In my experience since about 1994 I have been working for an online advertising agency before the Internet got white hot and Netscape was all the rage and the browser wars were in full bloom. I had been working in direct response advertising for fifteen plus years and in the “direct marketing” world and the direct marketing disciplines was the step child divisions of the big ad agencies. However, the financial guys noticed that the direct marketing guys were holding their own with the general agencies in terms of profits.
Fast forward to 2012 and almost anyone who is a web designer can technically call him or herself an online advertising agency. But if we go back in time in this Wikipedia citation in 1864, ad agencies had to be flexible and “create demand,” i.e. William James Carlton began selling advertising space in religious magazines. James Walter Thompson joined this firm in 1868. Thompson rapidly became their best salesman, purchasing the company in 1877 and renaming it the James Walter Thompson Company, which today is the oldest American advertising agency. Realizing that he could sell more space if the company provided the service of developing content for advertisers, Thompson hired writers and artists to form the first known Creative Department in an advertising agency. He is credited as the “father of modern magazine advertising” in the US.
The distinction here is that the “true ad agencies” not only bought media for their clients they also created content as described above. Today we see some of the very same similarities where an online ad agency will create content such as a video, game, widget or maybe an infographic then place these bits of content on various outlets and hope the viral buzz of social media can pick it up. The challenge for both client and online advertising agency is that this really is not “bought media” but more like bought content with the hopes of getting some viral distribution.
There is a very distinct cultural divide between general print and TV ad agencies vs. an online ad agency. In my experience the online guys tend to move a little quicker and also tend to be a little more willing to learn and take on new challenges just because in the online world change happens at a much faster clip.
Back in the late 1990’s many of the large multinationals felt the need to supplement their advertising spends by hiring smaller interactive and online advertising agencies just because their larger general agencies just weren’t up to speed with digital and online advertising. However, it did not take long for the “big boys” to get up to speed by not only hiring away some of the best talent in the smaller firms but just outright acquiring firms like Modem Media at record pace.
While many of these smaller online advertising agencies could provide “online advertising” for just about anyone, in my experience the larger ad agencies broke down some of their skill sets into “healthcare advertising niches.” Having this level of focus allows the ad agency to focus on some of the technical aspects of HIPAA, OTC and DTC regulations especially when it came to pharmaceuticals and privacy. This can be extremely important because when the regulators come into play and liabilities for the clients. A lot of this type of online and offline advertising requires different writing and editing skills for “normal advertising.”
In summary if you are considering hiring an online advertising agency see if they have been working in your niche industry because this can help shorten the learning curve for testing different marketing strategies. At the same time even if the online advertising agency does not have experience in your field it always helps if they have experience in media buying in print, tv and radio and the traditional standby’s. The biggest reason I think this is important is I think you can usually test online advertising for a lot less than traditional media and should you want to go to tradition media since your online advertising is so successful it is an easier pathway having the same agency involved in both online and offline. For any questions or immediate pricing call Jim Peake @ SpeechRep Media, Inc. 781-990-8844.