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March 10, 2009


There are three basic types of advertising agencies - full service agencies, creative boutiques, and media planning and buying agencies. In this article, we take a look at the full-service agency.

Full-Service Agencies

Full-service agencies are typically large companies with offices and clients throughout the United States and the world. Clients might range from illustrious household names like Ford, IBM and American Express (who may commit to ad campaigns costing tens or hundreds of millions of dollars) to less well-known companies spending under a million dollars.

As befits their name, full-service agencies provide their clients with a full range of services. These include:

  • Marketing strategy development - This department creates a strategy to build and sell a brand to the most receptive audience.
  • Ad creation - Home to a bevy of creative types - art directors who design the advertising, and copywriters who craft words into a selling proposition.
  • Media planning - This department conducts research to find the proper demographics for an advertising campaign.
  • Media buying - The process of purchasing selected media based on appropriate demographics for an advertising campaign.
  • Account planning/research - Devoted to determining the quantitative and qualitative factors affecting consumer perception and attitudes. For example, a certain car is seen as "feminine," decreasing its appeal to a male audience.
  • Production - The process of physically transforming an advertising strategy into a print or broadcast advertisement.

    Up to the early 1970s, advertising agencies prided themselves on providing other services, like sales promotion, direct response and public relations, all in the same company. Ad professionals were typically generalists, creating advertising, direct response and sales promotion as part of one package deal. The mid-1970s marked a sea change in the agency landscape. Agencies began to realize that these services, which they had given away for free could become profit-generating businesses of their own and spun them off. (In some cases, these spin-offs remained under the company umbrella, so there might be XYZ Advertising, XYZ Public Relations and XYZ Direct Response.)Today's full-service advertising agencies concentrate only on advertising. If clients want direct response, public relations or other non-advertising services, they must buy them separately. Clients sometimes pick and choose, contracting with one agency for creative work, another for media planning and a third for direct response mailing, or they may purchase all services from a single agency.

    Large full-service agencies offer employees a great deal of opportunity for movement within the company, both between departmens and around the globe. "After a successful career in the New York office of Ogilvy & Mather, I was transferred to London to run a major client," says Tim Sickinger, formerly a senior vice president of Ogilvy & Mather. "For a guy from Omaha, it was a terrific experience."

    Among the top full-service agencies are Young & Rubicam (known as Y&R Advertising), Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, BBDO Worldwide, McCannErickson Worldwide, DDB Worldwide, J. Walter Thompson Co., Leo Burnett Co., FCB Worldwide and Saatchi & Saatchi. These agencies are the giants of the industry.

    Over the past decade, there has been quite a bit of consolidation in the ad industry. Most major ad agencies are now owned by six major holding companies.

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