When we plot out the upcoming year’s editorial calendar after Labor Day, nothing fills us with a greater sense of resignation than the moment when we inevitably fill two coveted feature slots with the words “agency culture.”

It’s not that we see little value in reporting on the agency world; we offer our 236-page July agency issue as evidence to the contrary. Indeed, based on the readership numbers for that issue’s content and the ones for news stories about palace intrigue, there’s clearly interest in material along these lines.

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It’s just that every agency in the biz claims to have a “unique” culture and one that fuels a great deal of its success. But approximately zero of these agencies are able, or willing, to articulate what they do differently from everyone else.

Consider some of the pitches that came our way for the agency-culture feature. Of the more than 40 we received, nearly all referenced the opportunity to participate in charitable endeavors while on the clock. Most touted “living our values” as a cultural selling point, which prompted vigorous editorial debate about whether the oft-highlighted “collaboration” is a value or an action. (Spoiler: it’s an action.)

There were 20 or so shoutouts to employee-recognition programs and about as many heralding Friday-afternoon socializing. One agency said it celebrates both “Bring Your Parents to Work Day” and “Take Your Dog to Work Day,” but nobody had much to say about diversity.

None of these lapses in self-awareness are unique to healthcare agencies, obviously. At every workplace, there’s a business rationale for projecting a certain image out into the universe.

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And it goes without saying nobody at MM&M wants to become the clearinghouse of record for the agency world’s deepest, darkest secrets about in-house practices. After all, we don’t share details about the stern talking-to our contributors receive if they hog the office stapler.

We’ve stepped foot in any number of agencies and can attest that each feels and operates differently from the next. 

It sure would be swell if these agencies decided to dispense with empty babble about work-life balance and more accurately represent the role, assuming there is one, that culture plays in their success.


Larry Dobrow is senior editor at MM&M.