Recently, I read an article about an established Twin Cities advertising firm who spelled out their company’s culture in three simple rules:
- Have fun
- Make money
- Make money for our clients
This struck me as ridiculous. Really? Making money and having fun came before making their clients happy? And where was the goal of doing good work?
It seems like ages ago now that I worked at an ad agency with nearly identical goals. Only, it wasn’t fun. We didn’t do great work, and it felt like we were doing our clients a disservice. When I pushed for better quality in the work we do, the agency pushed back—if our clients were happy with our work the way it was, why would we waste time and money trying to improve it?
So I started my own design firm, placing quality at the center. My credo:
- Do quality work for good people
Following this motto, I anticipated that:
- Quality work would bring loyal clients and good referrals,
- That I would have career satisfaction knowing that I produced a good product
- Money would follow
And indeed, this has been the case.
For me, the importance of benevolent motives fueling the work of a design firm cannot be understated. My clients place their business in my hands, trusting me to understand their company and convey that appropriately to their audiences. They trust me to approach each project with a problem-solving nature, never recycling work from other clients or applying a cookie-cutter approach to their unique business. They trust me to not sell them something they don’t need, and they trust me to not charge them for something I didn’t do. They trust me to be current in my understanding in the technical aspects of design and to be knowledgeable about the cultural climate of design.
In brief, they trust me to have integrity.
Designer and writer Adrian Shaughnessy wrote in his book How to be a graphic designer, without losing your soul, a passage about integrity that rings true:
We have to show integrity to the three “audiences” for which design is mostly done: our clients, our intended audience and ourselves. Designers will differ on the order of importance in which they place this trinity: in my view, the demands and responsibilities of all three have to be equally balanced.
It should be said that the agency mentioned in the article is fiscally successful, and has sustained its growth in a poor economy. And, to their credit, the article states that their clients enjoy working with them. But for me, the question is, at what cost is success?
I’d LOVE your feedback on this article. Let me know your thoughts on the motivations of design and ad agencies. What are your “top 3″ rules for running your agency?