Building a brand doesn’t happen overnight. It takes a lot of work to forge strong relationships with people—and much of that work is done through marketing. Unless you have a powerhouse internal team to help you tell your story, it’s likely you’ll need a little support in crafting and executing your marketing strategy. But searching for the right partner to help you do that can be confusing. There are all sorts of agencies out there, so how do you know whether you should hire a creative agency, a digital agency, or an ad agency?
Here, we’ll break down everything you need to know about creative agencies, helping you understand what they are, why they’re different, and how to find one.
So, What Is a Creative Agency?
A creative agency is a term for an agency that offers a variety of services that fall under the umbrella of marketing and advertising. Basically, if you need any type of creative strategy, work, or promotion, they can help you get it done.
While some creative agencies specialize in one thing more than another, they usually provide:
- Strategy Services
- Advertising strategy
- Brand Strategy
- Content Strategy
- Marketing Strategy
- Social Media Strategy
- Measurement and Analysis
- Content Creation (AKA “Creative”)
- Annual Reports
- Case Studies
- Blogs and Articles
- Content Planning and Publishing
- Data Visualization
- Explainer Videos
- Graphic Design
- Animated Video
- Motion Graphics
- White Papers
- Motion Graphics (or Animated Video)
- Web Design and Development
- Communications Services
- Media Buys
- Paid Placement
- Sponsored Content
- Influencer Marketing
In short, a creative agency is a creative partner that will help your brand tell its story.
What Does a Creative Agency Team Look Like?
A creative agency is comprised of a variety of experts who can support your brand’s strategy. In general, that includes a mix of the following:
- Art Director
- Creative Director
- Brand and Content Strategists
- Account Directors/Managers
- Writers and Editors
- Web Designers and Developers
- Graphic Designers
- Content Distribution Specialists
Depending on its structure, some creative agencies also work with expert partners, such as a video production house.
What’s the Difference Between a Creative Agency and Other Agencies?
This is a common question. While some agencies may provide services that overlap with a creative agency, many agencies focus on one particular service or category.
A simple overview:
- Design agency: Offers design services for a variety of visual mediums, including print and digital.
- Digital agency: Focused on digital marketing strategy, particularly SEO and lead generation.
- Advertising agency: Focused specifically on advertising (digital, TV, radio, print, etc.). It may or may not provide marketing services.
- PR agency: Offers promotional and content distribution services to maximize brand awareness.
- SEO agency: Focused on various on-site and search marketing strategies and tactics to increase traffic and lead gen.
- Social media agency: Specializes in social strategies and, oftentimes, the management of social media accounts.
A creative agency usually encompasses one or more of these services.
How Can a Creative Agency Help Your Brand?
There are many services a creative agency provides. Whether you need them to fill in the gaps in your marketing team or take the reigns entirely, a creative agency can help provide…
- Fresh perspective: It’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture when you’re immersed in your own brand every day, all day long. A creative agency can provide much-needed perspective to guide or improve your strategy, as well as fresh ideas to help you achieve your goals. (BTW, if you’re struggling to come up with ideas, here are 9 ideas to help you tell your brand story.)
- Expert execution: A creative agency is a team of talented specialists who can both craft and execute your marketing strategies. From developers to designers, copywriters to data visualization experts, they have the knowledge and skills to produce content. They’re also immersed in this stuff day in, day out, so they know best practices, how to improve the user’s experience, what content works best for each platform, and how to get the most mileage out of the content you’re creating. Pro tip: You always want to work with a creative agency with a proven track record. If you’re on the hunt, check out their case studies. (And if they don’t have any, run!)
- Insider knowledge: Sure, you know your brand inside and out, but how well do you know your industry? Your competitors? Trends in the marketplace? A creative agency works with a range of clients across industries. Thus, they have unique insight into what works, what doesn’t, and what surprising things can drastically improve your results. (Translation: You get to benefit from other brands’ big successes and major mistakes—without using your own brand as a guinea pig.)
- Connections and creator networks: One of the most common reasons to seek outside help is because your brand doesn’t have the knowledge, bandwidth, or resources to do the work that needs to be done. In addition to being well-rounded pros, an agency has an established network of expert creators. Whether you’re looking for a production house to film your latest video or a developer to code an interactive website, a creative agency either has the skills or the expert referral to get it done. (This is especially helpful if you’re looking for tough-to-locate specialty services.)
- Speedy production: Many brands struggle to execute their strategies because they don’t have the infrastructure in place to handle production. This is understandable, as different types of content require different knowledge and resources. (It’s especially difficult to launch a content operation if you’re totally new to content marketing.) But an agency is a sophisticated machine accustomed to producing a variety of content, quickly and efficiently. They’re also aware of the common roadblocks, mistakes, or pitfalls that can sabotage production, so they can better navigate through them.
- Quality content: Quality, consistency, and cadence are crucial to a successful content marketing operation. Many brands struggle to meet at least one of these, if not all three. Again, with expertise and a solid infrastructure, a creative agency can produce quality content at a high volume. They’re also invested in doing the best job possible because when you win, they win. Hence, they will work hard to find the best creative for your brand, even if that means disagreeing with you or fighting for an idea they really believe in. (For example, when Microsoft asked us to create an infographic to promote the relaunch of Internet Explorer, we argued for a video concept instead—45 million views later, it turned out to be a viral hit.)
- A scapegoat: This one may sound a little harsh, but we’re well aware of the way marketing works. Nobody wants to claim failure, but if you absolutely need to, you can always outsource blame. Of course, a good agency will work to avoid failure at all costs. But if things go awry, sure, go ahead and blame your agency if it saves your job. (Just take them with you if you’re moving on to your next gig.)
Even better, you can often find full-service creative agencies that specialize in your particular industry or offering (e.g., B2B tech or entertainment). This provides even more benefits to your brand, as they have expert insight and can provide the right recommendations for your unique needs.
How Do You Know If You Need One?
Not every brand needs a creative agency, particularly if you have a solid operation or an in-house team that is capable of executing your marketing strategy. However, you might consider using a creative agency if you don’t have…
- Resources: Some brands find it difficult to execute their strategy due to limited means, accessibility, or availability. A creative agency can help support your strategy with the infrastructure you need.
- Knowledge: A creative agency is staffed by expert creators who have the skills and expertise to create all types of content—and, most importantly, adhere to best practices.
- Bandwidth: Your team may be bogged down with other projects, meaning your marketing projects are delayed or backburnered indefinitely. A creative agency can help you create consistent, quality content at scale.
- Results: If your current strategy isn’t delivering the results you want, a creative agency can advise you on how to tweak, improve, or revise your strategy.
How Do You Find a Creative Agency?
We recommend interviewing several to ensure they’re the right fit for your brand. To narrow it down…
- Find out what 12 things you should look for in a creative agency.
- Ask the right questions when you’re interviewing different agencies.
Note: A good agency endeavors to share their unique knowledge. Look for agencies that contribute to industry publications, or have an active blog, as they are more invested in helping others improve.
How Do You Get the Best Work From an Agency?
A good creative agency is focused on building a long-term relationship with your brand, functioning as a true creative partner and not just a gun for hire. To get the most from your agency…
- Ensure a smooth kickoff by asking these questions.
- Figure out how to split the workload up front.
- Use these tactics to work together more effectively.
That said, if you’re still struggling to find an agency, or still not sure if you need one, give us a holler. We’d love to help you tell your brand story.