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What the Rugby World Cup Favourite Can Teach Us about Business

Advertising Agency
London, UK
INFLUENCERS: Recipe MD Ali Morgan reveals the trials and tribulations of growing a business whilst safeguarding and celebrating company culture

More than 800 million households in 217 territories have been tuning in over the last few weeks to the Rugby World Cup. And tomorrow, England face their biggest test yet – New Zealand. A team bidding to win their third world cup in a row.

I find the All Blacks fascinating. Their ability to continuously dominate (or at least sit right at the top of) the sport over such a long period of time must go well beyond just talent of the players – the teamsheet ebbs and flows over the years, but their performance, their dominance, their style of rugby…it all remains so consistent.  Of course, there are many reasons for this - all connected and all interlinked. But there is one thing above all that I find really interesting.

Perhaps rather surprisingly, it is the Captain and Vice-Captain who stay behind to clean up the changing rooms after every game.  It might not sound like much, but it’s connected to a far bigger idea – that the All Blacks is one entity, one collective. No one individual is bigger, or more important than the collective – regardless of ‘seniority’. And so, when the leaders do the seemingly most menial, mundane tasks it highlights and demonstrates the commitment and importance of this.

What they have done so well, is to define their culture as a team – one that exists irrespective of who is wearing those black shirts in any given year. A culture that fuels success and defines their style of rugby. A culture that, when combined with talent on the pitch, keeps them so often so far ahead. And I think Adland can learn a lot from this. I see culture as the fundamental building block to successful and sustained growth of an agency.

When I first joined Recipe in 2014, we were just over 20 people. Back then, we were transitioning from a production led business into a full service creative agency with a production core: there were many capabilities and departments that didn’t exist at that time that needed to be built - we didn’t have a social team, strategic planning was only a very recent addition, creatives also managed day-to-day comms with clients and the account management team consisted of just one person. Our original model had worked for us up to a certain scale and level but as we began to collaborate with bigger brands with wider requirements, we needed to evolve.

Since then, we’ve tripled in size. But I have a confession to make. Initially, I found myself lured by all the traditional and tried and tested growth strategies – we just needed more clients, more people, more revenue, more financial visibility, more efficiency. All that stuff. What I hadn’t realised is that before all of this, underneath it all was a far more important and far more powerful foundation for growth.

We needed to define our culture - our values as a business.  Things that, regardless of how fast we grew or who came and went, would remain true and consistent.

Ultimately, clients were working with Recipe not just because of the work itself, but because of how we worked. And people were working at Recipe not just because we paid them every month, but because there was an as yet undefined culture that connected us. Culture was a big part of the value exchange with clients, and with staff. We just didn’t know what it was.

I’m sure some agencies see company culture just as icing on the cake - an extra element that’s nice to have but not essential to the core of the operation. A drinks trolley on a Friday.  When you want to go from a small to a large business, however, you need to first understand then sustain and protect the culture that the staff and clients value.

In smaller organisations, company culture is naturally defined by the people in the business – culture by osmosis of personalities.  But this only lasts so long. At around 40 people it felt like the time to properly define our DNA as a business and as an agency. We used an external consultant to manage the whole process and talked to every single employee as well as almost all of our clients to identify what they valued and loved about the company, but also what they felt could be improved. One of the key things that came out for us was the infectious enthusiasm our employees hold, driven by a passion for some element of communications and creativity - it is something that our clients have reported that they can feel when they work with us and also walk into our office.

But that’s just us. Agencies will all be slightly different. But it’s not about being ‘different’ really – it’s about understanding what makes your agency great to work for and with, and how your culture helps to define your output. Once you have this down on paper, once it’s tangible, measurable and a filter for your business decisions then you have a proper foundation for growth. Knowing that no matter how big you get, you will stay rooted in your uniqueness and the reasons that brought you success in the first place.

Regardless of what type of business you run, the lesson for successful growth is the same: set distinctive cultural pillars in place and then protect them as fiercely as the All Blacks have protected theirs.

Ali Morgan is managing director at Recipe. For more information about Recipe, please click here.

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