Agencies: A Simplified Guide to Understanding Marketing, Advertising and Media Agencies


Marketing Agencies


Do you know what’s annoying when you are trying to learn a Category like Sales & Marketing… when all of the terms overlap and can mean the same but different things! I think?!

Marketing Agencies can mean = advertising, creative or production, media, CRM (customer relationship management), PR (public relationship), or even specialty services like Medical Communications in Pharma.

Don’t forget about digital media that’s also considered “non-traditional,” and therefore, traditional media is anything outside this scope, which is also an agency type – media. Or digital.

And only to make matters even worse, all of these agencies types can overlap, or produce part of what other agencies also provide. Yet aren’t consistent in their naming.

Oh….and sometimes, you can have single agencies with just a single niche service. Are you confused yet?

Welcome to the amazingly overly complicated marketing and advertising industry. But, I’m here to help simplify it all for you!

Don’t have time a lot of time?  Then check out my weekly blog on Category Management Mondays for quick two-minute #protips!    #keeplearning!


Other Marketing Agencies


Let’s start with the simple parts – the outliers.  These consist of three main agency types:

CRM – Customer Relationship Management

A CRM agency takes a strategic, comprehensive approach to the buyer’s path-to-purchase by evaluating the broader customer experience at all stages of the relationship. it’s the data that is collected from the consumer, once they buy your product.


PR – Public Relations

A public relations agency (very similar to a Creative Agency) creates, produces and manage un-paid messages to the public about the company in general, versus the products they provide ( AbINBev vs. Budweiser)


Specialty Services

These are typically agencies that focus on a specific industry type. For instance, within the Healthcare industry, we have “Medical Communications” agencies.

These agencies typically have medical writers (doctors, nurses, Ph.D.’s) that produce medical content for other healthcare professionals (hospitals, researchers, doctors, etc.)

Now since I’ve been focused on Healthcare marketing, I’m sure I’m missing a portion of other industry-specific agencies (CPG – Consumer Packaged Goods, Transportation (Airlines, Automotives, etc.), Financial Services).

Advertising Agencies


And this is where things get tricky! So hold on to your socks, because I’m about to knock them off!


Creative Agencies

These are the agencies that I see are similar to consultants because they provide a strategy for a brand. But, they additionally have the creative talent to make it come to life!

Ex: Brand plan or positioning (why is better than it’s a competitor), creating a logo or brand design, where to market ads (tv, print, etc.)


When you think of Mad Men – you should think of a creative agency.

Production and Production Support

These are typically hidden as 3rd parties unless you’ve gone through agency-decoupling. So my first year working with agencies, I had no clue what they were or why people were talking about them!

But basically they are the crew, planning, product execution for video, music, graphics, etc. They are the ones to actually produce or execute the creative and strategic plans.


Agencies Process Mapping

This is the internal agency process to produce any type of work. If they are open to working with strategic sourcing, they can find value and cost efficiencies in refining this process.

Media Agencies

These are the companies that buy and sell media space.


Traditional: tv, newspapers, magazines, radio, billboards, etc.,

Non-Traditional: Digital banner ads, social media, mobile, etc.

The media agencies will take the Creative Agencies to work and buy space for you to be able to see it. Whether it’s in a digital form or not, they are focused on the actual placement of the advertisement.

These companies have become the major focus when it comes to transparency reporting on whether or not they receive discounts and pass them along to their customers.

Agencies – Unsimplified

And that, my friends, is where the simplicity ends. So if you’re happy with the basic definitions of what they do, then stop here! But, if you want a little further explanation of the complications of the industry, then follow me and keep going!

Agency Overlap

Holding Companies – These companies will have a roster of tens to hundreds of different agencies types (from creative, production, media, PR, CRM, and Speciality)

Advertising Agencies – This can mean creative/production, it can mean media, or digital media, or all of the above! Typically, it means the “creative/production” piece, but be careful! Make sure you know specifically what they are doing.

Media Agencies – You can have media companies that strictly are digital (non-traditional) or traditional media purchasing companies. You also can have companies that do both.

This all would be easy, except media and advertising agencies all go by “advertising agencies.” And some of the companies are focused on a single capability, some have multiple capabilities and some have all (typically holding companies).

Category Management:

  • In smaller companies, you’ll see creative, strategic, and production bundled together.
  • In larger companies, it will typically be divided out into at least Creative and Media.
    • Media is typically the larger area of spend (ratio 35 creative to 65 media).
    • Even larger companies will break it down by agency type and brand, so sourcing can become extremely complex
  • Holding Companies: WPP, Omnicom, Publicis, IPG, Dentsu, Havas
    • For extremely small companies, using a holding company as a one-stop-shop is efficient, but may not necessarily be cost-effective (if they contract with the media/digital company, you will not get the best rates).
    • They are constantly adding new agencies to the roster, so you need to stay current with industry news!
  • Be careful if specialty or creative agencies tell you they can do it all!
    • This is where they will leverage third parties, mark-it up and you’ll be none the wiser.
    • Find out where the majority of clients are spending with them (types of services). This is a good indication of what they are actually good at, vs. what they say they are good at.

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Agencies: A Simplified Guide to Understanding Marketing, Advertising and Media Agencies 1

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