Define your agency’s values

Define your agency’s values

Mandy Mowers's Layout avatar

Sometimes the hardest thing is to practice what you preach. Not because you don’t believe in it, but because you’re spending your time helping your clients do the very thing you need to do.

But when it comes to figuring out your agency’s values, you can’t put it off.

When Oxide is working with a client on a full branding package, we’re researching them thoroughly. We ask our client all kinds of questions and try to get inside their essence. We’re drilling down with our clients to figure out who they are, what they do, and why anyone should care about them.

Choose your words carefully

Typically, we complete the written parts of the brand before we even set out communal sketch paper to begin concepting the visual parts of a brand. We want to be perfectly clear on the words that state who this client is and what sets them apart. This brand voice development often includes a tagline, an elevator speech, and a brand story. Other agencies use mission and vision statements or guiding values to help their clients articulate what it is that makes them tick.

Photo credit to Charles Kaiser. Photo credit to Charles Kaiser.

At Oxide, we believe it’s essential that this understanding of our client’s purpose — whether it’s expressed in a brand story, a collection of guiding values or principles, a manifesto, mission and vision statements, or written on their office walls — be authentic. We’re not interested in branding a BS version of you. We want the real you. Because that’s what your customers want. The real you.

State your values publicly

Defining your agency values is just that: expressing the real you. Expressing them publicly allows your potential customers to know you better before they even contact you.

Sure, there’s a chance that, when you define yourself, you’ll lose customers for whom your values don’t resonate. But wouldn’t you rather work with clients who respect the real you, who like the principles you’ve set forth and want to work with you because of them?

For example, Oxide’s core guiding principle is:

We design to solve problems, realize meaningful change, help people, and make sense of the world.

After further developing that principle into our manifesto, we plastered that manifesto on our website and started including it in every proposal we submit. We’ve all but had it lasered into our walls.

Photo credit to Tom Eversley. Photo credit to Tom Eversley.

We make our values that public because we want people to know what we stand for, what we understand about the design process, and how we believe the process works best. And we want to attract clients who can appreciate what we’ve actually stated about all those things. If we communicate that to potential clients whose understanding of design lines up with ours, we’ll be able to help them efficiently and keep in better sync.

How to jumpstart the values conversation in your agency

So if you haven’t yet put the time into defining your agency’s values, here are some thoughts to consider:

  • Who at your agency could spare the time to spearhead the effort to work out these communal values? Because it will take time.
  • Would hiring an outside coach or consultant help ensure all the decision-makers at your company have a voice in the process? Sometimes a third-party can ask questions that staff members can’t or simply haven’t thought of.

Consider having everyone involved answer some key questions like these:

  • Name some of our best projects and/or clients. What made them work out so well? Were there definite indicators that they’d be a good fit?
  • What are some of our projects that haven’t gone so well, and how could we have vetted them? Were there any red flags that we ignored?
  • What do I believe design can do?
  • Why do I work in design, and why do I work at this agency?
  • Why do we (at this company) design?
  • What sets us apart from other agencies?

Once you get all the answers back on questions like those above, distill them down to some common themes.

It’s best to come up with your agency’s values by sorting through what already truly exists, rather than trying to overlay a set of false principles and force a fit. (Remember that whole part about revealing your true self. Just like you’d encourage your clients to do.)

Once you’ve got a rough set of values in place, keep refining them together.

And when you’re ready, share them!

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