As companies enter the fourth quarter of 2022 and begin planning and budgeting for 2023, it’s often a time to evaluate existing partnerships and explore new ones. For many, this exercise means sourcing agencies for marketing, communications, and accounting, while gauging how these partners will fit into the overall operating budget.
This year, what if you took a completely different approach to determining the right agency partners? Instead of solely prioritizing which third-party agencies fit into your financial roadmap, consider evaluating their Company Culture as a definitive fit indicator too.
As the founder of Darby Communications, a successful PR and digital marketing firm in the outdoors, active lifestyle, and food and beverage industries, I’ve been looking at third-party partner options since we were incorporated, in 2008. I’ve made some solid decisions, and I’ve made some hasty, expensive decisions – that’s just part of the trial and error of owning and running a business. However, over the years, it’s become abundantly apparent that securing business partners must involve the same decision-making process as hiring staff. The first questions we ask ourselves when evaluating prospective partners:
- Is the chemistry right?
- Do our values align?
How do you define company culture?
To start, company culture within a workplace is the sum of a business’ systems, procedures, behaviors, and values. These factors create an internal and external experience associated with the organization, a so-called ‘vibe’ if you will. The company’s employees and customers are extensions of this vibe and carry the organization’s persona in their words and actions. If the company’s culture is healthy and strong there’s a high probability that employees are proud of where they work and that satisfaction will be exhibited in their deliverables. Conversely, if employees feel mistreated, they may leave their positions prematurely or approach their work with little motivation, neither of which serves anyone well.
“The goal is not to do business with everybody who needs what you have. The goal is to do business with people who believe what you believe.”Simon Sinek, author, motivational speaker, and marketing consultant
Why is company culture imperative in your decision-making process?
The answer is quite simple, quality company culture saves you money. In a recent presentation from Darby Communications on Building Company Culture and Retaining Talent, we detailed the high cost of employee turnover. On average it costs most organizations up to 33% of the employee’s annual salary to refill the position.
The same holds true for contracting a new agency. As organizations seek fresh partners, the goal should be relationships with a propensity to be long-term. By being deliberate in the vetting process, companies save significant time and resources by removing themselves from this ongoing cycle. The right fit equates to healthy relationships with open communication, collaborative planning, flexibility, and mutually-beneficial collective growth.
On average it costs most organizations up to 33% of the employee’s annual salary to refill the position.
How do I gauge company culture?
Gather intel by asking probing questions and interviewing key players within the organization you are evaluating. If you are serious about moving forward, insist on speaking with account management staff as well as the leadership team and consider the following questions:
- What is your average client retention rate?
- How many employees have been with you for two or more years?
- Who will be on our account management team? If there are still unknowns, does the firm’s processes for building account management teams seem methodical and well-organized?
If you get a defined account team ahead of the contract, interview them. Questions about their communication style can be invaluable to ensuring continuity and a productive workflow.
In addition to vetting the account management staff and understanding their workflow, determining a repeatable final vetting process that includes the following detailed steps:
- Insist on agency references and check them!
- Ask about their onboarding process.
- Review company core values and be sure they align with your company’s values. If there is a contract involved, review it in detail – unknowns and the fine print can lead to future animosity if they are not closely reviewed at the onset of the partnership.
How do these questions reveal the company culture of a potential partner?
- A happy team means they are eager to take exceptional care of your company’s needs!
- Less employee turnover will result in less transition on your account.
- Long-term employees mean your team captain has been trained by someone with years of experience and wisdom. Additionally, if a team captain has been with the agency for more than a year, they too have learned what works and what doesn’t without having to waste your company’s time and money on more trial and error.
- Satisfied employees strive for more, this equates to new ideas, stronger creativity, and a quest to reach goals.
Of course, budget is always a factor, and that next partner needs to understand the boundaries within your budget. If the perfect agency appears to be out of your range, don’t give up and find a more affordable one. Communicate with your dream agency that they are a great fit for your company and that you are dedicated to finding a path together. In the beginning, this might mean starting with a modest campaign or project and limiting the scope of work. If the chemistry is there, the partnership has the potential to grow exponentially.
Fit and relationship are a two-way street and both parties will want to find a way to make it work. This conversation is worth the effort. If not, you might find yourself back in the same spot next year, shopping again for the right partner, and that can be frustrating and costly.
Are there steps your company can take to improve your internal company culture?
If someone is looking to hire your company what can they expect from your team? Does your staff clearly represent your brand? If not, consider implementing a cultural audit of your own to assess an unbiased examination of your organization. This exercise will elevate overall staff behavior and force the leadership team to do a review of employee benefits, organizational policies, and operational procedures.
The feedback gleaned from a cultural audit will help you build a value-aligned culture based on performance, collaboration, and transparency—and what is good for the people, is ALWAYS good for business.