Agency Types

September 5, 2023

Summer is our time for discovery. One of the big projects we invested in this year is answering the question, what makes businesses change their marketing agencies? During our conversations with numerous former and prospective clients, as well as several businesses outside our core areas of service we learned the answers to this question. One of the byproducts of this research is learning about agency types as defined by the people, skills, and services these businesses deliver. Here is what we learned.

The Advertising Agency


The traditional idea of an agency is an advertising agency like the one portrayed in the TV series Mad Men. Businesses search out and award their advertising business to an agency with a strong creative leader (Don Draper) and team supported by secondary services like media planning and buying (Harry Crane). Most of the agencies serving companies in business to consumer (B2C) fall under this description and the reputation that precedes it.

This appears to be the most common agency type in the business to business (B2B) marketplace as well. Primarily with the largest brands and the largest budgets. In the home and building markets we serve; the advertising agency is still a primary service provider as most businesses are simply looking to purchase the creative skills they do not possess.

The Marketing Agency


A second agency type is being called a marketing agency. This agency type provides creative skills like those of the advertising agency plus services for digital marketing including website development and management, SEO, and social media. The marketing agency will likely have public relations services within their portfolio. This is increasingly common as the size of agencies grow.

For B2B, a significant difference of a marketing agency is subject matter expertise in the industry the clients serve. This differentiator is far less common than the skills being offered by advertising agencies. The “industry knowledge” typically exists with the agency leadership that has worked in roles like their clients for a business like that of the client. We see several agencies in the home and building marketplace that have positioned themselves as subject matter experts. 

The Business Development Agency


The third agency type is a true unicorn in the market. This agency type has hands on experience with the full array of advertising, marketing and business development skills and experience. These skills and experiences include business planning with financial management; product development, introduction, and lifetime management; pricing strategy; channel strategy; sales strategies; and advertising and marketing skills applied to your specific business.

The business development agency type typically has a tremendous amount of horsepower that can be dialed up and down as required. This agency type is versatile within the scope of their subject matter expertise. They are known as strong problem solvers.

Knowing the Difference


Identifying the three different agency types can be challenging as most agencies self-identify as being full service with “experience with your business.” We are not saying they are being dishonest or manipulative. We are saying there are many agencies that are ambitious and enthusiastic. As a result, it is important all three agency types should be able to point to specific, tangible experiences to support their claims of expertise.

These three agency types are not standard descriptions for agencies. They are the definitions of the work these agencies are doing and the tangible experience they possess. The agency business is highly competitive. Agencies are working to differentiate themselves every day. All three of these definitions of agency types are specialties within their own right. The true difference resides in the integrity of the agency people.

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