How to Find the Right Agency for You

What I Learned from Visits to Creative Offices Around the Country

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This is the second in a four-part series about leaving your own agency.

You're on the move. You've mentally confirmed that it's time to leave your agency. How do you go about identifying what agency to join next? You've been responsible for creating culture for your employees, now can you find the right fit for you?

The Humongo Nation social media road show, which I joined in the summer of 2010, afforded me the luxury of traveling across the country, visiting agencies big and small to celebrate their innovations. In the process, I learned a lot about the types of work environments in our industry, where I could be happy and how the "perfect" agency is going to be different for everyone. Some people fit better in large agencies, some are suited for startups. There are about a thousand variables that could make either environment a blast or a torture chamber.

I also picked up a trick for learning a lot about how an agency works in just a few hours. When you visit, borrow a desk. If you're in a city or neighborhood that 's out of your way, it's not impolite to ask to borrow a desk "to bang out some e-mails" before catching the train, flight or long drive home. It happens all the time among social media friends.

Now, how could I be sure that Carrot Creative was the right place for me?

First, I knew the partners. Before applying, I had spent considerable time building a social media relationship with them. They were a multitude of personalities that perfectly complimented each other. They had become great friends and trusted colleagues and challenged each other in a good way. You could see that they were well respected by their employees, yet didn't create an environment of fear or intimidation that 's (sadly) still prevalent in some larger agencies.

During the interview process, I learned something very positive about the culture. The agency has about 20 committees devoted to all things cultural: a tv and games committee, after-work committee, alumni committee, and even a baking committee (read: cupcakes). They're letting the employees command and control their own culture. This is key.

Carrot also matched my ideal physical workplace. In my travels to agencies, I had found two typical floor plans: open and cubed. Big agencies tend to like cubicles and walls, and small agencies trend toward open environments. Midsize agencies fall somewhere in-between. If you get off on privacy, you'll despise an open work environment. If you thrive on collaboration, as I do, the open plan is exactly what you need. This agency had that .

I also learned on my national tour that a key to the culture of a creative agency is the manner in which it embraces fun time. Don't be fooled by the Ping-Pong table. Every agency has some fun toys for show, but do employees actually get to play Ping-Pong? Or use the game room, or the nap pods? If these areas are gathering dust, chances are that fun time is actually frowned on by management. Good agencies understand the balance of fun and creativity. Seeing a Carrot employee napping in a giant bean bag on a mid-afternoon visit confirmed that this was a good place for me.

Another great sign? Creativity bleeds into the agency's employee manual. The San Francisco-based agency Traction includes a "Burning Man policy" that encourages staffers to attend creative and life-enhancing cultural events. Carrot Creative's employee manual includes a guide to favorite nearby restaurants, right down to the neighborhood taco truck.

Finally, there is location. People will tell you that this means everything. Many in our business, for example, believe that things creative originate only in New York City or California. But our HumongoNation van stopped at many agencies in between that are doing spectacular work. The location of your agency isn't likely to affect the type of clients you get to work with. The key questions are: Where do you want to live? What environment keeps you inspired? For me, I wanted to live in New York City and was enamored of the scene in the DUMBO section of Brooklyn, where the streets are overflowing with digital workers and Internet startups. Carrot was located right in the center of it.

The most difficult part of your selection process probably is finding a culture match. But if you do it right, you'll have fun, be challenged and love Mondays as you never have before.

Next post: How to leave your employees.

Darryl Ohrt is a former punk rocker, professional internet surfer and executive creative director at Carrot Creative in NYC. He's one of the three super-hot bloggers that make up AdVerve, and admits to knowing just enough about the creative business to be dangerous. Keep your distance.
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