What HBO's Succession can teach about building a successful digital agency

June 9, 2023
9 min read
Tom Mackay
Written by
Tom Mackay
What HBO's Succession can teach about building a successful digital agency

Struggling with your website?

Lento Brand Asset

What HBO's Succession can teach about building a successful digital agency

What HBO Succession Can Teach About Building a Successful Digital Agency

June 9, 2023
What HBO's Succession can teach about building a successful digital agency


The curtain has finally fallen, and HBO’s hit series Succession has ended. It's all over. The Roy family just laid it all out. And what a ride it has been for us all. 

After four seasons of manoeuvring, lying, betraying and scheming, Sunday’s heart-stopping Succession series finale revealed that….

**Don't read further if you do not wish to know the ending**

"Shiv, you should probably know: it's me."

These are the words of the unlikely Tom Wambsgans, who emerges as the new apparent CEO of Waystar Royco.

But here's the kicker: Tom's more of a stand-in for Lukas Mattson, the big shot CEO of GoJo. Turns out, Lukas, with his tech giant GoJo, has managed to gain control over Waystar Royco.

This shift signifies a new chapter that can be applied to real life today, where emerging tech giants like GoJo are reshaping the boundaries of influence and control.

This engrossing series has given us some of the most remarkable characters in television history, such as Roman, Kendall, Shiv, and the indelible 'Disgusting Brothers.' The compellingly flawed characters and their intricate family dilemmas have resonated deeply with viewers.

Just like some of the best TV classics, it's served up some real food for thought that we can take into our day-to-day lives, especially if you're part of the startup or digital agency scene. From leadership and team dynamics to communication strategies, Succession has some pretty cool insights that are super relevant to the ever-changing world of digital marketing, PR, and branding.

So, why not dive in and see what Succession can teach digital agencies around the world?

1. Transparent communication is an asset.

Unfortunately, many of the Roy family’s dilemmas stem from poor communication. 

Over the four seasons, this recurring theme created misunderstandings and a lack of trust between the family members, internal conflicts in the conglomerate, and reputation damage among stakeholders and the media, amid other ingredients that create a great melodrama but can significantly harm a real company. 

Clear communication is born from within the company. When you can communicate your market vision, strategic solutions and innovative tactics to your team and clients, your agency will probably be able to share your client’s essence directly and clearly with their customers.

Ensure communication channels are open, ideas are shared freely, and feedback is addressed promptly and constructively.

2. Keep a Healthy Internal Culture.

Neither you nor we want to become part of a family like the Roys, even with all their money, power, properties or high-profile social lives. Nobody wishes to be part of a “nest of vipers”, as Ewan, Logan’s brother, clearly put it in Season 1.

One of the teachings behind the fascinating HBO melodrama is the importance of keeping a healthy working environment where everybody works toward a common goal with which they feel strongly identified. 

Having a solid philosophy and ethics as part of the core foundation of your agency will help you convert your workers and clients into your followers. It will bring a sense of community where everybody feels part of something bigger than themselves and is ready to give their best for each other and your agency. 

Suppose you already have such a team and vision. In that case, our advice is to make your team feel valued for their commitment toward your goals via wellness programs that protect their mental and physical health, professional development courses, recognition and appreciation for their contribution and a balanced work-life dynamic.

3. Adaptability: Prepare for the Unexpected.

We all witnessed how the Roy family members were never prepared for the unexpected.

Only after his stroke Logan started preparing his succession plan (partly because of his strong identification with his role as a company leader and his intense narcissism), Kendall was not ready to take the role of Waystar Royco CEO due to his insecurity, anxiety and lack of leadership skills, and we can keep going on pointing at each character’s flaws and inabilities to cope with an ever-changing environment. 

Also, the emergence of new digital technologies and trends continually challenged Waystar Royco’s dominance in the market. Their stubborn and antique vision of the market left them far behind their competitors and forced them to enter the category of old-fashioned companies in their customers’ opinion.

What can this teach to digital agencies? Either adapt or perish. Staying abreast of industry trends, harnessing new tools, and being ready to pivot strategies to meet changing market needs are vital attitudes that will open the path to your success as a business leader. 

Digital agencies must foster a culture based on innovation. Encourage fresh ideas, experiment with new approaches, and embrace calculated risks to stay at the forefront of the digital game.

4. Beware of ego-based decisions and emotional outbursts.

There is a common theme in the HBO Succession series: ego-based and power-driven decisions. 

Logan’s constant manipulation of their children, Kendall’s obsessive ambition to gain his father’s approval and, at the same time, want him to be out of the game, secret alliances and power games between the Roy siblings against Logan, or even contradicting press conferences that put company’s members directly on the public spot, merely shows how desperation and ambition can create a Molotov cocktail that can explode and damage a company’s culture.

Reactions and attitudes as such undermine a company’s inner functioning and inform the public about its lack of stability, adaptability and thriving capacity.

So, as founders of digital agencies, it is paramount to set a clear boundary between our personal desires or motivations and what our clients truly need regarding the current market demands.

Making decisions is a daily task that we all need to go through. Yet, decisions become more manageable when we know all the facts and previous data, customer behaviour, tech advantages and market projections. Rationality and emotional intelligence are essential to being a successful CEO and founder. 

Although, we cannot deny the power of intuition either. Many significant business decisions have sprouted from intuitive knowledge about market tendencies and movements. Yet, stubbornness, pride, personal emotions, and preferences considerably harm our agency’s growth and must be overcome soon.

Watch out for such egocentric approaches that the Roy family took to the uppermost extreme. 

5. Brand identity is everything. 

If there is something we must value as founders, it’s how we position ourselves in the minds and hearts of our company’s customers. 

Waystar Roycom was firmly established as a giant right-wing media conglomerate for decades (probably based on Fox News and Rupert Murdoch’s enterprise). And apparently, it worked well for a while.

However, they fell into a common trap: to think that once you create a good brand identity, the job is done, and it’s time to sit and relax. This is far away from the truth. 

A brand is a living organism that constantly changes and evolves according to the world’s natural ways. Waystar Royco became stagnant and could not keep up with tech trends or new ways to consume information.

Apart from that, getting publicly involved in power-struggle tactics and sex scandals didn’t help to raise their image to the level they attained in the past.

Branding and PR agencies must stay active. The world is changing fast, and sitting back to watch how it evolves is not allowed. Companies looking for branding and digital communication guidance deserve to count on experts and allies that are constantly open to innovation and are ready to offer solutions to help brands build long-lasting relationships with their customers and stakeholders. 

In Conclusion: Our Company’s Health is Always First.

We must confess we became huge fans of the show, learning loads from the crazy Roy family, their avid minds, strategic thinking, narcissistic approaches, and even their complex daddy issues.

The successful HBO show has not only made us all intrigued about the strategic thinking behind the business world and the dysfunctional dynamics behind a multimillionaire family. It also left us with many teachings about what to do and not do when facing critical moments.

Taking care of our brand identity and reputation, setting clear boundaries and open channels for effective communication, being aware of internal power struggles and egoic reactions, being open to innovation and promoting a healthy environment where every part feels essential and valued are among the most valuable lessons we learned from the show.

Tom Mackay

Tom Mackay

Tom is the founder at Lento Agency, mad about branding, a good feed and everything to do with sports. Connect with him on Linkedin.

Receive the best Lento stories in your inbox

Get updates on the newest design stories, case studies and tips right in your mailbox.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.