The Question of Cultural Fit

I wasn’t a year at my first agency job in New York but I was already itching to leave. Landing this job was a dream come true and I was very grateful for the opportunity. No one else would have taken a chance on me, especially someone who required visa sponsorship after 9–11. The agency had trusted me, a new grad, to work on some very important projects after only a few months into the role. This included being the Master of Ceremonies for a fundraising event sponsored by Moet Hennessy to help the Chinatown community recover from 9–11. As it turns out, this soiree would be attended by some very high profile political and media figures including the New York Governor at the time George Pataki. The event went smoothly and I was riding high off the success, but a few more months into it, and I started to feel out of place and out of sorts. I kept at it for close to a year but ultimately, I couldn’t shake the feeling. The company culture didn’t suit me, or rather, I didn’t fit the company culture.

With a desire to break into a more mainstream part of the market, I decided to begin networking with industry professionals, starting with my university alumni network. Luckily, I met this wonderful man and mentor who introduced me to the Minister of the People at Ogilvy. At the time, IBM was working with Ogilvy to pilot a new way of working. They had created a number of new roles called Campaign Facilitators in which the agency person was sitting in the agency office but was technically a part of the IBM team. The role involved creating demand generation campaigns for the IBM Alliances Team together with their partners SAP, PeopleSoft, and Siebel to name a few. I took the job without hesitation.

I still remember my first day walking through the doors of the Ogilvy office which at the time, was located in One Worldwide Plaza in the heart of Times Square. David Ogilvy was a legend in the advertising world and his influence on the industry and the agency remains pervasive. Everything in the office oozed with its famous Ogilvy Red including the carpets, the employee handbooks, and the stationary (I still have the red welcome toolbox they gave me on my first day). The cherry on top? The iconic plaza also housed Universal Music Group and so I was treated to celebrity sightings that included some of my favorite rappers in the world — Jay-Z, Eminem, and Busta Rhymes. I was in heaven.

IBM was one of Ogilvy’s blue chip accounts and so there were many opportunities to rotate through different business units. I worked on software and mid-sized businesses and was doing some solid work on the direct marketing side. When that time of year came around when rotations were discussed, I was expecting a similar role on a different team. Much to my surprise, they offered me a role on the IBM Brand Team. Perhaps my naivete came into play again but I didn’t realize what an opportunity I was actually given. I would be working on some high profile projects like IBM Watson and its launch on Jeopardy!, the US Open Tennis Grand Slam Sponsorship, and the IBM Smarter Planet series with CNBC and Maria Bartiromo. As these were important projects to IBM, the agency brand team would often be in discussions more directly with the CMO.

Several of my peers congratulated for this big move, and yet, after a few months on the team, I started to feel what I felt at my first job again. My inner monologue kicked-in. What was wrong with me? I’m working with some of the most brilliant marketing strategists and creative minds in the company. I should be happy! But the truth is, I struggled. Sure the learning curve was steep, but I had encountered obstacles in other roles before. This felt different. After ruminating about it for some time, I determined that it wasn’t the right fit. The right cultural fit. This was somewhat of an a-ha moment for me. We often talk about the culture of a company but we don’t often discuss the culture of a team. I could still feel out of place in a company that I loved.

For many years leading up to that point, I had entertained the idea of moving to Asia. So maybe this was a signal that I should finally take the leap. And so that’s what I did. After 8 years with Ogilvy, I left an amazing team and packed my bags to move halfway across the world. Perhaps this story is more a lesson on self awareness rather than one of corporate culture. If you’re in the right place, even if the work is hard, you should feel invigorated and energized. I would experience these feelings and situations throughout my career but I became better at recognizing them over time. And once you recognize it, you’ll be able to manage it and identify the next step in your journey.

Originally published at

The founder of Dreamwriters, a self-publishing platform for young creative writers and artists.

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