All Articles Marketing Marketing Strategy “Agency” isn’t the problem. Why an agency drives value

“Agency” isn’t the problem. Why an agency drives value

Is “agency” a dirty word? No, says Cultivagency’s Lori Bartle, who looks at how an agency drives value for clients and staff.

4 min read

MarketingMarketing Strategy

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There’s a debate around the use of the word ‘‘agency” and whether or not it tethers the industry to the past or a broken model. As an agency lifer and lover, I’ve always taken tremendous pride in the idea of an agency. But allow me to add another layer to the conversation by considering the benefits of human agency. And even more specifically: agency within an agency. 

People with a highly developed sense of agency are proactive, goal-oriented, flexible, creative … the list of positive attributes is long and highly relevant to the marketing and advertising industry. And they’re more likely to take on leadership roles exhibiting confidence, accountability and a growth mindset. Who wouldn’t want more of that in their organization? 

To that point, it’s interesting to think about the specific types of work environments or roles in which agency is particularly useful and can thrive. In collaboration with generative AI, here are a few that are intuitively on point:

  • High autonomy and independent work
  • Complex problem-solving, strategic thinking and creativity 
  • Cultures that support risk-taking and new approaches

Call me crazy, but does that not sound exactly like a forward-thinking ad agency? 

Agency adds value to the process

We need more, not less agency. More agency helps us lead, and can we all agree that clients want to be led? Even when clients say or act like they know what to do, we all understand that the job is not to take their order and ask if they “want fries with that,” right? The job is to be a thinking partner and do what’s right for the business and the brand. 

Agency within an agency is like a leadership accelerant. Proactivity and perseverance paired with curiosity is an energy that can be channeled for everyone’s benefit, leading to deeper levels of business knowledge and understanding. The deeper the knowledge, the better positioned the agency team is to peel the layers of the proverbial onion/brief, recognize the real problem that needs solving and deliver stellar work that grows the clients’ business and makes the agency more famous. 

Agency adds value to learning, development

I found a series of reports on this subject, including a doctorate dissertation called “Human Agency at Work, An Active Approach Towards Expertise Development” by Dr. Michael Goller. He describes a growing body of empirical research on the benefits of agency with respect to learning and development:

“Such studies suggest that the relationship between proactivity and performance can be theoretically explained by employees developing knowledge and competences due to their proactive behavior,” Goller writes. 

Given the ongoing challenge of training the young people in our industry, identifying and cultivating high agency can help with that. 

Agency adds fun to challenging work

“Challenging” is an understatement. There’s no doubt that working and thriving in this industry is not for the weak of heart. Other qualities associated with high agency, such as self-awareness, self-efficacy and resiliency can help teams be more open to laughter and find humor in tough situations. If cultivating agency can enhance our own experience and that of our partners, that is a big, big win.

Is “agency” a dirty word? 

Not in my book. Then again, I don’t think of “no” as a dirty word either. We can use more of both. Regardless of how an organization is labeled, understanding and unleashing the power of human agency will set them up for success. 


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