15 Kinds of Advertising, Marketing, Media or Specialized Agencies


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What kind of agency is right for your brand? With at least 15 different types of agency models, it is important to know who does what.

The advertising, marketing and media agency and service scenario in our connected world today has evolved over the years. From a large behemoth ad agency model to various specializations today, the industry is being fragmented in certain segments and integrated in others. What type of agency or service will you need depends on the spectrum of work or assignment you need a solution for. Here are agency models both globally, and here in the Middle East region that are taking shape based on demand or market dynamics.

Here's How to Select an Agency or Consultant for your Digital Marketing... But beyond that, read about the 15 different kinds oaf agency models out there today.

1. The Full Service Advertising Agency

has been around forever. Large advertising and marketing agencies have always held sway in the region, but lately many of them have developed or grown into large networks, diversifying their services into segments and narrow niches. In the Middle East, for example, the ad agency is synonymous with tv advertising, and there are those who dominate this most used form. Even with media agencies splitting out into their own, it has been tv that is the main focus of the larger agencies.

Today, of course advertising agencies offer a wide spectrum of services including what we call 'through-the-line' advertising services such as tv, print, radio, online, PR, digital and online – but many chose to offer these divergent services under separate banners – mostly clubbed together under a 'network' or holding company banner. Most of the well recognized names in this category are part of larger international agency brands or networks, although here in the Middle East there are a few regional independents that have made their mark as well. Advertising agencies typically offer complete advertising solutions – from strategic planning through to execution of ads across various media.

2. Media Planning and Buying Agencies

basically offer the where, why and when of ad or message placement. They offer services such as strategic media planning, research and consumer insights, planning for reaching target audiences and buying space (the where aspect) on behalf of clients. Their main strength today in the region is media buying, because here in the Middle East, they are typically more adept at buying the space (in print, on tv, radio, outdoor, in social, in online etc) and offer better rates to clients based on negotiations with media suppliers.

Today media agencies are increasingly delivering creative services. This is because, typically, it is the media agency that is sitting on a lot of useful data, and they are already using it for their programmatic approach to advertising, and they are the first ones to have realised that 'programmatic buying' coupled with data-driven creative can deliver more effective digital advertising campaigns. Read here about how media agencies are doing creative.

3. PR Agencies

today are a lot more than just press releases and media relations. Today, the PR agency is a valuable ally in the Middle East marketing scenario, with several large and small PR agencies evolving and offering far more than what we knew as traditional PR. PR agencies were known for news announcements, article writing and placement, and organizing press conferences or events.

Today, PR agencies offer crisis management, thin-slice specializations by market segment, B2B communications, B2G (Business to Government relation managing) and as well G2C (an important aspect – Government to Consumer or even G2B – Government to Business communications). And, of course, many believe that social media and community managing, engaging the consumer on behalf of the brand is also a PR challenge. Middle East PR agencies offer solutions including product launches, event management, social media solutions and often are being called on to deliver SEO solutions as well. Globally, PR agencies are claiming the social media turf, and some of the best social media solutions are being delivered by PR agencies.


4. Digital, Interactive and Online Marketing Agencies

are really the new evolving must-have partnerships in the region. These agencies were typically founded to offer website development solutions but have grown their offering spectrum to include website content, analytics, social media including content management and community management, online advertising specializations including on-social ads, some levels of online media planning, SEO and SEM services, app development, gaming and advergaming and more.

With the rapid proliferation of technology driven changes, better bandwidth, smarter smartphones, this is a agency model that's here to stay and make its mark. Some agencies, like the globally renowned RG/A call themselves 'Agencies for the Digital Age' rather than Digital Agencies – meaning their offering is wide spectrum and dependent on what today's consumer is demanding from brands...

5. Promotional and Marketing Services Agencies

have an important role in the Middle East market place. These offer services in retail and packaged-goods environments with specialized activities including advertising, in-store, couponing, contests, loyalty driven incentives. While many large ad agencies offer these services as well, smaller specialized agencies often steal the show because their pricing models set them ahead of the game. Marketing Services agencies are actually wider in scope than 'Promotional' agencies – and a wide spectrum marketing agency is capable of offering through-the-line advertising, branding, photography, design, printing, collateral material services etc.

6. Branding and Identity Agencies

are specialized in developing a brand's identity and all collateral communication devices needed to establish the brand. The develop services including brand naming, logo development, packaging, stationery, retail and store design, signage, environmental design and more – and often do the preliminary work in establishing a brand's look and feel in advertising, online presence such as websites and social media, annual reports and publication design.

7. Design Agencies & Creative Boutiques

are typically smaller boutiques that offer specialized services in designing collaterals and/or specialized design challenges such as annual reports, event signage, tickets, website look and feel and more. While they can and often end up creating advertising communications, these agencies are typically geared to offer design only services rather than end-to-end solutions. There are also unique creative boutiques, who simply work on developing the creative output for brands, rather than the whole gamut of advertising services.

8. Social Media Agencies

in the Middle East aren't new any more, and several have already made their mark. This is a fast growth track agency model as increasingly brands are shifting budgets to social media. Social media marketing in the region is growing fast, and services offered by these specialized agencies include managing a brand's presence on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest and other platforms. Social media agencies design and develop a brand's content strategy, their look and feel across various platforms, manage communities and engagement and often also offer services in social search, connected shopping, blogging, content management and more.

Even within this group, there are hyper-specialized agencies cropping up. Small social agencies often specialize, say, only on Facebook marketing. Or are experts on YouTube content. In the US market today, we see a couple of 'Snapchat specialized' agencies – who work on creating brand Snapchat Stories and helping build snapchat audiences for brands.

9. Search Marketing Agencies

Search Marketing agencies usually offer both SEO and SEM services. They work closely with clients' brands to develop a PPC strategy for Search (see Search Marketing explained here). Search Marketing has really evolved over the years, and today, there are some Search specialist agencies who only deliver Mobile Search consults. Most brands often reach out to their digital agencies, for SEO solutions, because they find it hard to commit to optimizing their owned media themselves. Here's how to bullet proof your SEO.

10. Specialized Agencies

are agency models that either offer solutions based on segment or offering specialization. Today specializations include Direct Marketing and CRM & Loyalty (used to be a standalone important segment earlier), Analytics and Insights, Merchandizing, Real Time Bidding, Data Mining, Video Marketing (there's an unique YouTube marketing agency, believe me) etc.  There are Content Marketing agencies. Here's how to get Content Marketing done right. CRO (Conversion Rate Optimization) agencies. The list today, because of the way digital marketing has exploded goes on and on.

Specializations also include very narrow dedicated agency specializations like Commonwealth that is an agency that only serves one brand – Chevrolet – globally, or likeMcCann Health that is dedicated to the healthcare sector. Unique specialized agencies are carving out their own niche in the Middle East market and many brands are finding their specialized services unavailable with their larger mainstream or media agency partners. There are a new breed of UX focused agencies – geared to provide User Experience and Performance marketing solutions including UX and UI – again a demand driven offering that's here to stay.

11. Retail focused Agencies

Retail advertising agencies work for companies that market their products through retailers or distributors directly. They have creative and production teams that are capable of dealing with the development of detailed price-based advertising and can cope with frequent last minute changes to content. Retail agencies also develop and manage cooperative advertising programs that local branches of retail or distributor groups run in their own territories.

12. Financial Advertising Agencies

Financial advertising agencies are specialized service provisers for banks,financial services companies, insurance companies, IPO initiatives – and for company investor relations departments. Agencies that advertise financial services products operate in a tightly regulated market, so their ads must comply with the current legislation – and these agencies are well known in the US market. They also provide a service to investor relations departments, advertising share offers or communicating financial results. Although full service agencies often 

13. Recruitment Advertising Agencies

Recruitment specialized advertising agencies advertise job vacancies, and creative and media planning services for this specific vertical. Some specialize in senior management positions or temporary staff, others may focus on sectors such as jobs in accounting, IT, banking, specific industry sectors (like Oil & Gas) etc. 

14. In-House Agencies

These are advertising, creative, and even media services specializations that are set up within the brand's or company's marketing structure. These usually are like full service agencies except that they work only for a specific company's marketing effort. Bigger businesses often prefer having in-house agencies which are in built and work only for them, and which usually work out to be far more cost effective for them.

15. Can Do Agencies

are small-to-medium sized agencies that are incredibly nimble and can provide any of the above depending on how, where, and why you ask them. In this region, one outstanding example is Xische & Co who according to their website "combine management consulting, design thinking and technology to solve modern-day business challenges. This could mean building a business strategy, board-level advisory or financial modeling". These are not small shops that claim to do anything and everything. They are simply agile and nimble enough to be able to deliver.

Often based on a 'need-to-staff' insourcing talent from a wide pool of freelances as needed, these agencies are able to quickly turnaround their services and offering model to be able to bespoke themselves to need. They are extremely adept, often far less expensive, and most often very attentive to a brand's ask. Thus, this model is actually hyper-specialized because it's need or demand based and can form a model quickly and efficiently as needed. Some of these call themselves 'hybrid consultants', some call themselves 'idea consultants' and some 'integrated' and 'end-to-end'.

Whichever way the wind blows, both the two emerging trends are fighting tooth and nail. One is for the large agency model offering total integration and end to end solutions – sometimes as one or sometimes as a network. The other is for thin-slice specialization. And, there's rather little room in the middle. MCN (Middle East Communications Network), the group that I work for, is part of the Interpublic Group, and has 14 different kinds of agencies in The Middle East region under its umbrella.

That's the spectrum of advertising and marketing agencies. That's the basics. That's Marketing Strategy 101.

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