No Free Lunch

Date: 2010-07-07 19:16:25 // Categories: Z Culture,
By: Carmen Marston
Date: 2010-07-07 19:16:25 // Categories: Z Culture,

I think the ad industry has led the way in confusing the business world about what corporate culture really means. Just one look through a few agency websites and you can see that it is too often defined by things like chai tea carts, basketball courts, beer pong tournaments, summer hours and talent shows. Don’t get me wrong: I do a mean “I Will Survive,” but when did the offering of soft perks become an excuse for a real culture?

It’s time to reclaim the definition of ‘culture’ and what it means to what differentiates one company from another. After all, where is the brand distinction in buying a ping-pong table? Culture is not about feel good stuff. It is about having a good feel for what the company is about and how blood flows through its people.

As an agency focused on building retail brands, our culture isn’t about anything soft. The industry in which we help our clients compete takes intensity, courage and good, old-fashioned hard work. Our “culture” drives people to work until it hurts, then push a bit harder. After all, the harder you work in the office, the more you can afford to play when you leave at the end of the day. That’s the hard truth of our ecosystem. Many would suggest that we don’t have a culture. I actually think it may be the strongest culture of all.

Bottom line is that we are clearly not for everyone. Many do not really want to work as hard as we do. We live in the retail world that operates 24 hours a day. Our most challenging job is not developing retail strategies or Brandtailing™ campaigns. Instead, it’s finding the people that share our rather insane commitment. Our goal is to find people whose personal culture fits that of our professional culture. And that is something you can’t determine from a resume. We often have to interview dozens of people to make sure we find the one person with the right DNA.

We call it ZNA, and we talk a lot about it here. ZNA is an energy that can be felt throughout the agency. It’s a spirit that’s reflected in a phrase that you see hanging on a lot of walls at the agency:

“Relentlessly pursue the client’s goal, but never rest in the glory.”

It educates people about what we do and how we do it. It inspires people to attack every task with the understanding that failure is not an option. Some days it’s about doing the right thing for the right reason, like raising over $2 million for community causes. Other days it’s about starting over from scratch after a project was complete because no matter how much we liked what we did, it didn’t generate enough purchases for our client. On more occasions than I would like to admit, it’s skipping lunch to make sure you make a deadline. It can be a hundred different things that we do on a daily basis without thinking because it’s a part of who we are. It’s about working our fingers off to make our clients successful and never taking our eye off the ball once we do.

So, if you want to come see me at Zimmerman, don’t hold your breath waiting for a free lunch, because it’s not going to happen. And if you want for an apology for that, it won’t be coming either. If, however, you want to find people that accomplish more than anyone would think possible, email me at CarmenMarston@www.zadv.com and ask for my cell number – it’s always on.

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