Does company culture really vary that much from agency to agency?

Hey guys,

I have a question for some of you more experienced designers: does company culture really vary from agency to agency?

Obviously smaller agencies will feel different than bigger agencies but overall is there a clear noticeable difference from agency to agency or, at the end of the day, are they really all about the same?

I’m asking because I hate the company culture at my current agency, but it’s the only agency I’ve ever been at so I don’t have anything else to compare it to. I don’t mind the work, but the people irate the hell out of me and are harder to deal with than the actual work. I would describe it as “work hard, play harder”. Very male dominated, immature, focused on delivering the best quality no matter what toll it has on your physical or mental health, and partying hard afterwards.

When I’ve asked my friends who are also in the industry they’ve said it’s the same at their agencies and probably everywhere else… but this can’t be true? If it is I am seriously reconsidering my career…


I’ve probably worked in one capacity or another at a dozen different agencies of several different sorts. The atmosphere and company culture was different at each. Some places were toxic and run by psychopaths climbing all over one another. Others have been relaxed and friendly with great people supporting each other and working as a team.

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I work alone (because that’s how I like it) but I have done consultation work at a number of agencies. They really do vary a lot. Some friendly - chatty, often with a pool table in the studio; some more professional - quiet, studious, restrained; and yes there are those run by fear, where each task is life or death and no-one co-operates with anyone.

Which is why I work alone.

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This is the reason I always tell people to put art in their portfolios that they enjoy making. Do it well. Then find the studios that fit your style/feel and make a couple pieces specifically for them.

Personalized pieces in a portfolio carry about the same weight as a hand written letter of recommendation. (if they don’t suck)


Now that sounds like some damn good advice.

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I had one interview once early on when I was still a designer, where I thought it would be a compliment to say that the style of the agency was a comfortable fit for me. Turned out they were looking for someone to change things up a bit from their normal output. Learn to read your audience. LOL.

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Yeah, I agree. You want to show you can do the work they are already doing, but have enough good pieces in different styles throughout then book. You really want 2-4 pieces that in your own opinion “fit” your job prospect. The rest should just be ones best work.

There is a movie everyone should see with Kelsey Grammar (yeah the coke snorting Cheers guy) called “Pentagon Wars”. This is a true story and shows how design by committee works - or doesn’t actually.

Some agencies are very much like this. you’ll have several “bosses” who don’t agree with each other and will make your life a living hell.

If you want “agency experience” spend some time finding out who has a clear structure. If you’re a Designer #1 for instance, you want to know: 1. if you will get along with the lead designer, and 2. if he/she has control of your division (room/client/whatever).

That way, when Your Boss tells you to do something, you don’t have 5 people coming in afterwards and changing things on them. Otherwise, you will just piss everyone off - suddenly you’re into office politics and more concerned about your job than your work.

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