What Marketing Agency is Right For You? Navigating your way through marketing agency buzzwords

Have you thought about hiring an agency or freelancer to help you with marketing? Maybe your internal department is lacking in a particular area of expertise or they are just stuck in the past and you don’t want to add a full-time headcount.  If so, you’ve probably done a search on Google to find someone offering the services that you’re looking for. I’m fairly certain that the search results were extensive and now it’s time to claw through “the best,” “full-service,” “passionate,” “award winning,” “integrated,” “results-focused” and “strategic” agencies to find the best partner for your organization. Even more, how do you know they offer the services you are looking for? Do you want a digital marketing agency, an advertising agency, a digital ad agency, a communications firm or an interactive marketing agency? There are an endless number of buzzwords that are used and anyone can say they are an expert in any of these areas.

When I worked in corporate America we had a few different areas of marketing and it was very clear (to me) what services they offered – public relations, corporate marketing, field marketing, creative services, marketing operations and product marketing. Having only dealt with PR agencies and video agencies while on the “inside,” I was left perplexed when I started my own product marketing business. I was in a sea of agencies and I could only guess what they offered because the terms they use to categorize their services were foreign to me.

Fortunately, I’ve navigated through and below I’ll share a translation of what these different types of agencies offer:

Digital marketing agency – These agencies focus on using electronic media, specifically the internet, to reach and convert prospects. Social media marketing, SEO, SEM, email marketing and mobile SMS marketing are among the most popular technologies leveraged by digital marketers. These are also the agencies that design websites and monitor web analytics in order to target your most ideal customer. Needless to say, a great digital marketer is critical in today’s online world. Fortunately, the small, agile digital agencies are popping up everywhere and they are able to offer solutions that do not require a large investment. This allows you to try out new lead generation tactics without the large investment that may come with a traditional advertising agency.

Advertising agency – You can be fairly certain that anyone who says they are an advertising/ad/advert agency is going to offer some sort of design and execution/placement of advertising and promotional services, such as television commercials, radio commercials, print ads, billboards, and sometimes online ads and/or mobile ads. Advertising agencies are commonly known to cover initial product research all the way to executing the ad campaign. Oftentimes they focus on traditional media, such as print, radio and television, but many of these agencies are making an effort to move into digital marketing because of the high demand and the fact that it’s a fairly inexpensive form of marketing by comparison. You will find that some will sub-contract the digital portion of a campaign to a digital agency while maintaining full creative control. Because many are moving into digital marketing, it is hard to decipher their service offerings based on their label.

Communications agency – A communications agency can range from offering public relations services to creative design to media planning and buying. However, the underlying goal of a communications agency is to ensure a consistent message is delivered across all marketing channels. A communications agency is there to help your company communicate effectively. They ensure you show up positively and display your desired image to your customers, investors and employees.

Interactive agency – Interactive is just another way to describe digital marketing. These agencies offer web design services, blog content, online marketing and e-commerce solutions. Many interactive agencies spawned from ad agencies or began as a web design service provider. As the internet and technology evolved, so did the agency. Services to support SEO, email marketing and online content were added to their service catalog to meet the new demands.

Inbound agency – Inbound marketing is a relatively new term and is starting to catch on as a very popular form of marketing. In the past, getting your business noticed was done using outbound marketing tactics, including print, radio, PPC, direct mail and telemarketing. Inbound marketing agencies, on the other hand, focus on drawing new customers to you rather than using the “in your face” outbound strategies. Using content marketing techniques to position your business as a thought-leader, new customers will be drawn to your company. You will be earning their interest rather than paying for it. Some forms of inbound marketing include creating and using your valuable, thought-leadership or educational content for permission-based email marketing, blogs, SEO keyword targeting and across social media. Most inbound agencies are also digital marketing agencies because they build a strategy (and execute) around the content and distribution methods that will best engage your audience.

Public relations agency – Public relations agencies are oftentimes a standard piece of an organization’s marketing strategy. They help protect and build your company’s positive reputation through earned or free media. Some of the activities PR professionals are involved in include special events, interviews, speeches, awards, press conference, testimonials, press releases, publicity and community relations. Finding the organization’s positive message and positioning that in the media and mitigating the damage of bad press are key functions of a PR agency.

The interesting thing is that during my research, regardless of the type of company I looked at, many offered very similar services. PR agencies offering email marketing and digital marketers writing press releases. In fact, I looked at a communications agency and expected them to offer editorial coverage services similar to a PR agency, but I was wrong. They offer email marketing, digital marketing, PR, event management and analyst relations. Many marketing agencies, whether advertising, digital, PR, or another category, will offer services beyond what their label implies. They remain flexible and evolve with technology, either hiring experts internally or sub-contracting to individuals with domain expertise.

The days of siloed, single specialty marketing agencies appear to be over making this an extremely exciting time for agencies, consultants and entrepreneurs to thrive and offer new, modern services.

If you’d like to chat further about choosing the right type of marketing agency for your business, let us know.