When Agency Partners Collide

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BART CLEVELAND: Sometimes the most serious problem a small agency can face is its owners. Partners are sometimes just neighbors who believe in good fences. I know people who work at agencies where the partners barely talk to one another. They are on different paths. Passive aggression can become an art form in this type of agency.

The anti-partner agency can be a common problem among small agencies. It’s probably the major reason they’re small. It’s hard to grow when you are your own worst enemy. The reason for most disharmony among partnerships is that they don’t share any common goals. Should you find yourself employed at such an agency, immediately begin preparing for your next move. There is no alternative if you want your career to continue on an upward path.

My partners and I are each from a different advertising discipline. I’m creative, Steve McKee is a strategic planner and Pat Wallwork is a traffic planner. It could be very easy for us to have three different agendas for the agency. However we are in harmony because we all want to be the best at what we do. We’re smart enough to realize that to be the best, we need each discipline of our agency to be equally strong. So we don’t disagree much about how the agency should be run. When we do, somehow trust takes over and we work together to solve the disagreement. We also try to keep the golden rule. The result is three parts of whole. It’s a very gratifying experience.

The alternative is a hostile environment that trickles down to every person in the agency. The different disciplines become adversaries, not teammates. People start looking out for themselves, not each other. They even scores. I know I worked at that type of agency when I was at a tender young age. It doesn’t have to be that way if you keep your eyes open.

The next time you interview at an agency, listen to how the partners talk about one another. If they talk negatively, nothing else matters about that agency. You know enough to pass.
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