Shows like The Office were created for a reason. Anyone who works at one can identify with the archetypes presented on the show. Everybody has their own uptight suckup (Dwight), creepy old dude (Creed), or buffoon of a boss (Michael).
But working in an advertising or marketing agency? Even weirder. Just look at the environment. In place of fax machines, you have foosball tables. Instead of conference rooms, you have beanbag chairs for Mario Kart tournaments. Instead of water coolers, you have beer kegs.
So you can bet the people who work there are even zanier. It’s like Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory for megalomaniacs who never see their kids.
While I hate to stereotype the folks I've met over the years, they do tend to fall into certain categories, whether it's a small boutique or big-ass agency. So here’s an unofficial list of the agency people you likely know. Have a look and see if you can pigeon-hole your colleagues (they’ll love that!) or just mix and match the traits to have some fun mocking each other.
6. The Up-seller
Brand development is the up-seller's mantra. She tends to be slightly obnoxious but is essential to an agency's bottom line.
The pattern is generally the same: client asks for one deliverable (ie: banner ad) and ends up with far, far more: three different brochures (each for a different audience of course!), a refreshed logo and accompanying stationery package, a 10k (30k upon actual launch) website, and a 4-month radio campaign on some local dance station (to reach the kids) and the adult contemporary station (to reach the parents). Somehow a building will end up being wrapped in the process.
The up-seller has a limited, buzz-word based vocabulary, which doesn't include "no." She always recaps conversations by stressing brand consistency while simultaneously scheduling critical follow-up meetings — every minute of it billed to the client.
She is a great dresser, very self-important and often annoying. But as long as one key decision-maker likes her, your agency will have a long-term relationship with the client and enough cash-flow to afford hummer-limo rides to the Clios.
And really, isn't that what up-selling, I mean “branding”, is all about?
5. The IT Tornado
Meta this. Module that. Something about AJAX or the advantages of open source. You have no idea what the IT Tornado is saying, just that he is motivated and powerful.
He knows the path he’s going in, and he knows what needs to be obliterated to get there — like client budgets, timelines and the egos of the creative team. "You designed the interface with InDesign, you luddite?"
But even though the IT Tornado is intimidating, he's also a genuine ally — your meteorologist, your "severe weather warning system," the expert who knows the exact speed and direction things are going, even if it's couched in 200-mile-an-hour tech-speak.
You? You're just a goofy storm chaser who's gonna get hurt if you get too close. You don't control anything. And the clients? Even more helpless. They're just running around in a panic with alarm bells in their ears. But in an emergency, everyone has to trust someone.
And at the end of the day, that's what it's about: trust. Once established, it's a win-win. You get to use elaborate technical phrases with false confidence (“We recommend building the site front-end with Node JS using a Mongo database for the back-end”), and the IT Tornado gets to retreat to a pair of headphones and a keyboard.
Remember, you'll never fully understand the IT Tornado. But fortunately, neither will the client.
4. The Over-talker
Oh no, the over-talker. He can be 2-3 years out of school or, even worse, an industry veteran who should know better. Either way, the over-talker is about 70% insecurity, 30% experience.
He tends to absurdly dominate any meeting, but is especially "effective" in a new business setting, constantly boasting about the agency's ever-growing capabilities, integrated areas of expertise, perfect balance of creativity and results, expanding knowledge of social media, and many other unrelated success stories that the prospective client couldn't give two shits about.
The over-talker refuses to ask a single question about the prospect's business and will only discover their unique challenges in a subsequent email regarding the creative brief.
The only upside to the over-talker is when everyone else on your team is completely unprepared. In this case, he’ll buy you all the time you could ever need.
3. The Real Leader
Very rarely is this person the owner or the creative director or the account director. Instead, the real leader is the person who actually manages the agency, its workflow and its people. She can be a production coordinator with a clear temperament, a project manager who listens and delegates, or even a designer who simply cares about the agency.
This person knows an agency's place in the world and understands how to blend different personalities and skill sets. She realizes the importance of balancing quality of work with revenue, of setting a budget for award-show entries, and of schmoozing only when necessary.
Sound too good to be true? It usually is. Unless the real leader is provided some genuine trust and freedom, she’ll get tired of the red tape and the lack of monetary recognition, and will move on — often to another industry altogether. What a shame.
2. The Imagined Leader
The owner, the creative director or the account director. See above. He lacks perspective but loves to "network" at the best bars and restaurants and typically shows up late to big client pitches nursing a nasty hangover.
Keep in mind, however, that the imagined leader is what keeps the agency doors open and your paychecks coming. While there’s no “i” in Team, this person is definitely proof that there’s an “a”, so feed the ego when you have to.
1. The Silent Expert
No interjections. No follow-up questions. Barely a contribution at all, other than a quick handshake during introductions. Half the time, you're wondering if he’s even listening.
The Silent Expert almost seems rude. In fact, a rookie project manager might assume that he is:
a) too smug
d) solving a problem far more important than the given project
In reality, it’s none of the above. This person is simply “taking it all in.” Absorbing and processing client input as it’s given. A more seasoned project manager recognizes and appreciates the Silent Expert. She knows that he will usually say nothing to anyone, including fellow colleagues.
But so what? Who needs to brainstorm when the big idea is in your head already? And who needs to waste time presenting a great idea when it can simply be emailed? It’s shocking how the Silent Expert gets away with this.
So... what do you think? Are there certain hybrid types you can help shed some light on? Maybe a profile on some nephew or son who became an overpaid intern?
Please share your insights and contributions, as they'll be greatly appreciated in our continued efforts to bite the hands that feed us.