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The Origin of Ad Agencies

Today it seems that every company either has a marketing team or is outsourcing its advertising to a media agency. Agencies have had to change and adapt since they opened their doors; new technologies, new clients’ wants and needs, and fast-paced media consumption.

Ad agencies didn’t start out like Mad Men, though that would be cool. The first agency dates back to 1786.

Before the first agency, ads were delivered to various media outlets through representatives who sold and re-sold advertising space. These then became a consuming task, so representatives began to take on more responsibilities: planning, writing, designing, and coordinating. This then snowballed into someone deciding to open their own agency. The man behind the million-dollar idea was William Taylor.

Some quick dates:
1786: William Taylor opened the first agency in London.
1840: Volney B. Palmer in Philadelphia opened the first American ad agency.

Palmer laid the foundation, buying space in various newspapers at discounted rates, then resold the space at higher rates to advertisers. The clients prepared the actual ad, copy, layout, and artwork. Not really like our current agency model but the concept had to start somewhere.

Then there was a shift. Rather than making the clients create their own ad creative, N.W. Ayer & Son, founded in New York in the 1869, provided a full range of services: planning, creating, and executing complete campaigns for its customers. N.W. Ayer & Son purchased Palmer’s firm which then made N.W. Ayer & Son the oldest advertising firm in America.

Then, a little over 100 years late, digital advertising came knocking on the door. The internet threw marketing agencies through a loop, and they had to adapt quickly. Agencies added digital marketing into their business model overnight. Traditional media is still important, yes, but that depends on the client’s wants and needs. Agencies are having to figure out what type of media strategy will suit their clients’ needs the best—deciding between traditional media, social media marketing, search marketing, website design, and search engine optimization. The benefit to digital marketing is the data that the internet can provide to both clients and advertisers, something that traditional media cannot do.

With the growth of technology and its accessibility, it has also led companies to figure marketing out for themselves rather than depending on Don Draper for their brand strategy.

Don Draper a character from the TV show Mad Men

Don Draper a character from Mad Men

I am not saying that advertising agencies will cease to exist. Full-service agencies offer services that a lot of marketing teams can’t provide to their companies themselves, like web design and video production. Ad agencies have also been changing and adapting for over 200 years now, we know what’s new, fresh, and what will attract customers. We also make your life a whole lot easier.

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Courtney Reiber