
At the same time, a healthy agency has the humility to respect the client’s knowledge and is willing to be flexible. Unhealthy agencies are the ones that are always complaining and moaning about the client, á la “You know, this would be a great business if it weren’t for the clients.”
A healthy agency recognizes that the client has a high level of expertise and experience that the agency will never achieve. While it’s our goal as an agency to become as knowledgeable as we can about our client’s business, the client will always know more, because that’s their business. A healthy agency is confident enough to always be listening and learning and soliciting feedback.
Data & Outcome Driven
The third characteristic of a healthy agency is that they are driven by outcomes measurement.
There is a place for pure art and creativity, but it’s not in marketing. Marketing is a business function. Although we traffic in beautiful images, words and emotion, they are all focused on a business purpose, one that is measurable.
A healthy agency is comfortable tracking, interpreting and living by the numbers that measure impact. A healthy agency isn’t afraid of looking at results because it sees metrics as not only a measure of impact, but a reflection of how well the outcomes were predicted in the first place. Results offer an opportunity to analyze what impacted the outcomes either positively or negatively and provide insight on how to deliver smarter marketing next time.
Lastly, I think a healthy agency encourages leadership throughout the firm, leadership based on the meritocracy of ideas and grounded in an environment of mutual respect.
A healthy agency is an agency that takes their clients and their work seriously, but not themselves. They have a pervasive sense of professionalism and a healthy sense of humor that makes them comfortable facing reality.
A focus on developing leadership really gets to the underlying culture of a healthy agency. Balancing professionalism and a sense of humor with a focus on data and excellence and the willingness to listen, hear and give criticism, as well as to give and receive praise for excellence are the traits and foundations of a healthy, successful agency.
As we continue to grow here at closerlook, we undoubtedly will make mistakes along the way. But if we can remember that these four important traits were foundational to getting us to where we are today and consider them non-negotiables as we expand, then I suspect we will continue to maintain a strong and healthy culture.