advertising agency

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An advertising agency is a service company that provides advice, conception, planning, design and implementation of advertising and other communication measures for companies and other clients .


Originally, (advertising) agencies were mediators between newspapers and their advertisers : they designed advertisements for advertisers that appeared in newspapers.

The advertisers did not initially pay for the agencies' work. They paid the newspapers to have their ads run. For this, the advertising agency received commissions from the newspapers. The commission practice, which dates back to the early days of advertising, according to which agencies claim commissions from newspapers, printing companies, etc. in addition to paying customers , is controversial, but is still common today.

The first agency was probably founded in 1786 when William Taylor opened his London office and referred to himself as an advertising agent in the Maidstone Journal .

In 1855 there was already Ferdinand Haasenstein's advertising expedition in Altona (today Hamburg) , which acted as an impartial advisor to the advertising public. Also in 1855 was in Berlin Institute of stop columns of Ernst Litfaß founded.

On September 23, 1876, William Alexander Wilkens founded the Central Advertising Bureau William Wilkens for advertising and design. Full service was already the maxim of Wilkens back then. Even then, you could book media booking, design, texts and advertisements. The agency was merged with the US agency FCB in 2014 .

The first advertising consultants were added in 1895, whose activities primarily consisted of making advertising artistic and effective and protecting customers from useless expenses.

Advertising service agencies came into being in 1920 . So, for example, from the advertising department of Lever the Lintas (Lever International Advertising Service). Lintas, McCann Erickson and J. Walter Thompson were pioneers in the German market . The werbebau agency, founded in 1924 by Max Burchartz and Johannes Canis , was influenced by the Bauhaus and became the first modern advertising agency in Germany.

In 1950, parallel to the so-called economic miracle, the fourth wave of founding began with steady growth until 2001.

In 1990, with the Internet and with greater attention to dialogue marketing, the advertising agency began to expand and transform it into communication groups that try to combine all disciplines such as advertising, internet, dialogue, PR and promotion under one roof.

Types of advertising agencies

The classic form of the advertising agency offers services around the so-called classic advertising also "ATL - Above the Line". This means advertising measures in the mass media :

In the meantime, in addition to the full-service agencies that cover classic above-the-line advertising, numerous business models have emerged that offer exclusively or additionally services for special areas " below-the-line " from creation and consulting:

Organizational forms

Advertising agencies appear as individual agencies or as so-called agency networks, ie companies with many “branches”. Special cases are the so-called house agencies of large companies (e.g. Unilever - Lintas (no longer existent)).

The classical advertising agency is the owner-run, in which the owners also CEO is. Usually there are several owners. Hence the frequent naming according to the pattern "Maier & Müller". Participation in the agency is intended to counteract the usually short average length of stay of creative employees of less than two years. Therefore, company names such as “Maier, Müller & Partner” are quite common.

Real advertising empires have developed from a few individual agencies. Perhaps the most famous example of this is Ogilvy & Mather . Beyond a certain size, a certain tendency is to grow by as with other companies merger observed.

Structure of the agency market

Large agencies and international networks
Employees> 100
Gross Income > € 10 million
Budget size: approx. € 3 million
Number of budgets> 30
Medium sized agencies
Employees 10–100
Gross Income € 1–10 million
Budget size: <€ 1 million
Number of budgets> 15–50
Small agencies
Employees <10
Gross Income <€ 1 million
Budget size: approx. <€ 0.4 million
Number of budgets> 3–20

The largest advertising agencies


The largest advertising holdings in the world are currently Omnicom Group, Inc., New York and WPP , UK. Omnicom directs z. B. 1000+ advertising agencies in 100+ countries producing over $ 22 billion in advertising in 1997. Among them are e.g. B. BBDO , DDB Worldwide and TBWA . The largest European network is Publicis from France.


There are currently 12,000 advertising agencies in Germany. Of these, only around 3,000 are entered in the commercial register. Every trader can call himself an "advertising agency", "text agency", "communication agency" or the like. because these terms are not protected terms.

The gross income ranking of the 50 largest owner-managed advertising agencies is compiled annually by the magazines HORIZONT, Werben & Sell (w & v) and the GWA .

The largest advertising agencies in the Federal Republic of Germany in 1987

advertising agency Net income in DM Employee
TEAM / BBDO group, Düsseldorf 83.5 million DM 463
Lintas singles in Germany, Hamburg 81.7 million DM 412
McCann Erickson , Frankfurt am Main 69.6 million DM 428
Ogilvy & Mather , Frankfurt am Main 69.3 million DM 389
Young & Rubicam , Frankfurt am Main 55.7 million DM 325
Gray Group Germany , Düsseldorf 54.7 million DM 314
J. Walter Thompson , Frankfurt am Main 53.4 million DM 345

The 10 largest owner-managed advertising agencies in Germany in 2015 (agency ranking based on reported net fee sales ):

advertising agency Net fee sales in euros
Serviceplan group for innovative communication , Munich 250.12 million
Jung von Matt , Hamburg 77.33 million
Media Consulta , Berlin 54.93 million
Vertikom, Nuremberg 53.67 million
Hirschen Group, Hamburg 45.22 million
fischerAppelt, Hamburg 42.00 million
Thjnk, Hamburg 36.00 million
Medienfabrik , Gütersloh 33.48 million
Kolle Rebbe, Hamburg 29.65 million
Grabarz & Partner, Hamburg 22.84 million

Agency staff

In the course of time, certain standard structures have emerged, which can be found in more or less varied form in most agencies.

However, as in the entire service sector, the professions listed below are increasingly rare to find in their pure form and always with the same tasks. The trend in advertising agencies is towards academization, although career changers also have career opportunities.

Contact & Advice

Consultants, also known as contacters , represent the link between the agency and the customer and are responsible for meeting targets, budgets and deadlines.

Depending on the hierarchy and qualifications, contacts are more likely to act in an executive or advisory capacity. Senior consultants often take on the strategic conception for the customer and are also responsible within the agency for the acquisition of new customers.

A degree is not always a prerequisite for this profession. A business degree with a focus on marketing, media or communication can, however, be an advantage. There are special courses of study or extra-occupational training opportunities, which usually last for a period of one to two years. The communications manager is an example here . Starting salaries are between 20,000 and 36,000 euros per year, depending on previous theoretical and practical knowledge.

The contact is considered a job for " diplomats ". Agency employees (for example creatives) and customers speak - to put it mildly - “not always” the same language. The contact therefore also acts as a moderator between the project participants.

Account planning

Account planning is a discipline in an advertising agency. She deals with the so-called "creative briefing" of the creative department and / or is responsible for controlling or creating the communication strategy.

On the one hand, it is about “translating” and reducing the customer briefing - ideally to just one so-called planning sentence. On the other hand, it is about clarifying the famous Lasswellian question : "Who says what to whom, with what intention and via which channel?" The choice of channel is not the subject of account planning, but the subject of media planning or channel planning.

Some agencies differentiate between account planning (focus: creative briefing) and strategic planning (focus: strategy). In general, the terms account planning, strategic planning, planning or strategic planning are used synonymously. The term must be distinguished from strategic corporate planning. The main difference is that account planning only looks at communication and brand, not the entire company in all of its functions. The use of account planning is limited to launches, relaunches or regular brand reviews. Therefore, only medium-sized and large agencies (> 40 employees) usually have their own planners or even planning departments. Account planning represents the youngest discipline within advertising and is referred to as the third pillar next to advice and creation. The foundation goes back to English agencies in the sixties. The starting point was the change from the demand to the supplier market and the resulting increasing focus on the end customer. "Planning" has played a role in Germany since the mid / late 1980s. The job usually requires a degree in business administration (marketing) and / or sociology and / or psychology. There are also experienced copywriters / concept developers or consultants who switch to planning in the course of their careers. Only a few German universities such as the Ravensburg University of Cooperative Education have integrated account planning into their curricula to a significant extent. See also Strategic Planning (Account Planning)


The creation or creative department conceives, designs and produces the advertising material for planned communication measures . The creative department is headed by a creative director who is responsible for all creative work within the department.

The art directors , graphic designers , draftsmen and copywriters report to him . Art director and copywriter / copywriter usually work in a team. The graphic artists and final draftsmen report to the art directors.

The art director is responsible for the complete graphic implementation, from the selection of the photographer to the print approval.

Other professions

In smaller agencies, contacts and copywriters / graphic designers sometimes work in personal union. In larger agencies, however, there are sometimes extreme specializations.

Many employees work independently (" freelancers ") and are hired as needed, e. B. Producers , illustrators , photographers , PR managers .

Traffic managers are also used for large project volumes to relieve the consultancy.

Many agencies need web developers as well as server administrators and software developers.

A massive specialization in the field of online advertising / online marketing is currently gaining ground. The knowledge and technology required for this is generally not covered by the repertoire of a classic advertising agency, but is provided by specialists in online marketing.

Customer acquisition

An important but not objectively measurable criterion for choosing an agency is the so-called “chemistry” of the cooperation.

Objectively measurable criteria are: size of the agency and the availability of certain services or departments, defined processes and transparent accounting, membership in professional organizations (e.g. GWA , DDV), placement in rankings, awards and prizes as well as current work and budget winnings. The location can also play an important role, for example if the client and the agency constantly have to exchange many physical documents under high time pressure or if many meetings are required.

Most of the time, budgets are awarded through so-called agency pitches (competitions). The pitch is then preceded by screenings in which the agencies are evaluated in a personal conversation. Agencies are hired on the basis of trial assignments or spontaneously much less often. Pitches are, however, artificial situations and also time-consuming for both sides: Agencies work out strategies and ideas with their best people and present them with great effort. A pitch has little to do with the later daily work, which is mostly characterized by organizational issues. Some contractors hire pitch consultants to help choose the right partner.

Advertising agencies can create individual advertising measures (e.g. advertisements, TV spots, posters) or entire advertising campaigns . The order is discussed with the customer in the form of a briefing .

Individual evidence

  1. Heinz-Georg Tebrake: Maintaining opinions as a profession: Establishing and professionalising PR consulting in the Federal Republic of Germany until 1974 . 1st edition. Springer, Wiesbaden 2019, ISBN 978-3-658-24926-7 , pp. 85 (Dissertation, Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf, 2017).
  2. ^ Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) of February 10, 1988
  3. Ranking of the Working Group Ranking List (Horizont, Werben & Sell) on , accessed on February 20, 2017
  4. Article "Agency Ranking: Serviceplan Gains - Jung von Matt Shrinks" on from April 13, 2016, accessed on February 20, 2017