Four Things Agencies Can Learn from Game of Thrones Warrior Queens
Originally published in Little Black Book.
When I first met the two female founders of the agency Swift 10 years ago, I sensed a strength I had never experienced at male-led startups. There was this dynamic energy—girlboss swagger that was both confident and humble. A desire to be the best but not at the cost of integrity or compassion for fellow colleagues.
One morning, following a sick day during which I binged two seasons of Game of Thrones, I was sitting across from our CEO (no makeup, hair tied in a wild knot) and it struck me—she was so similar to many of the power femmes on the show: decisive and fearless, yet empathetic and thoughtful. A balance of qualities typically classified as masculine and feminine, a combination critical to the company’s growth and success.
In advertising, winter is coming. It’s always coming.
Whether it’s the threat of clients taking creative in-house, consultancies and media agencies adding creative capabilities, brand teams working directly with tech platforms, or ever-shrinking budgets and timelines, there’s always an outside force (or ten) advancing toward the gates of the kingdom. The landscape can often feel like a battlefield. Who are your dragons? How do you win the hearts of your teams?
Here are four ways to hold off White Walkers and Lannisters alike—and come out stronger:
1. Fight fiercely for your people—and they’ll fight for you
Daenarys Targaryen, “The Mother of Dragons,” rules with an iron fist, but all in defense of her people. Without the support of the Dothraki and Unsullied armies (not to mention two huge dragons), she wouldn’t be the force that she is. To create this powerful alliance, she earned the trust of these fringe cultures.
For our company that means saying no to unreasonable clients, fighting for inspiring work, involving people in decision making—or which accounts to go after—and respect for work-life balance. Protecting and trusting your team empowers your most valuable resource to work smarter and contribute in ways that aren’t always anticipated.
2. Keep your “House” in order.
Not every creative shop appreciates process. You’ve heard the complaints about constraining big thinking or hampering one’s unique approach to research and ideation. The truth is most humans require a deadline to get the work done and like to know who’s responsible for what.
Working at an agency founded by women gives me mad respect for efficiency. It’s not the stuff of humblebrags but it’s a key arrow in your quiver. For House Swift, we regularly assess how departments are organized—from names to reporting structure to where people sit. In the 18 months since we moved into a new space, we’ve switched desk assignments three times, and are better for it. Whether you’re more of House Stark or House Tyrell, take stock and see if there’s room to work smarter.
3. See the realm from 30,000 feet.
The title sequence of GoT, where we see the world from a flyover high above, is a reminder to zoom out and study the big picture of marketing and advertising in order to zoom in on threats and opportunities. Do you know where you sit in Westeros? Such perspective is essential to crafting and updating a game plan for your future.
Leaders can brace for industry churn by taking the time to identify agency-defining services and continually look for the white space to make change. For example, diversifying our capabilities keeps us strong and agile. We’ve invested heavily in Strategy and Data Science to help craft powerful campaigns that hit emotional highs and business goals.
4. Power to the alpha female.
An alpha female is not the same as the alpha male. The Game of Thrones rulers inspire by playing against type. They are not mere ice queens, who shut down emotion and chase the cliché of dictatorial male power (except Cersei). They are strong and compassionate. Calm under pressure, cool as Khaleesi. There are numerous scenes where women leaders stand over chess-like battle plans, always listening to their advisors’ strategic recommendations.
I see this at work, where we have a rock-solid foundation of respect for one another’s opinions and unique skills. It’s an environment that encourages and rewards diversity of thought and experience, where two women have expanded the definition of leadership and possibility.