The marketing agency market is diverse: because there are so many different agencies and it’s not easy to sort out who does what. And in addition to agencies, there are creative associations, artels, bureaus, and studios. But even in such a market, there is a set of unconditional roles.
We have distinguished five types of agencies and classified the most popular. We’ll figure out the differences between design studios and branding agencies, help you understand who you need for your tasks, and tell you why many freelancers have projects with big brands.
These are the largest agencies that create strategies to capture the market. They come up with brands’ communication strategies and new products and advise on a set of activities that help attract new customers and grow the business. Strategists are not art directors, but rather business consultants with a narrow focus.
Large businesses and corporations like PepsiCo, Unilever, P&G work with agency strategists on a regular basis. Small and usually medium-sized businesses will find it difficult to work with such an agency: it is mostly engaged in strategy and control, distributing work to subsidiary agencies and subcontracting. Strategists will not set up several Facebook ad campaigns.
Strategic marketing agencies are, for example, BBDO, DDB, Dentsu.
Turn to a strategist if you are limited by your budget and want to make a big launch of a new product, increase brand awareness or carry out a comprehensive advertising campaign. First, the strategist will do the preparatory work: do the research, help you find the target audience, develop a communication strategy. Then he will take control of the production of promotional materials: distribute subcontracts to agents, set KPIs, bring everything into one report.
A strategist is not a suitable option for a small company: in agencies from the top, the business model involves large-scale tasks and high margins. If your task is related to the design of a specific object or the shooting of a single commercial, it is not profitable to go to a strategist, because it will be more expensive than a small studio.
These are companies that help solve more specific problems: thinking about how to promote people, brands, and products. A creative agency can help with strategy, but it is better to handle the tasks of developing creative ideas, art direction, creating advertising and branding materials.
Large creative agencies can do everything at once: manage an advertising campaign on the Internet, shoot commercials for TV, prepare special projects for the media. Often creative agencies grew out of narrower agencies such as design studios or production studios. They will have accumulated experience and their own design team or video production department. So they will take on some of the tasks and subcontract the rest.
Large creative agencies are not very different from the strategists in terms of staff and prices.
Creative agencies know better than strategists what the result should look like in terms of content and design. But when the business does not go to a strategist, but directly to a creative agency, it risks getting visual materials without structure, without answers to the questions: why do we need the product, who will buy it, in what channels will the advertising work. This is why major clients work with strategists on ideas and a plan, and with creative agencies on implementation.
If you already have a strategy and want to take on tasks, such as rolling out a marketing campaign on TV channels, contact a creative agency. Until you have products and a marketing strategy, a creative agency won’t help you create effective advertising.
After strategists and creatives goes productions. These are agencies that specialize in the production of content, most often with a focus on one direction: graphic design, video and animation, or websites and apps.
Studios deal only with design: graphic, animation, 3D design. The studio doesn’t decide where to place the design, what the brand and product were created for, where that brand should go and what market strategy to pursue.
A digital production company makes apps, web services, websites, and lendings. Such a company may be called a “web studio” or a “development studio”. The task of digital production is to develop a tool according to the terms of reference.
Video production creates commercials, motion design, and animations. At the core of video production are film crews and the design team. They are coordinated by project managers who work with the customer and agree on the result.
A print shop is also a production facility – the place where the print media are produced. A large print shop will help you design a book, print a magazine, or print brochures or posters. Print shops may employ designers, but more often they come to them with ready-made layouts.
Productions are not mutually exclusive: one client can work with dozens of productions simultaneously, even within one project. It often happens that an agency strategist or creative agency subcontracts several productions.
The production, like the creative agency, can be found by their work.
Rocket Motion is also primarily a production agency. We specialize in motion design production, and graphic design. That’s why we are better at creating final video products, for a specific business need.
Production will be most useful if you have all the knowledge for the task, but no experience. That is, in addition to the strategy and overall brand vision, you should already understand the promotion channels and advertising format, know what brings you sales and why. Prepare references for production – similar advertising products or designs that you can be guided by.
4. Media buyers
OOH agency — are advertising agencies or media buyers who buy advertising inventory for brands: time on the air or on television, the volume of exposure on social networks, and outdoor advertising.
An advertising agency buys a lot of inventory, so each placement comes out cheaper than for a creative agency or a production company. On this difference, agencies do business: buy a lot of advertising inventory, bookmark the margin and resell to brands.
In the group of advertisers, we can include BTL-agencies, which are engaged in promotions, tastings, promotion of goods in stores. Among them, there is a separate group of companies specializing in events – event agencies.
Performance marketing agencies are also peacemakers. They deal with the conversion-oriented placement of advertising. That is, their task – to provide the customer with the target action: click on a banner, go to the site, buy, install the application. A performance marketing agency is paid for the number of actions.
You need a media buyer when you have an advertising product ready and want to distribute it. Such an agency will buy you airtime or Internet traffic. If you ask them to come up with creativity from scratch, there is a high probability that they will simply subcontract it or refuse to develop it.
5. PR and reputation
Once we have advertised and attracted the first clients, they will begin to give feedback. Feedback affects reputation, so it is profitable to manage it: remove negative and highlight positive reactions. Reputation is handled by PR and SERM agencies.
PR agencies create and post content, buy native articles in print and online media. PR agencies can be charged with preparing and distributing press releases, holding image events. Such agencies manage the number of mentions of the company and its products in the news and media projects.
SERM agencies deal with reputation. The task of the SERM agency is to smooth out a negative situation so that the brand would be damaged as little as possible. The scale of reputational risks can be different: from oil spills to insults in social networks. But the mechanism of action is about the same: the agency monitors the occurrence of incidents, quickly gets in touch with the source of the negative, finds out what happened, and minimizes reputational risks for the brand.
PR agencies can be found through the Internet or by acquaintances of entrepreneurs. If the agency’s website has a list of clients with whom they have worked, try searching for the names of these companies.
Contact PR experts if publicity is important to your brand. For example, you’re a startup looking for an investor. Then it makes no sense to shoot a commercial for a federal channel, it is more effective to appear several times in Forbes. There are PR agencies that specialize in startups this way.
If negative publicity about your company damages your business or threatens to stop production, pick up a SERM agency. For example, food poisoning from a supermarket product is fraught with scandal for both the manufacturer and the store. SERM agencies will monitor the infospace 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in order to notice the hotbed and form a positive image of the company.
Let’s imagine that we are a big business, an international company. We need to bring new yogurts to the market. We give the marketing director the task of conducting a tender and selecting a support agency – most often a strategist, perhaps a creative one.
The reference agency will help us refine our ideas and think about which ads and in which channels we need to place so that we can sell them. If the agency is associated with media buying, it may take over the placement.
When the strategy is ready, our marketing director or backbone agency will select content producers and placements. Separate subcontractors will be found for filming, web posting, outdoor advertising and events. Subcontracting agencies will report to the strategist, who will control the result and report to the client on all marketing activities.
If subcontractors get the task that will be unprofitable to close their own, they will attract even smaller manufacturers, such as freelancers. Thanks to subcontractors, there are situations where freelancers and small productions make advertising products for international corporations.
In addition to advertising, the yogurts would need to design the packaging and find a contractor to print it. To do this, the marketing director will bring in a design studio and a print shop. They will coordinate the layout and start the production of the packaging.
When the product is on the shelves and people start buying it thanks to the advertising, the brand will find a contractor to manage its reputation. The SERM agency will track down negative reviews, PR specialists will help make announcements of new flavors and prepare an article about the product presentation for the niche media.
Let’s imagine that we are a medium-sized business. The season is coming up and we want to prepare a new advertising campaign to promote the product.
We have assigned the task to a marketing director. We can’t afford a top-ten agency, so the director will take the strategy and control or go to a highly specialized creative. Most likely, he will go to a known and trusted agency. Together, they’ll match placements to all channels.
A marketing director in a mid-sized business can give the entire budget to placements. They’ll find the productions themselves and do the turn-key work, then report back to him or the creative agency.
A marketing director in a small business is likely to find manufacturers himself. He will place the order directly and coordinate the result. He will then pass it on to the placeholders for publication.
When you choose an agency, pay attention to what role it plays for its clients and how well it does. The name – communications, creative, or digital agency – is not that important. Marketing agencies have dozens of names, but only five key roles:
- Strategists. These are companies that advise large businesses, come up with products and communications, and help capture the market.
- Creative people. These are agencies that understand the intricacies of advertising and can control the content and quality of the design or filming. They handle the complex task of producing advertising materials: they prepare them themselves or subcontract them.
- Producers. These are agencies with a narrow specialization: video, design, websites. They solve a point task, often subcontracted by a strategist or creative person.
- Placemakers. These are agencies that buy advertising placements on radio, TV, street banners, or social media. They can help with production, but their key business is the wholesale purchase of placements.
- PR and reputation. These are agencies that control the number of mentions of the brand in the media and monitor reviews.