Defining the changing role of the advertising agency

This post is by Stephan Argent, CEO of Argedia Group and a member of the Marketing FIRST Forum, the global consulting collective co-founded by TrinityP3

Here’s a thorny question for you – what’s the role of your advertising agency today?

Depending on the set-up of your internal marketing teams, the answer can take many forms and, if you’re like most marketers, the answer could include some (or all) of the following:

  • Strategy planning and development
  • Research
  • Brand and campaign development
  • Promotions
  • Advertising production across multiple media
  • Testing and measurement
  • Media planning and buying

Even Wikipedia defines the role of the ad agency in very familiar terms – “a service business dedicated to creating, planning and handling advertising for its clients…

The reality is, the world’s changed and marketers have had to rethink why they hire ad agencies and the roles they want them to play in their businesses.  Only then are marketers really able to define the success metrics that matter and partner with the right agency(s) that make the most sense for their individual needs.
Changing roles of ad agencies

Darren Woolley from TrinityP3 encapsulates the issue as follows:

The role of agencies has diversified along with the diversification of the marketing options. In the Mad Men era, the agency was the marketer’s partner. They took responsibility for developing strategy, conceiving campaign ideas, executing production and media, and managing the process for the marketer. But now the marketer has many specialist agencies…”

And it’s that diversification of marketing options and possibilities that’s at the heart of the challenge facing marketers and their relationships with their agencies today. Many marketers still define the role of their ad agencies in traditional terms without thinking about how they’ll collaborate with the other specialised agencies they’ve hired to address new opportunities like Social Media.


In many cases the role of an agency evolves organically, rather than being planned and managed which can lead to stress and frustration on both sides.  So if that’s got you thinking, here are ten questions to consider to help define the role of your agency(s) more clearly:

  1. Does the agency have a clear understanding of your objectives?
  2. Do your internal teams have a clear understanding of the agency’s mandate?
  3. Has the role of the agency evolved since you hired them as a result of new marketing channels?
  4. Have your marketing requirements changed or evolved significantly since you hired your agency(s)?
  5. If you have multiple agencies – are boundaries and responsibilities clearly defined?
  6. Are your agencies collaborating or are they working in silos?
  7. Are you frustrated that your agency(s) aren’t addressing some aspects of your business requirements?
  8. Are there challenges or unwelcome surprises around time spent and costs incurred?
  9. Are any of your incumbent agency contracts operating on the same contract that was negotiated more than five years ago?
  10. Have your agency or internal marketing teams changed significantly in the last few years?

Woolley also makes the point that all this is something marketers should contemplate throughout the life of the relationship:

“Today it is the marketers responsibility to define the role of the agency not only at the time of establishing the relationships, but on a regular basis as the needs of the marketer change.”

Clearly defining the role of your ad agency at the outset of the relationship, and at regular intervals during its term, can save you and your team time, money and yes, angst.  Many of the issues you’ve faced with your incumbent agencies in recent years could likely be solved if you, your teams (and your agencies) had a clear, up to date definition of what their role really was.  Benefits of clear definition include:

  •  Alignment of objectives
  • Clear definition of success metrics
  • Defined roles and expectations of both marketer and agency
  • Defined roles amongst multiple agencies
  • Improved collaboration between agencies

And yes, likely improved results too.

If you’ve not considered the role of your agencies recently, ask your teams what they think the role of your agencies should be.  Better yet, ask your agencies what they think their role is too. The answers (and the gaps) might surprise you.

Interested to hear your thoughts. Please leave a comment.

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About Stephan Argent

Stephan Argent is a former agency planner from England, and has held senior roles in agencies in both Canada and the United States. Most recently he was Vice President of Digital Media at CTV, and is now President of The Argedia Group, helping clients find “agencies for the digital age.” Visit Argedia here
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