Anatomy of an Agency

With tens of thousands of jobs in the U.S., creative marketing is an exciting opportunity for anyone who enjoys a challenging, fast-pace, constantly-evolving career. Although there are many different roles that one can pursue, agencies make up a significant portion of the marketing landscape. Agencies are agents that work on behalf of a client. In other words, agencies don't produce the "product" being marketed, but rather are specialists within a given area and are hired by a company (e.g. product maker, service provider, retailer) or an individual (e.g. entrepreneur, celebrity or politician) to help them grow and stay relevant.

There are many different types of agencies, including: creative, media, digital studio, social media, promotions, experiential, influencer, public relations, strategy and innovation, and more. Some client-agency relationships are what is called agency of record (AOR), which is characterized a long-term committed relationship (think marriage), whereas others are more short-term project-based (think dating). Some larger companies even have their own in-house agencies. Although no two agencies are ever the same, they tend to have very similar departments within them.

Following are some common disciplines and roles that exist within the creative marketing industry:

Account Management

The team quarterback. Within an agency, these people are typically referred to as account executives. They oversee the entire process; making sure that goals are met, budgets and timelines are kept, and that the client is satisfied.

Getting in: among the largest groups in an agency, train while you do, no portfolio required although must demonstrate proven track record of group leadership.

Client side: this role takes several forms including brand manager, advertising manager or product manager. Sometimes these are different people, sometimes one individual has all of these responsibilities. Either way, these folks are usually the agencies "clients." In addition to being the primary contact with the agencies, they are tasked to grow the brand and make decisions about product pricing, distribution, new product development, and more. Advertising is just one of the many things they have to consider.

Content Creation

Traits: Making Stuff, Art/Design, Writing, Clever/Witty, Conceptual Thinking

The storytellers, creators and makers responsible the development of creative assets. The creative department (although a bit of a misnomer because everyone in an agency is creative) is tasked to think up the various executional elements (video, print, digital, and beyond) that (hopefully) hide the strategy and in-turn, elevate the brand, drive behavior and engage the consumer in fun, surprising ways that cut-through the cluttered communications landscape. In most agencies, art directors and copywriters work in pairs (although some agencies throw a strategist in the mix). Together, they are tasked to create big communication ideas that work across a variety of touch-points and work with producers to bring them to life.

Below are some examples of roles under this type of position:

Art Directors: are well versed in design tools like Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign and typically come from a fine arts background and/or are a graduate of a portfolio program. Specialist skills required.

Copywriters: they are, well, writers...of copy. But it goes far beyond punny headlines and salesy body copy, copywriters must think conceptually and develop content that is full of personality, wit and sizzle.

Designers: are experts of visual communication. They often have a graphic arts background and are obsessed with typography, color, imagery and other design principles. Different from art directors, a designer's focus might be on conceptual marketing communications, and more developing distinctive, clear, effective layouts for websites, apps, presentations, and more. Specialist skills required.

UX Writers: are copywriters for digital experiences. They are laser focused on creating seamless content flows for users while helping the company reach their goals.

Media

Traits: Love Numbers, Problem-Solving (puzzle), Planning, Detail-Oriented)

Reach the target effectively and efficiently. Media planners (and buyers), buy, plan, place and (sometimes) optimize where all of this content will live; tasked to reach the audience in the most efficient way possible. Media is sometimes a group within an agency and other times an entire agency unto itself.

Getting in: many entry-level job opportunities, most offer in-house training, no portfolio required, although experience in digital media offers a leg up.

Below are some examples of roles under this type of position:

Media Planners: aim to get a brand's message seen by the right consumer. They interface with media sales reps, the client and agency teams to develop (and negotiate) a media plan, taking into consideration things like media type, location, flighting, and seasonality. Better like spreadsheets and numbers, this is a numbers heavy role. But don't worry, there are tons of specialized tools that help them to accomplish them. (aka comms planner). Some larger media companies also have a media buying function which generally focuses on negotiating and purchasing large amounts of traditional media like television and out of home.

Digital Media Strategists: are the digital media landscape experts. Like any media planner, they need to know how to find the target effectively and efficiently, however in the digital space they also have the opportunity to test and optimize ad elements like position, copy, imagery color, sites and more. Digital media strategists typically gain expertise in Google Adwords (for search marketing), Facebook marketing, programmatic and more.

Media Sales: people work on behalf of media companies like TV networks, magazines, websites and are tasked to sell ad space to agency media planners.

Production

Traits: Organized, Embrace Chaos, Leading Teams/Seeing Things Come Together, Orchestrator

Make it, on time and on budget. Producers are responsible for bringing all of these ideas to life. Those involved in production come in all shapes and sizes from project managers, editors, sound engineers, designers, retouchers, business affairs and more.

Getting in: limited entry-level job opportunities, candidates often come from film and/or multimedia/fine art background, portfolio of work typically required.

Below are some examples of roles under this type of position:

Content Producer: Content producers are at the center of the video, print and event production process. As such they are well-versed in how to make certain types of content and work with creative teams (and clients) to make sure the creative ideas are realized with quality, on time and on budget. They are responsible for finding and securing locations, casting and talent, directors, cinematographers, sourcing props, craft services (fancy name for food), as well as everything after a production day takes place like editing, mixing, mastering, sound, motion graphics and more. Some producers specialize in video, others in photography (print producer), others in live experiences (event producer). Since the productions process has so many moving parts, they tend to be incredibly detail oriented and love being on set.

Production Studio: Many agencies have a whole team of skilled makers including video and motion graphics editors, sound engineers, photo retouchers, videographers, photographers and more. Some agencies even have in-house production facilities like editing bays, content production sets and sound booths.

Project Managers: are sometimes producers, and sometimes not, really just depends on the organization. Project managers are masters of getting stuff done and can juggle lots of to-dos. They are insanely organized and detail-oriented. Agencies are busy and things are constantly changing, so good project managers are flexible, persistent and diplomatic. No portfolio of work required, must demonstrate proven track record of project management skills.

Digital Producers: are at the center of digital production. As such they are well-versed in what it takes to build digital things like apps, websites, digital marketing campaigns. The digital production process and skill-set is very different from that of content production. Digital producers typically lead specialized members in what's called the agile process which includes scoping the project, determining requirements, assembling teams, assigning tasks and troubleshooting, managing the process of building or prototyping, refinement and launching. After launch, digital producers are responsible for making sure that the digital thing continues to work and evolve as tech and user needs change. Like content producers, digital producers, are detail- and schedule-oriented, and comfortable lots of plates spinning simultaneously. No portfolio of work required, must demonstrate proven track record of project management skills.

Business Affairs: Business affairs folks are the business side of the production process. When it comes to content production, there are tons of rules, regulations and legal requirements that advertisers have to follow like talent and usage rights, location permits, safety guidelines, FCC clearance and even stuff like pyrotechnics and animal usage. Business affairs helps to protect the client and the agency by keeping all of these ducks in a row. No portfolio of work required, must demonstrate organizational abilities.

Digital & Social: Make digital things! These folks are tasked to strategize, prototype, build and maintain digital things including like apps, websites, and online shopping experiences.

Questions?

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