Joe Griffin and Jay Swansson are co-founders and CEOs at iAcquire, a digital marketing agency that was founded in 2009. They have grown to 100 employees, with offices in Manhattan and Phoenix, serving 150-plus clients across industries. I recently asked them about how they handle and promote company culture.

What do you strive for your company culture to be? For instance, if perks and office space went away and it was simply the team in a windowless room, what core values would be untouched?

Joe Griffin

Joe Griffin

Joe: The core values that would remain untouched at iAcquire are in the form of the acronym C.R.A.F.T:

  • Creativity: We believe that creativity and out-of-the-box thinking fosters innovation. We select and develop team members who challenge marketing status quo.
  • Responsibility: We honor our clients and take it upon ourselves to always deliver results.
  • Acumen: Talent and expertise with every engagement as a strategic partner to clients.
  • Fortitude: We stand up for our beliefs in the face of challenge or adversity. We use times of challenge as a platform for growth.
  • Transparency: We believe in being honest and open with our clients, partners, and employees.

What advice do you have for maintaining and expanding culture during periods of rapid growth?

Jay Swansson

Jay Swansson

Jay: As an organization, we have gone from two to 100 employees in five years. We’ve had to define and redefine who we are, and our internal values. Scaling right boils down to maintaining your organization’s values and beliefs — whether you’re scaling your services, staff size, office location or client base. All 100 of our employees at iAcquire have a clear vision of what our company is all about, how we deliver marketing services to clients, and our core values. Joe and I set the foundation for our culture in the beginning — it wasn’t an afterthought.

Another key thing is hiring people who not only posses the appropriate skill set for the job but also have a personality that meshes with our company culture. We look for positive, competitive, edgy and creative people. They can can come from diverse backgrounds, but their core values and that natural drive to excel is the common thread.

How does culture play into the marketing work you do? What is its role in attracting or retaining clients? Customer service?

Jay: We are an extension of our client’s marketing and strategy team. Cultural fit is almost as important as service for a client’s needs. Look for an agency partner that delivers results, but also one that you could socialize with after hours. In terms of culture playing into service and retention: our cornerstones are innovation and creativity, and those are two cultural components that have a value-add for clients.

How do you measure the success of your culture, internally and/or externally?

Joe: There are quantifiable metrics like employee attrition and retention, employee referrals and positive employee overtures. Company culture is more of a soft metric for us — we like to get in the trenches and get a pulse on employee satisfaction. We also have internal conversations with leaders across our agency where we gauge employee satisfaction, adoption to culture and general “wellness” of the company.

One downside of culture that some have cited is that it can foster a homogeneity — such as hiring only like-minded people because others aren’t a “fit.” How do you avoid turning culture into a negative, especially in hiring?

Jay: You can still have shared core values and a heterogeneous team. I grew up playing sports and have parents who coached sports, so I know that the best teams are often those made of differing personalities. They tend to form the strongest bonds. When it comes to hiring we look at skill set first, then culture. Culture isn’t about age, gender, or what you do in your spare time. Culture is about work-life balance, commitment to excellence and the shared passion you have in the work that you do.

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