Top Ad Agencies

These digital agencies are the best of a new breed, with a deep understanding of how people connect and buy online.
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How An Advertising Agency Can Grow Your Business

Build A Strong Team

The best ad agencies bring together top design, marketing and business growth experts. These experts work collaboratively as a team to execute various campaigns and projects that will accomplish a particular goal for a client.

Agencies have access to the most creative and data-driven experts who can analyze information and translate that into a stunning campaign that will grow a business. If you enlist an ad agency for a single project or long-term partnership, expect a team of copywriters, art directors, designers, production artists, web designers and creative directors on hand to build your brand.

Analyze The Audience

Understanding consumer behavior is the key to creating a successful campaign. Users will tell you what they need and want based on their social media behavior, online views and purchase history -- and ad agencies have access to the latest and greatest tools to analyze every brand’s unique audience.

Consumer behavior is even easier to track in the digital age. Agencies can monitor social media engagement, the user journey through a website, and top-performing content to craft a campaign for the best medium to achieve a client’s specific goals.

Execute Campaigns

Advertising agencies produce a number of campaigns, including print ads, social media campaigns, influencer and professional collaborations, video commercials, website designs and banners, and other digital designs. A dedicated team will create a roadmap and focus on delivering results, allowing your internal employees to focus on other business tasks without sacrificing the promotional efforts.

The need for advertising is strong, too -- just because we’ve exited the Mad Men era doesn’t mean advertising is obsolete. According to Statista, revenue from U.S. advertising in all arenas is on the rise, and expected to surpass $332 million by 2021.

Create Experiences

In addition to digital and print campaigns, ad agencies can create immersive experiences to build a brand’s identity and capitalize on emerging technology. These experimental designs include everything from pop-up shopping ventures to VR and AR installations -- and many young creative minds are the driving forces behind memorable displays that captivate consumers.

For example, Wieden+Kennedy China created a multidimensional experience called Reactland for Nike in 2017. This popup allowed users to run on a treadmill in real life while their actions controlled a video game right before their eyes, further cementing Nike’s status as an athletic and fashion leader. Top agencies are well-versed in executing these unique experiences for clients.

Set & Measure Goals

After the audience is analyzed and the type of campaign is determined, agencies will set intense yet achievable goals and measure them regularly with data-focused tools. These results will inform either the progression of the campaign -- particularly if it’s a long-term project -- or influence next steps for business growth following an advertisement.

The success of a campaign -- and an ad agency in general -- relies completely on results, so the best ad agencies have all the tools, resources and experts in place to deliver a successful return on investment for clients.

Questions To Ask Before Hiring An Ad Agency

Brand Identity

How will you adapt your advertising style to authentically showcase brand identity?

Top ad agencies understand how to adapt their marketing and design aesthetics to match an individual brand identity. Since 80 percent of consumers cite brand authenticity as a major factor in whether they follow a business, consistent presentation -- even in advertising -- is paramount. Make sure you ask the right questions to find the agency that will understand your business at its core.

  • How will you analyze our audience to determine their wants and needs?
  • What is the process for creating a beautiful yet effective campaign?
  • How do team members plan to transform their design aesthetics and modern trends to fit our brand identity naturally?

Tracking Goals

How will you create and measure campaign goals?

Creating specific goals will lead to a better success rate -- in fact, studies show that specific and progressive goals will improve performance by up to 90 percent. But these goals mean nothing if your advertising agency isn’t actively tracking, measuring and analyzing them. Don’t be afraid to grill potential ad agencies to ensure they can deliver the results you crave.

  • What projects have you worked on that solve a similar problem or reach a comparable goal to our business?
  • What campaigns have you created and what was their success?
  • How will you determine the goals we need to achieve?
  • What tools and metrics will you use to measure the results of the campaign? How often will you track the goals?
  • If a campaign is not performing as expected, what is your process or plan to get the project back on track?  

Team Structure

How will you craft the team that will work on our campaign?

The most important aspect of choosing the best advertising agency for your brand is ensuring you have the right team working on your campaign. Ultimately, the agency itself isn’t working on your brand -- a curated group of experts are. Take the time to vet each and every team member, their expertise and what they will contribute to your campaign.

  • What is the structure of the creative team?
  • Who is each member on the team and what is their expertise?
  • What will each member contribute to the campaign?
  • Will these team members be dedicated to our campaign or working on other projects?
  • Do you create consistent teams that can continually work with a client on multiple projects or do you create them uniquely for each project?

Campaign Cost

What is the pricing structure for campaigns?

Campaign cost should not be the end-all be-all when choosing the right ad agency to promote your brand -- often, a higher upfront cost at a top agency will lead to a better return on investment for the business as a whole. However, talking dollars and cents is a necessary evil, and the below questions will give you clarity on cost.

  • Do you charge a flat rate fee or per hour?
  • What team members are we “paying” for in our cost?
  • How does the pricing for long-term partnerships differ from individual campaigns?
  • Do any elements or results factor into the final cost of a campaign?  

The Future of Advertising

How will you adapt our campaigns to the future of advertising?

Emerging technology, new digital trends and social media are constantly changing the advertising landscape. These changes are often immediate, but when an ad agency capitalizes on a buzzy platforms and strategies, they can drastically improve a client’s campaign success. Find an ad agency that has a comprehensive understanding of where their industry is right now, and where it’s going in the future.

  • What areas of advertising are the most lucrative right now?
  • How do you see the advertising industry changing over the next 5 years?
  • How do you plan to keep up with those changes?
  • How will you create a long-term campaign that will evolve with changing trends?   

How To Choose The Best Advertising Agency To Promote Your Brand

Have A Vision

An experienced advertising agency should be able to provide you with innovative campaign ideas and creatives ways in which to execute them to achieve the best results. However, you should go into any meeting with a potential partner with some ideas of your own.

Before you choose an ad agency, have a vision for where you want your brand to go. Look at your competitors and take note of the campaigns they are producing that you admire. Then, look at big inspirational brands and notice the ads that captivate you. While you may not reach aspirational heights in just one campaign, the ideal ad agency will share the same inspiration and vision as you and will be able to help you achieve it.

Do Your Homework

Be proactive in gathering information about the best advertising agencies, their previous clients, their successful (or unsuccessful) campaigns, and the emerging trends or elements you’re interested in incorporating into your own campaign. Not every agency will be forthcoming, so rely on yourself to get the information you need to stay in-the-know.

What’s more, ensure that any potential advertising agency does theirs as well. Any top agency will be able to immerse themselves in any industry, understanding competitors and consumers before they create an ad campaign. Ensure that the one you choose is experienced in doing so. “Everything will fall into place once you truly understand what you are creating,” says Justin Jackson, art director at Merkley + Partners. “The imaginary idea bulb shines brightly.”

Understand Company Culture

Although clientele and work experience are important, an agency’s company culture will tell you a lot about the employees they attract, their workflow and process, and whether or not they will be able to adapt to your brand identity throughout the course of a campaign.

Take note -- particularly during in-person meetings and pitches -- of their workspace and the employees around. Do they look like they are inspired, hardworking and enjoying their time at the agency? If you can, ask an agency what their core values and mission statement are as well. Chances are, if they align with your business’s beliefs and are upheld, you’ll be able to strike up a positive working relationship.

Know Their Talent Pool

When you enlist the help of an advertising agency, you aren’t really hiring the company -- you’re hiring their talent pool. Therefore, it’s critical to recognize exactly who will be working with your brand and what they bring to the table.

Request potential team members’ names, previous experience, area of expertise and prior campaigns during the screening process. Plus, piggy-backing off of the all-important company culture, determine the draw of the company and the growth they have seen since working at the advertising agency. This will determine the growth and innovation that the advertising agency as a whole can foster, potentially increasing its worth.

Fit To Scale

Ultimately, you need to find the perfect advertising agency that suits every business need -- from cost to personal attention to innovation and production.

This is when budget in particular really comes into play. For example, a small startup may not reap the benefits worth the high-cost of a world-renowned advertising agency. However, there are plenty of highly-skilled boutique agencies who will be able to work with smaller budgets and flexible resources while giving you the attention you deserve to excel.  

Top Value Propositions and Differentiating Factors of the Best Ad Agencies

Top ad agencies are skilled at different media

For modern businesses, a full-service advertising agency that can work in a variety of different media is absolutely essential. Most clients are unwilling to split their account between different agencies with separate specialties. For most it’s easier, and more efficient, to have everything managed at a single shop. Top ad agencies position themselves strongly on their ability to act as a full-service, one stop shop for their clients. Though most agencies did not go into business with expertise in digital (since many of them have been around far longer than the internet has), they know the value of an integrated approach and have quickly adopted digital marketing as core to their service offerings. If efficiency of account management is important to your business, you should definitely be looking for a full-service advertising agency with breadth and depth of skill in a range of media.

Leading ad agencies have experienced leadership

Every single agency you meet with will have a cadre of young employees on staff. Young, fresh perspectives are great assets to your account. These employees are eager, enthusiastic, and energetic. But your account should be manned by experienced people in leadership positions. Experienced leaders have the benefit of having seen it all before. They’ll know how to manage challenging situations and will carry an innate understanding of when to push creative boundaries to improve their advertising campaigns. Top ad agencies don’t farm out your account to the most inexperienced (and least costly) employees on staff. They always make sure you have an seasoned expert working on your behalf. Look for an advertising agency that position itself in part on assigning experienced creatives and executives to every account.

The best ad agencies are creative and innovative

At the end of the day, you come to an agency because that’s where some of the most talented creatives in the industry live. The ad business is all about generating memorable creative that can help define a brand. Top advertising companies position themselves on their ability to constantly produce innovative work for their clients. They’re restless in a good way -- never settling for a product that’s average or mundane. Agencies that emphasize creative innovation are the ones that produce the most effective advertising campaigns.

Trustworthy ad agencies are transparent

Let’s be frank, working with an agency is not going to be cheap. In this case the old adage “you have to spend money to make money” is most certainly true. But especially when you’re cutting big checks every month, you’re entitled to understand exactly what you’re getting for your money. Top ad agencies are transparent about how they operate, and regularly communicate results and performance metrics with their clients. What’s more, they’re also transparent when it comes to billing. You should be clear about how much you will be billed and what your money gets you. To protect your business, always get everything in writing, including all changes once an engagement is underway.

Exceptional ad agencies are skilled communicators

Ultimately, a partnership with an agency is similar to any other type of relationship in life -- in order to thrive it needs to be built on a foundation of solid communication. The best advertising companies are adept communicators who put time and energy into building and maintaining good relationships with their clients. Top agencies position themselves on their skill at integrating with client teams and working closely to generate results that everyone can be proud of. Before entering an engagement with an agency partner, be sure to get a good feel for whether your team and theirs will be able to work together. The success of your campaigns depends upon it.

Serious creative agencies push boundaries

You don’t enter an agency partnership hoping for mediocre work. You expect to be wowed by exceptional creative. Top ad agencies differentiate themselves on the quality of their people, and their willingness to push creative boundaries. There are tons of companies that can replicate the types of marketing campaigns we’ve all seen before. But this kind of “safe” work isn’t likely to grab the attention of your audience. Look for an agency that demonstrates an eagerness to push themselves -- and your brand -- to try new things and redefine what’s possible.

Service offerings of top ad agencies

Top ad agencies often position themselves as one-stop shops capable of handling much of the marketing and advertising needs of their clients. Depending on the size of the agency, they might offer a huge variety of services, including everything from web design to social media management and traditional print campaigns. The core services of many ad agencies include:

●     Brand Strategy - The very first step in the branding process, brand strategy involves defining positioning, messaging, and a brand’s unique differentiating factors.

●     Naming - Naming is one of the most fundamental elements of branding. Naming strategies may be done for brand new businesses or those looking to pivot in a new direction.

●     Brand Identity - A full set of assets and standards, including logo, typography, color palettes, core messaging, and packaging if applicable.

●     Creative - Creation of marketing and advertising assets across media, from TV ads to radio spots, banner ads and billboards.

●     Media Buying - Media buying entails placement and positioning of creative according to a strategy designed to target the client’s desire audience of consumers.

●     Integrated Marketing Campaigns - Creation and management of branding campaigns executed in a variety of channels.

How the best ad agencies market themselves

As digital marketing and advertising experts, ad agencies have a wide range of marketing tools at their disposal. Commonly used tactics include the following: 

Word of mouth - The holy grail of marketing, word-of-mouth is when one person (or company) speaks highly of another person/product/company.

Client testimonials - A form of word-of-mouth marketing that’s managed by the brand, client testimonials feature the positive experiences of satisfied client. Hearing about the rewarding experience of another client builds trust in prospects and helps bring them through the door in the first place. References will further seal the deal once challengers are narrowed.

Case studies - Examples of previous work. Nearly all agencies use their websites as marketing tools to highlight their best work. Case studies act as proof of what the agency is really capable of.

Thought leadership and Digital Public Relations - Demonstrating expertise in an area or industry through a range of different content created by the agency or employees of the agency.

Social media marketing - Engaging with a community of fans, advocates, and industry peers through active social media participation and community management.

Print advertising - Placing print ads in targeted outlets. Many ad agencies purchase spots in key trade publications to appeal to their most desirable clients.

Pay-per-click advertising - The process of showing ads in search engine results pages when a user performs a search for a relevant business keyword. Ad agencies often bid on the most competitive marketing and advertising related keywords.

Search engine optimization (SEO) - The process of improving visibility in organic search engine rankings through a series of technical onsite edits and content marketing.

Takeaways:

In order for an agency-client relationship to flourish over the course of many years, both parties need to be aligned on what they value. For clients, an ad agency’s value propositions offer great insight into how they’ll do business once an agreement is reached.

Top ad agencies tend to position themselves on the following qualities:

●     Skilled at different media - Does the agency have deep skills in a range of media? Will they be able to handle both your digital buys and your print buys? Are their creatives capable of designing campaigns that translate across many channels? Do they offer full-service marketing, including key channels like search engine optimization and social media?

●     Experience of leadership - Who will be managing your account and overseeing your business with the agency? Is he or she experienced in the position? What unique perspective will they bring to the table? What other well-known brands have they gotten results for?

●     Innovative - Does the agency consistently turn out top quality creative projects? What is the caliber of the case studies they share during the pitch? Do these case studies demonstrate creativity and ability to think outside the box?

●     Transparent - Do you know exactly how your money is being spent and what results you can expect to see from your engagement with the agency? Is billing handled in a way will be open, transparent, a free of surprises?

●     Skilled Communicators - Does the agency seem like they operate as open communicators? Will their culture and your own mesh nicely together?

●     Boundary-pushing - Will the agency push the boundaries of what’s possible? If their work exciting and unique enough to get attention for your brand?

Top Features of the Best Ad Agencies

Goal-Oriented Approach

In order to achieve results for your business, you have to be clear about what your goals are. Top ad agencies understand the importance of setting clear goals and objectives, and the work they do will be tailored specifically with an eye to meeting them. The ad agency you choose to partner with should be one that takes the time to understand what your business’s objectives are and recommends solutions that are customized to your brand, not recycled from a previous client. Look for an agency committed to spending time upfront to learn about your business and to create and present a sophisticated strategy.

Track Record of Success

One of the most important attributes to look for in an agency partner is a proven record of success with other clients. Top ad agencies emphasize their portfolios and will be eager to share case studies that are bolstered by cold, hard data. While assessing a new partner, try to get a sense for the breadth of the agency’s experience. Have they worked with clients in your industry before? Have they tackled challenges that are similar to the ones you’re facing? The agency should be able to speak confidently about past projects and explain how previous experience positions them to be able to handle your account effectively.

Thought Leadership

There are benefits and drawbacks to choosing a brand name agency versus a smaller player. Regardless of size though, the best ad agencies are the ones that demonstrate commitment and passion to their industry through thought leadership. Look for an agency partner that regularly publishes blog posts, whitepapers, case studies, and other content that shows off their knowledge and skill. These materials are a great way to get a sense for where the agency’s expertise lies and can indicate an engagement with their trade that clients will benefit from.

Partnership

The client-agency relationship requires a great amount of trust, which can’t be accomplished unless a true partnership is in place. Top ad agencies forge strong relationships with their clients through transparent communication. Switching agency partners every few years can be damaging and costly for your business because it takes time to onboard a new team and knowledge is often lost in the transfer. So it’s in everyone’s best interest to form a long-lasting partnership. Look for agencies who are able to keep accounts for long periods of time -- it’s a good indication that they value their clients and make strong communication a core value. 

Top Notch Talent

Last, but certainly not least, is talent. Top ad agencies are only as strong as the talent they have on the team. The creatives working on your account are the ones who will make or break your campaigns. A strong line of copy, an exceptional vision for an ad -- these things can make all the difference. Take the time to try to assess the agency’s culture as this can provide clues about the types of people they’re able to attract. A culture that values creativity, passion, and experimentation is one that exceptional talent will gravitate toward.