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That Business Culture Thing – Does it work?

We’ve just finished our 2023 financial year at the end of June, and I’m pleased to confirm that it represented our 11th year of continuous growth since we became an Australian Public Company in January 2012.

Unlike some of the former stock market darlings with their mantras of “it’s cheap money, grow at all costs, the profits will probably follow”, we’ve also been nicely profitable for the last ten years.

Of course, with pandemics and economic headwinds, our growth has been a wiggly line, but thankfully it’s been a wiggly line that’s headed up and to the right.

So, what’s the secret?

Is it Product, Service, Price, People, Technology?

My answer would be, yes, yes, yes, yes and yes, but there’s more.

Borrowing a topical Oppenheimeresque phrase, the “strong force” that holds together many corporate atoms is Company Culture.

Company Culture has similarities with sub-atomic particles, it’s hard to detect but is important and things split apart if it’s not there.

I’m sure we’ve all experienced that “bad culture vibe” when you walk into an office where something doesn’t feel right, there’s a sense of fear, people are scared to talk out of turn and are excessively deferential to the “boss”. Equally, the “boss” often refers to their people as “they work for me….” rather than using a reference to a “colleague”.

Compare and contrast with those offices where there are regular, spontaneous eruptions of laughter, people are happy to chat, come and go without watching a clock, are happy to question authority, are proud of what they do and feel a part of something bigger.

One of the initial actions when we moved into our new offices in Manchester, UK in 2017 was to adorn the freshly painted walls with our six cultural traits (how very dotcom!). I remember at the time quite a few eyerolls and jokes in the office, “that's another bit of management-speak bingo from Ian!”

However, I'm pleased to say that several years later, everybody in the business understands (perhaps believes) in the cultural traits, and uses them as a guiding north star when making not only the big decisions, but also the smaller ones.

I’ve set out below summaries of our cultural traits, what we believe to be important and how they’ve played a part in our growth.

Great Work

Great Work is as straightforward as it sounds. We're all about recognizing and celebrating exceptional contributions. Whether it's a groundbreaking milestone project or consistently outstanding performance, we endeavour to highlight and reward those who go above and beyond.

Everyone loves a pat on the back and it's always good to see individuals encouraged to try to be that little better tomorrow than they were today.

One tangible example, although there are many, relates to our development team who’ve built our entire tech stack and platform from scratch - content management, distribution, email systems, analytics - all in-house! Their drive to improve, enhance and find a better way of doing things never ceases.


Great Teamwork is probably the key element in our culture. Without a united team, all our other efforts would fall short. Great companies have individuals who solve first for their clients, the company, the team and finally themselves.

Great teamworkers are inherently unselfish, happy to lend an ear and participate in projects not solely for personal aggrandisement.

When recruiting, the US Navy Seals focus more on the totally reliable team member than the brilliant maverick. Of course, the consequences of missing an advertising deadline aren’t nearly as grave as a failed ocean rescue. Nevertheless, in corporate life, the winning teams illustrate similar characteristics of cohesion, camaraderie and a drive to succeed as a team.


In the era of “Hybrid working” effective communication is more important than ever.

Although I fully appreciate the benefits of hybrid working and we were facilitating such working practices pre-pandemic, I also believe that nothing beats face-to-face interactions, those non-verbal clues and mannerisms that convey the whole and real message.

With hybrid working It’s particularly important to avoid that “bunker mentality” behaviour and ensure that just because you’ve accomplished your task, the job doesn’t end there, you also recognise the benefits of sharing your news with your team, other teams and the wider organisation.


Although engagement sounds somewhat similar to communication and it often foxes our new starters, we define engagement as recognising the importance of engaging with clients. Developing deep professional and often personal bonds.

As an AZoNetwork Team Member, engagement is much more than just satisfying the supplier-customer contractual obligations, your personal challenge is can you provide additional value? Perhaps a formatting or Call To Action (CTA) suggestion to help your client? Can you go the extra mile and share related research to benefit your customer?

It’s a cliché but even in the somewhat scary Ai “Avatarish” world we now inhabit, people still buy people … and long may it continue.


My favourite definition is “innovation is seeing what everyone else has seen but thinking what nobody has thought before”.

Innovation isn't solely about monumental breakthroughs; it's about continuous improvement, no matter how small. Daily innovations, collectively, can lead to significant advancements. From sharing best practices to encouraging fresh perspectives, we actively cultivate a culture that embraces innovation in all its forms. With an email team that sends out over 1m emails a week across 100+ subject areas, a tweak here and there can lead to a 0.01% reduction in unsubscribe rates. That may not sound like a significant number but with an average unsubscribe rate of 0.08% that’s a big 12.5% improvement. Let’s not forget, a daily 1% improvement generates a 37x improvement over a year.

We also look externally with our Innovation activities and encourage the sharing of such discoveries with clients via personal contacts, subject specific ebooks and webinars.

Work Life Balance

We all spend a lot of our life at work and it should be as enjoyable and stress free as possible. I’m a big fan of the “Patisserie Morning Meet” with the Editorial team or Thursday drinks with the work tribe. These examples are the outward manifestations of the “fun stuff”, but equally important “balance issues” are being able to start work after the plumber has departed or you’ve dropped your kids off at school without feeling guilty.

Working periods out of the country and “Fun in the Sun Friday afternoons in July and August” are two other examples of where we always try to promote a trusting company culture to breakdown some of those Dickensian work-life barriers.

Final Thoughts

Would I recommend the AZoNetwork cultural traits to other company managers? Some, perhaps not all. Every company is different with varying priorities and constraints, but I wholeheartedly believe it’s worth doing whatever you can to improve your company culture.

As one of my favourite business writers, Simon Sinek would say, “ Working hard for something we don't care about is called stress. Working hard for something we love is called passion."

Does your culture generate passion?

Note: No Ai was used in the production of this piece, just the thoughts of the opinionated, flawed and occasionally interesting human in the videos.

Posted by Ian Birkby

Ian is a second time around entrepreneur, who founded Dynamic-Ceramic in 1992 and led the company through to a successful exit in 1997. AZoNetwork was established in 2000 in Sydney Australia. Ian has a first class honours degree in Engineering Metallurgy and Ph.D. in Engineering Ceramics and Tribology. Ian's a former member of the Institute of Materials, Materials Strategy Commission and the UK's Institute of Ceramics. He also served as Chairman of Medilink North West (a medical devices consortium) and is a former Director of the Australian Nano Business Forum. When not indulging in his passion for all things webby, techy and digital he can still be seen running around the soccer field trying desperately to emulate his Leeds United heroes from the 70's.

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