Is your agency having an identity crisis?

By Roland Gurney | Updated on: May 02, 2023

As your agency grows, it inevitably hits a crisis of confidence at some stage. Back when you were a few people around a table, you all knew the big vision. Everyone worked from an agreed set of values scribbled on a napkin. Who you are and what you do was easy for everyone to understand. It all just evolved naturally and easily. But as more people got added to the mix, they each brought their own interpretations of who you are and what you’re all about. At first, you could pull this back in line through meetings and memos, but eventually that sense of clarity and cohesion got diluted and lost. And now, well, it’s blurry.‍

Most agency founders, owners or directors have an innate sense of their agency’s identity. Either because it’s closely linked to their own, or because they’ve helped shape it over time. But as they move further away from the front lines of delivery, this sense is often mismatched with their team’s. This leads to an ‘us and them’ identity, where different people in different roles across the business all tell different stories. And this ain’t great.

But now it’s all messy

The reality is, these hairline cracks grow with your agency. If your new business person thinks you’re this kind of agency, and your marketing person thinks you’re something else, you risk miscommunication at best, a total shit show at worst. This is something we see a fair amount on our journeys through the agency world. Even just sending some simple stakeholder questionnaires highlights that nobody can even agree what type of agency this is anymore. This inevitably leads to silos of people who work at different agencies under the same roof. Culturally, this is pulling apart rather than together, and is often when the politics and protectionism creep in. Everyone believes they’re right and nobody wants to concede they’ve misinterpreted the agency’s DNA.

When this happens, realigning becomes even harder. People aren’t in a mindset to come together so the process gets easily derailed. This means someone with authority either has to do the work and tell everyone the agency’s new identity (not very unifying) or shout everyone down in the room until it’s done (not very unifying either). Similarly, in an effort to appease everyone and be the peacemaker, a democratic design-by-committee process will smooth over the frictions, but also lead to an agency identity that’s dull and diluted.

This all spirals downwards to agency’s having an internal crisis that inevitably spills over into the external. Comms and copy becomes varied, with the creds deck v8 you did for that client saying you were a strategic creative agency, and the pitch deck you made for that meeting saying you're a creative digital studio. On the surface not a huge problem, but a lack of cohesion that could potentially seep out into the market.

[.eiko]"At key points in your agency’s growth, it’s vital to pull up and realign everyone"[.eiko]

Realigning and reigniting your team

So at key points in your agency’s growth, it’s vital to pull up and realign everyone. There are various ways to describe this work; brand identity, essence, foundations etc. Basically, it’s the fundamental things that make your agency you. There’s no strict definition of what this contains, but it covers common areas such as vision, mission, goals, values, approach, ethos, beliefs, personality, voice and visuals.

Redefining your identity involves a lot of self reflection and introspection. It can also take up a lot of time and headspace. But ultimately, the end result is some kind of document that acts as your agency’s guiding light as you continue to grow. For many this is a brand book, handbook or playbook. It might be presented as a physical product, a PDF or a website. The content and format can flex to suit your needs, but the function is always the same; to align your team and excite them about the future.

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