The structure of an advertising agency aims to integrate the various services and tasks involved in creating and placing advertising. Many of the leading agencies in the United States are owned by and report to international conglomerates. They also tend to have big staffs and departments assigned to develop the strategy, conduct research, create the ads and select the media. Smaller, regional agencies are typically independently owned and operated, yet provide the same fundamental tasks of account services, creative and media.

The Structure of an Advertising Agency: Executive Leadership

The structure of an ad agency begins at the top. The chief executive officer (CEO) is the highest executive and the ultimate thought leader, decision maker and key stakeholder in achieving established goals. In many ways, the CEO reports to the agency’s clients, but on a business peer-to-peer level with CEO of the client’s company.

Large agencies typically have a general manager who oversees the day-to-day business operations and serves as the second-in-command at the agency. Each department has an executive leader on the director, vice president or senior vice president level. Each executive reports to the general manager and/or CEO.

Account Services or Client Relations

In terms of advertising agency roles and responsibilities, account services or client services department members are accountable for maintaining a strong and productive relationship between the agency and its clients. The account team develops the advertising strategy, approves the selection of media to place the advertisement, and oversees the budget. Titles rank in progression from account executive to senior account executive, vice president account services to senior vice president.

Design and Creative Services

The creative department is composed of writers and art directors. It is headed by the creative director in most agencies, or by an executive creative director in large agencies. The department is composed of teams of copywriters and art directors who are assigned to work on specific accounts. The teams develop ideas based on the media to be used (television, radio, online, billboards and so on). They incorporate input from the account services team, prepare final layouts and present the work to the client.

Production Services and Final Delivery

Once the client approves the work it goes into production. Production services are generally divided into divisions, including print production, broadcast production and digital production. Print production finalizes layouts and materials for newspapers, magazines, billboards and online publications. The broadcast production department concentrates on radio and television commercials and producing videos used for online advertising. Production services members in both departments work closely with the creative department.

Marketing Research and Strategy

This department conducts research to define the target audience in terms of buying behaviors, interests, opinions and attitudes. Data and findings are used by the account services team to develop the strategy and by the creative team to develop and design the communications that effectively resonate with the target audience. Research methods include focus groups, surveys and questionnaires. Ads are often tested on prospective consumers prior to production.

Media Planning and Buying

Media planners make recommendations on the best media to use to reach the target for the advertising. For example, they might recommend outdoor billboards to reach working moms to advertise frozen pizza. The media buyers would then negotiate with companies to get the best rates and locations for billboards to place the ads for the pizza. Planners and buyers collaborate and work closely with the account services and marketing research teams.