Episode 298:

Culture has always been an integral part of any organization. We talk about it in different ways than we used to, but wherever people gather – they create culture. Often, that culture becomes one of the building blocks of an organization’s brand. But not always. The crossroads of brand and culture still holds a lot of untapped potential your agency can leverage both for yourself and your clients.

Theresa Agresta is a former agency owner who realized the cultural assessments she was using to build a brand created a whole different business opportunity that would allow her to dig much deeper into the connection between brand and culture. The fascinating work she’s doing through her company CultureTalk is something that could greatly benefit agency clients, as well as their own shops.

In this episode of Build a Better Agency, Theresa and I look at the ways culture can be used as a tool for agency growth. We take a deep dive into the definition of culture, while also exploring ways to change a company culture, use these insights to improve employee and client relations, and how embracing culture research can easily create additional revenue streams by enhancing what you can offer to clients and prospects.

A big thank you to our podcast’s presenting sponsor, White Label IQ. They’re an amazing resource for agencies who want to outsource their design, dev, or PPC work at wholesale prices. Check out their special offer (10 free hours!) for podcast listeners here.

Brand and Culture

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • The data used to study brand and culture
  • The gap between what is expected and what is tolerated
  • How systems aid culture-related conversations
  • Tools for changing a culture
  • How agencies are using culture insights to better their work
  • Getting over the hesitation of a culture review
  • Using the insights in regards to employee relations
  • Utilizing culture research outside of brand work
  • Creating AGI from culture assessments
“By measuring organizational culture, there are many different connected business challenges that you can start to solve for.” @TheresaAgresta Click To Tweet “Culture exists in the delta between what leaders say they expect and what they actually tolerate day-to-day.” @TheresaAgresta Click To Tweet “One of the critical things that a system, a framework, and a language give you is the ability to have a real conversation about culture.” @TheresaAgresta Click To Tweet “If you want to help an organization tap into who they are at a gut level and show up authentically, it all starts with understanding their culture.” @TheresaAgresta Click To Tweet “It’s about creating awareness and acceptance for the differences and appreciating the value that different people bring.” @TheresaAgresta Click To Tweet “Culture can be measured, it can be managed, and it can be led.” @TheresaAgresta Click To Tweet

Ways to contact Theresa Agresta:

Tools & Resources:

Speaker 1:

It doesn’t matter what kind of an agency you run. Traditional, digital, media buying, web dev, PR, whatever your focus, you still need to run a profitable business. The Build a Better Agency Podcast, presented by White Label IQ, will show you how to make more money and keep more of what you make. Let us help you build an agency that is sustainable, scalable, and if you want down the road, sellable. Bringing his 25 plus years of experience as both an agency owner and agency consultant, please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.

Drew McLellan:

Hey, everybody, Drew McLellan here. As you might imagine, I know it’s not going to be a big surprise to you, but I am here with another episode of Build a Better Agency. Thanks for coming back.

I know I say this a lot and I hope you don’t think I say it just because I have it written down somewhere because as you know, I wing all of this, but I am struck when I record these episodes at how amazing it is and how grateful I am that you listen and that I get to hang out with you every week. So whether we are walking your dog or you are on a subway or taking a walk together or you’re golfing, just know that I am delighted to be with you every week, but this week in particular. So, thanks for bringing me along, whatever we’re doing together.

All right, so let me tell you a little bit about this episode. This episode is all about the convergence of brand and culture, which I think is a fascinating topic. You’re going to love my guest and you’re going to love her perspective, and you’re going to love the fact that she is a former agency owner. So I’ll tell you a little bit about her in a second.

But first what I want to tell you is, again, I know that you have heard me talk about this quite a bit as well, but the Build a Better Agency Summit is happening. We are going to be in Chicago on August 10th and 11th. We are going to be together, we are going to be learning side-by-side, just like we used to do. We are coming together, there’s going to be hugging and laughing and learning and darts and drinks. So it’s going to be a full package for those two days.

We are starting to get close to the event being sold out. So we have a cap of the number of people that can attend, which by the way was the cap that I set, this does not have anything to do with COVID. This is the cap I set because I want the event to be intimate and I want everybody to have a chance to talk to everybody and to connect. So I set the cap at 250 attendees. So, that has nothing to do with the world today or social distancing or any of that stuff, it’s just that I want this to feel close and that you can really get to know each other and that it’s not a huge event where you’re moving in waves of people to get to the next thing. I want it to be a little more relaxed, a little more casual, and so that’s the cap that I set.

So anyway, we are approaching that and so if you want to attend, I’d really love it if you would grab your ticket now while we still have them for you. So, all you need to do is go over to AgencyManagementInstitute.com and the very top left navigation is the Baba Summit, B-A-B-A Summit. Click on that and you can grab your tickets. I am not sure when this episode is going to air, so if it’s after July 15th or 16th, I’m sorry, but the price just went up, if it’s before July 16th, hurry up and grab your ticket because it’s going to go up by a couple hundred bucks on the 16th of July. So, I would love to have you there.

Amazing, amazing speakers. I’ve talked to most of our keynote speakers over the last couple weeks. So we have Liz Nead talking about diversity in the workplace and how you have really hard conversations that we need to have. I have talked to Joe Pulizzi about starting with the end in mind when you build an agency or a business. How do you know how you want it to end so that you can build it to get to that ending? I just talked to Jay Baer this morning and we were talking about all the different ways you can bring revenue into an agency other than project and fee work. So, he’s going to talk about that. I have talked Robin Boehler about what she’s seeing on the biz dev platforms out there, in terms of agencies getting to swing above their weight and how the agencies are faring. Her talk is all going to be about basically, how can you, David, crush a Goliath in a pitch? Whether that’s a formal pitch or an informal pitch.

Talked to Paul Roetzer about what’s happening in AI. So I’m telling you, these guys are bringing their A-game, and then some. I am super excited for you to meet them all. Robert Rose is going to talk about content. So, not only is it going to be a blast because it is going to be a blast, but you’re going to come back with a notebook of ideas, things you want to do, things you want to stop doing, and I promise you it’s going to be a really great, packed two days of connection and learning and having a great time. So, please join us if you will, we would love to have you. Everybody’s going to either present a negative COVID test or proof of vaccine, so I promise you we’re going to keep you super safe and we would love to have you join us.

All right, let me tell you a little bit about my guest. So my guest’s name is Theresa Agresta. Theresa and I met, she used to own an agency and that’s how we met because she came up into the AMI world, she was a member of one of our peer groups. Alongside of her agency, she and her sister were developing another company that looked at company culture. So Theresa’s shop was a brand shop, and they had always used these cultural assessments and some data around culture to help them build brand. As she did that more and more, she realized that there was a whole different business opportunity and that you could dig much deeper into these cultural assessments.

So they created a company called CultureTalk, and the work they’re doing is fascinating. It’s absolutely work that you guys could bolt onto the work that you’re doing for clients. It’s also would be interesting to do for your own organization. So, we’re going to talk about all things culture and what culture really means and how we can help our clients assess their culture and capture it, in terms of messaging, both to their internal and their external audiences. So buckle up, this is going to be a great conversation and I promise, your head’s going to be popping with ideas as you listen to Theresa and all the smarts that she has to share with us. So without further ado, let’s get to it.

Theresa, welcome to the podcast, thanks for joining us.

Theresa Agresta:

Thanks for having me, Drew. It’s really great to be here, great to catch up with you as well.

Drew McLellan:

It is good to catch up. So for the listeners, we just spent the last 15 minutes catching up because Theresa used to own an agency and be a part of the AMI community, that’s how we first met. So but now you’re doing something tangential but different. So tell everybody a little bit about the work you’re doing, the company, and then I’m going to dig into all things culture, which is what I talked about in the intro.

Theresa Agresta:

Sure, so we transitioned from our brand development agency, Allegory Studios, into our new company, CultureTalk. Allegory was the proving ground for the work that we do at CultureTalk. What we did was actually in all of our brand development work, we actually measured the organization’s culture as the starting point, and from there we let the brand grow out of that culture. We were having so much fun with that at the agency level. We would go in and work with clients and identify, what are the authentic patterns and the motivations and the behaviors? When we delivered the brand and we were finished, we knew that there was so much more potential that we could tap into, and there were so many potential outcomes for clients if they were to take advantage of the culture aspect of it.

So what we decided to do was product ties that aspect of it and the product that was born out of that was our organizational culture assessment. That’s one of two assessments that CultureTalk offers as part of a suite of products. So by measuring organizational culture, there are many different connected business challenges that you can start to solve for. Someone who’s even working in the brand space could help to shift that emphasis and their focus to things the clients are really focused on now in tandem with their brand, including their culture and their purpose and how they promote and also try to recruit employees.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, because culture is obviously it’s everything from the recruitment to the retention to how the customers feel it. It’s all of that. So your work though is based on some specific data. Tell us a little bit about that.

Theresa Agresta:

Sure, so the framework that we use to measure the culture are called archetypes. Archetypes are really familiar to many business owners, especially agency owners because for a long time, the agency world has been leaning into these personality patterns in order to brand products perhaps, or companies.

So there are several different archetype frameworks, we actually use the one developed by Carol Pearson, often referred to fondly as the 12 archetypes. So we took that framework, essentially that many people are already familiar with, and we built the CultureTalk tool set on top of that. There’s a couple reasons why that makes it really easy, because the pattern of 12, they’re all stories. They’re easy to remember, people feel really engaged with the stories, they have a personal connection to them, and it makes it sticky. So there’s an easy way to lead powerful conversations with a client that then lead to productive business outcomes.

Drew McLellan:

So in testing individuals and identifying their archetypes, how does that then merge into a company’s culture? How do those two things come together, or is the company’s culture an archetype?

Theresa Agresta:

Yeah, so actually we have two distinct assessments. Sometimes people measure individuals and then they use math. They add up, what are the different people and the personalities in the organization? Then we divide and say, okay, here’s a snapshot of what the culture looks like because it’s the makeup of the individuals. At CultureTalk, we don’t see it that way. We think that culture is chemistry.

So we have two distinct assessments. One is the individual assessment, and there’s a lot of work that can be done around that. It uses the same framework and the same language. But then we have a distinct assessment that measures organizational culture. That takes into consideration so many other culture inputs. So, what industry are you in? What type of clients are serving? What is the leadership, the origin story? All of those things really drive a lot of impact. We know that the receptionist doesn’t have as much weight as the CEO in a culture measure.

So we have two distinct assessments, but they use the same framework of those 12 archetype patterns, and because an organization only has to learn a single language that really adds to the adaptation. They bring it in, they learn the language, they start to speak to each other in the language, and it really builds their own understanding and their own ownership of what’s going on in the culture, as well as what roles they might play and how they contribute to it.

Drew McLellan:

Good or bad.

Theresa Agresta:

Good or bad, right.

Drew McLellan:

Right, yeah.

Theresa Agresta:

Because archetypes have two sets. They have strengths and then the very things that when we come on strong, what we say is you cross the line, and then you are in the shadow. So, a great example of that is the hero archetype, something we’re all familiar with. The hero is goal oriented and driven to win and really focused on the finish line, until they become a bully. People describe them as too aggressive, and they might not be tuned into that, they might feel like their motivation is coming from that same place. What’s interesting about archetypes is organizations behave in the same way. What Carol Pearson did was actually measure, could we take these same patterns and apply them to groups of people? What she found was, yes, if an organization behaves like a hero, they might come on too strong at some point as well. So learning the patterns allows us to apply them in both sectors.

Drew McLellan:

Well, in today’s world, not that I think it was ever not important, but it seems like we’re having a lot of conversations around culture, especially as businesses try and decide if they are going to go back to the office or work from home. What does it look like if… how do I create a culture or support a culture if none of us are together? So, culture seems to be a buzz word right now, people are talking about it a lot.

In the prep that you and I had going back and forth, you said something that I thought was really fascinating, so I have to look off camera for a minute to read it, but it said you said, “Culture exists in the delta between what leaders say they expect and what they actually tolerate day to day.” When I read that, I was like, oh my god. That is the brilliant way of saying what I’ve been nagging at agency owners all the time which is, you’ve got these core values on your wall and yet you let your people do this or this or this or this. What gives? So, talk to us a little bit about that delta and what understanding your culture better can do to close the delta.

Theresa Agresta:

Yeah, it’s really fascinating we actually have a little graphic to describe that, so I’ll pass that along to you as well.

Drew McLellan:

That’d be great. We’ll put it in the show notes.

Theresa Agresta:

Exactly, and you can share it with your agencies too.

Drew McLellan:

I’m going to.

Theresa Agresta:

It’s just right here, as you say. So it’s true, a lot of times we get hung up in the expectations, and those we can write down. So we might have a list of like you said, core values, an employee handbook, we might have processes and policies, maybe we’ve even got a culture code. So it’s all written down, but it’s the things that when the shit hits the fan that where we find ourselves reactionary and we let things slide and we’re not holding people accountable. It’s really in there where we see where the culture really lives.

So sometimes, oftentimes I would imagine, that that’s where shadow sides of a culture show up. So the opportunity exists, not to say that things have gone south, it’s wrong, it’s bad. I think people get nervous around labeling, we have a good culture, we have a bad culture, or we got a good score or a bad score. But it’s really an awareness because if I’m aware that we act from a particular pattern and I know the signs and I’ve had the indicators that show when we’re going over into the shadow side. Then we can use it as a guide to come back into those core values to really use what we… our real underlying motivators and the positive things that we’re trying to accomplish through the culture, as the guide to get us back over that line. So, but it takes accountability on everyone’s part. It takes naming what’s in that tolerate space.

I think one of the critical things that a system and a framework and a language give you is the ability to have a real conversation about it, because a lot of times it’s very nebulous. People think [inaudible 00:17:34] cultures is airy fairy topic, but you need to get specific about it, having a language and something that you can align. So, if I can see that this behavior, whether it’s a strength or a shadow, can be aligned with a particular pattern, now I can call it out, I can name it, and I can change it. I can make specific decisions around, what do I want to do about that?

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, so that was where I was headed next is, okay, so we measure the culture and whether it’s an agency working with you guys or you guys doing it yourself, you measure the culture, maybe it’s part of a brand process. The leadership goes, yeah, we don’t like that culture, we don’t want to be that. So, how easy… well, is it possible to change a culture? How do the tools that you have help someone actually adapt or modify a culture?

Theresa Agresta:

So it obviously always starts with, like you said, with the measurement. Understanding, what’s point A? So we can pretend, we can like you said, throw the core values on the wall and point to that and say it’s our culture, but unless we actually measure what’s going on and get an objective measure of where are we today, then it’s very hard to make a meaningful change.

So measuring it, understanding what’s going on, calling out the things that we don’t like, or hey, if we’re going to meet these new goals we’ve laid out for ourself, if we’re going to increase our market share, shift some things about what we’re doing. What we’re doing today is not going to support that, it’s not going to get us there. So we can look at a different pattern, a desired pattern and a direction that we want to head and then understand, how do we know that we were acting from a new pattern? What would the behaviors be? What would our outcomes be? What would the tasks and the way that people were producing, what would it look like if were shifting to a new pattern? Then do we have the right people to do that? Because individuals have certain patterns and archetypes and behaviors that they are really inclined toward as well.

So we may need to start working with individuals to align people in the right roles or with the right tasks. We might want to help understand, do they want to? Do they actually want to or will they act from a different space and activate things that might be challenging for them or be the sticky wicket that always gets in their way? Because one thing we know for sure is that if we just say, “We’re going over here, we’re going to change,” and we don’t give people a roadmap and clarity and a shared language to help them understand, are we making progress toward that goal? Then it gets really hard to do that.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, so I know this was born in some ways, out of your work when you did have the agency. So talk to us a little bit about how you and how your clients now that are agencies, how are they blending this culture work, which probably most agencies are like, well, that’s outside of advertising and marketing. So, but a lot of agencies are spending more time on internal communications and things like that, but still, I bet a lot of agencies are like, this isn’t what we do, but I think it enhances what they do. So how do you see agencies using this kind of cultural assessment and cultural understanding to better their work and to help their clients?

Theresa Agresta:

Yeah, that’s a great question. What we’re finding is that there are a certain type of agency that is really looking to make a shift like this. At some levels, they are understanding that the impact that they want to have in the world and they have what they want to be able to actually provide their clients goes deeper. They want to be able to really look at the core underlying motivators in an organization and use that as a starting point. So they are looking for a tool that will help them to get there, and that’s one level of agency that we find comes to us and finds CultureTalk.

Other ones are just like Allegory Studios was. Doing the brand work and recognizing that if you do it well, if you help an organization tap into who they are at a gut level and really show up authentically, then they need to go to culture. So whether they’re driving it themselves for their own growth and being able to add services and enhance what they offer to clients, or whether it’s being driven by the client themselves that is looking for that deeper expression. I think that there are many different drivers for that deeper expression that are coming at clients today.

So you have employees who are wanting a purpose driven organization and they’re taking jobs and they have choices. They want to know what you stand for and how can I align myself with an organization that I feel good about working for, that I feel like I’m connected? That’s just critical for the recruiting aspects. So agencies that have found themselves moving from… you mentioned communications and internal work, and we’ve seen a huge shift in, hey, we do this brand work, we can shift and do employment branding. I don’t know if you’re seeing that experiencing a lot of employment brand work.

Drew McLellan:

Especially as it’s been so hard to hire people, yeah.

Theresa Agresta:

Yeah, yeah, so I mean half the job of the agency is the external marketing messages and the other half is help, we need help.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, make us look pretty to the applicants.

Theresa Agresta:

Right, right. Applicants, we like to say we lean on the message of Dave Mattin from TrendWatching. He put this out a few years ago but it is such a fantastic expression of this, we’re living in a world of glass box brands and everyone can see inside. When you and I started in the agency world, we were painting the box whatever color we wanted.

Drew McLellan:

That’s right.

Theresa Agresta:

Turn you around and ta-da, it’s a beautiful color of blue. Don’t you like it? Today we can’t do that. You just take… because people can see all the way inside and they can look on social media, they can take these review sites, they have so much access to very… things are very visible. So people see inside your organization, all you can do is be authentic, be honest, and be able to get really clear about what’s going on in your culture. Then if you can message that in a positive and effective way, now you’re going to attract the right people to your brand, whether it’s employees or customers.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, as I think you know, my agency’s origins were brand. So what I used to always say to clients is, you can’t make a promise outside that you’re not going to keep inside because the employees will call you out on it, and this was way back before it was as transparent as it was today, but even back then it was like, look, for a brand to be real, it has to be wholistic and come from all aspects of the business.

So, one of the things I was thinking about as you were talking is this idea of, suspect when an agency or you guys or one of your other certified folks who does this, when they start working with a customer or a client, how often do they have any idea what their culture actually is? Are they usually surprised?

Theresa Agresta:

Oh yeah.

Drew McLellan:

Right?

Theresa Agresta:

So interesting, yeah. So when we do an assessment, and what we call it, so there’s those three parts to what we call a baseline culture audit. It’s very prescriptive and it probably aligns with what most agencies go in, the steps that they take and that they do, but it’s the quantitative research, which is the culture survey and the qualitative aspect of that, which is interviews and stakeholder interviews. Pulling those together and then selecting a culture profile.

So with archetypes, there’s this aspect of validation that’s really important. The client has to say, “Yes, not only did we measure this but we agree. Here are the specific stories.” There’s just a whole lot of nuance and creativity, which really again aligns well with the skillset of an agency.

So they sometimes… so we pick a pattern and it includes usually three archetypes that come together in this profile. One of them might be aligned with expectations, so for instance in a healthcare setting you wouldn’t be surprised that a caregiver archetype shows up strongly, but it’s in the nuance of, well, what kind of a caregiver are you? So are you an innocent caregiver or are you a ruler caregiver? Even in the name there’s not a lot of surprise that those two are very different organizations, but it gives the agency a lot of room for creativity and personalized interpretation. So even though there are only 12 patterns, there’s so many different nuanced combinations. What brings the whole thing to life is archetypes are stories and agencies are great at stories.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, well, and I would think too that if an agency started with this kind of a methodology to learn more about the client, to either build the brand or maybe not, that also part of what comes out of this would be language, sentiment, message hierarchy. You would get a lot of data around, here’s how these people would talk about themselves, here’s how their customers or employees would talk about them, which would give you a language set to say, okay, here’s my word palette, here’s my color palette, here’s my sentiment palette, which would help you craft messages and communications tools that people would go, oh, that’s totally that. It fits that, it’s like, I get it, that’s coming right out of their mouth.

Theresa Agresta:

That’s exactly right. It comes right out of their mouth because they picked the profile, they told the stories, and then you’re right, the ability to build the tool sets that you need as an agency to continue delivering against that brand come right out of the process as well. So words, archetypes, really drive us in a direction of language and word choices and colors as you mentioned. So there’s many different things that flow once you’ve got that initial profile nailed down.

At CultureTalk, we have developed just a whole world. We spent a lot of time over the past five years developing a number of different materials that can help to guide the process, to guide the conversations, to understand for instance, just this week we finished one on communication and looking at the 12 patterns and which of these patterns are coming from a head space versus a heart space versus a gut space. This is in collaboration with one of our certified partners, but helping, it developed a whole schematic of ideas and language that make it easy and that’s just one of a number of tools that can be rolled out against a particular project as the creative team gets going.

Drew McLellan:

One of the things that I suspect is that going in with a tool like this mollifies the fear because it’s not good or bad. So I want to ask you about that when we come back but first let’s take a quick break.

When it comes to conducting a client satisfaction survey, your agency has three choices. The first one is, adopt a don’t ask don’t tell policy and just roll the dice. Your second option is to do the study in-house. The third option is to use a third party to conduct your client satisfaction survey. If you decide that you’re ready to invest in protecting your client relationships and improving your win and keep ratios, we believe there are some benefits of using AMI as your third party research partner. Number one, we know emphatically that your clients will tell us things that they just won’t tell you. The reality is they’re going to speak more freely if they’re not talking to you directly. They don’t want to hurt your feelings and they don’t want to get into a big conversation about it. So a third party is a safe place for them to share their real feedback.

The second is that at AMI, we don’t have a bias about any particular client. We don’t know if you like them, don’t like them, if they’re a pain, if they’re your favorite. So because we understand the agency business but we don’t come into those conversations with any preconceived notions, we can absolutely give you unbiased and unfiltered information based on what your clients tell us. You know what? We know agency clients, we can hear what they’re saying and we know which threads to pull on as we’re talking to them.

To get more information for you and more insight, your clients will be comfortable talking to us because we speak their language. If you’re interested in having AMI do your customer satisfaction survey, head over to AgencyManagementInstitute.com and look under the how we help section of the website to learn more. All right, let’s get back to the show.

All right, we’re back, and we’re talking about the collision of culture and marketing and advertising and branding. So Theresa, right before we left, I was saying that I suspect when you say to a lot of leaders, “Hey, we want to come in and measure your culture,” that there’s some apprehension around that. Like, okay, what if my culture is bad? I think one of the benefits of using, rather than just coming in and saying, “Look, we’re going to… as part of our brand process, we’re going to poke around your culture, we’re going to interview some people,” but one of the benefits of a data set, a tool like what you’ve developed is that it makes it less personal. It’s not really me judging you and saying, “Yeah, your culture is not so awesome.” So, talk a little bit about how this kind of a tool would help an agency get past that hesitation on a leadership person’s part.

Theresa Agresta:

Yeah, so in particular the approach that we take to your point, it doesn’t say, “You’ve got a… wow, 100 is a great score and you got a 56.” Really, what we’re just saying is we’re measuring the presence of these patterns. No matter what pattern shows up, and especially when you’re doing brand work, you come in with the strengths. So when you’re doing brand work you come in and you show them, hey, we measured a magician at your organization and what that means is, you are driven by really big visions. You’re a catalyst for change and you’re able to really identify future trends and actually set them, and then inspire people to reach out and to go there. So there’s that plus a whole plethora of more attributes that if we measure a magician, it’s very likely we’re going to find these types of behaviors.

So the leadership, if they are at all skeptical to begin with, they like those ideas. They start to lean into that, it’s a positive thing.

Drew McLellan:

Really, there’s no devil archetype, right? There’s no bad, they’re all different, but none of them are… someone would be like, Oh, I hope I don’t get the devil one. I mean, there’s not that, right?

Theresa Agresta:

Right.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, okay.

Theresa Agresta:

No, no, no. So especially in the brand work, what we don’t show is the shadow side. Now when you’re working with an organization really on a culture shift initiative, you’re going to get to the place where you’re saying, okay, let’s also understand that the magician can be a con artist. The magician can over promise and under delivery. Get everybody all excited and let them all down or expect that everybody is going to be able to pull rabbits out of hats all day long and never really validate how much work it actually takes to get something done. So those things are also true, but when you go into… two things happen. First, when you go do a brand project, really don’t emphasize the shadow. It’s there, you may hear those things. So when you do your validation work and you get those stories, you’ll be able to see the trends and the patterns but you’re really branding and bringing forward the positive attributes of the archetype pattern.

Then the second thing is, the validation process includes finding those story points and data points that support the pattern. So when you go in and show two sets of information, it’s not just… in fact, it’s not you, the brander, coming to that conclusion at all. It’s literally like, here’s two pieces of research that we did. We did a quantitative survey which measured that you have this archetype present, and then we backed it up with qualitative research and stakeholder interviews, and we heard these stories. This is how these stories align with the patterns that we measured. So, it really all-

Drew McLellan:

Sort of hard to dispute, yeah.

Theresa Agresta:

It’s hard to dispute, and we get a lot of leaning in at that point. The stories come out, the language, it’s really, as you said, it came out of your own mouth. The best language and ideas that come back in the brand are the ones that are spun out of the client stories. But what happens with the archetypes and when you use this mechanism is you get incredible buy-in. There’s far less skepticism of somebody saying, “Oh yeah, you agency people cooked that up in some back room.”

Drew McLellan:

Right, yeah, so I would think you would get to consensus with a… Now, if you’ve put together a brand taskforce or something like that, you would get to consensus much quicker because it isn’t just subjective. It’s really about reacting to the objective data in front of them, right?

Theresa Agresta:

Exactly, yeah, yeah. Literally, it’s their data, their stories, and they get to validate it, they get to choose the profile. Only after that point do you walk away and begin the creative process.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, so as I’m listening to you, I’m thinking, if a company understood their archetype and they understood what other archetypes, because I’m assuming, correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m assuming certain other archetypes are attracted to be with a specific… so in other words, if my company was a magician, then there’s probably two or three archetypes that would want to work for my company. Certainly, other magicians, but it would help me I would assume, know how to craft my employee message and also to know in theory which employees are going to stick around for a really long time because they’re aligned with the brand, and some that I’m assuming are not aligned with the brand. Maybe the whatever, so-and-so is like, maybe I’m not too into the magician thing, right?

Theresa Agresta:

Yeah, well I think that one of the key thoughts here is awareness. So at the highest level, yeah, absolutely. We want to be able to articulate what it really feels like to work in this environment, or from a client perspective, to work with this environment. So having awareness and then messaging authentically against what’s actually happening, so that when I show up as a potential employee I know what I’m getting into.

Drew McLellan:

Right, and you’ve already decided that’s for me or not for me, right?

Theresa Agresta:

Exactly, and so companies that have adopted the system literally use it not only in their recruiting messages, but they also bring it into their interview process. So we have companies that are using both ends of the system. They will use the organizational culture work to measure and define and clear about and use it as a strategic tool, so it becomes a tangible business asset. They can use it for their brand but it’s like the Swiss Army Knife. You can just continue to fall back into that same clarity around what our culture is, to do things like strategic planning, merging. It’s a great tool to help you merge with another company. Culture shift or change. Who didn’t have to change over the past year knowing what’s really important at our core? When push comes to shove, how are we going to behave? Those are all things that come right out of that same measurement.

Then on the individual side, say for instance in our magician example, we have a sage who’s part of that organization. The sage is a much slower moving, deeper thinker, research oriented. Sometimes the one who asks the really hard questions that the magician is really not excited to get. Sometimes it’s the person at the meeting that just feels like the Debby Downer because it’s like, magician might present this fantastic, exciting idea, and the sage says, “Well, I don’t think it’ll work and here’s why,” and they’ve got all their facts lined up. But the truth is, we need to be aware as organizations, as cultures, as leaders that we need that sage.

Drew McLellan:

Right, so we don’t go off the cliff.

Theresa Agresta:

Right, yeah, exactly. So it really is about awareness and creating acceptance for the differences, and appreciating the value that different people bring. So it’s not that someone who isn’t the primary archetype of the organization isn’t going to make a good fit, but if the leadership learns to appreciate the value they bring, and coach them accordingly, then there can be a lot of synergy that gets created.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, so how have either you back when you had the agency or have you seen other agencies, is this work primarily tied to brand work from an agency perspective, or are there other aspects of this that can be bene… so if I’m not a brand agency, if no one ever asks me to brand their agency, how would I use this tool in conjunction to the work that we do with clients?

Theresa Agresta:

So if you’re doing more like a digital marketing play or another aspect of an agency world?

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, it might be, we’re launching new products or we’re opening new locations or whatever it might be.

Theresa Agresta:

Yeah, yep. So you can use archetypes very effectively for product branding as well, or really driving the message out through marketing is the effective way to continue the use of it. So if you measure the organizational culture, so it depends on what kind of business and there could be some better fits for it. When you get into digital marketing, sometimes you’re more driven by the data and it’s less about the message itself even, as you know. So I would say that the strongest use for agencies is definitely in brand. But I think again what we have been discovering is that the opportunity to look at culture to expand into the internal communications and the messaging there, and those are both ways in which an agency that’s just operating right now in the marketing space or in the brand space can actually expand. That’s what we have seen.

So to give you an example, we had a boutique branding shop that has been certified for a number of years, and they were looking to bring culture into their practice. So they jumped on board and they were glad to have a tool that helped to make that easier. I kept saying, “You could actually expand, you can go deeper,” but they didn’t see it. Only after working with the material and going, taking it deeper into an organization did they realize, we’ve got it. We know how to do culture work, we can help an organization with a culture shift initiative. We can help with mergers, that was a critical thing. They were in the technology space and the growth through acquisition was huge. So they were able to do a wash, rinse, repeat. Once we have this core culture profile, how do we help to successfully bring the brands together? Oh, by the way, we can help with the conflict resolution as well that happens when you try to bring two cultures together, because we’ve unlocked this code. It’s like a code, and when you unlock it, there’s just so many opportunities.

It’s one of the reasons that when we were at Allegory doing this work, we would… the first things that would happen would be, we’d measure the culture, we’d share the positive side, the strengths, we’d do the brand. Then we’d say, “Good bye, good luck,” but what we knew… and this is any agency owner, you see the challenges and because you’re working so closely with the C-suite many times, you see where things are going to go right and where things are going to be hard. When you measure the… I mean, you had this code and this key, we would start to pull the leadership aside and say, “Well, you might want to be aware about the shadow sides of this pattern. Here’s some of the feedback that we got when we did these interviews. It makes sense, it aligns with these patterns we uncovered,” and because they had accepted the pattern and validated the pattern and brought it in and said yes, they’re much more willing to be vulnerable and to accept the challenges and to hear them through the lens of that pattern.

So what we started to realize is, we were leaving a lot of work on the table as an agency.

Drew McLellan:

Absolutely, well, I was just thinking, for agencies that are trying to level up their C-suite activity, their consultative work. Yeah, as you know, that’s pure AGI so we love that work. This would be a great way to work your way into having those organizational, yes, quasi communication conversations, but they’re bigger than just a communications conversation. But it is still about the outcomes of hitting your KPIs and retaining employees and gaining new customers and building a loyal tribe of customers, all of that comes from the relationship which starts with the culture. So I can totally see how an agency could get very embedded with a client with this sort of insight and data.

Theresa Agresta:

Yeah, you become a really strategic partner. That’s what we found, there was a lot of leaning in, a lot of trust, and an open ear to hear what your suggestions were and to understand. Even if you go in and you just do the culture audit in service to brand project, you open the door. You open the door and with a little bit of experience, like our tentative brand agency, I can’t do that, I can’t do that, but then with a little bit of exposure and experience, it’s like, oh, I can do that. It really went well. [crosstalk 00:46:47].

Drew McLellan:

And they’re asking for more.

Theresa Agresta:

Correct, that’s one of the critical things that we find too with our partner community. In fact, I got a phone call yesterday from somebody who just came back from an engagement. I just had a laugh at what she said, she said, “This project or this system just keeps making more work for me because there’s just follow on work and there’s another opportunity to continue using it and acting from the results that you found,” so.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, well, and agencies are frustrated that they are relegated to middle management marketing people. This is a way, you can’t do this work and you can’t talk about this work without being in front of the leadership team or the C-suite. So, this to me is a way for you to elevate yourself back to being a trusted advisor at the C-suite level, and now all of a sudden they’re talking to you about things that are much broader than marketing, which most agencies owners or most agency leaders, directors of account service, they’re perfectly capable about talking about other aspects of the client’s business and guiding them there as well, because ultimately it all ends up coming back to some level of communications.

Theresa Agresta:

Yeah, absolutely. I used to say all the time, you learn that information anyway. In order to do your job, in order to do well what you have to deliver against, you need to know all those strategic things anyway. You need to know the organizational structure, you need to understand the command chain, you need to know how the employees are playing into the picture. There’s just so many things that you already are touching into.

Drew McLellan:

Right, and just not leveraging to both the clients and your advantage.

Theresa Agresta:

Totally.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, yeah, this is fascinating. I could talk to you for another hour just about the employee engagement part, but I know I need to let you go. So, last question for you before I let you tell everybody how to find out more information. When you got… because I’m assuming when you’ve got somebody who’s certified in doing this, and you’re helping them figure out how to price. When I’m going in and doing a regular brand project, I already probably know what that price is, but when I add this culture assessment to it, what does it do for the agency fees? I mean, is it half again as much, is it a dollar more? I’m thinking about, I’m now putting on my, I want more AGI agency owner hat. I’m thinking, okay, if I got certified in this and I could wrap this into my current brand process, could I charge more? So what are you seeing amongst your clients? How does this change the way they’re able… because it’s a completely different deliverable, right? It’s research and brand, so how does it change the way they price themselves, do you know?

Theresa Agresta:

I think that they may include the hard cost of the survey itself. We encourage them to market up to make some profit and to mark that up, but it does slide very nicely right into a traditional brand process. So they don’t have to be afraid that they’re going to have to charge a lot more, it’s a shift. It’s a shift in what you measure. So along the way, like when we would go in and deliver the workshop itself, which at some point in the brand process there’s going to be a workshop.

Drew McLellan:

Oh, that’s right.

Theresa Agresta:

So there’s the workshop, you also outline what you learned about the history and the strategy and the goals. So you’re bringing those, that very tangible aspect of… the practical aspect of what we’re here to do and to brand and you’re tying in the outcomes of the research. So, and what we describe is it’s a half-day workshop, which I’m assuming most agencies are doing that anyway. It may set off some other exercises they might do, they may decide to do some combination of them, but the survey itself goes out, that’s part of… organizations, they can decide how many people within the organization around which different demographics that they want to measure and who they want to include in the survey. So that survey itself, that cost is probably an additional cost, but it depends on how many people again, that they choose to include.

After that, it really dovetails pretty effectively with a traditional brand process. It shouldn’t increase the time spent on [inaudible 00:51:33].

Drew McLellan:

But it doesn’t increase the expense to me but I could increase the fee to the client because it seems to me the value of what you’re delivering is much deeper now than just the brand? It really is about culture and the organization and so you could wrap that up as an additional feature of the work, which is worthy of an additional fee?

Theresa Agresta:

Absolutely, absolutely. We have even the deliverable, the report that comes out is of high value. So you’ve got just by doing it, you receive a report. A lot of it’s boilerplate, but it is jam packed with really insightful, impactful information about how to think about your culture. What are there’s patterns and how do we start identifying them? So there’s a huge lean-in. Clients get super curious about the report that comes out of this, that’s a lot of value you’re delivering.

Drew McLellan:

Yep, well I could remember when you first started developing this, pretty sure the very day you told me about it. I was like, okay, how do I got to the website and find out what my arch… I mean, there is a natural curiosity about classifying yourself by whatever the categories are. So yeah, I’m sure brands and leaders love it because it also gives them something to tangible to hold onto and to work from. So as you said, a lot of this feels fuzzy but you guys have really turned it into something practical and tangible.

Theresa Agresta:

Exactly, yeah. We say culture can be measured, it can be managed, and it can be led. Those are things that are very tangible. That’s otherwise, the C-suite sometimes won’t give you too much attention.

Drew McLellan:

Right, absolutely, yep. This has been great, if folks want to learn more about the company, the work, the certification classes, if they want to test themselves, where can they go to read more about all of this and think about how it might fold into their agency work?

Theresa Agresta:

Sure, so there’s a couple of opportunities. Everything from, hit me up for a copy of our free PDF, which is How to Coach, Lead… oh, I can’t remember the name of it, but it’s a PDF that talks about all the different ways you can use this work. I can’t send that out to you and it’ll give you a snapshot of what it’s like to work with these materials in the brand space and beyond that.

We also just launched a new online course, an intro course, which is self serve and someone could take that, it’s called Intro to Archetypes. I can send you a link to-

Drew McLellan:

Great.

Theresa Agresta:

… where somebody could check that out.

Drew McLellan:

We’ll put it in the show notes.

Theresa Agresta:

Perfect. That’s just a, you take your own assessment. So you do an individual assessment, you walk through a series of videos. My partner and sister, Cynthia Forstmann and I, we walk you through a validation experience. You learn about what the patterns are, you start understanding what your story is all about, and understand how that ladders up to the organizational conversation. So it’s a great way to get your feet wet and just test it out and see if you want to take it further.

Then if you really want to go in and get involved in what’s happening at CultureTalk and take this work into your agency, then you could be interested in becoming certified. We have a eight-week online certification program, and you can learn more about that at CultureTalk.com. Just check out the certification pages.

We have our next class beginning in July, so it’ll run from July through August, two-hour windows with lots of materials and access to our online portal where we have a lot of facilitation, materials and supporting work. You get also introduced to a whole community of users, which is a really strong, rich group that supports each other in doing the work.

Drew McLellan:

Cool, that is awesome. Well, I’m grateful that you took the time to be on the show. I find all of this fascinating and I think there are many applications, that we just scratched the surface of under… I think it’s a completely different way of understanding a client from the inside out and how to help them articulate who and what they’re all about internally, externally, and also from a vision point of view. Is that who you want to be and where do you want to go? So, I think you gave us lots to think about today. Thanks for coming on the show.

Theresa Agresta:

Awesome, that was really well said. Thank you, I appreciate the opportunity. It was great to catch up with you and I’ll look forward to continuing the conversation.

Drew McLellan:

Me too.

All right, guys. This wraps up another episode of Build a Better Agency. So, just a reminder that if you are thinking about niche-ing and you’re struggling as many of you do, with what’s the right niche? I probably have talked to you about this until I’m blue in the face, and you’re probably tired of hearing me say it, but we did build a tool for you to begin to measure your options and see which option is actually the most viable for you. So if you want to grab that tool, just head over to AgencyManagementInstitute.com/nichecriteria, all one word. So niche criteria, and you can download it. Basically it’s an Excel spreadsheet that you grade all of the options. So if you’re thinking, well, do we want to be in financial services or should we niche in healthcare, whatever it may be, this walks you through a thinking process that may be helpful to you. So, if you want it, grab it. Of course it’s free, and we’re happy to have you use it.

A big thank you and shout out to our friends at White Label IQ, they are the presenting sponsor of this podcast. So they make it possible for us to hang out together every week, so I’m very grateful for them. As you know because I tell you about them all the time, if you’re looking for somebody to white label, PPC, dev or design, go to WhiteLabelIQ.com/AMI, because they have killer deal for you. Basically, 10 free hours on a project. So, who doesn’t like that?

All right, I’ll be back next week with another guest like Theresa, who’s going to get you thinking about a different aspect of your business, challenge you to figure out a way to grow, shift, evolve, add more value for you, for your team, for your clients. In the meantime, you know how to get a hold of me, just track me down at [email protected] All right, thanks for listening, I’ll talk to you soon.

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