Let’s drop the agency nonsense

Let’s drop the agency nonsense

29th September 2016

Let me start off by saying that I’m definitely an agency girl. I’ve worked on both sides, and through this I know that I’m much more suited to working on multiple clients in a creative environment. I’m not one for the often more corporate approach of working where there are discussions around the water cooler, and there are physical locks holding all computer equipment to the desk.

I’m exaggerating here a little bit, but you know what I mean. Some people are suited to this environment, but my personality just doesn’t fit. Then again, agencies aren’t all sweetness and light either, and can be pretty tough places at times.

Nobody and no agency is perfect, but really – let’s pull together to try and cut some of the agency bullsh!t. I’ve asked around and have identified some of the biggest culprits around in agencies today, and I’ve matched these to some suggestions for how to make improvements.


I’ll share my ultimate foe first: a colleague or manager who is determined to micromanage at all costs. The Harvard Business Review has put together an article which lists the signs that you’re a micromanager. Have a look at some of the highlights to see whether any of these are familiar to you:

  • You’re never quite satisfied with deliverables
  • You often feel frustrated because you would’ve gone about the task differently
  • You laser in on the details and take great pride and /or pain in making corrections
  • You constantly want to know where all your team members are and what they’re working on
  • You ask for frequent updates on where things stand
  • You prefer to be cc’d on emails


What you can do?

If you are the micromanager but haven’t considered the impact of this on your team before, try to take this piece of advice from the article. “The bottom line is: you need to stop. It’s harming your team’s morale and – ultimately – their productivity.”

If you have a micromanaging boss, the Harvard Business Review can help with that too; they say:

  • Do everything you can to gain the micromanager’s trust
  • Know what motivates and worries your boss and try to assuage her concerns
  • Provide regular and detailed updates so your boss is apprised of your progress

Lack of management

On the other hand, there can be issues around the lack of management. Some of this may be down to the age of our industry, and the ability to get started in it with a limited amount of knowledge. Some teams can be made up of people mostly fresh out of university or internships, bringing down the average number of years of experience.

Hiring young, passionate people is no bad thing though; they can bring different views and skills to the table but it is important to remember that if they have only been in their roles a short time, they may not have the full rounded experience needed to move into management.

However saying that, I have seen examples where people who haven’t worked in the agency long have been promoted and have done a brilliant job in management so it is important to remember that not everyone is the same and different team members will need differing levels of training.

What can you do?

Whilst this trend won’t change overnight, we can – as an industry – make more of an effort to improve training, management and processes to enable and empower team members to own their positions as they progress through the agency hierarchy.

Without this, the sad reality for some workplaces could be a high staff turnover and a less than satisfactory working environment. Let’s remember that agencies are supposed to be vibrant places full of wonderful ideas to inspire staff to work their hardest for their clients.

Making promises that can’t be kept

A common complaint is the practice of promising clients the world without really having the resources to do so, often something done by managers. In most cases, this is to do with deadlines.

It will be something along the lines of “Sure, we can get that (huge) technical audit (that we haven’t started) to you by mid-week”. This can lead to the team becoming overworked and irritated quickly; planning should be better than this.

What you can do?

Does the work really need to be done for mid-week? Would it be better quality if there were a couple more days spent on it? There are always cases where work is agreed upon at the last minute, but many other times when a bit of organisation and project management could’ve worked a treat.

Scheduling can actually be a difficult beast to conquer, especially if it’s for more than one person as each person will have a different working style. When I worked on a team with Charlie Williams (@pagesauce) we had a good practice of making everything really visual; we put all of our tasks for the month on a whiteboard wall and grouped them into weeks based on how much time was needed for each task. This way the whole team knew what was due and who was working on what.

Glory hunters

Picture the scene: four people work together on an audit. Sweat, tears and hours of investigation go into it. Then the document goes across to the client with one name on it, a middle finger to the other three. This is something that happened to someone who wrote into Business Insider; read what happened and the advice for what to do if you’re in this position too.

I’m a big fan of shouting about the great work done by all members of the team, both junior and senior, so it makes me sad when this type of situation happens. Building confidence (not cockiness) is important to actually develop the managers of tomorrow, and this can start with giving people the credit they deserve.

What you can do?

When you don’t get the satisfaction of a “well done” or “yay, go you!”, it can feel a bit awkward. Sometimes there are simple reasons for being a ghost contributor: the client doesn’t speak to you on a daily basis, the client is particular about the person doing work on behalf of their account, and so on.

In less client-driven situations, try and take these tips on board:

  • Take time to gather your thoughts and calm down
  • Avoid playing the blame game, and instead ask if you can be included next time so the client is aware of who to speak to should they have a question
  • Use your performance reviews at work as a chance to find out how you can be included in more client facing documents as you gain more responsibilities

Something that always reassures me is when different agencies come together for events, awards and networking both online and offline. There’s a really healthy cross-agency network in the UK, and we can try and use some of these ideas as we downscale to our own offices.

Awkward communication

With the introduction of platforms such as Slack in offices, it’s made it easier than ever for teams to stay connected when they’re on the move or working externally. It’s also made it easier for tone to be interpreted wrongly; nothing beats a face-to-face chat.

Then again, the skill of holding an effective meeting or discussion doesn’t come easily either; many people come away not fully understanding actions and objectives, and what comes next. It can also be awkward when you’re not involved in a private chat, but those who are thought that a good place to do it was in the corridor or in the office kitchen.

office kitchen chat

What you can do?

You don’t need to be a senior member of the team to make communication more efficient; remember you can choose to make a phone call or have a face-to-face chat if you feel that your typed messages could be perceived differently from how you intended.

For meetings, take these four tips from Entrepreneur:

  1. Begin with the end in mind
  2. Allow for opt outs
  3. Give people front work
  4. Estimate costs

These are tips that managers should take note of, but there’s no reason that you can’t instill these concepts as a meeting attendee. You may eventually train your manager into thinking this way too! Try and avoid the awkward meetings in the office kitchen though…

If you still need some inspiration, speak to Daniel Bianchini who learned how to conduct meetings better. This led to him rating his internal meetings to find out where efficiencies could be made in the future!

Perks over feedback

According to a new story from Employee Benefits, 57% of millennials cite reward for effort as a priority at work. Reward comes in many forms, but it isn’t simply a case of making perks available. There is a growing trend in workplaces to offer perks in many forms, whether it’s a cycle to work scheme or something like a Perkbox.

Perks like these are little bonuses, but proper feedback and progression plans for the team are more permanent examples of rewards. These are the elements that build careers. If you aren’t getting these, it can be frustrating as you’re going to want to know where you stand in the scheme of things.

What you can do?

Each workplace has different processes for providing feedback, but even the best made plans can go wrong from time to time. With busy workloads in many agencies, it can be a quick decision from managers to “do it later” or “reschedule it for when the project is done”.

There are tools that you can suggest for agency wide feedback (think TINYpulse) but make sure to push for monthly reviews with your manager too. Take the initiative by coming to the meeting with areas you think you’ve done well in, and things you’d like to improve; this will be one less hurdle and should make your meeting more efficient.

What do you think?

How else can agencies – both team members and their managers – go about making improvements? Do you push for training where you see it lacking? I’d love to hear some great examples of agencies who are getting things right, as this is a good source of inspiration for the wider industry.

Let me know in the comments or on Twitter.


Written By
Hannah has been working in the digital marketing industry since 2009, specialising in content and outreach. She is a Content Marketing Manager for Koozai.
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