The Cinematic Stereotype of Creative Agencies

May 30, 2024

Creative agencies.

To some, they’re at the heart of modern business. Where art collides with commerce. Where branding blends with the big bucks. Where ideas fuse with finance.

To others, the picture isn’t quite as romantic.

To others, creative agencies can be likened to Manchester United’s current starting 11. Flashy, money-hungry, and overly reliant on their past awards.

With these two polarising views of the industry, it was inevitable that filmmakers and screenwriters would be keen to portray creative agencies on the big screen.

But which side of the fence have they fallen?

I’d argue it’s the dark side.

And I have the receipts to prove it. Let’s take a look at a few on-screen agencies:

Thoughts? - Dream Scenario (2023)

Desperate. Money-hungry. Oblivious.

This agency sees the millennial agency owner intent on getting a recently famous middle-aged man to do a deal with Sprite. A brand which he doesn’t like, doesn’t want to work with and doesn’t want to be associated with. The agency tries to use their very best schmoozing to change his mind and it makes for cringeful viewing.

Lewis, Roberts and Roberts - The Crazy Ones (2014)

Two-faced. Fake. Needy.

The episodes are loosely based on the life experiences of John R. Montgomery while he worked at Leo Burnett in Chicago. Amongst all the scenes I could have chosen to show from this series, this little gem focuses on pitching. It portrays clients as impossible to please and the agency as desperate to impress in order to sell the idea.

Sterling Cooper & Partners - Mad Men (2007)

Corporate. Cutthroat. Ruthless.

Although a timeless classic, Mad Men isn’t immune from the negative themes which emerge in the portrayal of Adland. The famous Don Draper, as talented as he is, is ruthless in his methods. Take this infamous scene with a smoking company as an example. It doesn’t matter about the health impact of smoking. What matters is selling and winning.

While Hollywood often depicts creative agencies as soulless entities driven by desperation and greed, this portrayal does not align with the reality many of us in the industry experience daily.

In truth, most creative agencies are driven not by a hunger for awards or profit alone but by a genuine passion for storytelling and an unwavering commitment to supporting our client's visions.

At least that’s what I’ve always found. 

Yes, the industry has its high-pressure moments and tough projects, much like any field, but these challenges often bring out the best in us, fostering innovation and pushing the boundaries of creativity.

(Everything Manchester United didn’t do this season).

It's easy for films and television shows to focus on the more dramatic aspects of agency life—conflict, pressure, and moral ambiguity—because they make for compelling narratives.

However, sometimes these portrayals overlook the camaraderie, dedication, and ethical considerations that define much of our work.

Just as a movie trailer might highlight the most sensational parts of a film, on-screen representations of creative agencies often amplify the drama while missing the nuanced, rewarding reality of our everyday efforts.

I’m sure there are on-screen agencies out there that show the good. But I reckon we deserve more!

Words by Garry Dawson.