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How to Conduct your Ad Agency vs. Marketing Agency Search with Confidence

January 26, 2023
by Courtney Beasley

You’re a CEO, on the hunt for an outside ad agency with fresh perspectives to support your marketing and growth initiatives. You take to Google and are not only overwhelmed with the number of agencies that claim to meet your every need, but you also begin to identify the language barrier we like to call “marketing jargon.” 

Quite frankly, the terms “advertising agency,” “marketing agency,” and “creative agency” are used synonymously in our industry but traditionally mean different things that can lead to various outcomes. Knowing exactly what you’re looking for can help make sure you identify the right agency partner that will help you achieve your goals. 

What is an Advertising Agency? 

Historically, an advertising agency (or ad agency) got all the fame. From Madison Avenue in New York City to the critically acclaimed series Mad Men, the advertising agency world was glamorized and hyperbolized into catchy taglines and promiscuous advertisements. 

Vanity Fair:”Mad Men’s Smoke and Mirrors Have Aged Like a Fine Whiskey”. Photo by Frank Ockenfels/AMC

In today’s definition, an advertising agency mainly handles paid advertising avenues – both traditional and digital. These are avenues and channels you’ll use to amplify your message to the right audiences who will ultimately become your customers. Many marketing agencies and creative agencies have advertising capabilities in-house, or through partners, to activate integrated campaign strategies. However, if you’re starting with advertising, you’re likely missing the strategy mark to get the best bang for your buck. 

Digital and Traditional Advertising Channels for Paid Advertising Campaigns

Over 100 years ago, John Wannamaker famously said: ‘’Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.’’ And ever since, industry professionals have looked for better ways to monetize and calculate ROI on their efforts. 

Enter the Marketing Agency 

Over several decades, the marketing agency has evolved in strategic sophistication as demands for results became louder and the advancements of technology have risen to meet them. According to the AMA’s definition of Marketing: “Marketing is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.” 

Today’s marketing agency helps to set the brand strategy foundations that define who a company is, what they sell, and to whom they sell. Today’s sophisticated marketing agency takes an integrated approach to a marketing plan and campaign calendar, considering all of the ways your audience can engage with your brand and creating content and resources to help them in that path to conversion or purchase. Today’s marketing agency makes those ad dollars go much further than the advertising agency of Wannamaker’s day. 

The Marketing Agency Demand

This Google Trends graph is a helpful visual of how the demand for agencies has shifted over the years. It compares search traffic for the terms “advertising agency” and “marketing agency” since Google started tracking keywords in 2004. While “marketing agency” has yet to catch up to “advertising agency” searches in the early 2000, you can clearly see where the switch occurred. And in alignment with growing strategies around digital campaigns and brand awareness, “marketing agency” searches continue to be on the rise. 

Google Trends: Advertising Agency vs. Marketing Agency

Looking Beyond “Advertising Agency vs. Marketing Agency”

There are plenty of other terms that you’ll come across in your agency search such as “Creative Agency,” “Branding Agency.” “Digital Agency” and more. (For more intel on “Creative Agency vs. Marketing Agency,” check out the article by Neil Patel linked.) But in our experience (and we have a lot of it!), you’re likely looking for a marketing agency. 

If you’re looking for a marketing agency that just gets it  – from marketing and brand strategy to advertising activation, look no further. FUEL has helped hundreds of brands identify their purpose, their audience and reach their growth goals. We’d love the chance to help you, too. 

Our “The Dos and Don’ts of Writing an Ad Agency RFP” blog post can help you formulate the perfect agency RFP and our team of experts is here to discuss your unique needs anytime. 

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