Wednesday, April 24, 2013

You Can't Fake Culture

Each semester, students in my sports marketing class make a short presentation about a sports marketing agency that they have researched. This “show and tell” exercise gives the class exposure to 20-plus companies serving the sports industry. The idea is to broaden their perspective on the breadth of career opportunities available in sports marketing. At the same time, students are exposed to the “players” in the industry.

The last presentations for the semester were made yesterday, and a student, Amanda, gave an enthusiastic presentation about The MarketingArm, the Dallas-based agency that helps clients create activation programs for their sponsorshsips. Perhaps the most striking takeaway from Amanda’s sharing of The Marketing Arm’s work is the unmistakable influence of the organization’s culture. The Marketing Arm takes great pride in its culture; events such as bowling day, cookie day and spring break trips serve to energize employees and reward them for their hard work. It is not surprising that the agency has one several awards for its creative work as well as recognition as a great place to work.

One characteristic of organization culture is that it cannot be faked. Sure, employees can put on a good show if a visitor shows up, but in general the shared values that guide and influence how a firm conducts business are enduring- culture cannot be turned on and off. Organization culture sets the agenda for what is important. For The Marketing Arm, it is evident that its people are important. After all, the company’s output is not a product that rolls off an assembly line; it is the creative efforts of employees working to deliver profitable ideas for clients.

We want students who aspire to work in sports business to make it, to achieve their dreams. But, it is also rewarding to see them happy and fulfilled. Getting an opportunity to break into sports is one thing, but being able to do so with an organization whose culture values employees (especially early career professionals (can be the difference between having a job in sports marketing and having a professional career in sports marketing. Checking out potential employers in sports marketing should include asking the culture questions- What are the underlying shared values that guide the organization? How is culture reinforced in manager-employee interactions? How does culture impact how customers and clients are served?

Kudos, The Marketing Arm, for your efforts to establish a culture that is employee-focused. You impressed students in my class!