Oscar Wilde said: "Be yourself, everyone else is already taken."
On one of my train journeys home last week, I was supposed to be thinking about the content of this article. But I got sidetracked by people watching. A bunch of 17-year-old mates in the carriage were just hanging out with each other. It should have been easy, enjoyable. But it was the opposite. No-one really seemed themselves. No-one seemed natural. Everyone was putting on a persona, trying to impress and get noticed. It was exhausting to watch.
And it is exhausting. The process of becoming yourself is a time-consuming one and, at times, a real head fuck. The same is true when establishing the identity, personality and culture of your agency. We’ve recently reviewed ours at Lida and it involved a period of really intense hard work.
But the process of establishing who you are as an agency is more important now than ever. Why?
First, we’ve got to keep the playing field fresh. It’s tough, because all agencies are being asked similar questions by clients – and are answering them using virtually the same tools and methodologies.
Cloning each other is going to kill the vibrancy of agencyland. But if each agency develops its own unique culture, we’ll breed diversity in our own little microcosm and that could help keep the industry vibrant and interesting.
Second, a really strong personality and culture provides a strong foundation for the people working within it. At work, at home, wherever, a strong foundation allows people to find their greatness.
Third is the most important point. The multitude of channels, the complexity of data, the desire for genuinely useful customer experiences mean that when briefs come in, they’re answered by a shedload of people. Unless there’s a unifying culture, working together becomes a big headache.
While having a unifying culture sounds simple, it means a million things and has to penetrate a million places. A real culture influences every aspect of your business – top to bottom, inside out. And that’s tough because it has to be grown and nurtured, it has to evolve with the team and can’t be plucked off a shelf along with the latest piece of hardware.
Apart from coming up with the best creative ideas (big and small), culture is the most important thing we need to establish, to articulate, to live and die by. Because culture galvanises people, it influences attitudes, builds belief and drives innovation. Think about it: any difference in culture, wherever you find it, fosters unique thinking, exciting differences, tensions and creativity.
Try being as innovative in tech as you can without a culture that respects where innovation can take you and you will soon see the importance of culture. Try delivering against a really complex comms campaign (when you’re stretched to the gills with the time and resource available) and you’ll see the benefit of working with like-minded teams whose shared objective and MO is to deliver a brutally simple result.
We’re not suggesting people drink the Kool-Aid. Instead, we need and want independent thinkers who can sync together in a common culture to work together and make a difference.
I started with a bit of Wilde, so will end with him too: "‘Know Thyself’ was written over the portal of the antique world. Over the portal of the new world, ‘Be Thyself’ shall be written."
Trefor Thomas is chief creative officer of Lida