Brokaw's Mark McKenzie and Aaron McBride present the rules for ruling to the Ad Club of Buffalo. October 2015

We Got Cultured at Adtoberfest.

Workplace culture is incredibly important. It’s the difference between having a team full of Gary Go-Getters or a team full of Debbie Downers. That’s why we brought in Aaron McBride and Mark McKenzie from Brokaw, a Cleveland-based ad agency, to speak during Adtoberfest, our 2015 Buffalo Ad Week. Brokaw was named Ad Age Small Agency of the Year for Culture in 2013 and they also lay claim to being the world’s greatest ad agency, a title attributed to their sense of humor and SEO capabilities.

So what’s the secret to a small ad agency in Cleveland (practically Buffalo, just with LeBron James) getting recognized for their culture? According to Mark and Aaron it’s a simple two step approach.

Hire talented, self-motivated people who happen to be nice.

Let them create the culture.

Seems simple enough, doesn’t it? The beauty of that approach is that it isn’t complex and everyone has the opportunity to create a rockin’ culture. You want to be part of a team that wakes up every morning forgetting there is a snooze button on the alarm, don’t you?

The crutches

Of course their trip to Buffalo was more than dropping a two-sentence nugget of wisdom and a stop at their favorite rest area on the New York State Thruway (highlight video below).

Their story illustrated a simplified approach that arrived after the agency overcomplicated things and they caught themselves relying on some crutches many companies rely on such as:

  • FPAs (fancy-pants acronyms)
  • Gobbledygook phrases
  • Razzmatazz numbers (that video that got 4 million views from eastern Europe with no likes or comments – not truly a viral campaign!)

Known as a creative agency first and foremost, the overcomplicated approach wasn’t good for business. They took a step back and decided they needed to get back to the basics of what they knew and were good at. They focused on their creative approach rather than gimmicky pitches, fancy terminology, and a futuristic logo.

Build around the work

A fresh approach where they didn’t try to be all things to all people, which is something we’ve all done at some point, helped them create a culture that draws like-minded people looking to create great work and clients that want the kind of work they do. You know, probably the reason we all got into this field in the first place. By defining their strength and drawing a line in the sand of what they stand for, they turned things around. They got an award from Ad Age. They got great clients. They got projects they wanted to work on. They got a free trip to Buffalo. See, being true to yourself pays off!

A ping pong table and pictures of office dogs will only get you so far with your employees and customers. At the end of the day it’s about the work and the people creating the work. You know, the culture.

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Missed the presentation and the post-talk shirt toss from the guys?

You can read more about Brokaw’s approach by downloading the handy guide they created to keep themselves in-check called How To Brokaw, or follow them on social media (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram).

Also, Mark and Aaron make up 50% of the sketch comedy group Last Call Cleveland – check out some of their work on YouTube.