Agencies Agency Culture Marketing

We ask marketers: how should agencies market themselves?


By Sam Anderson | Network Editor

February 1, 2023 | 7 min read

Recently, TBWA grabbed headlines with a print ad announcing its withdrawal from Madison Avenue. It’s a symbolic shift, but how should agencies market themselves in the new world? We asked five leaders.

A person in silhouette shouting into a loudspeaker

How should agencies market themselves in 2023? We asked leading marketers / Credit: Patrick Fore

Jenny Sagstrom, chief executive officer, Skona

I agree that agencies have been traditionally abysmal at self-promotion. But while the cobbler's kids have no shoes due to a lack of time, agencies have no ads because perhaps we consider ourselves… above it. We’ve always been a little too cool for school, considering ourselves ‘if you know you know’ types of business.

For those of us brave enough to venture into the self-promo territory, what to do is completely dependent on who you are and what the goals are. But whatever you do, it must be authentic and reflective of your agency culture.

Something that has gotten lost since the pandemic is what developing a self-promotional campaign can do for the team. It brings them together and helps underpin that fun, zany and inspiring agency environment, which is what initially drew me to work in the industry. To me, where you put the work is perhaps less important than the process of developing self-promotional work.

Beth Wade, global chief marketing officer, VMLY&R

We focus our investments to be with and in service of clients – custom-created events that inspire us on how to evolve consumer experiences; thought leadership, which leads and educates us on new frontiers; event collaboration with industry and platform partners; and internal communications to ensure our global network is well-versed on current and future offerings.

I’d like to celebrate Wunderman Thompson for their long-running Intelligence trend reports – they have created a trusted view of what’s to come.

Sammy Mansourpour, managing director, AgencyUK

Agencies are usually woeful at promoting themselves. Cobblers’ shoes, I guess. And yes, grabbing front-page news by leaving NYC is a nostalgic read. But who reads the paper during the week?

The tech sector has led the way in how companies need to promote themselves today. Finding new business is a secondary concern to finding great talent right now. Tech companies have paved the way for how you market yourself as a great place to work, instilling Fomo for many. How do they do it? Loud, proud leaders disrupting the status quo, publicly questioning convention, and pushing out work that changes people’s lives, then talking about it constantly on social. That’s what we need to be doing more of. Less of the tired PR and more real-time streams of continuous consciousness.

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Lily Hawkins, group marketing director, M&C Saatchi

Marketing should be seen as a strategic lever for your agency, not just promotional activity. It’s easy to become very inward-looking with agency marketing, focused on what everyone is most keen to push internally. For us at M&C Saatchi Group, our marketing is geared around client solutions, helping our clients to see around corners. And of course, demonstrating that we have the weapon that is a short circuit to growth; creativity.

Your marketing must reflect the agency – the attitude, the culture, the expertise. If it doesn’t, then everyone can see right through it, and you’ll soon become unstuck. There’s no right channel; it depends on the idea, who we’re trying to reach (and where they are) and how it ties in with the wider business priorities. For once, we have to take a step back and treat our own business like we would our client’s business.

Sarah Miller, new business director, Propeller Group

Being strategic about the kinds of business you are targeting with clearly defined prospects pays dividends in making the decision whether to pitch easier. And as essential as a new business pipeline is, don’t ignore the need to balance the agency’s energies and resources between pitching and nurturing existing clients.

With pressure to keep cash flow healthy and to make sure this is a year of business growth, agencies will be reluctant to turn down new business pitches. But we all know untargeted, random pitching will only divert resources, heap too much pressure on the engine room of the agency, and lead to muddled decisions. It’s far better to be smart in your pitching strategy.

First of all, it’s important to establish how much effort is going into pitches so you can make the right judgment calls. Are you tracking what you’re spending in terms of travel, resource and time for pitches?

When it comes to assessing whether to respond to a call to pitch, think hard about whether you can really deliver on the brief – it’s time for some tough honesty. It’s good to be ambitious, but important to focus on what the agency is good at. These will be the wins that work best and offer more chances of retaining business.

Agencies Agency Culture Marketing

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Sköna is a B2B creative agency specializing in marketing, branding, and design for innovative tech companies. Founded in Silicon Valley in 2003 and with offices in San Francisco and Stockholm, we build brave brands with a blend of Silicon Valley high-tech expertise and Scandinavian sensibility.

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VMLY&R COMMERCE is WPP’s end-to-end Creative Commerce Company. Built on the commerce expertise and scaled through VMLY&R’s connected brand promise, we help modern brands grow by unifying marketing strategies around commerce.

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We’re an independent brand communications agency voted Ad Agency of The Year 2019 and Brand Strategy Agency of the Year 2020 by Drum Recommends. Our services span brand strategy, identity, positioning and activation; creative development, media planning, social and PR including influencer outreach, community management, content strategy & planning and web design and development.

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M&C Saatchi Group

We are a creative company with five specialist Divisions, connected through data, technology and culture, to deliver Meaningful Change for clients.

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Propeller Group

Propeller delivers a joined-up approach to PR, Content and Business Development.

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