Full Service Advertising Agency

3 Reasons The Full Service Advertising Agency Model Should Change

As an owner of a full service advertising agency and someone who’s worked in them for over thirty years now, I’ve witnessed firsthand what works and what doesn’t in both large, medium and small agencies. All of them faced the challenge of meeting their clients’ ever-changing needs. It took a great deal of experience and finesse to have just the right people in-house for the work on the docket. It’s simply always been the nature of the beast. But the rapidly changing industry has been turning that beast into a monster over the last couple of decades. Nowadays, a client could need an outdoor board one day, a UE expert the next, and the day after that they’re in a hurry to create a killer motion graphics piece. No problem. You have all those people in-house, right? After all, you’re are a full service advertising agency, are you not?

Back in the advertising heyday, being a full service advertising agency meant you had writers, art directors, account service experts and media people on your full-time staff. Okay, there were some production art folks, typesetter, some admin folks…but all in all, manageable. Today, because of the proliferation of new ways to communicate and engage with audiences, keeping a full-time in-house staff of all the folks necessary to pull it all off can be cost-prohibitive, if not downright impossible.

That’s because new disciplines are continually added to the mix of what it means to be a full service advertising agency, yet the existing, more traditional jobs are not going by the wayside as quickly. So the menu of capabilities just keeps getting bigger and bigger, adding to the complexity of maintaining precisely the right staff for the business you have, and the business you want.

As a recent owner of a traditionally structured shop, I feel I can speak with some authority in outlining the major shortcomings of trying to maintain a full-time in-house staff to handle everything a client might need. Below are the top three, and I believe they are fairly straightforward and inarguable.

  1. There’s an incentive to make-do. Suppose a project comes along that would benefit greatly from some slick 3-D animation. Unfortunately, your in-house designer rocks at 2-D and is just getting his feet wet in 3-D. Chances are, the best product would come from going outside for help. However, your guy is on the payroll. See the conundrum? The same situation can occur when you need a specific type of writer, package designer, or what have you. No matter how big your staff is, situations will always arise when a very specific talent from outside the agency would actually be the best choice for the project. However, there’s a financial incentive to handle the project with someone on staff, at least from an immediate perspective. After all, agency talent is like inventory. And from a business standpoint, it’s always better to sell what you have in stock. Granted, long term, under delivering on the caliber of talent could have detrimental financial ramifications. So it’s a constant battle, forever deciding when to work with what you have and when to go outside.
  2. More people means more overhead. This point certainly cannot be argued. And it really isn’t a problem when everyone you have on staff is busy on client work for the vast majority of their time. But when you try to house every specialist a client might want, you’ll find certain people sitting around idle an uncomfortable amount of the time. Not good. They still need to be paid. Who pays for those non-billable? The agency? Ya think?
  3. It’s never exactly right. Between changing client needs, fluctuations in staff and their current availability and the dynamic nature of the industry itself, the way an advertising agency is staffed is rarely perfect on any given day. One could either use a few more people or lose a few people.

So what’s an advertising agency to do, fire everyone at the end of the day and invite just those needed for current work to come back tomorrow…as freelancers? Charge clients enough that it minimizes the impact of non-billable hours? Bag advertising altogether and open a goat farm? All are possibilities, all are bold moves. And that’s what it’s going to take. There’s really no way to “tweak” your way out of this situation. It’s just an old model. Putting lighter weight keys on a 1950 typewriter isn’t going to make it any more useful today.

While we considered the goat farm, we opted for another option. We developed a completely new model. And even though Partners Riley was the first full service advertising agency in the area to emerge with a new structure designed to change more easily with changing client needs, we certainly won’t be the last. Others have been popping up around the country for several years now. Who knows, maybe in another ten or twenty years, this new model will be the “traditional” model. As more and more marketing and communications disciplines appear on the scene every day, it seems only inevitable that you’ll see a growing number of agencies adopting a more streamlined, flexible structure.

Do you want to learn more about how our full service advertising agency structure works? Drop us a line by clicking here.

Rick Riley

Mom always said, “If you don’t have anything nice to blog, don’t blog anything at all.” Okay, that’s not true. In fact, mom never read a single blog, nice or otherwise. But it’s still good advice. So look to me for nice … or at least interesting, relevant or funny. Well, maybe smartass or irreverent or sarcastic, too. But that’s it. If it doesn’t fall into one of those categories, you didn’t hear it from me.

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