Episode 418

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Shifting agency culture has been a huge point of contention for many agency owners since the beginning of the pandemic. For some, it’s brought a lot of challenges in understanding how we can work as a team while being scattered around, while others have embraced the changes and have tried to adapt the best they can.

However, it can still be challenging to fully adapt to how quickly agency life has changed in just a few years. Our guest today, Gustavo Razzetti, has one simple message for us — it’s time to accept that agency life as we know it has changed forever, and we need to figure out what that means for us and our teams.

Agency culture may never be the same, but we shouldn’t be less successful because of it. Join us in listening to our discussion about creating an effective agency culture for you and your team, whether hybrid, remote, or trying to figure out something entirely new. There is no one-size-fits-all approach, but we can at least help get the wheels spinning so you can figure out where to begin.

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.


What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • Why agency culture is so important today compared to in past decades
  • Creating a workplace culture that makes people want to work there AND stay
  • Welcoming communication and collaboration in remote or hybrid teams
  • Getting a facilitator involved in agency culture shifts
  • Trialing new ideas and work strategies before fully committing
  • Workplace trends that are coming, and what’s here to stay
  • Why the 9-5 is dead, but the 4-day work week isn’t the solution
  • Flexibility goes both ways
  • Helping clients overcome common remote workplace challenges
  • Involving employees in problem-solving earlier in the process
  • How owners and leaders can create a strong agency culture in a new modern work environment

“If you have a talented person, they will be even more talented in a great workplace culture.” @GusRazzetti Click To Tweet
“The way we work is changing. Don't resist it. Try to find a way to join the movement.” @GusRazzetti Click To Tweet
“More flexible models are more effective because, in the end, the nine to five is dead.” @GusRazzetti Click To Tweet
“There are many companies that go through acquisitions, mergers, and leadership changes that create a lot of hiccups. People have a harder time dealing with those remotely.” @GusRazzetti Click To Tweet
“Companies are failing to find what's a real trigger or motivator for having people together.” @GusRazzetti Click To Tweet

Ways to contact Gustavo:


Hey, before we get to the show, I just wanna remind you that we have created a private Facebook group just for you, our podcast listeners. There are almost 1500 agencies, agency owners, inside that Facebook group every day talking about what’s going on inside their shop, asking for resources, gut checking decisions, talking about everything from pricing to hiring, to biz dev. All kinds of things are happening there. We’re starting conversations. You guys are starting conversations. What I love about it is the community’s coming together and sharing resources, encouraging each other, and just sort of having a safe place to talk about what it’s like to own an agency. So all you have to do is head over to Facebook, search for a Build, a Better, Agency Podcast group, or Build, a Better, Agency Podcast.

And you’ll find the group. You have to answer three questions. If you don’t answer the questions, we can’t let you in. But they’re simple. It’s, do you own an agency or do you work at an agency? And if so, what’s the U R L? What are you trying to get out of the group? And will you behave, basically? So come join us. If you haven’t been there for a while, come on back. If you haven’t joined, join into the conversation. I think you’re gonna find it really helpful. All right, let’s get to the show.

It doesn’t matter what kind of agency you run, traditional digital media buying, web dev, P r r brand, whatever your focus, you still need to run a profitable business. The Build, a Better, Agency Podcast, presented by a White Label IQ will expose you to the best practices that drive growth, client and employee retention and profitability, bringing his 25 plus years of experience as both an agency owner and agency consultant. Please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.

Hey everybody. Drew McLellan here with another episode of Build Better Agency. So glad you’re back. If this is your first episode, welcome. Our goal is very simple. Every episode, I wanna help you build an agency that is stable, sustainable, scalable, and more profitable. And if you want to down the road sellable, that’s, that’s our gig. That is what we’re all about. And for 400 plus episodes, that’s what we’ve been bringing you. And today is no exception to the rule. So I’m excited to bring you our guest, which I will tell you about in just a quick second. But before I do that, I wanna remind you of a tool that we have available to all of you free of charge on the website.

A lot of agencies have been thinking a lot about sort of their D E I efforts. How do we get to be more diverse in all of the ways that diversity is defined? How do we become an agency that is more diverse? And so we created a report card, if you will, a way for you to score yourself to assess where you’re at today and where you want to be in the future. And you can grab that tool by going to agency management institute.com/racial equity. That’s it. Grab it and use it. So a lot of agencies are grading themselves on a quarterly basis.

Some agencies are sharing that with our clients, or they’re sharing it on a website. What most agencies are doing is they’re using it as an internal tool to better understand sort of where they’re at in terms of the D e I effort and what they can do to get even better. So again, please feel free to use it however you want to. We’re excited to have the ability to offer it to you and you can use it however it best serves you and your agency. Alright, so let me tell you a little bit about our guests. So Gustavo Rosetti actually is an agency veteran. So I’m gonna let him tell you a little bit about his agency experience. But he spent much of his career leading large agency teams in major markets and has shifted over the course of the last few years to really focus on workplace culture.

So he’s the creator of the Culture Design canvas, which is a visual, a visual and actionable method for intentionally designing workplace culture. And he is an expert in what’s happening in workplace culture post covid, and all the changes that we’re experiencing in terms of remote work or hybrid work and all things like that. His work has been featured and talked about in Psychology Today, the New York Times, Forbes, and on the B B C, he’s also written a book called Remote Not Distant, which is really a great read. So I highly recommend it. And today he’s gonna be on the show just helping us think about how to create culture in this new environment that we’re all in post covid.

So without further ado, let’s welcome him to the show and learn from him as much as we can in the next hour. Okay, let’s do it. Gustavo, welcome to the show. Thanks for joining us.

Absolutely. We’re excited to be here.

So you actually have quite a bit in common with the listeners. I know now you’re focused on culture and things like that, but that was not always your career path. So tell everybody a little bit about your history and why you made the pivot to the work you’re doing today and wrote the book that you did.

Absolutely. I’m very excited to be here because I have my, my Heart still in marketing and advertising services. I work over two decades in different agencies, mostly across the the US. I’m over 50, so I relate to some of the pains and challenges that your audience might be going through. I know that in a creative space, we want that emotional connection, want people to be together, we want to collaborate. And as you were saying earlier, managing by walking around. Yeah, that’s how we were all raised in the workplace. Yeah. But at some point in my career, one of the things I realized is that companies were looking for us, looking for more ideas, better ideas, but I realized that actually organizations have more ideas than actually need.

The problem is their culture. Many times ideas never see the light of day because of a politic political struggles or management that are free of fearful and so on and so forth. So that’s why I decided to move into the workplace, a consultancy field working not only in the, with the marketing related companies, but across different industries. And the book, basically, I was writing a book on culture and then Covid hit and started helping many organizations adapt to what was supposed to be the new normal. And yeah, and I understand the pain and basically it’s more of a framework rather than a one size fits all solution. Because I think that every organization needs to design what’s the best solution for them, rather than try to copy what other companies are doing.

Right. So, you know, as, as you said, everything is different. So for most of the listeners, they started their career, you know, grinding it out in an office, making sure they never left before the boss left, so that they were, they were deemed good, hardworking employees. And you know, today, especially with a remote culture, a lot of agency owners and leaders are really struggling with the idea of how to build culture. I think they’re very committed to wanting to have a great culture. You know, in an agency, as you know, the greatest asset we have is our people. And the more connected they are and the more collaboratively they work, the better the work product, the better, the more profitability for the agency.

So talk a little bit about, ’cause I think, I’m not sure we define culture the same way anymore. So talk about how you define culture and why it is so important today to agencies.

That’s a perfect way to get started because to point me, people talk about culture. Say our culture is suffering and say exactly what part of your culture is suffering, right? Right. So it, there are three key elements to culture. One is the vision that you have for your organization when it comes to what are you trying to achieve, what’s the impact that you want to create in the long run. And that’s the purpose, the values and the behaviors that you want your team to basically adopt. Then there’s an emotional side of culture, which is the glue that brings people together. It’s that sense of belonging where we feel connected. That includes feeling safe in the workplace to express our ideas, to debate ideas, pushback. It, it has to do more the like the team rituals, how we celebrate, how we recover from losses and so on and so forth.

And lastly, there’s an event of culture that’s more functional, that is what help companies move fast. Like it, it includes decision, how we make decisions, how we meet


In real time, but also asynchronously and also the norms and rules that guide the different behaviors.

Yeah, I think, I think most people think of culture as that. It feels good to work there, that people are happy and like to work there. And I’m sure that’s part of culture, but what you just defined is a much broader sense of culture. I think.

Definitely. I’m gonna give you an example. I used to work an actually advertising firm that everything about culture was about celebration, beer everywhere, food everywhere, and so on and so forth. But many people hated working there. Why? Because it was very bureaucratic, eh, eh, they were always trying to please clients and not the, so basically the client pleasing ideas one, the great ideas one. So in the end, that side of the culture alone, it’s not good enough. Yeah. So it helps. But if, I mean, I remember another company which the owner basically invested millions of dollars in refurnishing the office bringing like video games and actually basketball court and so and so forth.

But then when people were playing, yeah, he was looking at them like saying, Hey guys, you should be working. So it was this kind of, I give you the toys, but then I don’t want to use them.

Right, right. I don’t want you to play with them. Right,


So from your perspective, both in your current work, but also in your previous life in, in your previous agency life, why is this such a critical issue for us? So, you know, we talk a lot about how important it is, but what do you see is the competitive advantage for an agency of having a healthy culture?

Culture in the end gets the best and the worst out of people, right? Yeah. So if you are very talented person, they’re gonna be even more talented in a great workplace culture, especially when you think about great people, very creative people, they have the choice. So if they can work in a place where they’re gonna be treated like human beings, they’re gonna have freedom to make decision to take risks, to screw up and then recover a a i i in, in places in which basically they’re promoting collaboration rather than competition. Internal competition, people are gonna feel better working there. So in the end, the same talent is gonna choose a place that’s more conducive, more positive, more friendly, if you wish.

That doesn’t mean that you’re lowering the bar when, when I use the word friendly, I’m not saying that we’re all friends, right? But it’s way we to feel respected as a human being, as a professional, both.

Okay. And, and in terms of that, to me that’s about recruitment and retention of your team, right? So it’s a, creating a work environment that makes people want to work there, and b, it makes people want to stay there once they work there.

Absolutely. And I think that a great example of culture is a Pixar in the sense of they were able to basically elevate race the bar when it came to creativity and disrupt the industry, while also building a very collaborative culture. And one of the things that they realize is that in many, for example, movie production studios, there are a lot of egos, like in marketing agencies as well, and especially the directors are like, God, that, you know, they have everything they say is right, right? And they started with a different approach. So at, at Pixar, even if you’re an intern, you can go and talk to the director of Toy Story and he’s gonna open the door and, and welcome, you know, so they eliminate those barriers, but also they put in place a process that they call brain trust in which imagine a team from a creative agency coming up with a campaign and they present it to another team, working on a different client to get their feedback.

And very candid, very brutal feedback. but the feedback is focused on the ideas, not on the people. So they don’t judge the creator, they judge the ideas, then it’s up to the owners or the regional team to take that feedback or not. They’re not forced to. However, if then the movie or the campaigns sucks, it’s their fault, right? So I see in agencies that they try to give this kind of cross a, a team feedback. However, when someone comes up with a better idea, they say, ah, now you’re gonna take the the job. So people don’t want to share the work because they, they’re afraid that someone’s gonna steal their campaign or their project. Yeah. So I think that’s important, creating collaboration in which we’re not fighting against each other, but the best idea wins.

Yeah. Yeah. I think that’s always been a challenge in agencies for sure. And you bring up a good point, this whole idea of collaboration and communication. So in the air quote, old days, you know, you walk down the hall and you talk to a coworker or you said, Hey, we have to work on a campaign together. Let’s grab a conference room and do some brainstorming together, or whatever, whatever that vehicle was. But it was very in person and it, and it also I think was more impromptu. So how are you seeing, or what are you recommending agencies think about and do to create in either a remote team or a hybrid team? How do you create communication and collaboration when we are physically not in the same place and we may not even be on the team, same time zone, or in some cases in the same continent?

Absolutely. First of all, I, I like to encourage people to think that it’s not one or the other, but both, how can we integrate the best of both worlds? There have been global teams that have been working for decades in advertising for creating campaigns across to a point different time zones, different continents, without the technology that we have now. Right. And people were able to figure it out, you know, so I think that today we have technology like mural or Zoom that are really good. Yeah. If used properly to basically create that. We do a lot of, for example, brainstorming with teams in which first we ask them to work on their own. So basically silent brainstorming, and then when people capture a couple of dozen ideas, then they start sharing and building.

And so there are ways of doing that, but that doesn’t necessarily replace the magic of the team being the same role. So I remember to your point, in the nineties, the early nineties, the old days, what they did is they flew the whole team for a week or maybe a couple of days to craft different big campaign ideas. Yeah. And then everyone went back to their corners and they keep the development phase remotely. In that case, it was via phone calls or via email at the most. Yeah. So I think finding those in between spaces important. So when you’re cracking a very critical problem, there’s no better way to do it. That in person, when you’re having a crisis as a team, getting people together, that helps a lot.

But then the rest you can do it remotely. So it’s finding the right cadence between one and the other.

So, so how do you, how do you communicate that to your team? How do you teach them new ways to do what they’ve always done? You know, that’s a lot of muscle memory for a lot of people, especially if you have employees who are, who have been in the business for 10 plus years. So how do, how do you recommend we transfer those habits? Because I think a lot of it is habit, muscle memory. How do we transfer those so that we are more comfortable? ’cause I don’t disagree. There are tools that help us do it, but that doesn’t mean people are comfortable doing it or feel like the results are the same. So how do we, how do we get people more comfortable, and how do we get them to deliver at the same level of results as they did back in the air quotes, old way of doing it?

That’s a good question. First of all, I think that people need to realize that the train left the station. So you can fight as much as you can, like companies forcing people. But in the end, we saw a research last week, it was actually an analysis of many pieces of research across the world. And all the companies that are forcing employees back into the office, they are having people to leave, especially the most talented people and productivity and many other variables are going down, right? So if companies force a, a, a force, people back into the office, that’s not working at all. Yeah. So it’s more of a in-between model. The first thing, I think it’s kind of, if sometimes you cannot change your culture and your muscle memory all at once.

Yeah. So what are the quick wins that you can start? Like for example, doing for example, could be maybe you’re not gonna create a campaign from scratch with this new tools, but probably some project that is halfway cooked, baked, maybe you can use the tools to start giving feedback to polishing to, so the, the, the, the fine tuning thing, that usually is when the CREs go more into their corner because they need to do their thing know, so it’s not much of a team. Well, that’s a great way to start building that practice. Another way is finding where, which are the teams, some teams in the companies are usually more open to experiment. Well use them as a pilot to learn from them, bring that experience and the what work, what didn’t work to the larger team.

And that’s another way to make that kind of a happen and also mix it. The point here is like there are people that are saying, oh, this is not working, let’s get back to how things used to be. There are people that say, oh, it’s all remote. My approach is mix it, find the right mix between one and the other to, to change that. Also, lastly to your question, it’s important to find a facilitator. Either you can get an external facilitator like me or whatever, or someone in the company that can be the person who’s gonna lead the process to help people stay in track. To your point, changing processes, the way we brainstorm or the way we interact in a mural board or in a Zoom call, require more discipline, require different behaviors and need someone to first put those steps in black and white, but also keep the, the, the team on track.

Yeah. You know, you used an interesting word pilot. So I can remember early in my career as an agency employee, we didn’t pilot things. We just got told something was gonna change and we were gonna do it a new way and we just did it the new way. But it, it feels like a, because things are changing so fast, but B, because of sort of the difference in employees today, the idea of having task force and piloting things for 90 days and doing more trials and talking through more collaboratively. How did that feel? How did that work? It feels like that’s becoming more a expected, but b, the norm.

Is that what you’re seeing across, across the board?

Absolutely. The point is advertising or marketing firms usually work under the perfectionist mindset. No. Yeah. And they had a hard time while innovation firms work more on the test and try and figure it out. And I think that many agents have been adopting more of a trial approach, which is, let’s work in smaller projects, let’s see what happens and what doesn’t work. We discover what work, we continue working on that as well. One thing I remember in terms of mindset, like couple of decades ago or so, I was talking to a regional director of a large firm McCann at that point, and we’re talking about how internet would change marketing and the, that guy told me that internet would never disrupt or replace TV commercials and no one would ever browse the internet and so on.

So I quit. I started an internet film at that time. But what I’m telling you is people don’t get to see things when they’re happening. They see what they already, it’s too late. Right. So this, the way we work is changing, so don’t resist it. Try to find a way into joining the movement, so to speak.

Yeah. If he thought the internet wasn’t gonna change things, I wonder what he would’ve thought about ai.


Yeah. Yeah. So what you’re really talking about is this, is is this is not a flash in the pan. This is not just a post covid thing. This is sort of the new reality and the new trends. What, what are you seeing across the board in terms of workplace trends and technologies? Like not only what are you seeing that’s here to stay, but what do you see coming down the pike? We’re, we’re barely getting used to this new world that we’re living in, but I know that the change is continuing to come and come faster and faster. So what are some of the trends you are seeing that we should have on our radar screen?

You mentioned ai. I think that’s changing more than people realize. And you know, the phrase that we exaggerate the short impact of technology, but we always don’t understand