A mix of veterans and novices fosters quality

Quality work is the hallmark of any agency's brand. No matter its specialty, a firm must produce fundamentally good work if it's going to stay afloat. Without the quality, no amount of marketing will help.

Quality work is the hallmark of any agency's brand. No matter its specialty, a firm must produce fundamentally good work if it's going to stay afloat. Without the quality, no amount of marketing will help.

But growth is also vital. These dual mandates lead to an inescapable question that ambitious firms, large or small, must face: How do we maintain quality control when opening new offices?

A few guiding principles seem to be universal. The fact that an agency is successful enough to grow means that, in all likelihood, its leaders have mastered their tasks in the central office. To export quality work, they simply export quality people.

"We will often take people out of the core office and put them into the new office," says Amy Binder, CEO of RF|Binder. "The other thing is - we always have cross-office teams."

Those two pillars ensure that a new office is not making up procedures as it goes along, but is instead guided by those who have already absorbed the agency's methods. RF|Binder also holds weekly cross-office phone calls to discuss individual account work.

"They've got a structure that ensures that everyone is doing things in exactly the same way, and they're talking to clients in the same manner," Binder says.

Lewis PR, an international tech specialist, has opened new US offices at the rate of about one every two years. Steve Capoccia, GM in its New York branch, says the agency works much like a centrally controlled franchise, exporting details down to the design and layout of the workspace and the technology. "You go to any Lewis office around the world and feel like you can fit right in," he says.

Each branch also starts its workday at the same time - 8am - with a review of the day's news. And a weekly US executive meeting tracks each office's performance. "Just like some franchises, they have a local flavor," Capoccia says. "At the same time, you get that really seamless approach."

Text 100, which grows organically and has spread worldwide, also ships in seasoned veterans to get a new office off the ground. In China, for example, its offices are staffed with a mix of former US personnel - some with previous China experience, some without - and talent from the firm's other offices, as well as Chinese locals.

SVP Scott Friedman says the plan is not only successful in exporting the firm's culture, but also appeals to staffers because it offers opportunities to work abroad.

"We've got senior people, many of whom have worked in at least two or three different markets," he says. "How can say you're truly a global company if your most senior executives haven't at least set foot in some other countries? So, we invest in that."

For smaller firms, starting a new office can be a make-or-break move. For that reason, their leaders tend to oversee the plans closely. Jack Horner, founder of Pittsburgh-based Jack Horner Communications, says that opening a Philadelphia branch was a risk. "That's the number one reason why Jack Horner moved [house] to open the next Jack Horner Communications office," he says. Horner now tells people his main office is "the Turnpike."

But for the sake of quality, it's worth the effort.

Key points:

Moving top talent to new offices can ensure continuity of service and quality

Cross-office teams can help new staffers absorb agency culture

Stress that procedures will maintain established quality standards throughout the agency network

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