How Does an Advertising Agency Work and How Should I Choose One?


How do advertising agencies work?

Typically an advertising agency creates – and manages the distribution – of advertising materials for multiple, regular business clients. Every agency is different, there is no concrete formula for agency setups and usually, the most successful agencies are the most versatile. Advertising agencies typically make money by charging their clients for their creative, strategic and administrative services regarding their advertising account. Some agencies add margins to media buys, some charge a scale fee or even a flat rate. Agencies also come in all different sizes from employing five to ten people to have a staff of hundreds.

The truth is the market has some standardization but each agency typically sets its own rules and policies like any company. In larger agencies, creatives and clients are separated by and administrative roles such as an Account Manager. While smaller or “Boutique Agencies” employ fewer people, work with fewer clients and usually work directly with their clients, often in a more collaborative way. The approach and sometimes even the specialty also varies from agency to agency. 

For a Toronto Advertising Agency like Toronto Creatives (maybe only Toronto Creatives) we typically have a detailed intake process. We like to know as much about your business, your product, and your process as you’re willing to share. We take time to understand what areas you want to grow, what walls your organization may be running into, what sales goals you’re not hitting, how to move more products etc – once we understand this, we can take a step back and objectively develop a high-level strategy based on invested research into your industry; and over 20 years of experience in the advertising and creative industry. Based on your goals and project requirements we’ll do our best to put together a proposal that will inform and inspire action. We may tell you some stuff you don’t want to hear, but we’ll always be straight forward and we’ll always come with a solution. 

Although the process is a bit different from any of our professional creative processes start this way in one variation or another – some maybe more designed focused, some more video production focused etc. 

If you like what you see and you’ve provided a formal deposit, we’ll revisit the intake one more time and do a deeper dive – at this point, we’ll ask more detailed questions about your company or project and its processes, if applicable. In this meeting, we typically outline the steps of the project as we see them and nail down those steps – or the steps to get to the steps, in some cases – to complete said project. From there – I can’t say, as every project and client is fundamentally different – but at this point, there would be a bespoke solution of some kind implemented, or at least being tested. 

About Boutique Advertising Agencies

Up until the mid-’90s, boutique agencies didn’t widely exist outside of the buying and public relations sector. Most other special areas required too much overhead to be a smaller end-to-end operation. That, of course, has changed dramatically over the years and with the availability of technology, information, corporation, and global connectivity, advertising agencies are running rampant. These agencies also focus on a specialty to some degree, such as video production, brand design or web design. In the case of a multidisciplinary agency like Toronto Creatives we typically focus on all these things as a collective package. However, we also provide additional services in-house like Public Relations, Targeted Digital Advertising, Social Media Management, and Content Creation – all of which we do. That said we’re not a PR agency, we’re an Advertising and Creative Agency. We know how to make your marketing dollars work and go out of our way to make sure you’re being provided beautiful and engaging creative content coupled with optimized exposure to your audience.

In the case of Toronto Creatives, we’re genuinely curious people who often experiment with new technologies and try our best to stay on top of the internet so you don’t have to. We’re the company that downloads Tick-Tok to check it out while updating DNS servers. We get the internet because we get the internet. We create great content because we experiment and genuinely love to create content. I wouldn’t say we’re much different than most people who are lucky enough to work in the creative world and optimistic enough to appreciate it.

How to choose an advertising agency?

What makes an advertising agency good? 

Well, simply put, results. If you’re looking for an agency the best advice I can give you is to ask to see their work. Their success can also be objectively evaluated by asking some basic questions, like how many of their clients are regular clients? And when shown examples don’t hesitate to ask what part the agency played in the scope of the campaign. This will help you determine their scope of in-house capabilities. That all said, an agency can be seen as good or bad for many reasons, the most important thing is your agency is effective, works for your business and provides you with a measurable return on your investment.

So how do I choose an advertising agency? 

An advertising agency that has no work to show for itself might have no real experience. There are no barriers to enter this industry, and with the inclusion of the Internet in the equation it’s easy enough for practically anyone to set up a website, call themselves a digital agency and be willing to take your money. This doesn’t mean this agency isn’t legit – maybe they are just starting out and if you’re willing to take a chance you might end up with a very beneficial agreement for a great long-term rate. I’ll leave that calculated risk for you to make for yourself, as everyone and every situation is different. 

Every credible agency should have examples of their work on their website. The proof is in the pudding as they say. You don’t get a tattoo from someone who has no portfolio of work to look at. I would hope. Although one particularly adventurous designer I work with comes to mind. I digress.

An agency will also have to be able to execute the work and deliver a product that is at the very least on-par with your competitors. An agency should work with you, we are here to offer guidance, knowledge, and suggestions. You shouldn’t be expected to have an advertising strategy laid out in full, after all that’s why you’re hiring an advertising agency. 

Agencies also value different things and have different goals. Make no mistake, on top of your business goals agencies have business goals of their own. Their values and goals should be in-line with yours. Are you focusing on your goals in the Canadian market or the US market? Does your agency share similar goals long-term, are they in a position to grow with you, or will you have to look for a larger agency that will probably come with a more substantial price-tag, and will place less importance on you as a client than their long-standing customers.

Anything Else?

Glad you asked! Another thing you may want to consider in today’s market when you’re choosing an agency to work with is do their values and the values of their clients match with yours. Today’s culture is in touch with themselves more than ever before and they are not afraid to speak out and even abandon brands that don’t meet their values. Or at least they probably should. 

(I’m going to throw some huge companies under the bus here, sorry about that)

For instance, Master Card has done a lot to support the LGBTQ2 community over the years – which is great – they regularly sponsor LGBTQ events, and show support at Pride festivals around the world, and most recently to show their support, along with their agency of record McCann, produced this heartfelt piece for the 50th anniversary of NYC Pride ( That’s all super nice right? 

It is until you consider that it’s worth noting that McCann is also the advertising agency behind the wildly clever cow-driven campaigns for the controversial company Chick-Fil-A. So when you think about it, as well-meaning as Master Card’s message is, it’s being spoken through the same voice that promotes a company that in-turn, spends millions of dollars a year supporting Gay Conversion Therapy Camps for kids – a practice condemned by the Canadian Helth Organization along with other reasonable people and government bodies. So, Mastercard’s message could be seen to some as coming with an unintentional side of deep-fried-bigotry….and chicken. 

A good agency will also tell you when these goals and values don’t align, and in my opinion, a good agency has a responsibility to support companies that truly reflect their values, and politely decline to work with those who don’t. In advertising as in life, actions speak louder than words.

Conclusions: Advertising agencies come in all shapes and sizes, they are filled with people, all of whom have their outlooks on life, and have their own unique, tried and true, processes. Some are good, some are terrible, and many you’ll only ever hear of once, over the wind on a magical summer day. The important thing is to find one that works right for your business, that can keep up with your pace, and provides you with measurable value.

We aim to achieve this ourselves through our process of intake, research, and understanding, as I say all the time, we like to know our client’s businesses inside and out so we can not only serve them better but anticipate their needs and even their next steps.

It’s an awful experience marketing something you genuinely don’t believe in or have a philosophical problem with. Thankfully though, we’re not government-appointed defense attorneys, we work in marketing. We don’t have to market anything to anyone if we don’t want to, that’s how it works. It’s, for this reason, I challenge advertisers working and upcoming to hold yourselves to a higher standard as story-tellers, as artists, and even as spin-doctors – take responsibility for the products you’re supporting, I know it’s next to impossible not to just follow the money, but people are paying more attention and the two-faced strategy will only hold up for so long.



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