When I moved to the UK from South Africa, I was convinced that I wouldn’t trade in my freewheeling, freelance lifestyle for anything (except, maybe, large sums of money). But time, boredom and an unkind Rand-to-Pound exchange rate forced me to revise my outlook, so I got a copywriting job in a large company. I should have been happy about finding a real day job, in my chosen field. There was a killer canteen with a whole counter just for cake, spacious parking, and even a swanky staff shop. I was spoilt. And I stuck it out for one whole week. The work wasn’t particularly difficult, the schedule wasn’t exceptionally punishing, and the people were actually quite nice – my manager was like a Disney Princess in skinny jeans. But it wasn’t right for me. By the third day of driving into work, in tears, I realized that I wasn’t doing myself, or my new colleagues, any favors by pretending I wanted to be there. Born free(lance) In the aftermath that followed, I convinced myself that I had simply worked alone for too long, and was no longer fit for office life. Like a house pet turned feral, too much time had passed for me to be safely reintroduced into polite society. Fast forward a few months and I’m back in an office, working as a copywriter at The Marketing Practice. The work is challenging, the schedule is packed, the expectations are high, and I couldn’t be happier. There are the obvious perks: great coffee, free food, a charming pub next door and a bucolic village setting. But the major differentiator comes down to something that gets the spotlight in corporate brochures, and yet is often lost in the shadow of looming deadlines and delivery pressures… culture. Principles or profit? Every effort has been made to ensure that I feel like part of the team here. Time has been spent making sure that I understand not only what the company does, and how, but also why. They’ve kindly accommodated my wanderlust and considered my working preferences – although I notice I am still waiting for my hammock-desk to be erected. It’s the importance of this cultural fit that is also reflected in one of, what I think, is The Marketing Practice’s most attractive qualities: their fussiness. One of the best (and worst) parts of being a freelancer is the freedom to say ‘no’ to clients and projects that are not compatible with your own beliefs and values. But ask any freelancer if they prefer principles to payment and you’ll see an expression I like to politely call ‘conflicted’. Creative freedom is all well and fine, but rent doesn’t pay itself. During one of my induction sessions, Clive McNamara (TMP Founder and CEO) explained that The Marketing Practice’s approach to taking on new clients was as discerning as it was towards taking on new staff. Only companies who share TMP’s values and objectives make the cut. There are few agencies who have the luxury, or the gumption, to be so choosy about finding the right fit when it comes to clients, but the effect on the work and the environment is obvious. Every word in every message, every action, and every meeting has a purpose and point. Nothing is done by halves. The employees here don’t just feel obliged to deliver results – they feel personally accountable for them. It’s a completely different mindset to ‘churning out’ work to meet deadlines and then fluffing the numbers come award season. Company culture is so much more than some waffle on your website or an abstract word cloud in a CI guide. It’s the energy and the essence of an organization, it’s the meter by which big decisions are measured and hard asks are answered. Your company’s culture can’t be defined in a snappy campaign, a vision statement, or a cute photo montage at the back of the internal newsletter. It has to be lived, by everyone, every day. And hey, when it’s right, it’s right.
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