Being part of a winning team takes a lot of hard work – but there is one thing that can really separate winners from losers.

steelers browns culture winning

Can a team really be that bad? What will it take to turn them around?

Let’s examine two NFL teams, in two very similar cities, just a couple of hours apart. One has a long history of winning, 6 Super Bowl rings and since 1999 has won a record number of division championships. Over the past 20 years they’ve only had 2 coaches and just 3 starting quarterbacks. The other team, just two hours away has gone many years without a winning season, and has never won a Super Bowl. Over the past 20 years they’ve had 28 different quarterbacks, 9 coaches, and in 2017 they didn’t win a game going 0-16. Of course I’m talking about the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cleveland Browns.

What makes one team so much better than the other? There is a lot you can say about the different organizations, their leadership styles, recruiting and training programs, and more. But there is one indisputable fact – the Steelers have a winning culture. They simply refuse to accept any excuse for losing. The Browns, on the other hand, have never been able to shake that losing funk. In Cleveland there is almost a perverse pride in continuing to lose. We call that winning attitude, or that terrible stink, “culture” and it can make or break a team.

Marketing firms can also be separated into winners and losers. There are those agencies that just always find a way to win, and a few that can never seem to get out of their own way. The vast majority of agencies just seem to muddle through. The problem is often a question of culture and leadership.

Leading an agency is hard work. Agencies are filled with driven, opinionated, creative, free-spirited people, along with a few nuts and some outright lazy types. And somehow they ALL need to work together.

Agency culture is a powerful tool that can help your agency attract the right prospects, keep clients and team members longer and make it easier to lead. Culture is basically the beliefs, values and behaviors that everyone in the agency knows and understands. Culture is most often defined as “the way we do things around here.”

The Rules of Agency Culture:

  • Watch what you think about clients because your thoughts turn into words.
  • Watch what you say about clients, because your words turn into actions.
  • Watch how you act towards clients, because that becomes the agency’s culture.
  • Watch your agency’s culture, because that determines your destiny.

Who Is Responsible for Agency Culture?

A) Creative
B) Operations
C) Owner/general manager
D) Agency senior management
E) Finance/administration
F) Account management
G) All of the above

If you didn’t answer “G” you may be thinking about culture wrong.

Different types of agency culture we’ve seen over the years:

  1. Creative-driven: Creative drives everything. If the agency is not willing to fire a client of a creative disagreement, they’re not really creative.
  2. Staff-oriented: The key here is building a people-first agency. The emphasis is on quality of life, and building satisfaction and pride into the agency environment. Employees always come first.
  3. Financial-oriented: The focus of the agency is profit over everything. The bottom line is king, and the agency is willing to do anything to make a buck. Every project is closely watched.
  4. Client-oriented: Clients always come first. The agency adopts a client-focused mentality and does everything in its power to keep clients happy, no matter the cost.
  5. Account-driven: Different from client-oriented, here the account team leads the entire agency – good or bad. The focus can be on strategy, service, money, or anything, and often changes depending on who is leading the charge. Ego plays a big part here.
  6. Job-focused: Many agencies fall under the spell of focusing on the most immediate job at hand. The work runs the agency. Staff and work often suffer.
  7. Process-driven: CYA and procedures drive everything. If the proper form is not filled out the work stops. Everything else, creative, client service, employees, and more end up getting the short shrift.
  8. Agency-denial: Agency resigned to going through the motions. Low energy, slow decision making and a lack of leadership. This culture is by far the most dangerous.

No culture is impossible – it’s always there, and it either helps or hurts your agency. Chose wisely and pay attention to your culture.

browns losing leadership culture

It’s hard to change a losing culture.

The strongest agency with the best brand, the most effective operations and a terrific staff are always looking better ways to build cohesion, to create a powerful winning culture. Leadership must drive culture from the top down, and it’s vital to get it right from the start. Once a negative culture takes hold it takes twice the effort to change behavior and attitude to something positive. Always remember the Browns.

If you want to get serious about culture, focus on something everyone can agree on, new business.

Last year we helped agencies all over the world better understand what it takes to create a winning agency. We believe in winning. We can show you how to win, not just play. It all starts with just one day.

Call your Sanders Consulting Group representative at 412.897.9329 or email us at [email protected] for details, pricing options and schedule availability.


Game photos by Erik Drost and used under creative commons.