10 Politically Incorrect Characteristics Your Digital Agency Should Have


Not earning points with the ACLU on this one am I? Over the last 20 years one thing has stood out as a business truth more than anything else. Cultural fit is the cog that can carry a relationship through hard times as well as amplify celebratory moments.

In my opinion, agencies exist for one reason: to do the work that the brand cannot. Again, not a soft message, regardless I believe the truth. And though it sounds harsh, I mean it as a compliment to brands and agencies alike. Brands that employ a digital agency are typically larger than the agency itself. The digital agency is usually involved for one of a few reasons:

  • Speed – digital agency life is less bureaucratic than client life, thus more nimble and quicker to make an impact
  • Cost – an agency can do things with existing resources a client would have to staff up for, making talent acquisition a null budget line or maximizing a budget by offsetting recruitment overhead.
  • Ideation – sometimes humans are too close to a problem to solve it. An agency often exists at an arms distance from the brands business processes, keeping creativity flowing unhindered by political and personality concerns.
  • Applied knowledge – Agencies can bring both native industry expertise as well as cross vertical experience to bear.

I have been living the agency life since I was 19 when I began temp work at a telemarketing firm. Not the sexiest of beginnings, but a critical introduction to learning the professional services business. Pairing that experience with years of bartending to augment entry level work and pay off student loans, I realized that customer service is a skill set independent of industry. A way of approaching business that keeps you level, energized and relatable to other, well… humans.

Hiring a digital agency to serve your business needs is as straight forward a business relationship as one can describe. Yet, they begin and end with such frequency it’s a wonder how the model continues. The relationships I have been a part of that last years, decades even, have a cultural component that carries the two organizations through thick and thin, turnover and attrition, success and less than success. And the characteristics that make an agency thrive with its clients seem to be pretty consistent in my experience.

  1. Fearlessness (aka confidence) – If you are afraid to fail, your work is always safe. It’s important to be fearless enough to take risks and smart enough to mitigate the exposure.
  2. Impatience (aka eagerness) – If you’re satisfied with something taking a year to accomplish, it will likely take you two. Being comfortable with ‘we need it yesterday’ is valuable and learned.
  3. Self-Deprecation (aka self-awareness) – Simply put this characteristic largely offsets any overconfidence or arrogance issues. A level of self-deprecation can put people at ease, increase believability and foster kinship.
  4. Sarcasm (aka quick thinking) – Verbal sparring can be a sport and any mental health professional will tell you it’s an indicator of intellect and an exercise that keeps the brain involved.
  5. Relentlessness (aka Persistent) – Meeting or exceeding deadlines and asks that often cross the border of ridiculousness is not for the faint of heart.
  6. Idealism (aka optimistic) – If you don’t have an idea of how something ought to work, what are you striving for? And if you are striving for something better it indicates a positive outlook on things.
  7. Ardency (aka passion) – Trust me when I say that reigning in passion is a whole lot easier than trying to find it. The latter being similar to trying to climb a limp rope.
  8. Aggressiveness (aka resourceful) – People with a sense of urgency don’t take no for an answer. And even if they are repeatedly issued that response they are constantly looking for a way around.
  9. Offbeat (aka imaginative) – Not fitting perfectly into a presupposed mold is useful in business, it skews your view enough to challenge the standard approach and make change happen.
  10. Deliberateness (aka rational) – A good pairing with sarcasm and being offbeat, deliberateness tends to reign in craziness to a useful degree and focus attention on goal driven results rather than ‘because we can’ subjectivity.

This list doesn’t speak to the varying degrees of each trait and how they balance each other out. I imagine there is thousands of variations of intensity of each one that map to an endless number of actual people. But without a doubt, these characteristics combine to make a versatile and malleable group of doers who can find solutions together. And that is why we get up in the morning.