“Culture eats strategy for breakfast” – that’s what management consultant Peter Drucker said about the power of corporate culture. He asserted that strategy is important but that an organization’s culture is the true path to its success.
Lots of PR agencies brag about their culture. Their website and social media channels share pictures of their employees having fun, and tout employee programs and benefits such as yoga classes, Flex Fridays or Taco Tuesday lunches. And while those things may help them attract potential new talent, an agency’s culture doesn’t come from the programs it offers or the cool accoutrements it scatters around the office.
True culture evolves over time from the agency’s people, their actions and their passion. It embodies how they interact, how they operate, what they value, how they treat each other, and how they feel about their clients.
If the agency’s people are not passionate about helping their clients, about their job or about their organization, all the programs and perks in the world won’t improve their performance on your behalf.
So, how do you know when a PR firm has a great culture?
Here are a few telltale signs:
1) Enjoying what they do
The agency staff demonstrates that it enjoys doing the work, working with their clients and working with each other. They’re enthusiastic, upbeat and excited. They enjoy the challenges clients present. Their clients look forward to talking or meeting with the agency personnel. And the employees often hang out with each other outside of work.
2) Staff stays on
The agency employees have a long tenure with the firm. Turnover is a problem for many PR agencies, and some have turnover rates of 20%-35%. If most of the employees have been with the firm for more than 5 or 10 years, you can bet that a positive, supportive culture is a big part of what is keeping them there.
3) Clients stick with them
The PR firm’s relationships with its clients are long-term – often stretching 10, 15 or more years. In the PR business, where the typical client-agency relationship lasts three years or so, longer relationships can be a strong indicator of a positive agency culture and healthy mutual respect.
Such long-term relationships suggest the agency is more focused on being a long-term, valued business partner rather than in scoring some quick billings and moving on to the next target in a churn-and-burn mentality.
The agency’s clients rave about the agency, its work and the integrity of the firm’s account people. There is nothing more telling, or more powerful, than when a happy client recommends their PR agency to their colleagues and peers.
Ultimately, the PR business is about relationships and trust. And a PR firm’s culture plays a huge role in how its relationships with its clients will develop.
Brian Chesky, co-founder and CEO of Airbnb, sums corporate culture up this way: “When the culture is strong, you can trust everyone to do the right thing.”
And isn’t that what you want from your PR agency?