The advice i can give is to look for a culture that doesn't only produce great work but also great people. I guess most of us know deep inside it's more than work that matters, we can break down agency culture into five points and shared simple ways on how to recognize it.
1. Collaboration If you get into a culture that values collaboration, there's room for client to contribute. Places that value collaboration tend not to be about the person, they tend to be about 'THE BEST IDEA WINS'. This is not about people or ego, it's about the idea. How you recognize it:
How are people seated? Departments? Integrated? Floors?
Do they assign ideas to people? Groups? The boss? Name on the door?
How do they review work? In the open? Corner office? Small/big?
2. Generosity It takes generosity to teach. A culture of generosity will allow people to explore their own ideas, potential, find their own voice and learn from failure. How you recognize it:
Do co-workers celebrate brand success as their own? Do they want what you want for yourself?
How do they give and share credit?
What's the approach to training and education?
3. Courage Client need an organization that stands up for brave ideas. How you recognize it:
Do you look at their work and ask 'How the hell did they do that?'
How many ideas do they bring to a pitch?
Have they ever resigned business for a creative or cultural differences?
4. Accountability A culture of accountability quickly teaches that success or failure matters. Being accountable for the outcome, either positive or negative, is leadership. Be in a culture that shares your definition of success and that teaches you to lead. How you recognize it:
Do they embrace metrics? Do set them at all?
What is the ultimate win to them? Awards? $$$? Long relationships? Happy clients?
What is the compensation structure for clients? For staff? For leaders? What does it reward? Performance? Seniority? Internal political success?
5. Ambition It's important to understand your brand ambitions and find an agency that shares the same ambitions. If you're missmatch it's going to be a bad relationship. If you aspire to greatness, attach yourself to an organization that aspires to greatness. How you recognize it:
What goals do they aspire to? Success as defined by clients, industry or culture?
Do they talk about what they could do better more than what they do well?