[Infographic] Advertising Agencies: Past, Present, and Future

Posted by WhatRunsWhere on April 16, 2015
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Are you currently using an advertising agency to execute part of your marketing strategy? Or maybe you’re in the process of hiring one? Have you considered what type of agency would be the best fit for your strategy? How do their capabilities extend into the digital advertising world to help truly engage with your audience?

WhatRunsWhere is taking a deep dive into the world of advertising agencies in a 3 part blog series. We’ll take you through the history of advertising agencies and discuss how digital technologies have changed the dynamics of this industry. With marketing technologies like WhatRunsWhere increasingly being used by digital marketers, we’ll also discuss how top tier agencies are using competitive intelligence to optimize their advertising strategy in the digital space.

Exactly what is an advertising agency?

Advertising agencies are firms that are hired to:

  • Produce creative content for print, radio, television and digital advertisements
  • Strategize, plan and implement the placement of these advertisements, and
  • Provide guidance and counsel on overall marketing strategy for their clients

How did Advertising Agencies come to be?

Digital Agencies Timeline

Are they still relevant?

Advertising agencies play a crucial role in developing and activating the advertising portion of a client’s marketing strategy. They can be outsourced agencies hired by companies to advertise on their behalf, or in-house teams.

The US advertising agency industry now generates $34 billion annually and is forecasted to continue to grow. Advertising agencies continue to provide a full range of services for clients that want to advertise via TV, Radio, Print and the most recent change to shake up the industry, the digital space.

Here is a breakdown of the most common types of advertising agencies in the general advertising industry and some of their creative work you might recognize:

Full Service

As defined by Agency Finder, “a full service agency is one that provides a comprehensive menu of services, including advertising, branding, direct marketing, sales promotion, package design, product placement, media planning and buying, event planning, public relations, and any other activity that contributes to the marketing and selling of their client’s goods and/or services.”


  • Very closely tied to their clients business, can be considered an extension of the company as they are heavily involved in the strategy from concept to execution


  • Due to the extensive amount of services offered, their services can be costly; especially for a smaller company
  • These companies are often large and can get ‘stuck’ in their methodologies; which could potentially limit creativity and innovation

Publicis is a global full service agency. Some of their clients include Wendy’s, Pepto Bismol and Swiffer



Creative Agency

Creative agencies are solely create advertisements for companies, don’t take on the administration functions that relate to placing ads, media buying, etc.


  • Produce output high quality creative as this is their focus
  • Can be more affordable for smaller companies if you are just looking for creative and have other resources to handle to administration functions


  • Since they are focused on one element of advertising strategy, you need to work closely with them to ensure they understand overall strategy and creative is aligned with it.

 SID LEE is an agency that focuses on commercial creativity projects. A few of their unique experiential projects include the #SHAREHOCKEY campaign and the Tiffany & Co Experiential Installation to release the Tiffany T collection.


These agencies focus on a specific niche or industry and they only work with companies in these industries. For example: finance, not-for-profit or education


  • They will have extensive experience in the industry you are in and can apply learnings from other clients to your projects


  • At the same time their work may be limited by the industry as they don’t have the resources to apply learnings from across industries
  • Could potentially limit advertising innovations

Abelson-Taylor caters to the medical and pharmaceutical industries to provide creative advertising strategies


Boutique Agency

These are agencies that offer highly personalized services and focus primarily on the creative aspects of developing advertisements. Due to this they are often small in size and represent a limited client list.


  • Because their work is highly personalized, these agencies are continuously innovating and adapting to the specific needs of their clients


  • Small size may also limit the resources available to them to carry out extensive advertising campaigns

Jib is a Toronto based Boutique Agency whose work ranges from Apple to Enwave and everything in between.

apple enwav

Media Buying Agency

Agencies that buy time on various media ex. TV and Radio and then resell to other advertising agencies and advertisers.


  • Due to their focus on media buying, these agencies are experts and can optimize your strategy to yield maximum results


  • Given their focus on media buying, they may lack on the creative side and in being able to provide guidance on the best creative for each channel.

MEC is a global media agency serving clients around the world. Some of their recognizable work includes Visa Contactless Payment that was promoted during the 2012 London Olympics

visa visa

The New Kid on the Block [In the Digital Era]

The most recent type of agency to emerge in the industry, or to become an extension of any of the above, is the digital agency. That is, agencies solely focused on creating and executing digital strategies for clients.

The rise of the digital agency can be credited to the ever growing technology industry, the demand for brands to be actively engaged in the digital space and increased spend in digital advertising.

Deloitte Digital emerged in 2000 to add internet based solutions to their consulting capabilities. Some of the clients they’ve immersed into the digital world include Toms, Intel and JCPenny.

intel  toms

The Shift is Real
There’s no doubt that the history of advertising agencies has changed since they came about in the 1800s. The 50s might have been the golden era of advertising, but the whole industry has seen rapid change as the landscape shifts towards digital.

But this is only the beginning. Digital agencies have a big part in the advertising landscape of the future. Advertisers need to be knowledgeable about how agencies can help them gain a competitive advantage in the industry, and moreover, understand the marketing technologies that these agencies are using. There’s still plenty to learn, so stay tuned for our next post on the rise of Digital Agencies in the Virtual Era.


Topics: Display Ads, Digital Advertising, Agencies, infographic, Competitive Intelligence, marketing technology, digital marketing, digital agency, digital, Mobile Advertising, Agency, Advertising, Data Driven Marketing


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