Why Starbucks is a Model for Small Ad Agencies

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This morning I walked into my neighborhood Starbucks and while I waited for my order I did my usual people watching. There were four Albuquerque Policemen chatting at one table. Next to the law enforcement entourage was an older gentleman, college professor type, wearing rimless reading glasses, looking cozy in his cardigan sweater.
Bart Cleveland
Bart Cleveland
There was a myriad of sharply dressed business people, chatting, working or reading. A couple of college kids studying, a woman in running attire and two guys sitting next to the door in cowboy hats and boots. The place was packed with every conceivable personality, yet everyone seemed comfortable, as if they were lounging in their den at home. This is why I'm in awe of Starbucks. Everyone belongs there. I'm not sure why I'm so comfortable at Starbucks, but I know it didn't happen by accident.

As I drove to work with my tall, non-fat latté in one hand, my cinnamon scone in the other and my little fingers doing the steering, I realized that what Starbucks has going for it is the same thing that I want my ad agency to have: diversity that's right at home.
Starbucks provides a very useful example of what coffee shops -- and ad agencies -- can be.
Starbucks provides a very useful example of what coffee shops -- and ad agencies -- can be.


I think we're off to a good start. We are staffed with organization freaks, perfectionists, bohemians, tree huggers, poets, web nerds, Harley riders, rednecks, preps, princesses and soccer moms. We would be hard-pressed to be more diverse. Diversity offers a spectrum of points-of-view. Diversity minimizes stale, unimaginative thinking. I'm conservative. I don't want a shop filled with people like me. I want to work with people that think I'm a freak. I want to work with freaks too.

Agencies that are led by strong personalities can easily become societies of sameness. You must drink the Kool-Aid if you're going to survive. I've known people who hate the agency where they work, but they are so intimidated to leave, they live someone else's life. The fear of ridicule prevents them from pursuing their own path. Agencies who only welcome those of like kind are doomed to mediocrity.

So how does an agency make diverse groups feel as at home as they would at a Starbucks? Most of us who love Starbucks share something in common beyond an addiction to caffeine. In my agency it is a passion to excel, a resilient dedication to the work. Our diversity of personality empowers us to achieve our individual goals while strengthening the agency's capabilities.

Diversity of employees is important. Equally important is a diverse group of clients. Agencies that have a "specialty" are putting all their eggs into one basket. My first agency was in the oil industry. When the industry tanked in the early '80s the agency was out of business in six months. A diverse client list also allows an agency to reveal its range of talent. It gives the employees room to grow. It keeps the work fresh. Don't try to corner the market on an industry if you want to be around for a while. Diversify.
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