Brand Strategy Founder-led Brands Agencies

Why founders should be at the forefront of agency brands

By Joe Daniels, Strategic Director



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July 25, 2023 | 7 min read

Joe Daniels of agency positioning specialist Treacle unpacks the trend of founders being at the forefront of their agencies’ brands, with the help of some founders who’ve done it.

A person in a spotlight

Should agency founders be at the center of their companies' brands? / Luis Morera via Unsplash

The concept of a personal brand is nothing new. Despite what the branding gurus might want you to believe, the core principles of personal branding are the same as they’ve always been. Sure, tactics change, but the strategy is set in stone.

A strong personal brand builds trust and credibility, changing people’s perception of who you are, what you do, and why you’re the right person to help them. It’s about becoming the authority in your world.

But while personal branding isn’t new, the idea of a company building its brand around the founder is a relatively new development, with its roots in the tech and software-as-a-service (SaaS) industries.

Now, it’s found its way into the agency world, with agency founders realizing that building their brand can be an effective route to growth. Dan Archer of M&A consultancy Cactus agrees that this can be highly beneficial for agency founders. “It can be extremely hard for agencies to stand out and differentiate,” he says, “but a personal brand makes it easier to cut through the noise.”

The importance of vulnerability

Kathryn Strachan, chief executive at content marketing agency CopyHouse, started building her personal brand before personal branding was popular. In her early agency days, she found that sharing content on LinkedIn was a valuable way of connecting with potential clients and establishing her expertise and authority.

“It’s more important to be vulnerable rather than promotional,” Strachan told me, explaining that her approach is to simply be herself and share her point of view. Most of Kathryn’s content focuses on the top of the funnel, casting a net out for potential clients. She then builds relationships with these people and stays top of mind for when projects become available.

Help people

Mark Williams-Cook is director of digital agency Candour, and founder of both SaaS platform AlsoAsked and e-commerce business TopDog Harnesses. With nearly 35,000 LinkedIn followers and a massively popular blog, Mark has become a go-to SEO authority.

He says that he saw “lots of misleading advice about SEO and set out to make a consistent and focused effort to help people”. That strategy seems to have worked, providing Candour with several leads each month.

Why the shift to agency founder brands?

This isn’t about agency founders trying to be famous and going for glory. In fact, Archer argues that “the magic is connecting your personal brand to your agency and using it to drive opportunities”.

There are three main reasons why building your founder brand is such an effective strategy.

Firstly, people buy from people. Every marketer knows this. And it’s especially true in the B2B world that agencies inhabit. While most agencies have a business brand, their founders have a human brand. It’s much easier for prospects to connect with the founder’s brand on a deeper level. It’s more accessible, more engaging, and more impactful.

Next up, the whole point of building a founder brand is to earn trust and credibility. To become the authority in your area. When people see you as the expert, as the go-to person, you’re in a powerful position. The best bit? All that personal brand equity can be passed on to your agency. If you’re trusted, so is your agency.

And finally, companies don’t get invited to podcasts or speaking gigs, both of which are crucial to building brand awareness and credibility. But you know who does? Founders. And as a founder you’re way more likely to see those opportunities if you have a strong personal brand behind you.

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… But don’t get carried away

Hopefully you’re already thinking about how to start building your personal brand. But there’s an important caveat.

The examples above show that, yes, building a founder’s personal brand is a powerful strategy. But it shouldn’t be the only strategy. You still need to spend time building your agency’s brand. The two should be grown together, and help each other. It’s a symbiotic relationship.

You should also consider taking a leaf out of CopyHouse’s book and building multiple personal brands with senior people in the agency. This avoids having all your eggs in one basket, and expands the reach of your employees’ networks.

Wondering where to start? Grab yourself a copy of the book Founder Brand by Dave Gerhardt. He shares useful frameworks and tactics, especially for founders who are strapped for time.

Then start thinking about how you want to position yourself. What’s your area of expertise? What can you talk about non-stop for hours, days, weeks, even years? This is going to be a marathon, not a sprint.

And finally, start sharing. The best time to build your personal brand was five years ago. The second best time is now.

Brand Strategy Founder-led Brands Agencies

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