Advertising Agencies: What Are They and What Do They Do?

Advertising Agencies: What Are They and What Do They Do?

As consumers, we’re used to advertising messages coming at us from all directions: TV, online, social media feeds, billboards, radio, print—you name it.

For businesses and organizations, creative advertising is a powerful—and often essential tool—to build brands, make sales, raise awareness, and create competitive differentiation that can turn merely surviving as a business into thriving.

To help you understand what an advertising agency is all about, including what they do and how they can benefit businesses, we provide the following information and insights:

What is an advertising agency?

A traditional ad agency or digital agency provides advertising, media, marketing communications, public relations (PR), event organization, and other services to help businesses and organizations raise awareness, sell products and services, and create dynamic brands.

Some of their other main functions include:

  • Doing market research. While an advertising company supplies creative services to produce campaigns, their work is also based on market research, ensuring that they target their efforts properly to be effective.
  • Planning and budgeting advertising. An advertising or larger marketing campaign can have many moving parts that take careful planning to ensure the campaign runs smoothly and within budget.
  • Selecting media. In their work, creative agencies have a wide range of media to consider, including TV, print, interactive, social media, billboards, point of purchase (POP), direct marketing, and many others. Not only must the right media be selected for a campaign, but the marketing agency also needs to reserve ad space and negotiate cost.
  • Coordinating multichannel marketing campaigns. Multichannel marketing integrates different channels—social media, blogs, email, TV, mobile, and streaming services—to reach customers everywhere they are and to achieve the client’s objectives
  • Integrating marketing efforts. Many campaigns require advertising agencies to coordinate efforts across departments, suppliers, and partners. For example, a digital advertising company may use a digital campaign to support a product launch, which would also require event management and PR services to get press coverage.

Common ad agency services

Common Advertising Agency Services

Advertising agencies come in different types. Whether they are a specialized boutique or full-service advertising agency, creative firms usually provide a wide range of services, including:

Ad campaigns

Advertising campaigns are a set of linked ads that focus on conveying a single brand message. Creative directors and their creative teams of art directors and copywriters produce campaigns to meet specific client business or awareness goals, often generating sales leads and conversions.

To create the campaign, an agency works on a specific strategy that is often a product of client input, market research, and creative brainstorming. Running a large campaign across many advertising media platforms is common.

An example of this is the Nike ad campaigns built around the slogan “Just Do It,” originally conceived by the Wieden + Kennedy ad agency in 1987. Agency founder Dan Wieden found inspiration for the line in the unlikely source of convicted killer Gary Gilmore, who said “Let’s do it!” just before his execution by a firing squad in 1977.

In the hands of the agency creative team, the “Just do it” tagline became an inspirational rally cry for amateur and professional athletes around the world. It has been used as the centerpiece of commercials, billboards, posters, print ads, merchandise, event signage, and other sundry parts of ad campaigns that helped turn Nike into one of the world’s major sporting goods brands. And its rallying cry is still heard today.

Social media management

As social media consumption increases, so does the importance of marketing to audiences through their chosen platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube, Snapchat, TikTok, LinkedIn, and others.

Online marketing could include display or pay-per-click (PPC) ads, social media influencers, targeted content, and more. Social media management is often part of a larger digital marketing strategy, which could include:

  • Mobile apps
  • Blogs
  • Website content
  • Email campaigns
  • SEO (search engine optimization)
  • Inbound/outbound marketing campaigns

Content creation

As consumers become more resistant to straight-out advertising messages, they often need to be wooed by soft sells like those delivered through targeted content, found in blogs, site content, social media posts, and much more.

Advertising firms and content agencies, often working hand in hand with SEO professionals, will create content according to different stages of the sales or marketing funnel: hooking interest and winning trust at first, and then converting to paid customers later.

Graphic design

Graphic design is an essential service offered by advertising agencies or provided by design partners or suppliers. It is the practical art of creating visual concepts—by computer or hand—intended to communicate concepts that inspire, inform, and captivate consumers.

Graphic design can be seen in everything from company logos to ad and publication designs to websites that are pleasing to the eye, easy to navigate, and function well. The importance of design goes beyond graphics to cover online user experience, 3D and product design, software design, game design, and more.

Strategic planning

An advertising strategy provides an overview of and broad direction for a campaign, setting measurable objectives to ensure everything stays on track during execution. It outlines an ad project's goals, how you will achieve them, who will do the work, and what metrics are used to determine success.

Because strategic planners must pay close attention to the target audience, they’re often considered the “voice of the consumer” by the ad agency team. The duties of a strategic planner include liaising with other departments, aligning advertising and business goals, creating campaign calendars, and allotting budgets.

TV/web/radio commercials

Traditionally, broadcast commercials for TV and radio had a much bigger place in the hearts of advertising agencies because their budgets and the attention received were much greater than traditional print vehicles.

With ubiquitous high-speed internet connections, videos are increasingly important online marketing vehicles, often gaining more interest than simple picture-and-text posts. An agency often has to differentiate its approach between traditional broadcast and online commercials.

With network TV, for example, viewers expect to see commercials and receive direct advertising messages. Online, however, people go to sites for specific purposes and expect any videos they watch will give them the information they need or answer a question they have.

Online advertising usually costs less than traditional broadcast ads and offers the potential to reach a wider audience, but it must contend with a very competitive landscape.

How an advertising agency could help your company

When you hire an advertising agency, you’re getting access to a suite of services and expertise that can help you market your company more effectively, liaising with you through an account manager. A creative firm can help you:

Save time and money

When you enlist the help of professionals from the advertising industry, you don’t have to develop the expertise in-house to create your own advertising. Agencies usually offer a range of solutions to clients, tailored to almost every kind of budget, with the oversight to ensure that projects adhere to agreed-on timelines.

Develop your brand

Ad agencies are experts at telling brand stories. They do the research to get to know a company’s DNA and then create stories that achieve specific business objectives and help to create an awareness of how the brand differs from its competitors.

Gain professional expertise

Either in-house or through partners and suppliers, advertising agencies have a wide range of talent that clients can draw on to provide know-how in different areas, including:

  • Copywriting
  • Art direction
  • Strategy
  • Media buying and planning
  • Application development
  • User experience (UX) and user interface (UI)
  • Creative direction

Expand your company’s reach

Effective advertising helps to build awareness and create engagement to extend a company’s reach to new customers. Strategies are put into place to reach the widest audience possible. Using testing and real-time metrics allows agencies to fine-tune campaigns during execution to deliver the best results.

Improve your brand’s image

Brand image isn’t just a corporate logo; it is a set of associations that determine how consumers think about your business. A brand image is responsible for that first impression when someone visits your website or sees your ad; it makes a telling impression and determines how they view you and whether they want to transact business with you.

Ad agencies are keepers and cultivators of brand stories. By figuring out what makes your brand unique and differentiates you from competitors, they can fine-tune the story to help your business achieve greater success.

Get expert insights on your company’s image

Since advertising and marketing services are essential to a company or organization’s success, it’s good to know that you can easily access a wide range of professional freelance services through Project CatalogTM from Upwork. These freelance services and project examples, provided by experienced advertising professionals, cover logo design, video editing, social media design, web and mobile design, e-commerce development, marketing, and more.

To find the advertising help you need, simply:

  • Browse. Sift through the talent offered by the service to find the type of work you require. Each supplier clearly explains what they offer with their creative process, costs, and timelines.
  • Buy. When you find an advertising freelancer with the skills you require, you provide your requirements for the job, and the work begins once you’ve made your purchase.
  • Approve. You’ll receive your advertising work within the agreed timeline. Upwork won't pay your supplier until you’ve approved the job.

With the feature-rich services of Project Catalog, you can ensure your advertising efforts are polished, professional, and effective.


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Advertising Agencies: What Are They and What Do They Do?
The Upwork Team

Upwork is the world’s work marketplace that connects businesses with independent talent from across the globe. We serve everyone from one-person startups to large, Fortune 100 enterprises with a powerful, trust-driven platform that enables companies and talent to work together in new ways that unlock their potential.

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