Do SEO Agencies Take on the Personas of their Founders?

Do marketing agencies take on the personalities of their founders?  In my experience with marketing agencies, I’ve noticed that an agency’s persona tends to echo the personality of the founder. When I began searching for confirmation of this observation, the internet failed me. There were no conclusive studies on this topic.  So, I did the next best thing and went to the agencies, themselves. I interviewed 70 different agencies, and 66 out of the 70 confirmed my hypothesis. Whether it was an SEO agency, creative agency, web design agency, or full-funnel marketing agency – the answers were much the same:

94% of agency owners agreed that their agency took on the personality style of the founder or C-suite.

What do I mean by “personality”?  I mean two things, actually. One, brand personality, which is the way a brand is perceived by the outside world. And two, company culture, which happens internally. It’s widely accepted that the two are interrelated, one impacting the other.

In the case of marketing agencies, it seems brand personality and company culture are especially intertwined. This could be because the nature of marketing requires agencies to be chameleons, able to adopt the brand personalities of their clients. So, if you’re trying to remain a blank canvas, and your portfolio is filled with other brands, what does that leave in terms of your own brand development? The people. The talent. Maybe above all, the culture.

So, who sets the tone? In most cases, as I predicted, and as my questionnaire confirmed, it’s the founders.

Whether an agency is considered sincere and down-to-earth, analytical and competent, or bold and innovative largely depends on the personality of the founder. These personality traits filter down into company culture and become–sometimes intentionally, sometimes not–the personality of the brand.

Take, for instance, Joy Gendusa, the founder of Postcardmania. Her personality is woven into every aspect of her business. From the use of her favorite colors (bright lime green and purple) all around the office to her love of celebrations, the office atmosphere is infused with her energy.  And that energy extends to external facing elements, as well. Spend ten seconds on the Postcardmania homepage and you’ll feel Joy’s enthusiasm.

And our friends at Linkody also shared a similar message: “We have noticed that when an agency is starting out it’s very common to be customer-centric and that, of course, dictates their offering, pricing, and oftentimes also the personas. But I think that’s normal, we also work closely with our clients to continuously improve the features of our tool, and the same goes with agencies and their offering, which helps to shape the company’s culture.”

It’s About Values

Tom at EZmarketing told me that whilst accidental, now the persona of the executive team is by design:

Our agency definitely has the personality of our executive team. In the past, this happened by accident but now it is by design.”

Here at CanIRank, we didn’t set out to develop a persona by design either. That said, our agency definitely exemplifies the quality traits and character of our CEO. Our consultants and team members are highly intelligent, kind, driven, and results-oriented. And while we didn’t set out to make this happen, we wouldn’t have it any other way.

What about the agencies that don’t take on C-Suite personas?

Multiple agency founders mentioned to me that they believe agencies take on the personas of their leaders in the beginning. Once an agency reaches a larger scale, the personality trickling effect lessens. In my experience, I tend to agree. As the business grows larger, and leadership teams build – the personas can vary from department to department.

While some large agencies do maintain a persona even with thousands of employees, some don’t. Others have a way of becoming more corporate-esque and the personas of the C-Suite becomes less visible.

Does clientele influence personas?

I sat down with Ameet, the CEO of AmeetHabra, and he believes some agencies personify what they think their clients want to hear. He told me:

What I find interesting is that most agencies in our locality actually don’t really take on the persona of the founder, but rather they develop something they feel is more aligned with what their clientele is looking for.”

While this is definitely a unique tactic, I would venture to say it’s a mixture of both, based on the founder’s beliefs on clientele. A founders views on customer service, client needs, messaging, etc., would reflect through their personas. If they are customer-centric as a whole, that would be reflected in the persona.

For example, Cole, Founder of PinkGraffiti stated:

When you start an agency (or any business), there’s always a desire to have more control over your own life and the experience you have within a business setting. When I started Pink Graffiti, I knew I wanted to create an agency for companies that wanted to go beyond just making a profit. They must also have a purpose, a mission, to improve humankind. That’s a stark contrast to many other agencies that will simply take on clients because they have a large budget. However, it’s important to me to feel as if I’m doing meaningful work, and most employees also want to feel the same.“

So what does this all mean?

Having a persona has no direct reflection on how successful an agency is. Some agencies craft personas on purpose and some develop personas organically. Understanding your brand’s persona can give you a strategic advantage. If you know what traits and values your business exemplifies, you can easily utilize them as a branding mechanism.  From messaging, imagery, internal processes – understanding your persona allows you to showcase what sets you apart from other agencies.

What persona does your brand personify?

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