To Win in Today’s Complex Marketing Ecosystem, Agencies Need to Embrace Generosity

A form of collaboration is your company’s most important KPI

Peter Drucker, often considered the father of modern business management, famously said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” While I agree, I would add that in order for agencies to attain a strong culture, they need to embrace the value of generosity. Allow me to explain.

Colin KinsellaIllustration: Alex Fine

Agencies can create new tools, show new ways to use data, produce motivating content and devise impactful media strategies, but if they fail to create a culture of collaboration, long ideas and impact, they will not win in today’s complex marketing ecosystem. Creative and media pros must accept that they need to work hand in glove every day on every idea in order to deliver consistently better performance for their clients.

To get everyone to pull together, agencies must embrace the notion of “being generous.”

In a generous culture, client teams blended from multiple disciplines do not feel threatened by who did or did not “get the credit.” Colleagues can remain confident when they see fellow members of a team who might hail from a different group or business unit (or even holding company, for that matter) collectively sharing in a particular success or failure.

What does a generous culture look like? It starts with confidence; the agency and its people must believe in their work both individually and collectively. Ultimately, when your team hits the mark, high-fives should be shared enthusiastically. A generous culture also requires you to give your time, your ideas and your praise. Don’t hold back in the room because you need to bring your collective best ideas to the client.

In a generous culture, client teams blended from multiple disciplines do not feel threatened by who did or did not “get the credit.”

At Havas, via our Village approach, we have moved our creative, media, data, tech and specialty teams together to a singular physical location under one P&L. The adoption of this model became a painstaking, multiyear process that still has room for daily growth. We’re not perfect—nobody is. But I have no doubt that this process has benefited our agency and, more importantly, improved our work.

Through this proliferation and exchange of thought, the ideal solution often becomes clearer more quickly.

To make generosity work, an agency also needs more than a spirit of altruism. It requires a new structure that consciously veers away from silos and toward new compensation models that both reward collaboration and recognize the team. It’s imperative to eliminate your team’s need to seek their own personal glory.

The time has come to quickly identify the stargazing media strategist who loves the speaker circuit a bit too much—or have a talk with the egotistical director who considers himself or herself above the fray (these archetypes exist at almost every agency)—and bring those folks in line. Individual voices remain important to any agency’s success. Yet, when one voice is heard too frequently, it often means that others—who might have just as much to say—remain silenced.

However, don’t mistake generosity for being soft. At Havas, we vigorously fight for the ideas we believe we can deliver for our clients. And that friction can be leveraged positively, and some level of discontent in teams can be productive. But those situations can only benefit our team members and clients when a baseline of fairness underpins the system. A knowledge of individuals’ strengths and weaknesses, as well as an intolerance for poor or selfish behavior, remain crucial to the success of this approach.

Being generous also requires practicing a bit of patience. All too often, the idea can easily get trampled in a business that values “speed to market.” Rolling out new ideas or structures requires an adjustment period. If we give generosity the time required to take root, and reward instances where it succeeds and course correct where it doesn’t, you’ll begin to see a tighter, more collaborative culture emerge.

In the end, this generosity of spirit remains at the core of winning organizations and manifests itself in small yet meaningful ways: showing up on time, coming prepared to every meeting, returning emails in a timely fashion, saying hello, sending thank-you notes, celebrating the results of teamwork, and much more.

So, while Drucker’s statement has validity, in our world, the generous cultures will become healthy eaters moving ahead. After all, Drucker also famously said, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”

Colin Kinsella (@colinkinsella) is CEO of Havas Media North America.

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This story first appeared in the Sept. 25, 2017, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.