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What’s culture got to do with it?

Company culture is a difficult thing to define but, at its simplest, it’s ‘how we do things here’.


And while the intention behind it may have come from the top, and we’ve got it all written down, that’s not how people who work at SMG come to learn about it. The learning (and practising) of our culture happens in everyday moments. From the way our people behave, what they do, how they interact with each other, our clients, our partners - it’s everything, really.


We’re very proud of the culture we’ve built together at SMG. We’ve created an inclusive, innovative environment where people can do great work, develop and grow. And we think our emphasis on adaptability, flexibility, on holding ourselves accountable, and on embracing change are key to us delivering successful results for our clients.


But over half the SMG workforce is based in our clients’ offices, working on one of the six retail media networks we currently run and operate, in-house, for our retailers.


If our culture is what makes us successful, how do we keep it alive and meaningful for people working every day in the middle of a different one?


The engagement phase is crucial


We’ve found the period when we first engage with a new partner is critical here. When we started work on setting up Boots Media Group, for example, we spent a lot of time in the early months bringing people from SMG and Boots together to form one team.


We have our set of values and behaviours that we try to live every day, and we make sure these behaviours are built into initial work plans during the engagement phase so that everyone on the team, that’s being integrated into the retailer, can break down exactly what it is they’re going to achieve and, just as importantly, exactly how they’re going to deliver it.


That’s a real point of difference for people that make the move to work at SMG, especially for those that are from a brand or retailer background; they really buy into the way we approach things. In every engagement phase, we have to demonstrate to our retailer partners that driving our agency culture in the team enables high performance and, in turn, delivers the results they’re looking to achieve. We make them a part of that through having them take part in our meetings and events and vice versa. Embedding ourselves within their business to truly act as an extension of their team.


It’s also really important to ensure we’re aligned on KPIs, that we’re all driving towards the same goals, because otherwise you get the challenging situation where half of the team are going after one thing, and celebrating one target, and the other half are saying, hang on a minute, that’s not what we’re going after.


That’s the worst place you can be when you want one united functioning team.


Keeping the culture alive


The second part of the challenge is to maintain our culture within the hybrid teams we create.

The partnership leaders interface with our key stakeholders from the client most days. We ensure that these people also spend time with their counterparts in the other areas of our business, learning from each other and making sure we continue to drive the SMG culture and brand.


We do the same with other team members. One of our values is ‘Stay foolish’ and what that means is always being ready to think about things differently, to learn about how companies do things differently and to be ready for change. To encourage that, we get our people to move around and experience different teams and that helps encourage adaptability whilst maintaining the consistency in the culture across the business. And we extend that to our retail partnerships as much as is practical.


It would be easy for our people to feel divorced from our culture when they’re sitting at the same desks as clients. To prevent this, we come together in teams and as a total business regularly; whether that be through training, volunteering, socials or our monthly all company meeting. We think about how we give our people space away from clients too in order to decompress and to reflect on what it means to be part of SMG.


There will always be a degree of tension between cultures but, being able to hold this space is what our people do best; in fact, often it is not even known that an RMN team is powered by SMG.


The integration is so good that they’re seen as part of the retailer’s team, which helps build the retailer’s brand and reputation in this space; further demonstrating the value that the SMG culture brings.


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