Prior to the mid-90’s when search engines were born, an Advertising Agency, or ad agency for short, helped other businesses create marketing strategies and implement advertising campaigns across ad platforms available at the time. There were a few national broadcast television networks, hundreds of national magazines and newspapers, billboards and direct mail.
The ad agencies of this era were primarily hired to create a brand concept, or creative message, that would elevate a brand through an advertising campaign. Think ‘Mad Men’ or ‘What a Woman Wants’ and you understand the thought process and creativity sought from an ad agency. Big national companies would hire big national ad agencies for a creative branding campaign then the agency would go about negotiating and buying media across the country and sending ad placement instructions.
One benefit of hiring the agency is that they would work with all the different ad platforms in all the available markets to buy space and time. It could take months to negotiate, coordinate and place orders when they were dealing with dozens of media companies. An ad campaign could be purchased from CBS, for example, and get aired in all the markets that carried a CBS affiliate. A local newspaper, however, needed to be purchased separately so imagine trying to keep track of hundreds of orders, sizes and billing from all these vendors.
Small companies in smaller markets could also use the services of ad agencies, also, but on a more local level. The same process took place, creative concept, media buying and placement with local media outlets and local ad platforms.
The Internet Changed Things
When the internet became a player in the advertising world, many old-school advertising agencies either couldn’t keep up or didn’t want to get on board with the new opportunities. This led to the multi-million dollar industry now called Digital Agencies. Digital Agencies work strictly in the world of the internet, doing many of the same functions as the old agency version with creative concept, placing orders and implementing campaigns but only online.
To further complicate things, the Digital Agency industry has niched down even more into agencies that only handle one platform. There are different agencies that only work on websites, SEO, social media, PPC, content marketing, and email.
The term full-service ad agency now refers to one that does all the old-school functions but also can implement digital and social components, as well.
Other Marketing Companies
There are still other marketing companies that simply provide the tools to execute a strategy. Think Constant Contact, an email provider, or Wordstream, a PPC management tool. The user still must do the work, but these tools make implementing a strategy easier.
These marketing companies are starting to drive confusion, however, as they expand their products and services offered. An email provider is now offering social media ads; a website company now offers SEO and PPC; a newspaper company is now offering reputation management. We are seeing more crossover, duplication and wasted money than ever because you can get any of these services literally anywhere. It is a great move for the marketing company because they are trying to diversify revenue streams but is it better for the client, the business paying for the subscription?
There are also full-service and digital agencies that are industry specific. Automotive, real estate and dental are examples where an entire industry of marketing companies cater to just that industry. The benefit to a business owner hiring one of these agencies is the expertise developed over time within the operational processes and consumer behavior in those verticals.
What is Best for You
There is no right answer for what’s the best solution for your needs. It depends on your size, organizational structure and goals. If you are a large company with a marketing department to craft your overall marketing strategy, implement all the components and analyze the results, you may only need a few marketing companies for their tools and maybe a little extra help from a specialized digital agency.
If you are running your business from the floor, handling all the functions yourself, you might want to use a full-service agency, so they can be the ones to deal with all the tools of the trade. We have clients generating $10 million in annual sales that still work on the retail floor, helping customers, overseeing employees and solving day-to-day problems so they need a marketing team but don’t want to finance and hire a team in-house.
Ask yourself this question: Am I happy with the way my marketing is working? The answer to that question will help you determine your next course of action. If some parts are working great, then maybe you only need to add one service from a digital agency. If none is working or the overall effect isn’t growing your business the way you want, then maybe the full-service option is right for you.
One thing to consider is how you got to where you are today. If you’ve been growing and successful because you were able to delegate tasks off to an experienced professional, think Accountant, Employee Benefits, or IT specialist, then you might already be poised to work well with an agency. However, if you are very hands-on and need more direct control, then you might only need help from a platform specific digital agency.