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The 3 Types of Advertising Agencies

By some estimates, there are more than 120,000 marketing and advertising agencies in the U.S. alone. It’s no wonder, then, that so many of us have gone to great lengths to craft clever brand identities that we hope will differentiate us from the guys down the road.


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At end end of the day, however, most marketing and advertising agencies at can be placed in one of 3 buckets, or agency types, that best describe how the agency approaches the business it handles for clients. Sometimes this approach is dictated by the conditions under which the agency is hired in the first place. Mostly, though, it’s a matter of philosophy that’s embedded deep in the agency’s DNA – a way of doing business that tends to permeate the agency’s work on all projects.

Let’s take a look at each type:

Sales Enablers:

This type of marketing or advertising agency-client relationship tends to be highly task-focused on activities that are related to revenue for the client. Sometimes, the Sales Enabler agency is hired to perform a specific task or set of tasks that supports the client’s big-picture goals. In other cases the Sales Enabler is hired to support what we like to call “auto pilot marketing” – marketing tasks done without much thought or analysis, because “we’ve always done it” or because the business takes for granted that said auto-pilot activity is worth their time and money.

In the most effective task-oriented agency-client scenarios, the agency has at least some insight into the client’s big picture, which means that the agency’s execution is powered by an understanding of marketing strategy.

Evaluation and analysis in the task-focused scenario tends to be highly tactical, with a focus on outputs (“Hey client, here’s what we did this month”) rather than outcomes (“Hey client, here is what we accomplished in support of your strategy.”). Learn more about outputs vs outcomes. Many Sales Enabler agencies are talented specialists with deep expertise in a particular marketing discipline or tactic, like SEO or pay-per-click.

Campaign Producers:

The Campaign Producer agency-client scenario is similar to that of the Sales Enabler in that it tends to be task-centric. Where the relationship differs is in its focus and duration. As the name suggests, Campaign Producers are usually hired to work on a specific project with a well-defined beginning, middle, and end date. The campaign is usually engineered by at least a little strategy – maybe even a high degree of strategy, depending on the agency’s business style and level of engagement with the client.

Whether or not the campaign itself plays a significant role in forwarding big picture strategy depends on a range of factors, including the project’s vision and parameters as defined by the client, and whether or not the agency’s way of doing business tends to be more strategic or more tactical.

Campaign Producers tend to have special expertise in one industry or a small set of industries, though it’s not uncommon to see agencies with a general background get hired to work on a project-specific account.

Value Creators:

A competent Campaign Producer or Sales Enabler advertising agency can bring value to the client’s table via their expertise or strong execution. But a Value Creator agency adds value into the agency-client relationship by bringing in expertise, analysis, and “outsider” perspective that helps the client do two things:

– Move away from an introverted way of thinking about their marketing (one where the business has minimal understanding of their best customer and tends to communicate with their customers and prospects based on what the business thinks they need to know)

– Move towards an outward-thinking strategic model (where the business has a solid understanding of their customers’ motivations and how their marketing addresses those motivations.)

In other words, Value Creators function as long-term strategic partners of their clients, rather than as project-specific managers or in order-taking roles.

Unless they’re hired strictly as consultants, Value Creator agencies may be tasked with tactical implementation – but those tactics are all executed in support of a big picture strategy that the agency helps the client create, nurture, or refine. Strategic partner agencies come in all sizes, and they may or may not have a “sweet spot” industry that they prefer working in. Generally speaking, strategic agencies have a diverse skill set and a wide knowledge of a number of marketing disciplines, with deep expertise in at least a few of them.

So which one is right for you?

Our agency style definitely falls into the Value Creator bucket, so we much prefer it when clients hire us in that capacity – it’s the scenario where we can do the most good for them.

We almost always recommend that businesses at least consider bringing on an agency as a strategic partner – assuming that the agency has the capability to work in that capacity, that is. At the end of the day, however, it’s a matter of deciding what relationship scenario works best for your business and the particular marketing challenge you’re trying to address – and then making an evaluation about which agency can best support that scenario. (Here are some tips on choosing agencies and asking for proposals.)

Related Articles:
“So You’re Thinking About Hiring An Advertising Agency”
“Does Having More Marketing Agencies Equal Better Results?”
“The 5 Secrets of Awesome Agency-Client Relationships”

Our Austin advertising agency knows how to create value. If you’re ready to get the ROI you need from your marketing and advertising, let’s talk.

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