This month I had the amazing opportunity to sit down with long-time friend, and fellow agency professional, Donnie Broxson, to chat about agency culture, and his role as CEO of Acento Advertising, a Los Angeles-based advertising agency. Acento focuses on cross-cultural advertising and promotes diversity in language and culture within their projects. They have worked with many well-known brands, including Wells Fargo and Mitsubishi.
Donnie and I met over a decade ago at a conference and have been close confidants ever since. I can always count on him for advice, a good laugh, and a great mind to bounce ideas off of. He was the first person I thought of when I began to reach out to agencies to have on my podcast!
Donnie started out as a client of Acento Advertising, but they just couldn’t get enough of him and asked for him to join their team many years ago. Last year, Donnie stepped into his role as CEO of Acento.
What have been the biggest challenges of managing an agency?
Donnie’s agency is unique, in that it focuses on a very multicultural approach to marketing and advertising. This means working with a very diverse set of clients, who may see and experience the world differently than the average consumer.
Because of the rigor of client work, it is not always easy to put the same effort into marketing and advertising for the agency itself. When taking over as CEO, Donnie made it a priority to devote some of the agency’s energy to bringing their own marketing up to the same standards that they hold their client work to.
“[In an agency setting], you spend your time on billables, and not on introspection.”
Along with the normal hardships of being a part of an agency, Donnie also had the pandemic to work through. Adjustments needed to be made on the fly for the agency, while still being there to support clients who were going through similar situations. Donnie made sure to continue to make himself available for his employees and clients as they adjusted.
What makes Acento unique?
Donnie and his team make an effort to dive in deep with their clients and ask questions to make sure that they know as much as possible about the situation before suggesting a solution. What is important to the audience? What stands in the way of getting the client’s message across?
By putting this all out in the open, they allow the intended audience and message to guide them to the right place, rather than having a bias towards a specific answer.
How do you determine that a client is the right fit?
Acento wants to be able to have a great connection with their clients, and to be able to have an open conversation with them to make sure that they are able to create the best product for them.
If a potential client is not willing to openly communicate or answer questions, Donnie and his team know that they would not be good clients for them to work with, and are more than willing to guide them in a different direction.
How do you retain your best talent?
Donnie says that Acento is fortunate to have an average tenure of about 7 years across the whole team. People come to work at Acento because they want to work with the other people who are there. They have established a certain set of values that goes beyond the work that they do, but how they interact as a community.
Donnie encourages teammates to grow in whatever way they need to, whether that be to move out into the woods, explore passions, or even finding growth in a place other than at Acento.
“How you feel about the work you’re doing imbues the work with heart that may not exist there otherwise.”
How does your background as a former agency client help you with your current clients?
Donnie’s experience on the client-side gives him a unique perspective into the agency-client relationship and the work that needs to happen from both sides. He knows what is needed from both sides to create a productive partnership between client and agency.
Donnie managed relationships with agencies in past jobs, and it taught him how to get the best out of the agencies and to create a safe space for them to do their work, which he didn’t realize was not a common practice until going to an agency.
Donnie strives to create a safe space where agencies can work together with the same client to create the best outcome for the client with a non-competitive atmosphere. Donnie explains that by calling on each other’s strengths and doing what’s best for the client, multiple agencies can succeed without getting competitive or territorial.
Does agency size matter?
Acento has around 30 full-time employees in the agency and another 10 contract freelancers. Although this is a fairly average size for an agency, it can sometimes be tough to find the right connection with the right size of client.
There are some agencies where this size seems huge, while others may think that 30 employees is not enough to keep up with the capacity of work needed. It’s difficult for a large client to put their faith in a smaller agency, so the challenge is to figure out how to be set up to best serve their needs.
What do you see impacting your business most in upcoming years?
This past year and a half has taught us all that you can only predict so much, and that so many things that are beyond our control. Donnie hopes to continue to improve the flexibility and agility of his team and operations as they have been over the past year, evolving, coping, and moving forward. Donnie looks forward to new technology and media evolutions that will support their ability to pivot as life and situations change.
One large challenge that Acento is facing is the investment of corporate America into causes that are affecting our world right now. Many communities have been greatly affected, and corporate America has shown their support, to a point. Causes like Black Lives Matter, Pride, Stop AAPI Hate, and many more see a rise in support from large corporations, but that support is fleeting and “in the moment” instead of those corporations making a constant effort to support these communities. Donnie explains, “[As corporations, and as marketers,] we need to hold ourselves accountable for the emotional commitments we made over the past year or so.”
What advice do you have for someone new to agency life?
Donnie said it best when describing agency life: In an agency, you get to exercise your analytical and creative sides to come out with something that is powerful and beautiful and can impact culture for years to come. However, you don’t get to have that big beautiful moment every single day, so being able to stick to it, work hard, and learn will create the most impact when those great moments do come.
“We get these moments where we can really do something magical for society and that we all get to feel good about, and that’s what keeps us here.”
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About The Agency Scoop
Each episode, we tackle a specific topic with another friend from Cypress North or pull in leaders from other companies. We’ll chat about what’s helping our agency grow, how we work with clients, things that bring us joy, and even the challenges we face. Please subscribe on your favorite podcast player to follow along!