The Soda Academy
"In our industry, change will always be right around the next corner."
"When it comes to establishing the ground rules that form the foundation for your agency culture, it’s critical to share your thinking with the wider team to incorporate different points of view and dynamics."

Jackson Murphy & Penny Norman, Pound & Grain

Fostering Agency Culture in Our Hyper Fast World

If you can foresee the future, you’re most likely applying your mad skills somewhere outside of the digital creative field. For the rest of us, we never know what’s going to happen next. We can, however, get our inner Nostradamus on and make a prediction that’s pretty certain – in our industry, change will be right around the next corner.

That’s the kind of forecast we can bank on. Our client base will change, we will welcome new staff into the mix, agencies will come and go, and Apple along with Wordpress will update and change things, forcing us to alter everything we’ve previously developed. These constantly shifting elements are usually where the blame lands when it comes to discussing the challenges of creating, developing and sustaining a strong agency culture.

It’s the consistency of change that inspired four partners in an office above a Burger King in a dodgy Vancouver building to create a simple concept as our cultural fuel.


These rules govern Pound and Grain, keeping our focus on what’s important. It has seen us grow from 3 to 21 people and from a single-city to a dual-city agency in just 4 years. Here’s how we use them:

Hiring and introducing new staff
A culture lives through its people, so our 5 rules are a significant part of our hiring credentials. If one of these rules is missing from a potential candidate, we know the two of us won’t fit well together. We’ve seen some incredibly talented people walk through our doors, but if there’s an indication that the value of a rule is missing, we just keep looking. Some of the benefits of this approach include us finding people from all over the world to work with, which creates an interesting dynamic. It’s a melting pot of Canadians, New Zealanders, South Africans, Australians, the Irish and English, as well as a Nicaraguan. So we’re a regular mixed bag o’ nuts.

Creating the right work
We also use our rules to assess work and guide us throughout a project. Is the idea big enough? Have we had enough fun with it? Does it work hard for our client and with the latest digital trends we all love? Is it nice to consumers? This brings a consistency to our work and ensures we maintain the expected Pound & Grain caliber across every project from beginning to end.

Teaming up with the right clients
When there’s a clear statement of intent in the very first meeting, it shows clients exactly how you like to work. This has often caused clients to fall in love with us, and also for some to realize we are not the right fit for them. And really, if a client is not into loving digital or thinking big, we probably wouldn’t be good working together anyway. So it’s a great way to attract and work with clients that are on the same mission as we are. We once took a brief from a client to create a flyer for their annual gala. We capitalized on the opportunity of having top industry decision makers in the audience and went bigger, creating an interactive installation that beat the pants off the flyer option and was a huge success. Some clients are braver than others and you get a sense of where and when to experiment.

Building new offices
We recently opened a new office in Toronto, and central to this expansion are our five simple rules. Toronto is obviously different than Vancouver. Nonetheless, our rules have been an excellent compass. They ensure we maintain a consistency across our agency despite the time and temperature differences. We’re also able to find Toronto clients that we know will be a great fit versus changing the type of agency we are. Clients, like us, want to enjoy a great working relationship and create awesome digital experiences for their audience, irrespective of location.

So how do you put something like this in place at your own agency? Start with a meeting that includes your senior leaders. Get them excited about what you’re aiming to achieve. Make sure everyone is aligned with a clear understanding and passion for your purpose. Share your thinking with the wider team to incorporate different points of view and dynamics. Think about how this can integrate with your current processes, staff reviews, hiring policies, work assessment, pitch process, staff inductions and agency credentials.

Lastly, if one part is not working, don’t be afraid to review, alter or optimize your mission. The goal is to ensure you create a solid foundation. Make sure your whole agency is involved in this kind of change, remembering “el pueblo unido jamás será vencido” (the people united will never be defeated). Make it happen.

A Creative Director with over a decade of copywriting experience, Jackson is passionate about evangelizing innovative creative solutions and delivering results.

As Planning Director, Penny brings a laser sharp focus on great thinking and effectiveness. Her experience includes over 10 years at leading agencies both in Canada and the UK.