What do advertising agencies do daddy?


Central though brand ideas are to the value we create for clients, advertising agencies have to be more than just idea shops. Ideas without expression serve very little purpose. Ideas have to reach the consumer in engaging and persuasive ways and that involves the agency actually producing something.

However, it is high time that we defined the craft product of our agencies by the medium in which we work rather than the media by which it is distributed - TV, press, outdoor, radio, online and the like.

So here is my starter for a spot of restructuring

I reckon there are four core mediums in which active persuasion may be conducted and that any self respecting ad agency of the future should be competent in.


I call the first film. In truth this is simply because I like the word more than the phrase moving image which is what I mean. This is not, I repeat not, TV production, it is the discipline of creating brand films for Clients and frankly it is immaterial how these are distributed. Some will be seen as interuptive ads on television, some as films on the Client's IPTV channel, some will be viewed on websites or downloaded to portable devices, some will be consumed on mobiles and others will form branded content in more traditional media. But as moving image begins to dominate the digital space we must recognise that the brand film is in rude health even if broadcast TV is declining in influence.

Then comes sound. In the old model when we defined our product by media not medium, radio was the bastard child of TV. Production Assistants did a spot of radio when there wasn't a TV ad to shoot. Well I think its high time that the sound design discipline was separated from moving image and the appropriate respect was paid to aural commmunication - whether this is distributed in store, on the radio, online, as podcasts or downloads.

All two dimensional design whether analogue or digital and where images are satic or simply animated should be part of one integrated design discipline. Print, posters, websites, packaging, identity, in fact anyplace where strong two dimensional communication is the order of the day will come under this remit.

And finally there will be a separate discipine focused on creating and contributing to conversations where the principle craft skill will be good old fashioned copywriting - crafting persuasive messages in simple, elegant and memorable ways. These converstions would evidence themselves in PR, online communities, brand blogging, long form copy on websites and brochures, you know just anywhere where words make the difference.

Just a thought, I might get on with it anyway.


R -
Excellent stuff once again. Thanks for this.

One comment: the way you talk about "conversations" actually sounds like two seperate things.

One is persuasive writing, such as brochures and direct mail and website copy. Those aren't really conversations because they're one-way.

The other is the truly conversational stuff like PR, communities, events, blogging, Second Life, etc.

So as much as I hate complicating your diagram maybe it's 5 things: Film, Sound, Design, Writing, and Conversations.

Posted by: Jason at November 17, 2006 10:24 PM

my initial thought is that perhaps we are once again looking for labels that we can hang out hats on. Additionally, as a craft, none of these are exclusive to ad agencies and with the availability of technology, anyone can produce, film, sound, conversations and design. The output is subjective and we have see low-tech executions work resonate well within an audience.

I'm not so sure on an agency that defines itself by individual disciplines since the above isn't too far removed from the early integrated agencies post acquisition, albeit presented differently.

For me, it is the ideas element of that diagram which is the most valuable. And, it is the only element which can place agencies in a unique position and sustain value.

I view the revised agency model as:

Thinking. The foundation which forms the idea
Talking. Message delivery.
Taking. Defining the currency. Creating transactions.


Posted by: MM at November 18, 2006 12:16 AM

Hi chief,

I totally agree that we should no longer channel our thinking by channel - the delineations between them are softening and in some cases disappearing entirely.

In a converged world, there is content and devices for consuming that content - I like that your model moves it back to the true forms of media.

But I think that there will increasingly be new forms of communication beyond content - experiences, software, services - that can deliver persuasive influence for brands and value for consumers.

Communication agencies will need to understand and embrace these too.

Posted by: Faris at November 18, 2006 04:03 PM

Got asked exactly that question by my 9 year old this week. Found it easier to explain in terms a kid could understand than to adults who aren't from a comms / marketing background - probably a lesson there.

One thing to add to your points above - maybe it's not just about defining the craft, but actually 'doing' stuff as well (is that the point you're making?).

I think this is something ad agencies badly miss out on. Design agencies actually do designs. Digital agencies actually do clever digital stuff etc. But all ad agencies (tend to) do is have the ideas and rough them out - so craft = typing and being able to draw with a magic marker.

This point has been hammered home to me since moving to Quiet Storm: working in an environment where you actually shoot your own film (to use your craft definition) does radically change how you view what you do. Which is why we're also looking at how we can bring other craft skills in house.

So question - do you have to 'do' the craft to be able to lay claim to it?

Posted by: Jon at November 18, 2006 04:44 PM

Jon, to pick you up here... Yes, you must be able to do it, to claim it. Otherwise you are a fraud!

It's funny, when I was at Art School (yes, yes, I know Richard, St. Martins mentioned again) no one wanted to take the advertising option.


Because at the end of the three years, your degree show was up against illustrators, paintings, some designers cool branding and posters, those raffish photographers sexy prints...

and what did those who did advertising have to show for their labours?...

3 rows of white A3 paper with roughly drawn 'ad-cepts'.

Yup. The 'Ad lot' always looked crap in comparison to those who 'crafted'.

Sure great ideas in many of them there ad boys & girls shows, but put it alongside a cracking photographer and the eye won over the brain everytime.

Perhaps that's why the ad boutiques and design shops are stealing a march... because a client actually gets to see something they can believe in, rather than an idea they can pick holes in. (you can shout 'get your tanks off my lawn', but if the tanks look great, and neighbourhood property prices go up due to the increased aesthetics, you'll have a petition from the locals wanting them to stay before you know it)

Ideas made reality through craft are harder to dismember.

It reminds me of the story Speilberg tells about the making of Jaws... the producer kept on hassling him, until one day he came up and said to Mr.S, 'Look, Steven do we really need the shark?'

Perhaps if Advertising 'got on with it' (as you said, Richard, although the 'might' is a worry) rather than talked about it, thinks would be easier and more rewarding for all involved.

We won a pitch last week (woohoo!) and on chatting to our new best friends they said 'thing is, it was an easy choice really, most of what we saw from the other agencies was endless process' (and these were BIG agencies)

I loved the next bit.. they went on to say...

' I was thinking come on... Show, don't just tell. Then you walked in and answered our prayers'

Looks like large traditional advertising agencies are in danger of becoming all ponder and no punch.

Posted by: Simon Manchipp at November 18, 2006 07:41 PM

It’s a great simple way to look at how you can execute or show ideas to clients. But as Faris has touched on there is so much more in terms of areas of communication outside these four elements. A good example is software (like the Nokia Recommender)which is a great idea. I think that agencies that will make the real money are going to be conceptual centres that broker ideas with all sorts of specialists that will execute it all. Designers, film producers, writers, software programmers, musicians, interior designers, architects and a heap more.

Posted by: mikej at November 19, 2006 05:26 PM

Lots to agree with here, some stuff to take issue with .

Ad agencies have to do something - any business should - its healthy and connected. Architects must get stuff built, design consultancies must design stuff, ad agencies must make stuff and media agencies must buy some media.

Some stuff mind - not everything. Loads can be outsourced to others with additional or specialist expertise, but there should be a core set of craft competencies in any professional services firm.

And these four areas are the competencies I think ad agencies should have.

But (and this is the crucial bit for me) they should be defined by the medium not the media

Posted by: Richard at November 20, 2006 10:06 AM

i like MM's three T's. not sure that defining what ad agencies do through mediums helps... are not mediums just the form the concept takes?

seems to me that there's a hell of a lot of insecurity, ambiguity, and well, disagreement about what it is we do. that's probably healthy but it does beg the question of whether what we do has or should have any defining form? or indeed if it matters if we produce the goods.

Posted by: jamesb at November 20, 2006 11:35 AM

Agree entirely, it's an elegant theory (except for the medium v. media thing, which - let's face it - will soon get very confusing).

But it's a big challenge, isn't it? A central idea, that is not bound or defined by a particular medium (ie TV, print, online, whatever), is the ideal that most of us are aiming at.

But in reality, most average agencies (and even many great ones) are still producing ideas that fly in one medium and stumble in others. Just look at the print and outdoor work for Bravia.

Posted by: Patrick at November 20, 2006 12:07 PM

I agree that the medium vs media thing is difficult to get your head around but only because of the orthodoxies about advertising that pollute our collective minds.

Maybe its an adliterate equalivalent of a Buddhist Koan.

Posted by: Richard at November 20, 2006 01:10 PM

Sorry, didn't explain myself properly.

I think the conceptual distinction between your "mediums" and media is clear.

But I think that if you're trying to move things forward (and your suggestion could clearly do so) then you'd be better off using terminology that is less likely to confuse.

Most people know that "media" is the plural of "medium". To use the plural to mean one thing (ie TV, outdoor, print etc) and the singular (with the occasional addition of an "s") to mean something different (film, sound, conversation etc) will hobble your laudable attempts to debate what lies beneath the names.

Am I being a semantic pedant? Probably. This is the only place I can be.

Posted by: Patrick at November 20, 2006 03:05 PM

Hey Richard,

I like this a lot, and have been thinking about it a great deal over the past few days (always a good sign!)

Small suggestion: to avoid semantic pedantry, maybe we could refer to 'channels' rather than 'media' from here on in?

Posted by: Jason Lonsdale at November 20, 2006 09:24 PM


Great idea. It works for me but to pick up on Jason's thought: in the context of your definition, a conversation has to be bi-directional or it is the Communications equivalent of the bore who corners you at a party to tell you in great detail what a wonderfully interesting person he is. Therefore, surely, the copywriting examples you mention are a function of Design as defined in your diagram; whereas, as Jason says, Conversations might be thought of as 'elective content'.

Though not Second Life.

Please: not Second Life.

For brands (and agencies... good grief, what on earth are they doing...?), Second Life has to be the ultimate expression of what MM calls fake/fake communications...

Posted by: Aitchaitch at November 21, 2006 10:43 AM

Very true comments Richard. Also are we trying to run before we can properly walk. I guess moving not only agencies but also clients into a new realm will be hard enough.

Posted by: Mike at November 21, 2006 11:31 AM

The craft is the technical know-how to bring an idea to life. For any self respecting agency, they should all be a given. What will set us apart is the ability to redefine, create and implement new channels that contextually fit the conversation and message.

Someone recently told me how they were recommended to open an innovations centre in Second Life to develop new packaging ideas, tastes etc. Why can't these same people be simply invited to HQ? Schmukks.

Posted by: MM at November 21, 2006 07:26 PM