"We believe in telling the truth to each other and we believe in telling the truth to the people we are trying to sell things to."
Corporate culture is a weird thing: It's almost impossible to inculcate, but anyone who has worked in an office with a distinctive culture is aware of it and its contributions to their firm’s success.
72andSunny, a Los Angeles- and Amsterdam-based marketing agency, is a GOOD Company finalist because of its unique culture, so we wanted to find out how some of the most creative people in one of the most creative sectors build a work environment that allows them to thrive. The company has had success for clients that include Nike, 2K Sports, the Discovery Channel, and, as described in our insider interview, K-Swiss.
My conversation with the company’s founding partners, John Boiler and Glenn Cole, got at what’s important in their culture: Emphasizing the team over the individual by working to eliminate the ever-present ego, a commonly cited goal but one that their agency takes pains to enforce. They also insist on an non-siloed approach to operations and hiring that values employees with a broad array of skills in the firm’s various specialties, from design to copywriting to interactive.
The company also takes culture seriously by keeping a "life coach" on staff—a director of talent and culture who helps employees at every level improve their approach to work, access training and feel invested in what’s happening around the firm. In an industry that’s been criticized for doing little to develop human capital—the main competitive resource at any communications firm—it’s an important move.
72andSunny is doubling down on this strategy by starting 72u, a seminar-cum-apprenticeship that helps develop the kind of talent the agency wants to hire. Under the guidance of agency veterans with teaching experience, the dozen or so students learn techniques, solve problems, and even work with clients to gain real-world experience while pushing the limits of modern communication.
Perhaps most importantly, the agency's leaders understands that cultures evolve. “We are a company that’s born modern,” says Matt Jarvis, the chief strategy officer. “Part of being modern is comfort with change.” That comfort has led the company to innovate in the industry through showing its leaders the implications of disruptive changes in media and technology for marketers.
“Our industry in the past has at times had the reputation of being deceptive, [and] perhaps that has been an appropriate handful at mud slung at us, but those days are over,” Jarvis says. “That just doesn’t work anymore, and I’m glad about that.”
I’m tempted to think he’s spinning me (his job, after all?) but there’s accuracy to his analysis—it’s very hard for a ad agency to lie about a company’s products with increased access to information about competitors and the greater mouthpiece given to regular people on the internet.
Today, Jarvis says, “the truth is the key to great marketing. In this day and age, with social media and gotcha journalism and Wikileaks, there is absolutely nowhere to hide. We believe in telling the truth to each other and we believe in telling the truth to the people we are trying to sell things to. Now, our job is to make it a beautiful truth, and to shine a great light on things that are true… we are great at telling stories that are truthful, and that’s why they resonate with people.”