What is the difference between a design firm/studio and an advertising agency? All perform similar tasks and provide professional services. They all will propose the best creative tactics to convey your marketing and promotional messages and achieve campaign objectives. Although the terms are often interchangeable, it usually depends on the image that the company wants to portray. The distinction is often blurred, but primarily comes down to organizational size and costs.
The type of provider you will require will depend upon the scale of your planned advertising and the skills of your internal teams, as well as your planned communications activities. Communications service providers may include designers, photographers, advertising agencies, copywriters, media planning/buying agencies, public relations, event management and digital agencies.
The Role of an advertising agency
An advertising agency is often thought of as being a huge marketing machine, that encompasses public relations, marketing activities and graphic art services. The agency usually supports a large staff of professional and creative personnel. Larger advertising companies offer a “one stop shop” providing many or all of the above types of services, whilst other companies will specialize in one or only a few of these services, and out-source on a project need basis. The agency is normally broken into three working groups: Public Relations, Marketing and Research and Creative Services. The agency normally has a substantial internal sales force to support the agency itself, seeking and securing clients and projects. In most cases, the sale’s executive represents the client within the agency and is the sole contact that the agency has with the client. His interpretation of the client’s preferences and goals plays an important role to the success of the advertising and marketing materials are are produced.
Public Relations: Public relations professionals work with the media to build public awareness and promote a favorable image for a company or client within stories and articles found in relevant media outlets. They closely monitor numerous media channels for public comment about a company and its products and manage crises that threaten company or product image. Their efforts creates goodwill among an organization’s target market through community, philanthropic and special programs and events.
Marketing and Research: The marketing department will handle product development, marketing research, demographics, and perform product surveys. The marketing efforts define the clients’ target market or audience and help position the product or services. With the collaboration of the art director and to some extent the sales person, the marketing team develops an advertising campaign for the client.
Creative Services: The agency will recommend the advertising concepts and a variety of advertising options, e.g. events or presentations, handouts, website, collateral (posters, stickers, brochures) to best meet the client’s marketing goals. Once the approach of the ad campaign has been agreed upon, the advertising agency responsibilities would typically involve all aspects of the production of the advertising materials and despatch of materials to the media. The agency will employ creative art directors, graphic designers, copywriters production artists and media buyers. If the agency has a consistent need for a specialist, they may also have in-house illustrators, photographers, event managers and digital service providers. Advertising agencies typically charge head hour costs plus any third party production or other services they commission. Client commit to the agency on an annual contract basis for all of their marketing and advertising needs; client often pay monthly retainer fees to the agency.
The design firm is often thought of as the larger of the two, although not as large and varied as the advertising agency. It usually employs more employees on staff, whereas the studio may be a sole proprietorship consisting of only the designer/owner or a small company of two or three partners. Both offer a full range of professional services, usually specializing in a given niche market or talent. Established firms or studios are robust in networking with other independent contractors that provide specialty or complementary services with the need arises. They also offer public relations, marketing services, media buying and internet or digital services. Studio can also refer to the workplace of a self-employed artist, who usually shares office space or works from their home. The client would hire and work directly with designer themselves and creating a more personal working relationship.
Smaller companies are often intimidated by the larger advertising agencies, and feel that the agency has pressured them into spending more than their advertising budget can afford. Within today’s economy, most companies are handling their own advertising and marketing internally. By hiring a smaller design firm or studio, they are actually acquiring an extension to their own company and have someone on-call as needed. The company can contract with the provider on a project to project basis, which overall is usually less costly than the annual contract commitment required by the agency. Also design firms or studios will often accept smaller individual projects, whereas an advertising agency will not. The design firms or studios usually don’t have a large cash flow, and rely on deposits to off-set the initial costs of the project, as well as to substantiate the project agreement between the client and artist.
A simple campaign which requires the production of simpler print materials might require the services of a graphic design firm or studio, rather than an advertising agency. In these cases, you may consider directly engaging the specialist services that you require.