3 Things About the (Digital) Agency That Mad Men Didn’t Teach Me

March 9, 2018
Mad Men

As a millennial who absorbs way too much information via pop culture, “agency,” was a word that evoked images of powerful men in skinny, silk ties surrounded by sumptuous leather chairs in an art deco boardroom filled with cigarette smoke. This notion of agency is derived from a bygone era brought into modern consciousness by a little-known AMC show called Mad Men. I binged this show gluttonously, absorbing the cut throat men and (sparingly) women ruthlessly fighting their way to the top of the advertising world, all while gracefully holding an Old Fashioned in one hand and an unfiltered Lucky Strike in the other. At first glance, Mad Men is a fanciful depiction of the 1960s agency, but more importantly, it is a wildly misleading representation of what a marketing agency is and does today.

In light of the Information Age, ads and marketing have dramatically shifted from the realm of print to digital. According to eMarketer, in 2016, cable and broadcast television revenue was surpassed by that of online advertising strategies, and has continued to grow year, over year…over year. With the inevitable rise of digital advertising, the agency has come to the aid of countless clients, helping them to adapt to the times. A digital agency like ROI·DNA assists clients with developing and launching ads online, optimizing websites, sharpening search engine optimization and digital advertising services, finding the right customers to target, and building big-picture strategies. Digital agencies help companies rise from the detritus of information consumers are exposed to on a daily basis. It’s fast-paced, ­ever-changing, and demanding – a few leftovers from the Mad Men-esque agencies past.

With over a year at ROI·DNA under my belt, the myths I once held of digital agency life have been debunked. These myths were defined by my unhealthy need to fall asleep to a bright computer screen taking me through smoke-filled fictional worlds. Here are a few of my reality-informed takeaways on the digital marketing agencies of today:

  1. No, we do not wear fancy pant suits or skinny ties.

We traded in our skinny ties and pencils for computer mouses and flannels… a while ago.

Like the brogrammers of Silicon Valley, we find that slouching in front of a computer in a tight suit doesn’t suit us (lol puns). Yet, more than that, our lack of formal dress represents a confirmation of the shift marketing agencies are taking towards the tech world. An agency can aid clients by helping to leverage their online presence through web design, customer targeting, search engine optimization, digital advertising services, analytics, and social media. This work will have clients saying, “Yer a wizard Harry!”

With over 95% of our work done on computers and clients finding their markets online, the agency has become truly digital. While there is still room for companies to put marketing efforts toward those traditional non-digital channels; i.e. radio, newspapers, and magazines, there has never been a time with more tools and data to aid in reaching customers. If you’re not on the boat already, it’s time to put on your life vest and hop aboard. 

  1. Clients know best…


In some cases you will need to tell the client to, “stop trying to make fetch happen,” like Regina George subtly reminded Gretchen Weiners in Mean Girls. As a digital agency, it is your job to see the big picture. The client may think they know what they want, but you need to see beyond what they want and into what they need.

As an agency you need to provide clients with not just expertise in the technical skills of managing digital channels, but expertise in optimizing toward strategy and goals. The insights you have into the larger competitive landscape and your mastery of marketing practices are what you get paid for. As an agency you work with clients from a variety of industries all with unique goals for their digital presence. The learnings gathered from this broad exposure are valuable assets that you provide to your clients as they plan for the future.

As with all things Internet-related, things evolve speedily. The iPhone came out in 2007, the first widely sold touchscreen phone, and it was unbelievable. Now, it’s difficult to remember what life was like before touchscreens were the norm. Not to go on an Apple tangent, but I’m just trying to illustrate that things within tech change crazy fast; digital marketing included. With great power comes great responsibility, it is up to you to keep a pulse on what is hot and what is not and make sure your clients are making the best choices for the future.

  1.     “Make it work” – Tim Gunn

Agency work can be a bit crazy at times.

There are tight deadlines, demanding clients, and high expectations. On any given morning/afternoon/night you will find yourself managing client expectations, resources, budgets, unforeseen roadblocks, unreasonable timelines….the list goes on.

Adaptability and agility are the keys (thanks DJ Khalid) that can make or break the effectiveness of agencies. Agencies can get messy, but finding ways to get through those moments, identify solutions, and get a final product to the client are what matters. In order to push through those hard moments it’s important to work with smart people, but it also helps if those people aren’t a$$holes.

An ROI·DNA mantra, “no a$$holes,” is a blunt, but very real piece of what makes an agency not just good, but great. When your team has a good attitude, you can come together in the difficult moments to collaborate toward a solution that is best for the client. So as the infamous and wise Tim Gunn from Project Runway once said, “Make it work,” still holds true, even if you’re a digital marketing strategist and not an amateur fashion designer. And as long as you’re not an a$$hole.

Unlike the lie we hear on every season of The Bachelor, “I’m here for the right reason,” the digital agency really is here for the right reason. Let go of the myths of the Mad Men-agency era (although we still do have bourbon in the office) and let yourself fall in love with the computer-literate, trend-setting, and get results attitude of the digital agency.

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