Bridge building Featured

7:00pm EDT March 26, 2006
Targeting Fortune 100 companies and forming a strong tie to Procter & Gamble gave Bridge Worldwide powerful levers to grow by.

Over the four-year period that Jay Woffington has been Bridge Worldwide’s president, the agency has grown from 38 employees to 120 and doubled its revenue. In late 2005, it became part of Wunderman, a British global relationship marketing agency.

For Woffington, the challenge during that period was to retain a creative and innovative culture as the agency expanded and took on new, highly visible clients.

As a former Procter & Gamble marketing employee, Woffington had an edge in knowing how the big players think and in collaring the company’s prized accounts. He knew, however, that to survive the growth the agency would experience as a result of that relationship, it would have to remain nimble and be ready to realign on a dime.

The solutions? Make sure that the work is fun, that corporate values and goals are clear, and exercise tight discipline on finances to reign in creative types without choking off the creative spirit.

Smart Business spoke with Woffington about the challenges of fast growth and how he fosters a strong company culture.

What did you learn from your experiences with fast growth?
For smart growth, as a business manager, what it teaches you is that when you’re growing at that rapid pace, you need to realize that your job and everybody’s management job in that structure is changing at a very rapid pace. In a year when you grow at 50 percent, what your managers do and what you do changes very dramatically.

If you ignore that, you run the risk of people playing out of position, not really focusing on how they need to be prioritizing their day. A person that might be right for a position as, say, a department head when you’re at 30 people might not be right for the position when you’re at 60 people.

That’s OK. It doesn’t mean that they’re not still a great performer, it means you just need a different structure, you need to think about it a little differently. It’s about managing growth, not just growing.

What were the most significant challenges as the company grew?
First and foremost, we were a small business — back in 2002, we had 38 people — so we really created a culture that thrived on a very entrepreneurial attitude, an open culture, and we defined that through the whole company.

It wasn’t just me sitting in a room saying, ‘This is what we want to be, this is what we want to stand for.’ We did it as an exercise with the entire company over several months. Maintaining that culture as we grew was the No. 1 challenge and continues to be.

Companies that don’t focus on company culture and are growing — or even companies that aren’t growing fast, for that matter — it’s an investment. We’re a service business, so having people who want to come to work and enjoy what they do, be engaged and committed, is very, very important.

We spend a tremendous amount of time upfront defining that and a tremendous amount of time, energy and money throughout our growth continuing to cultivate that. And obviously, when you’re bringing in a lot of new faces, that’s a huge challenge.

How do you foster your corporate culture?
If I had the entire answer, that would be terrific. I can tell you some of the things that worked for us. No. 1, articulating the culture is a very important step. So we wrote it down, we know the words that represent our culture. Having it written down is very important because then everybody can point to it.

No. 2, it’s about making it visible, and I mean that in every sense of the word, making it (visible) literally and figuratively to everyone in the organization, making sure that everyone can see it and knows it.

How do you do that?
There are very specific initiatives that we have in our company that are directly tied to our culture. No. 1 among those that we did at the end of 2004 and into the beginning of 2005 was we moved our entire office.

It’s a completely open environment that we designed from scratch, where there are no offices. It’s kind of an office without walls. It’s brightly colored, and everything is tied to the work that we want to stand for, including putting those words on the wall that I referred to before.

We’ve got a big glass wall that’s called the equity wall, and it has everything we stand for as a company.

How do you reinforce those things in practice?
We have initiatives and programs that tie to that cultural element. It can be crazy things like, one of our cultural words is ‘funaboration.’ It’s a word that we created ourselves that ties to the idea of fun and collaboration but within work.

For instance, on the final Friday of the month, we have a happy hour at the office. When we won our most recent client, ConAgra Foods, we had a giant feast celebration for the entire office featuring nothing but our client’s products. It’s still client-focused and focused on work, but it’s fun.

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