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Cows to Content: 6 Marketing Agency Culture Lessons I Learned on the Farm

Posted on Aug 1st, 2017
Written by TopRank Marketing
  • Blog
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  • Cows to Content: 6 Marketing Agency Culture Lessons I Learned on the Farm
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    [Editor’s Note: Please join me in welcoming another new author to, Elizabeth Williams. Elizabeth is an Account Manager that has been with the TopRank Marketing team for almost a year and spends her time managing the needs of our awesome clients! Welcome Elizabeth!]

    From my first day of preschool, everything I’ve encountered in life, I’ve compared to my experiences growing up on a dairy farm. So, when I had the opportunity to create a post for the TopRank Marketing blog, I immediately knew the theme: dairy farming.

    What does dairy farming have to do with marketing agency culture? You’re about to find out.

    Since earning my Masters in Communications Studies, I can’t help but study and evaluate the how and why of human communication in everything around me. Like the difference between a supervisor who asks you to take on a new client and one who tells you’re getting a new client. That’s company culture and you experience it every day in your agency workplace.

    As you search for a new agency home, I hope you’ll enjoy a few stories about the 6 qualities to consider when choosing your new employer that I learned from the dairy farm. Plus, a question or two you can ask your interviewer to help you discover if the company culture is a fit for you.

    #1 – Total Mixed Ration (TMR).

    Dairy cattle eat a perfectly balanced diet called a TMR. This ration is strategically formulated and completely integrated so that each bite our cows take is 100% nutritious. Sometimes, I’m a little jealous.

    When it comes to an agency’s values, you want to be working for an agency that approaches everything from employee development to client operations to new business development strategically and in an integrated fashion. You should expect consistent, open communication from management to let you in on their strategy. Better yet, work for an agency where you can be a part of creating that business strategy. Making a marketing plan? Work for an agency who implements campaigns that are strategically aligned with client objectives and integrated in every sense of the word.

    Ask: Tell me about your long-term vision for the agency? For the clients I’d be working on? How often is this vision communicated with the team?

    #2 – A milk check isn’t a given.

    For a dairy producer to stay in business, she or he must be results-oriented on a daily basis. Ensuring their cows are healthy and comfortable is a necessity, 100% of the time. Making sure the correct feed has been grown or ordered so the inventory stays stocked is not to be taken lightly. Planning the future genetics of the herd meticulously, matters. Why? Because that milk check doesn’t just come automatically. If a producer wants to maintain, much less get more in the check, they have to do an even better job taking care of their animals the next day than the last.

    The same goes for your agency culture. If it’s okay to come to meetings 10 minutes late and leave without any actions being assigned, you probably should be wondering what the end goal is. Find an agency home that is results-driven and always looking to innovate – for their clients, and for their employees and company.

    Ask: How do you ensure time spent on client work is focused on results aligned with client objectives?

    #3 – Don’t cry over spilled milk.

    Just like we learn on the farm early, a little milked spilled when trying to bottle feed a new baby calf is not the end of the world, the same should apply to the company culture you’re going to call home.

    A healthy culture will respond to mistakes based on their scale – not just that you made a mistake. You shouldn’t feel scared to tell your boss of your blunder. Your agency should allow you to “fail fast”: make mistakes and support you in learning from them quickly.

    Ask: How would my supervisor respond if I made a mistake?

    #4 – Take accountability.

    Some of my favorite memories as a kid are getting up in the middle of the night to go check on a pregnant cow: Is it time yet? You can’t imagine how euphoric it is to be there just in time to help a mother cow give birth. You get to help make sure the calf is breathing its first breath! However, there are going to be those times you overslept your 2 am alarm or you just didn’t know she was that close to delivery. While most of the time, cows can deliver safely on their own, sometimes they need a helping hand. If you’re not there on time, there is no magic clock to reverse time. Unpleasant, I know. But it’s real.

    You want to work at an agency that is just as real. Mistakes are going to happen. Your agency should hold you and others on the team accountable for their actions proportional to the misstep. And, expect your superiors to be accountable too.

    Ask: How would the team handle accountability for client programs?

    #5 – The grass isn’t always greener on the other side.

    Cows are known to reach under the fence, itching for just “a little better” grass to eat, particularly when they’ve been in one paddock a few days–long enough to have taken one bite off the top of the whole field. However, the grass next door isn’t always better. Transition can be hard!

    If you’re at an agency now and you take work home every night and dread waking up, that doesn’t mean you should quit. You can bounce to the next agency and you will probably find yourself in the same predicament. Why is that? Because that’s “agency life”? No, because agency’s often present opportunities for overworking, but you’d be surprised how that can become a brisk walk in the pasture (maybe not leisurely, that would be boring) with some open communication.

    Ask for help when (and preferably before) you need it. If your boss doesn’t help, ask again! Is there someone else you can ask? Did you ask them? Did you ask them twice? Okay, you get it. If you’ve asked for solutions and still have no reprieve, then it is fair to consider another position at an agency with a healthier culture. Did I mention we’re hiring?

    Ask: What is the work/life balance here? How frequent are check-ins with my manager?

    #6 – Throwing tires takes a team.

    I still have the pleasure of helping my family at corn silage harvest every few years when they are ready to cover the pile. Corn silage is the entire corn plant chopped up and then fermented for the cows to eat. It is stored packed down tightly in a bunker or on a cement pad. It is then covered with plastic, protecting the outside layer as it goes through a natural fermentation process. This process reduces feed waste and keep the corn silage preserved naturally, staying tasty and nutritious throughout the coming year. To keep the plastic on the bunker for a whole year, we cover the plastic with hundreds of rubber car tires sans the rim. Last year’s pile was about 12 feet tall and 200 feet long so you can imagine what it might have been like to throw and carry enough tires to cover it in a 90 degree August day. It couldn’t have been done alone.

    Taking care of clients is also some heavy-lifting. No one team member can do it alone. Look for an agency where you can be a part of a fun team that has each other’s back.

    Ask: How is the team atmosphere here? What does the agency do to empower team members to work together positively?

    Looking for Your Digital Marketing Agency Match?

    Deciding it’s time to find a new marketing agency is a tough decision. If you’re ready to stop thinking about it and start interviewing, make sure you keep these keep these 6 qualities in mind and don’t forget to jot down your favorite questions to ask.

    If you’re interested in joining a Minneapolis based marketing agency that aligns with the values above, see if any of our open positions might be a fit for you!