Digital Marketing, Integrated Marketing and Media

The 7 Ways Good Agencies Mimic Gandalf the Wizard

Margie ClaymanGuest post by Marjorie Clayman, resident blogger at She works at Clayman Advertising, Inc., her family-owned full-service marketing firm.

Somewhere along the way, the social media world was given carte blanche to poke fun at agencies. It seems like every week there is a new post or article about how “agencies” don’t get it or how “agencies” don’t listen. I believe in balance in the universe, so on occasion, as an agency woman, I feel it necessary to send out some positive vibes for the agency world.

As I was thinking about how to define a good agency, I realized that a good agency is like Gandalf the Wizard in 7 important ways (minus the flowing robes):


In the Lord of the Rings, Gandalf is always aware of the big picture. He always has a sense of where Frodo and Sam are. He seems to have his pulse on what Sauron is going to do next (although somehow he doesn’t foresee the evil turn of Saruman, but hey, nobody’s perfect). Similarly, an agency can help a company see the big picture. While you concentrate on your customers, services, and products, the agency can keep an eye on how the market is reacting to your products and what might be coming down the pike.


On several occasions, Gandalf uses the analogy of a chess game to explain to his friends what is going on in the world. For example, he tells Pippen, just before the battle for Gondor, that the board is set. He takes all of the information at his disposal and then explains it so that everyone can understand what he is talking about. A good agency can analyze several factors, combine them into a cohesive report, and help you understand what factors are most important to you and your company.


When Aragorn is begging King Theoden to fight, Theoden looks around and says, “I am not so lucky in my friends as you are.” Gandalf helped set up the social network that enabled elves, dwarves, men, and hobbits to work together to fight the evil shadow. He was the hub from which all of these beings emanated. An agency can serve a similar purpose. From SEO experts to printers, from photographers to web designers, agencies can network on your behalf so that your company can accomplish everything you must.

Defying Death

Gandalf begins his adventure as Gandalf the Grey. After he encounters a fight to the death with an ancient demon, he returns to complete his work, but he returns in a new and more powerful form – Gandalf the White. Agencies, it seems, are always engaged in one fight to the death or another. Sometimes print is dead. Sometimes the Web is dead. Sometimes marketing itself is dead. Or integrated agencies. But the reality is that agencies continue to deal with rises and falls in technology and continue to morph accordingly. As they become more knowledgeable, they share that knowledge with your company so that you can continue to succeed.


One of the things Gandalf is best known for is his ability to create magical fireworks displays. They enchant everyone who sees them, and it’s certainly more art than science. Much of what the agency does is more art than science, too. Whether it’s negotiating for a better rate with a publication or compromising on artistic direction with a customer, agencies must always maintain a balance that differs with every client and every vendor. This is a facet of the agency business that must be learned through experience, and is often difficult to quantify.

future web designers


Linguistic Diversity

Gandalf seems to be able to converse with anyone. He knows elvish, he knows the language of Mordor, he knows how to talk to hobbits, and he knows how to talk to men. All of these groups come from different backgrounds and different experiences, and Gandalf adjusts how he speaks so that each group can understand him clearly. Agencies must also be able to speak to different groups. When an agency works on your marketing material, for example, they don’t only need to speak your language, but they also need to speak to your customers. Talking in a print ad is entirely different from speaking in the online world. Talking to a conventional printer requires a different language from talking to a web designer. An agency must be understood by all of these diverse groups in order to be effective.


Ultimately, Gandalf’s focus never sways from his mission of defeating Sauron and saving the world. Fortunately, most agencies don’t have that kind of burden. However, a good agency will never leave doubt in your mind that your concerns are their concerns. Your priorities are their priorities. Your success is their success. An agency’s fate cannot be separated from the fate of their clients. It is all tied together.

There are some agencies out there who do not do all of these things, just like not all wizards were as benevolent as Gandalf. However, many agencies have these seven characteristics in mind from day-to-day. It’s something to consider before you pen that next post about why agencies just don’t get it.

What agency wizards do you know?

  • Obaidul Haque

    Thanks Marjorie for defining what a good agency should be like (or instead should be doing). Valid pints.

    • Marjorie Clayman

      Thanks! Glad you liked it :)

  • Kristi Hines

    Love the Lord of the Rings comparison – and it’s so true! The key is it’s good agencies, not just any agency. If they are missing any of the above (and I know a lot that are) then you should run in the other direction, especially if you are getting them to handle something as important as represent your brand.

    • Marjorie Clayman

      Good point, Kristi. I know a lot of people have had unpleasant agency experiences, but we’re not all bad :) Thanks for the comment!

  • Dave Wellman

    The agency that takes on these “Gandalfian” characteristics will become a trusted adviser worth more than any fee that they could (or should) charge. Thanks for the reminder of what a great agency looks like. I think we would all do well to consider the pattern laid out here!

    • Marjorie Clayman

      Thanks, Dave. That’s what I believe an agency really should be first and foremost – a trusted adviser. A consultant. Who can also happen to do some of the work. It’s out there :)

  • Tracy Gold

    Love the points in the post, and love the comparison. In fact, I headed off a series with another wise and whimsical wizard leader, Dumbledore, here:

    As Gandalf used the analogy of the chess board to explain a complex situation to Pippin, this post uses Gandalf to explain the complicated qualities of an ideal agency. Bravo, and thanks for the smile and thoughts this morning.

    • Marjorie Clayman

      Thanks, Tracy! Dumbledore is starting to grow on me, but I must admit, LOTR was my first big love as far as epic movie series go :) I’ll be sure to check out your post!

  • Stacy Bayless

    Great read!

    Having worked in the agency biz for 20+ years, I’ve experienced exactly what Marjorie describes… a true partnership and collaboration for all the right reasons. It’s an absolute joy for all involved, if everyone is passionate about why they’re there, and compensated accordingly.

    But I’ve also experienced shops that are nothing more than “an agency soda shop”…place your order and it’ll be up as soon as it’s done being made (exactly as ordered)…not a lot of thought or incentive to use your creativity.

    The experiences as Marjorie states in this post are worth their weight in gold to a brand/company. The value of excellent marketing people today is vital to a company’s success. Companies need help and roadmaps in this ever-evolving world we are experiencing, and it’s a lot to figure out. We’re now a global communicative world where if you can’t learn to communicate accordingly…you will not succeed. The innovators and authetically good will succeed but not without hard work and talent.

    Thanks for keeping me thinking…

    • Marjorie Clayman

      Hi Stacy,

      You are absolutely right. I have heard all kinds of horror stories about agencies. Agencies that charge clients for dinners. Agencies that as you say just deliver product without giving any thought. Those kinds of agencies are not the way all agencies are, however, and I guess that’s the point I’m trying to make.

      We don’t just all Social Media people based on the ones who say, “I can buy you Twitter followers.” Agencies should be judged on an individual basis (in my opinion), and you may find some gems in there :)

  • Josh Byrd

    Incredibly nerdy… but I like it! Thanks for the post.

    • Marjorie Clayman

      Oh, c’mon. This post wasn’t even in binary! :)

      Thanks, Josh!

  • Joshua Barnes

    Great post.

    • Marjorie Clayman

      Thanks, Joshua. I appreciate it!

  • Virtual office assistant

    Great post and loved reading it. Lord of the rings taken as example was really good one.

  • Anonymous

    Great insight and Lord Of The Rings reference! WIN

  • plonde

    Love it! Particularly telling when working with folks who don’s know much about marketing! (or as much as they think they do!)

  • Sydney @ Social Dynamics

    Clever allusions, I love how you made seamless comparisons to the film and social media! There are only a few films that I can sit through a full two hours and more, and the Lord of the Rings trilogy is one of them.

  • Sydney @ Social Dynamics

    Clever allusions, I love how you made seamless comparisons to the film and social media! There are only a few films that I can sit through a full two hours and more, and the Lord of the Rings trilogy is one of them.

  • Rachael Smith

     Agreed. The role of Agencies is changing but is still needed. 

  • Rachael Smith

     Agreed. The role of Agencies is changing but is still needed. 

  • mafokken

    This is a great analogy. I think I learn so much better with analogies.

  • letstalkandchat

    I just found a great company that builds websites for info products. To keep your costs low, they’ll mentor you on how to create your site, design a marketing funnel (one of the guys works in Hollywood and makes really slick videos), and the other guy programmed Myspace. If you’re looking to have professional web design for your small business and not waste any time or money then check their site out. Check them out: