A Media Agency: Dissected

If you’ve spent any time involved in the online marketing, media, or PR industries, either agency-side or client-side, it’s pretty likely that you’ll have come across your fair share of characters, and endured your fair share of “enlightening” experiences.

These “experiences” may well have been conducted in shiny meeting rooms on the top floor of a dazzling London skyscraper, where the aerial view of the city is the only consolation after a business encounter that leaves you feeling either bamboozled, slightly conned, utterly bemused, or an intriguing combination of the three.

​It’d be wrong to make any sort of generalisations about the sort of souls found in these agencies, or create extreme caricatures of the sort of individual likely to be found in various agency roles…but we’ve gone ahead and done so anyway.


The “in-denial” MD

In most walks of life and in most industries, being an MD is a good thing. There’s no denying that, right? After all, you get all of the perks associated with being in the upper reaches of the company, you can make decisions without really having to get them OK-ed, and you’ll probably enjoy a greater level of flexibility than most others.

In some marketing agencies, though, for entirely illogical and bizarre reasons, it’s almost become a badge of shame to be an MD, a dirty little secret that needs to be kept hidden along with the pay cheque.

Of course, this isn’t entirely accurate, and in the majority of cases this particular caricature doesn’t apply in the slightest, but it does seem to be the case that in some agencies in this industry, the in-denial MD is all too clear to see.

You’ll probably have come across the MD who’s not an MD before in the industry. He’s (and we’re assuming in this example, for no particular reason, that said MD is male, although by no means is this character restricted to the male gender) likely to be seen wearing trainers (ideally whiter than their pearly white teeth adidas trainers, or perhaps Nikes with the tick clearly showing at all times).

He’ll pair these trainers with smart suit trousers, sporting a subtle pinstripe, of course. He may also wear thick-rimmed black glasses, ideally with a designer brand clearly marked along the side. Rest assured that this choice of eyewear almost definitely doesn’t stem back to any problems with eyesight.

MD in-denial might be found guilty of wandering around the open-plan office, perching not at all awkwardly on the corner of desks to see how various members of staff are getting on. He’ll enjoy carping on about his “open door policy” and is keen to be viewed as the paragon of generosity, which may extend every second Friday to bringing a pack of jaffa cakes into the office for everyone to share.

Of course sometimes the temptation to talk about his MD lifestyle gets too much, and he’ll be found guilty of turning the latest batch of interns green with envy by dropping into conversation the bottle of £250 red wine he consumed last night, or the chalet in the Alps that he part-owns. He may even sometimes forget his MD badge of shame and park his Porsche out the front of the office.

The Gagging For A Promotion Junior Manager

Are you a junior manager in an agency trying your hardest to get a promotion? Wondering what you’re doing wrong? Well, listen up, because you need to learn some tricks of the trade from those who have gone before you.

You’ll recognize the type, those smartly dressed, shoe-shined, hair-slicked back junior managers who, rather than using hard work and good old-fashioned graft to get ahead in life, instead choose to bamboozle “upper management” to encourage them to force through a promotion.

The way they do this? Business speak. These are the guys who want to encourage a “paradigm shift” in the company (despite probably not really knowing how to spell “paradigm”), describe themselves to anyone who will listen as a “bit of a visionary” (read: bit of an egotistical idiot), and can’t think of anything better than “squaring the circle” in a morning meeting, when everyone else is more concerned about getting him to explain what exactly the “circle” might be.

When not found annoying everyone in the office, these individuals may be found applying for The Apprentice, having a hair cut at one of those salons where hair product costs more than a day’s work and trims come complete with scalp massage as standard, or perhaps on an average evening out telling anyone who will listen over a £15 cocktail about their MBA.

The best way to deal with these guys? Well, other than trying to take what actual actionable information you need from meetings that drag on for three hours so that you can do your job day in, day out, your other option is to take bets on the number of clichés they’ll spout in a meeting. Sorry, not meeting: “brainstorming session”. That’s better.

The Uncreative Creative

Ah, the uncreative creative. You know the one. Why write your CV in simple bullet points when you can hire a plane to fly through Media City, leaving a trail of smoke in its wake detailing your top five qualities? That’s an exaggeration, but honestly, we’ve heard of people, so desperate to secure their “dream job” in a London marketing agency, who have carried trays of freshly baked shortbread biscuits into reception, spelling out why exactly they deserve that very special entry-level job…with icing on the top of each biscuit the same precise shade as the company logo. There were also balloons involved. Enough said really.

And the clichés after tired old clichés don’t end when that job is secured. Oh no. After all, why write a good old-fashioned article when you can write a blog post, ideally in at least two or three different fonts, in rhyming couplets? Why brainstorm your latest piece of creative gold dust on a piece of A4 with a biro when you can draw elaborate pictograms on the side of an actual wall with an erasable marker pen, ideally after spending a good hour or three lolling around on a bean bag? Because, as you know, nothing shouts “productive use of time” more than a session on a seating device originally designed for five-year-olds.

What these people fail to realise is that by trying to “channel the creative”, they end up following the same old tired clichés replicated in office after office in this industry, ending up achieving the exact opposite of the “pizazz” and originality they were actually seeking in the first place.

Paid Search Geek

There’s something about PPC’ers, a bit like being a minister or a boutique cupcake maker, which absolutely screams passion, vocation, and a really genuine love of what they do on a daily basis.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that; they love number crunching and spending full days immersing themselves in spreadsheets, and they’re not at all ashamed to admit it. Neither should they be.

Unfortunately for many of us, though, we just don’t really like maths…in the slightest, in fact. I mean, remember trying to understand even the simplest of simultaneous equations at school? Oh, and don’t even get us started on abstract algebra. The mind quite simply boggles.

Sadly the combination of career evangelism on one side + horrific maths lesson flashbacks to forgetting your compass and protractor two weeks in a row in Year 8 = pretty awkward conversations hanging around the office water cooler.

If you know exactly what we’re talking about, here are a few tips for go-to conversation starters that you can bring to mind next time you’re stuck in situation awkwardness. Prepare to dazzle and delight your maths genius colleagues:

“Did you know that 1089 multiplied by 9 gives an exact reverse: 9801?” (I know! Who’d have guessed it?)

“40 when written as “forty” is the only number with letters in alphabetical order, while “one” is the only number with letters in reverse order.” (Oh please, don’t pretend that’s not fascinating).

And to end on a joke: “What do you get when you cross a mosquito with a mountain climber? Nothing. You can’t cross a vector and a scalar.” (Don’t worry, just Google it).

In all fairness, those occasional awkward chats aside, PPC-ers are great. In fact, away from actual work, they’re able to boast a whole host of other entirely useful skills. These include but are in no way limited to being able to make absolutely awesome fantasy football spreadsheets, out of this world World Cup/Euros sweepstake kits for the office, and budget spreadsheets for helping the company afford that entirely necessary, and not at all excessive, “team building weekend” getting drunk on champagne cocktails and eating fillet steak in Paris.

The “Black Hat” Guy

Ah, the Black Hat guy. Now, if you’re working client-side and only have occasional contact with your agency, you may not have met many of these individuals. If that’s the case, thank your lucky stars.

These individuals are rarely client facing, primarily because it’s a slightly “dirty thing” to admit that less than straight marketing and link building techniques are sometimes used to prop up some of the shiny media agencies that seem whiter than white.

Often known, even to colleagues working in the same office, by a nickname rather than their actual name, their identity is likely to be associated with the words “ninja”, “guru”, or “whizzkid”. These mysterious specimens can sometimes be found comparing their link acquiring ways to “dealing drugs” in a desperate bid to compete in the cool stakes alongside the other ninjas/gurus/whizzkids in their “network”. This is despite the fact that the closest they’ve ever come to actually dealing drugs is dosing out Calpol to their kids.

Their services will often be described as “cutting edge”, “next generation”, or perhaps even “challenging the status quo”, despite the fact that the methods employed will invariably be outdated, spam-led techniques that actually completely ignore innovation.

It should also be said that trying to communicate with the black hat guy is an entirely thankless task, unless of course you’re of business or financial use to him and can be exploited for his own selfish means. There are no social niceties at play here with this guy; it’s a dog eat dog world and invariably black hat guy is the rottweiler and you’re the Yorkshire terrier with a polka dot bow placed lovingly on your neatly groomed forehead.

The Shiny Office

So, there you have it. You’ve met the stereotypical cast from a typical flashy media agency. But what about the office itself? Well, read on…

First thing’s first, you simply need to have a break room. After all, what else are clients paying for if not for a branded pool table, or a table tennis table that gets replaced by the latest model every time the net snags a hole?

Free gourmet snacks and free drinks for staff throughout the day is, again, a luxury well worth incorporating into your budgets when you draw up charges for clients. Don’t just hand these out though. Oh no. Build a “snack pantry”. It’s far edgier. Better still, splash out on a branded vending machine that reads the retina of the potential consumer and calculates who’s spent most time on the bean bags in “creative corner” before deciding who deserves the boring old Aero and who deserves the Wispa Gold.

Moving on to the meeting rooms, the place where the magic happens. Meeting rooms should, ideally, be themed. After all, what’s not to love about wasting an hour of time each morning deciding which upcoming potential client deserves which themed room? Nothing could be more important. Inside the meeting room, it’s important to remember that comfort always comes second to style. Nobody wants to be comfortable when thrashing out the specifics of a contract. Opt for see-through glass-topped tables and chairs without any padding. It’s the right thing to do.

Remember that there is no such thing as “too much” when it comes to placing your logo and/or company name around the office. It’s easy for clients to forget who they’ve come to see when they rock up at your place, so make sure you have at least one logo placed somewhere in each room. Make sure you place it at eye level so you don’t need to make your client exert any effort in order to have your name hammered into their skull. Having said that, it is more than acceptable to place your logo and/or brand name at an angle. It’ll make you look cool and quirky.

Speaking of visitors, it is never enough to offer someone a cup of tea. It doesn’t matter that after half an hour stuck on the tube and battling through tourists in Covent Garden that they’re screaming out for a simple cuppa; it’s not the done thing. At the very, very least you need to force a chai latte on them, ideally in a branded mug. If you simply have to serve them tea, make sure you leave the tea bag in the mug. Because, you know, you’ll have splashed out to buy custom-made Darjeeling tea bags shaped lovingly to resemble your company logo.

Let’s move on to the outside. Ideally your office should be situated no more than 20 paces away from one of those sandwich shops where the cost of a can of coke leaves your eyes watering. You know the place. It’s the one with the “artisan” bread freshly baked each day “on premises” where the mayonnaise tastes like a dodgy herb garden and the phrase “cheese and ham toastie” has perhaps never, ever crossed the lips of anyone even remotely associated with the place. Ideally the shop will be happy to keep you a running tab, because it is just so 20th century to carry small change in your pocket. It takes up valuable smartphone space after all.

It should also be no more than 25 paces away from a pub. By pub, a mere drinking establishment is not really enough. This pub should have a ban on drinks that cost less than £4.50, and crisps shouldn’t be allowed over the threshold. Instead, it’s “bar snacks”, including but not limited to wasabi peas (yes, they’re so spicy they make you cry but they’re fashionable) and mini scotch eggs served warm with a homemade relish.

You may perhaps have no choice over the external architecture of the building, but if you do, remember that it’s preferable to have some exposed ironwork, alongside some super-shiny steel. Oh, and if you can impose a rule whereby no car older than five years and/or with an engine size smaller than 2.0 is allowed to park in the immediate vicinity, that’s a huge added bonus.

If you’re able to boast your own garden, or, as you may prefer to call it “outside thinking space”, you’re onto a good thing. Remember though that rather than having proper green grass and real trees (you know, the type with actual leaves), it’s far preferable to have Astroturf and artificial shrubs. It’s just the modern way of things.

In Summary…

Ultimately the profiles and descriptions here are designed to be slightly tongue in cheek, but hopefully you can identify with at least one or two of these caricatures from your experience in the industry.

In fact, if we’re honest, we’re probably all guilty of allowing elements of some of these characters to creep into our working lives, whether for good or for bad, but let’s not forget that sometimes the most efficient way of dealing with clients and daily project work is to cut through the crap, leave the beanbags to one side, cut out the clichés and minimise the egos, and just get on with decent, old-fashioned hard work.

Charlotte is chief whip when it comes to making sure words are in order at ICS-digital. You can get in touch with her directly at charlotte.green@ics-digital.com