What are the Differences Between Types of Ad Agencies?

In How Things Workby Mark Douglass

FLASHBACK: It used to be rather simple, right? : print your logo on a keychain or ball-point pens to hand out with your business card, rent a billboard, run a radio ad, sponsor little league, and join the chamber of commerce.  Maybe a coupon or two around the holidays?  Before the morphine of nostalgia kicks in, let’s bring it back around to the present conversation about all these agencies!

You may have noticed the proliferation of AGENCIES in the last few years. It needn’t be pointed out, but I’m going to anyway, that as the marketing/communication/business world transitions from analog to digital, the demand for digital services will only GROW.  The lines are beginning to blur as new talent and new mediums morph year by year. More and more businesses know they need help navigating a digital world in constant flux; they are worried their business won’t flourish if they aren’t seeding their message into the NEW ever-evolving terrain

The search engines and social media platforms are hungry and wide open for anyone who can produce content; so it takes strategic/artful content to stand out in the CLUTTERED landscape of information, special offers, and re-marketing. It takes more know-how today than ever before, and it can be overwhelming.  

So. You may be wondering about the real differences between the multitude of terms for different agencies, the hired guns who are supposed to get your business to the next level and generate more SALES. Let’s sort out the difference between:

marketing agency // advertising agency // digital agency //  promotional agency // PR agency // creative agency // media agency // branding agency // communications agency …

Ian Linton clearly splits advertising and marketing agencies this way in a piece he wrote for smallbusiness.chron.com.  We can’t say it more succinctly or make the point better than these two paragraphs:

What is an Advertising Agency?

Advertising agencies specialize in communications programs such as advertising and direct marketing. Advertising agency teams include people with media planning and creative skills who are experienced in delivering communication messages to target audiences.You can use an advertising agency to create and deliver the campaigns that meet its strategy. If you have no marketing resources, running an advertising campaign without any strategic considerations could prove wasteful.

What is an Marketing Agency?

Marketing agencies offer a broader, consultative approach to help develop marketing strategy. Some also make recommendations on marketing tactics and some offer communications services, depending on their resources.The team in a marketing agency generally has a background of working in company marketing departments where they gained experience of market research, strategy development, product development and marketing programs. A marketing agency can help you develop a strategy that gives your communication programs a clearly defined role.

Okay, great, that’s the big distinction between the two largest classifications of agencies.  You probably didn’t fall out of your chair when you read those paragraphs; that’s a pretty standard explanation and it makes sense.  But what about the rest of these SPECIALIZED agencies? Often larger agencies will hire out / sub contract the smaller agencies to get the project completed more quickly according to expertise. Here are the other kinds of agencies:

What is an Digital Agency?

Digital agencies are advertising agencies that have evolved to meet the changing needs of marketing in the digital age (according to the Digital Agency Network, and these guys should know, right?) Digital agencies bring the graphic design and copywriting together with new technology and modern marketing techniques. The result is a highly creative mix of artistry, science, engineering and determination to fix problems and find solutions in a very fast-changing landscape.  And they provide what services, exactly? Website design and development, apps, search engine marketing (pay-per-click, retargeting), search engine optimization, social media marketing, content creation, online lead generation, online brand development and management, media campaigns, video, email marketing, mobile campaigns and ROI assessments —to name a few.

What is an Promotional Agency?

Promotional agencies are (essentially) another name for a advertising agencies that also handle marketing endeavors.  That was a slow pitch, right over the plate.  Next!

What is an PR Agency?

PR agencies handle brands/personalities that need very careful representation when operating in highly visible arenas where missteps and missques could mean total disaster : enormous loss of revenue, tarnished personal clout, or just crippling embarrassment.   These agencies position brands to navigate tricky terrain — they use words like “optics” and “tone deaf” to highlight the value of careful PR strategy.  When you need them, they’re worth the investment — after all, you can’t see what’s stuck in your own teeth!

What is a Communications Agency?

Communications agency is a larger collaborative group of copywriters and messaging experts who help brands develop the language that define their voice in the market.  They can offer strategy for how to get propel the message forward, but most often they leave that to marketing/ad agencies.

What is an Media Agency?

Media agencies build…you’ll be shocked to discover….media.  Photography, digital art, multimedia displays, light installations, totally immersive experiences, film, documentaries, podcasts, virtual reality user experiences, concert displays, etc.

What is a Branding Agency?

Branding agencies build brands in the fullest sense of the word. They don’t just make logos or tag-lines.  They don’t simply design packaging or t-shirts, labels and van wraps.  Branding agencies develop comprehensive strategies to clearly define the core identity and communication points a brand will need in place before running out into the marketplace of services or products.  They help communicate vision and how that vision is represented across all communication platforms.  

What is a Creative Agency?

Creative Agencies, according to Andrew Medal in entrepreneur.com, “come up with concepts and strategies to help brands develop creative voices and stand out via commercials, print ads, events, online engagement and more.”  We would only add that this is only the tip of the iceberg.  A good creative agency should be an amalgam of branding/communication/art/digital design/ and marketing.  All agencies will have their strengths and weaknesses, of course, but each agency should be able to develop a strategy that gets noticed.

What is an Advertising Agency?

You should ask around as you probe to find the right agency for your specific needs.  The larger firms can leverage their substantial resources and connections in ways smaller boutiques can’t.  That said, niche firms have the luxury of flexibility and (typically) low overhead that keeps them agile and responsive. There are tradeoffs both ways.  Reputations rise and fall as key talent moves around, but excellent REPUTATIONS are earned over the years.

Read more:

https://smallbusiness.chron.com/marketing-agency-vs-advertising-agency-14607.html — Ian Linton

https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/277032 —- Andrew Medal

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