Arment Dietrich

Three Ways to Create Culture

By: Arment Dietrich | May 18, 2011 | 

We just returned from Counselors Academy,  a PRSA conference for PR firm leaders. It’s one of my favorite times of the year. I can hardly believe it’s been two years since I was the newbie there.

Back then, I was intimidated as hell to go. As a small PR practitioner based in Sandpoint, Idaho, I assumed everyone would wonder what I was doing there.

I was there because, when I started my business, I had no idea what I was doing. I needed to learn the business side of running an agency. I arrived and discovered that everyone was excited I was there. I have since met and made some of my closest friends and confidants (Gini Dietrich as one perfect example). I learned a ton about the business, and in general, simply raised the bar in my professional life.

This year, as always, I packed my brain with thoughts and ideas in the almost three days full of breakout sessions, keynotes and round tables.

One overarching theme I wanted to share with you is this: Take money out of the equation. By doing what you love, with a staff  with whom  you enjoy working, and clients you enjoy, in a field that you enjoy, you will become a prosperous agency.

Some additional takeaways:

  1. Hire people you want to work with and who fit the culture: Jen Prosek, of CJP Communications, and author of Army of Entrepreneurs, said you can find plenty of people with the right experience and resume, but discussed the importance of hiring for culture. Hiring those with an entrepreneurial spirit and nurturing a culture of ideas and growth helped her firm reach its goals.
  2. Work with clients that make you an exceptional agency: Elise Mitchell of Mitchell Communications Group in Fayetteville, Ark., recently won PR Week 2011 Small Agency of the Year. Elise stressed the importance of selecting clients that fit your organization’s culture.  Don’t think about growth, think about being an exceptional agency. In order to become one, you need clients that will help get you there; clients with whom you make a cultural fit and treat with mutual respect. Those who allow you to do good work for them and get them the results they need.
  3. Choose a niche that is something you are passionate about: In the same vein, Bret Werner of Catalyst Public Relations emphasized the importance of choosing your area of expertise. If you become a specialist at one thing, and “own that niche,” you can command top dollar. This becomes more efficient for you and your firm. Be selective in your new business pursuits. Only go after business you know you can win. Leave the time and energy to put into getting big ideas for the clients you love. Get rid of the clients that are a drag on your time, energy, and morale.

Of course, the end game here is growth, but I was enlightened to hear many of these leaders talk about concepts that don’t focus too heavily on the financials. The idea of doing good work, with good people, for good people can translate into a healthy bottom line was a refreshing thought.

Oh, and I won second place in the grammar, pronunciation, and usage contest. I did not get nearly enough pomp and circumstance for that, nor have I had enough validation in the past week.

To learn more about the discussions and sessions, follow #CAPRSA for tweets and other wrap-up blog posts.

  • rustyspeidel

    So very, very true.

  • ParkRidgeDDS

    Ahem….I am COMPLETELY in awe of your second place grab of the grammar and pronunciation and usage contest….you are my hero, my idol and my mentor in all things grammar, pronunciation and usage related. I want to be just like you…CONGRATULATIONS!!! *are you feeling a little more validated?*

  • I saw your FB update, doing what you love with people you love and thought this is interesting.

    I love the three take aways. They can be applied to almost every business, far away from the world of PR.

    Yes choose a niche you are passionate about, but also choose a niche where clients need your services.

  • I love these points! This is why when we have clients that want to fight us every step of the way, I am the first one to say “no” but I get told do it anyway. I would rather work with someone who fits in our vision and culture, but that is not happening right now.

    Second place in the pronunciation, grammar and usage? I would have been tweeting that every chance I got! That is awesome! Next time I shall “offer to chat” with your competition beforehand..

  • @rustyspeidel which part? the whole thing? or t he part about me being so cool because I won second place? 🙂

  • @ParkRidgeDDS that’s a good start anyway! LOL!!!

  • @johnfalchetto good point – there has to be a need, or at least be able to create a need! You did that! (found your niche)

  • @NancyD68 TWO POINTS! TWO POINTS away from the win. sigh. 🙂 and it’s so true about clients you love to work with and for. It just doesn’t work out profitably in the long run when it’s not a good relationship. But sometimes it’s hard to say no to the money, (cough B-M and facebook).

  • @johnfalchetto PS, am I really going to meet you in real life in a week?

  • ginidietrich

    Am I the close friend or the confidant? Or were you just being nice because you wrote it on Spin Sucks?!

    As for what I learned at CA…I can’t get past abbief stealing my, “Hello. I’m Johnny Cash” line.

  • ginidietrich

    @ParkRidgeDDS Um, cough, cough!

  • AbbieF

    @ginidietrich abbief I gave you credit! “My friend Gini says that every time she has the microphone in front of a crowd, she wants to say Hello I’m Johnny Cash. I just want to sing Feelings.”

  • @ginidietrich abbief i was just being nice because I wrote it on Spin Sucks.

  • Carriejs

    I bow at your feet, @Lisa Gerber . Second place is a huge accomplishment!

  • “Hire people you want to work with and who fit the culture” – that is SO important! At my previous and current agencies, culture and fit were a very important factor when interviewing potential employees. You can have the most impressive resume and experience, but if your personality and work ethics don’t fit with the company’s culture, it won’t work out.

  • elisemitch

    Honored you included on the list, Lisa. I am totally convinced that a key differentiator for an agency (as well as a cornerstone of sustained business success) is having a compelling, values-driven, inspirational culture. Gotta have it. And when you do, everything else takes care of itself.

  • @Lisa Gerber When I first saw B-M I was thinking “bowel movement” Oh well, same thing…kind of

  • martinwaxman

    Great summary of the learnings, Lisa. It’s so important to really love we do… since we spend so much time at work. And congratulations on the prize…I didn’t know. I hope you don’t mind if I run the occasional word by you for usage :). Great seeing you!

  • Lisa, I love these take-aways! Great points from some smart people obviously. “Of course, the end game here is growth” – yes, definitely growth, but leading based on financials is no the only (or even the right way) to impact growth. Where there are people, there are opportunities to impact change & growth based on the human spirit. When you figure out how to tap into that, your opportunities for growth become unlimited!

  • @Carriejs Hi Carrie!!! Nice to see you here, and THANK you for all that validation. that’s what I’m talkin about. 🙂

  • @Nikki_Stephan in other words, if you’re a total tool, no one wants to work with you and productivity goes down the tubes!! Exactly!! 🙂

  • @elisemitch Exactly, Elise! Thanks for being such a great inspiration! seriously.

  • @martinwaxman You didn’t know? Oh, you must not have received my press release. I’ll add you to my distribution. LOL. and yes, any time – ask me anything. 🙂

  • @wendykeneipp what you said!! well put. Thanks, Wendy!

  • janbeery

    Lisa, I agree with Wendy. Great take-aways! We didn’t make the decision to do what we do just for the money. If we did, I’d be working with a multitude of clients I’d prefer to take a pass on. Clients that burn through your energy bank like a credit card with no limit can and will leave you totally depleted.

    We also have defined our niche more as well. Now, move forward and be the best we can be, for our clients and with our clients who want to reap the benefits of what we do best, help them!

  • SoloBizCoach

    Finding bright, hardworking people that fit your culture and you like to work with is crucial. In fact, I typically encounter this from the employee side. When I give career advice, my first piece of career advice is to be nice and fun to be around.

    You can go a long place in the workforce just by making friends. Sure you need to do good work, but that is not enough. People need to like working with you.

  • @Lisa Gerber Haha, yup! 🙂

  • bdorman264

    Hold on………………whoopeeee………..there’s your pomp and circumstance………….

    Hiring for culture is SO much easier than trying to artificially create it. Be slow to hire and quick to fire. If you can do this you can make your business look like you want it to look.

    Don’t be all things to everybody; know what your niche is and who makes up your ‘sweet spot’ and be absolutely the best you can be for them. Don’t waste the limited resources you have chasing all these cats and dogs.

    Good post, good info; I’ll send up my ‘she’s knows where she is going award’ I rec’d last year…….

  • @SoloBizCoach I just don’t get people that are a PITA to work with – why? it’s not fun for us – it can’t be fun for them, right?

  • @janbeery a credit card with no limit! exactly. takes all the fun (and profitability) out of work.

  • @bdorman264 ahhhh, thank you, Bill – for the pomp and circumstance. 🙂 I’m starting to feel a bit more validated now.

  • janbeery

    @Lisa Gerber We literally still have a client like this (long, long, bottle of wine story.) I am pretty forward with them and we charge for the aggravation.