What works: Certifications and accreditations

This is What Works. Here, we explore a hot topic for agency businesses, researching new ideas and best practice from around the world.

This time, we take a look at What works: Certifications and accreditations.


This What Works looks at the role that certifications and accreditations have in both the operation and the public persona of an agency.

Many agencies will have certifications for their work or business — some required in order to operate in their sector, under law or regulation (and those we will largely gloss over in this examination, as there's little choice or option about achieving them); others, though, are a barometer of sorts of the business, given by an external awarding body of some kind.

The decision to seek out certifications, accreditations and awards that are   voluntary is a difficult one that cannot be taken easily. Most require some degree of operational, structural and administrative effort to achieve. In some cases they will require changes to working practices. In others, it will simply be asserting something that is already happening or present. In all circumstances, though, it is highly likely that there will be substantial overhead, in time, effort and possibly money, too, to provide the evidence that supports the award.

We've taken a look at certifications and accreditations in four main areas:

  1. Quality
  2. Ethics
  3. Environment
  4. People

We've looked at the virtues and challenges of the certifications in each area, the benefits that they each have, how difficult they are to achieve and to maintain, and more. With each, we try to give you a run-down of the pluses and minuses.

Here’s what you need to know. This is what works.


Why might you need certifications or accreditations?

This is a significant question, and one with a nuanced answer. The range of views on this is different from sector to sector.

In some realms certifications are important, for legal or regulatory reasons, say, to establish that your business operates to standards and in compliance with regulations that certify the quality of your work or offering. In this context, certifications offer a guarantee for your customers, indicating that they have a safety net if there is a problem of some kind.

Other sectors have a number of certifications that are valuable to achieve, to portray that you are a recognised by an important awarding body, in the marketplace, or by your peers and rivals.

In other industries, where certifications are not required by law or regulations, the need to gain certifications or accreditations for your business is less clear. Indeed, as there is often a degree of work invovled in first achieving and then retaining a certification, there are sometimes disincentives to achieving an award.

However, there are some good reasons to look at the value in certifications.

Symbolic shortcuts for telling your story

The story of your agency is important in both public and internal contexts:

  • Publicly, for your sales and marketing efforts primarily, but for other reasons too, you need to portray who you are, what your values are, how you behave, in order for your current and future customers or clients to understand what it's like to work with you. Similar reasons hang true for potential recruits to your team, as well.
  • Internally, for your team to understand what values and practices  define your agency, in order for them to align with those norms, behaviours and attributes in their daily work.
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