Creative agencies provide innovative solutions to their clients’ needs by crafting inspired campaigns that are both uniquely theirs and collaborative. If you’re interested in what creative agencies do but have a hard time separating their responsibilities from other similar company types (like ad agencies, production companies, etc.), we got you covered.
Upon embarking on a career in the industry, it’s good to know the differences and understand what makes these businesses different yet so complementary to each other.
Let’s get into it.
A creative agency is a business that provides innovative strategies and marketing initiatives to help brands achieve their goals. Their specialties are generally across advertising services, design, and technology.
But beyond this brief creative agency definition, how full-service creative agencies provide their services can vary.
Creative agencies can exist in any industry---dental offices hire creative agencies to help with marketing---helping to get more clients to their website, while well-funded non-profits may reach out to agencies to help with IT needs. But of course, for our purposes, we most often look to creative agency services within the entertainment sector. A brand might hire an external agency who may or may not work with another external production company to shoot commercials and run other campaigns for the brand.
Creative agencies will often offer a buffet-style of services---you can take advantage of one, a few, or all of its offerings.
The following includes some of the more common services offered:
Most businesses will acknowledge that they have neither the know-how nor resources to create and execute an advertising campaign on their own.
That is why they’ll look to a creative and media agency – an agency that can generate ideas for them as well as oversee the rollout of a media campaign.
To ensure that their campaigns are successful, creative agencies will frequently start with market research to pinpoint their client’s demographic.
The creative agency team then spearheads the execution of that campaign. They might hire out a production company or, if it makes sense, may even have their own in-house production team that they use. The process is highly collaborative and the team’s agency producer(s), creative director, and those on the production side (director and producer) will meet with the brand to get everyone on the same page early.
Consulting can be a pretty vague term, as you can “consult” on just about anything, but here are a few specific ways in which a full-service creative agency might do just that for a business:
Cities large and small are home to agencies with consulting services, and major metropolitan areas like Los Angeles or New York will have dozens upon dozens of options for potential clients.
Perhaps a particular business is looking to revamp its image… Facebook becoming Meta, anyone?
It’s usually a creative and media agency that will get the call from that business.
As with other types of ad agency services, design is not typically a field in which the average business can navigate successfully on its own. So they look to an agency to help them figure out exactly what changes they want to make to their brand.
From a new logo to updated promo materials, a creative agency for marketing can do it all.
In addition to ad services, other types of creative agencies might add tech help to their list of offerings. Most often, these are agencies that focus on marketing services rather than commercial campaigns or productions. But any combination of services is possible.
Even the most successful businesses can get intimidated by their IT needs, so it's a smart service to offer as an agency.
And obviously, businesses benefit immensely from these kinds of services. Not only are IT needs a hassle for clients, but these services afford them an entirely new user experience. They might enhance their digital presence, whether that's improving their website, app, or another outlet.
Considering that we just were talking about the digital services that creative agencies can provide, you might be wondering what is the difference then between a digital agency and a creative agency?
We’re so glad you asked.
A creative agency can provide services that encompass a lot between its advertising, consulting, design, and digital services. So in a manner of speaking, “creative agencies” is an umbrella term. It can include digital agencies and ad agencies.
But when someone states that they’re using a digital agency for their company’s needs, they’re likely saying that they went with a company that specializes in a particular digital space instead of one that has a more diverse services list. That doesn’t necessarily mean that a client would be limited by using a digital agency, it all just depends on what the needs of that client are.
For instance, if they require in-depth digital services such as search engine optimization (SEO) or social media marketing, a digital agency might be the way to go.
If they need to produce a TV commercial or video ad across streaming channels, they likely want an ad agency, or what most people consider as a full-service creative agency. But this has the ability to become semantic as there are so many different types of agencies out there.
So while a creative agency can in part be an advertising agency, digital agency, and so on, those agencies that focus only on those respective areas cannot truly call themselves full-service creative agencies if they don’t offer a wider spectrum of creative services.
While agencies hire many professionals across multiple disciplines, the way they hire and who they hire will be affected by company size and the services offered.
A creative boutique agency will have staffing demands very different from those of a large, international creative agency.
A campaign director at a digital agency will likely need heavy tech skills---they'll need to know how to navigate CRMs like Marketo, Hubspot, or others. They'll need this skill set to launch digital campaigns for their clients. Whereas, a creative ad agency might employ an integrated producer or agency producer that also works on a campaign. But perhaps their job is to liaison with an outside production company to get that commercial campaign shot and delivered.
It can be challenging to list everyone who might be part of a creative agency services team, as that team will look different from one company to the next. But the following lists some of the more universal positions regardless of size and services:
In addition, these roles may or may not cross over service lines.
Again, it all depends on the company.
Here’s where things get interesting.
When brands look for agency services, they may end up working with several companies at a time depending on what their needs are.
Let’s say a brand wants a new advertising campaign. They work with an ad agency to execute their market research, maybe helping them with further research, or the agency hired may have one job---advertising and execution.
So...who’s going to make the commercial?
Because while creative agencies do include a variety of services, actual production work might not be among them. So in most cases, the agency will hire a production company.
In such cases, a production company will be hired effectively to execute the vision and instruction of the creative agency. This vision will be articulated and expanded upon usually during a creative call between brand, agency, and those on the production side.
At this point, we’ve mentioned several times that creative agencies can offer diverse services for clients. And sometimes that does indeed include having a production department in-house that allows them to be a truly full-service creative agency. An example of this is the highly prolific and innovative ad agency, Mekanism, with their production arm Mek Studios.
In other cases, a business might completely circumvent reaching out to creative agencies and hire only a production company for its advertising needs. But why would they do this when they seemingly would be bypassing creative services vital for their advertising campaign?
An entity might call itself a production company if its bread-and-butter business is making commercials or music videos or the like, but they might also have professionals on board who can collaborate with clients much like a creative agency would suss out exactly what that client wants for a project.
In short, they can handle both the ideation and execution of a creative project.
While a creative agency may be an umbrella term, the breadth of services they can offer are staggering. They can help a brand grow to new heights whether they’re providing ad services or digital marketing offerings.
For more on how agencies function, check out our next post on When Should Brands and Agencies Consider In-House Production.
At Wrapbook, we're all about providing the very best free resources to producers and their crews. However, this post is not a substitute for professional legal advice. Answers do not create a company-client relationship, nor is it a solicitation to offer legal advice. Seek the advice of a licensed attorney in the appropriate jurisdiction before taking any action that may affect your decisions or rights.
Sign up for the Wrapbook monthly newsletter where we share industry news along with must-know guides for producers.