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What Happens To Culture When You Hire The Wrong Person?

Last week I read a piece about a London agency hiring outside of the marketing bubble. I was impressed but also a tad smug as we’ve been doing this since we started back in 1995. RBH has, at various points, been comprised of musicians, gardeners, Iron Men, mummy bloggers, chefs and fine artists. To name but a few.

To be fair some people have careers at RBH and all-consuming alternative pursuits outside of it. That’s the way we like it. In fact we introduced an initiative some years ago we named “Get Me Out Of Here” where our people could put together a proposal to do something they’d always dreamed of, however outlandish and outrageous it may be. Or even banal if that rocked their boat. Such was its popularity we’re reintroducing it this year. Previous winners have climbed mountains (falling in love mid-avalanche but that’s a different story), mini-vanned it off to the World Cup (even that didn’t result in an Ingerland victory), worked in a Yosemite Black Bear sanctuary and partaken of Ballroom Dancing.

One of our founding values was all about being inspired outside of work life as well as within. Escaping the marketing bubble so that you can explode the marketing bubble with fresh thinking and new energy.

So our people are diverse and esoteric, challenging and always imaginative. From different backgrounds, different cultures, different life experiences, different educations (a Uni degree is not a prerequisite and neither is a linear, logical CV). They’re all hugely individual yet, as is often remarked upon, “you can spot an RBH’er at twenty paces”. I’ve thought long and hard about this because I’d hate to think Tim, Ian and I set out to recruit in our own image (God help us all if we did) and I’ve concluded it’s more about recruiting in our own attitude. Joining up with people who fit and add positively to our culture.

It’s a funny thing that culture. I think it’s why we’re still here, still successful after twenty two years. Still independent too and that takes some doing. It may have been kicked off by the three of us but it’s owned and carried forward with great commitment by our friends and colleagues too.

It’s about passion and professionalism; it’s about taking risks but basing them on brilliant insight; it’s about personal empowerment within a team that’s there to lift you up too; it’s about honesty and integrity, even when there’s an easier way forward; it’s about caring and compassion and loving what we do. It’s about kindness and a flat structure where anyone can speak to anyone about anything whether that be sharing daring ideas or 4am worries. It’s about enjoying Mondays to Fridays as well as holidays and weekends and it’s about creating work to be excited about and proud of. Wherever you fit in the organisation.

Let me tell you what it’s not about. It’s not about personal fiefdoms, glamour and glory. It’s not about any kind of racism, sexism, intimidation or treating colleagues as subordinates. It’s not about status, symbols of success and ripping off others in pursuit of a totally self-centred goal.

Not all RBH’ers come to stay. Some contribute brilliantly and then move on. They remain RBH’ers though and keep in touch, wherever they may be in the world. Some come back. Some people join and never quite get the RBH ethos and that’s okay too. They usually pass through quite quickly in a kind of “rabbits in the headlights” daze and we appreciate them whilst they’re here.

But just once, maybe twice, we’ve got it very wrong. We’ve “fallen” for someone who is different to us because we are so open-minded, because we do genuinely like people, because (as time has taught us) the “wrong people” are so good at talking the talk, are invariably big characters and always promise so much.

And even when it becomes clear they don’t “fit” and that the promises are just empty words we carry on working at it because we believe people are fundamentally good and can change for the better given the example of all of the great RBH people around them.


At the grand age of 56 I am finally ready to say that some people (and thankfully they’re few and far between) are just irredeemable. They are incapable of changing. The entire universe is viewed through their selfish-tinted spectacles. They lie, cheat, commit fraud, steal, bully and would sell their own child should it remove them from an impending scandal.

But I’m also a firm believer that every risk you take, every mistake you make in life is never wasted and something amazing is usually learnt from every experience.

Here’s the thing: If your ethos is understood and permeates every part of your business then your people resolutely become the fiercest guardians of that culture. They have the agency’s back even when you have been momentarily taken in or distracted. Or when you’re still believing someone can change for the better. They step forward, despite it being the hardest thing to do, and they speak the unspeakable. One by one. Senior people, our youngest people. Until not a single doubt remains.

The RBH culture has become a forcefield in its own right. Even our cherished clients and suppliers feel comfortable speaking out when meeting someone who is clearly “not RBH”.

We dealt with it.

So, if we were ever in doubt that our culture is a soft, emotive, intangible thing we can rest assured it’s a veritable force of nature in its own right. And has bounced back stronger than ever.

Culture. People. Attitude. And a little bit of “Get Me Out Of Here”.

Twenty two years on I still bloody love RBH.

Written by Debra Hepburn

Founding partner, RBH Creative Communications and co-founder, Young British Designers.

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