Often visionaries, innovators, and product developers have a great product, but can’t articulate what their messaging should be, don’t know who their audience is, or aren't able to figure out how to get that messaging in front of that audience. Established brands planning a product launch may have a marketing department that knows the audience and the message but lacks the bandwidth or technical knowledge needed to develop the media and place it in the most effective outlets. Filling in gaps like these is the role of an advertising agency.
Advertising agencies offer an array of services and specialize in various industries. Many focus on certain types of advertising and the most common services include researching the market, developing creative messaging, producing content and media, placing media, monitoring campaign effectiveness, and modifying and updating campaigns as needed. Given the sheer number of advertising agencies on the market today, it can be overwhelming to know where to start. To help you get underway, we have researched more than 20 companies to come up with the following best advertising agency options.
The 7 Best Advertising Agencies for 2021
- Best Overall: Ogilvy & Mather
- Best for Print Advertising: The O Group
- Best for Digital Advertising: Digital Silk
- Best for TV/Interactive Media: studiobfilms
- Best for Social Media: Ignite Social Media
- Best Affordable Option/Small Projects: The Bureau of Small Projects
- Best for Multicultural Advertising: Burrell Communications
Best Overall: Ogilvy & Mather
Ogilvy & Mather is our choice for best overall advertising agency based on the breadth and scope of its capabilities and the experience and services offered.
Breadth of industry and geographic capability
Full-service offerings across multiple functions
Strong seamless customer interaction across internal functions
Limited access for small brands
Called out for having worked with socially objectionable clients, such as tobacco companies and U.S. Customs and Border Protection
With roots dating back as far as 1850 in London, England, Ogilvy & Mather has progressed through many forms and structures. Today it has more than 130 offices operating in more than 80 countries and is part of the WPP Group. By many measures, it is the largest advertising agency in the world, offering access to any additional resources. With Ogilvy & Mather’s strong reputation for creative branding, large brands won’t go wrong with this choice for best overall advertising agency.
Ogilvy & Mather provides services across six areas of business: brand strategy, advertising, customer engagement and commerce, public relations and influence, digital transformation, and partnerships. Embarking on a massive internal restructuring in 2017, Ogilvy & Mather combined siloed functions in separate offices in a given market and streamlined internal processes. Today, the client journey is a seamless experience through all aspects of a project.
Ogilvy & Mather focuses on a relatively few, very large corporate and brand relationships that make it hard or unlikely that small brands can gain access. Prospective new clients without significant prior knowledge of the company will need to reach out directly for any initial inquiries, pricing, and vetting. Over time there have been some advertising controversies, for which the company has received negative press, such as its decision to work with U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Best for Print Advertising: The O Group
The O Group is our choice for best print advertising agency. A boutique agency, The O Group are masters at branding and spend about 70% of their advertising effort focused on print advertising.
Good option for small brands
Hands-on partner involvement
Strong reputation building luxury consumer brands
Limited industry scope
Limit on the number of projects
Founded in 1986 and based in New York, The O Group is a good choice for small and medium-sized consumer luxury brands, with $1 million to $1 billion in annual revenue. This niche naturally lends itself to the print advertising medium and makes them our top choice for the print advertising agency category.
Founded and headed by a two-partner team, The O Group has made the specific decision to limit their project load so they can personally engage in nearly every project. They bring in-depth experience and sensitivities to the luxury market and offer an impressive track record of building great brands.
Whether it be North American brands or international brands who want to build their North American presence, their focus is on luxury franchises, including beverages, real estate, hospitality, jewelry, clothing, fashion, and so forth. Given their focus on luxury products and significant direct hands-on involvement, there is a relatively high cost for working with The O Group, starting with a minimum project cost of $75,000 and with hourly rates starting in the $200 to $300 range.
Best for Digital Advertising: Digital Silk
With an exclusive focus on the internet as a medium of commerce and working with all the major platforms across industries, Digital Silk is our choice for best digital advertising agency.
Focus on small and mid-sized brands
Wide-ranging capability in digital environments
Advertising capability limited to digital channels
Geographic focus is North American
In business only a short time
Founded in 2017 and headquartered in Miami, Florida, Digital Silk has grown rapidly, adding people, opening offices, and signing up clients. They get our vote for best digital marketing agency because of the number of digital platforms they've demonstrated expertise with.
We like Digital Silk because of their breadth of experience and focus on web development and design across the major eCommerce applications of Salesforce, Shopify, and Magento, but will also develop custom applications. And after go-live thresholds, they don’t just leave the customer with their website but offer ongoing SEO support and application maintenance.
With a focus on brands with $10 million to $1 billion in annual revenue, Digital Silk is a strong partner for new and emerging brands and, with a starting project size of $10,000 and hourly rates of $100 to $150, they are also an affordable option.
While only in business a short time, Digital Silk has moved rapidly to counteract common startup limitations, supplementing their Miami headquarters with offices in New York, Chicago, and now Milan. They have quickly assembled an impressive team of industry veterans with deep experience in eCommerce marketing and advertising. They have already managed to engage a list of recognizable clients that would be the envy of any advertising agency including Hearst, Proctor & Gamble, IBM, the NFL, and others.
With a focus on digital advertising, brands with broader commercial scope will need to work with more than just Digital Silk to integrate brand image and messaging across all mediums.
Best for TV/Interactive Media: studiobfilms
We’ve chosen studiobfilms for best TV/interactive media because of their singular focus on creative advertising in the broadcast medium. Well known across the industry, studiobfilms engages directly with brands or acts as a subcontractor to agencies who haven’t built this niche expertise in house.
Breadth of video production genres
Small and mid-sized brands
Wide range of industry experience
North American focus only
No media placement and measurement services offered
Requires coordination across advertising agency partners
Founded and headquartered in Berkeley, California, in 1992, studiobfilms is a creative advertising agency offering full-service video production and broadcast advertising capabilities. We’ve chosen them as the best TV/interactive advertising agency because of their experience and capability to produce high-quality video for the web, TV, events, training, corporate communications, product testimonials, and even live event coverage. With this range of experience, it’s no wonder that studiobfilms has a deep experience across every industry and segment imaginable.
Small in size but big in reputation and stature, studiobfilms is a great option for small and mid-sized brands. They work on projects starting at $10,000 and with hourly rates ranging between $50 to $100.
With a geographic scope limited to North America, working with studiobfilms exclusively may be a limitation for certain potential global clients. Plus, their service ends with the completion of the video production, so clients will most likely need other resources for media placement and any subsequent return on investment (ROI) measurement and evaluation. While studiobfilms is clearly an important niche player with incredible creativity and skill at storytelling in a video environment, working with them will require coordination with other agencies and providers.
Best for Social Media: Ignite Social Media
As one of the first advertising agencies focused solely on the particular medium of social media, we’ve selected Ignite Social Media as the best advertising agency for this quickly expanding marketing segment.
Wide ranging industry experience
Founded in 2007 with offices in North Carolina and Detroit, Michigan, Ignite Social Media has been at the forefront of the rise of social media platforms and the rapid and continuing evolution of this advertising medium. We view them as best in class for staying ahead of the learning curve and have selected them as the top advertising agency for social media.
Ignite Social Media calls itself the original advertising agency focused on social media. More important than that starting point is the journey the company has taken since and the reputation it has earned as one of the top social media advertising agencies on the market. Ignite Social Media has won numerous advertising industry awards and top customer ratings.
Between shifting societal and cultural norms and the social media platform algorithms, successful advertising on social media platforms is a constant challenge. Ignite Social Media has a single focus on advertising on these platforms and offers services such as social strategy development, content creation, influencer management, community management, media buying, reporting and analytics, crisis management, and promotion.
Their capability has attracted a wide range of brands across the full spectrum of industries. Ignite Social Media stands out because they not only strategize, execute, measure, and repeat, but because they offer thought leadership through proprietary tools such as social listening and content that converts, as well as consulting services and in-house support.
With starting projects as low as $5,000, Ignite Social Media is accessible to even small brands. But as with all niche providers, for larger brands you will need to coordinate identity and message across more than one advertising agency if you want to expand beyond social media.
Best Affordable Option/Small Projects: The Bureau of Small Projects
We love The Bureau of Small Projects for the clarity of their branding and their focus on a particular target market. For that reason and because they have the lowest minimum starting rate of the agencies on this list, we have chosen them as the best affordable option for small companies needing an advertising agency.
Wide range of capabilities
Focus on startups, nonprofits, and small businesses
Focus is on web advertising only
Options are limited
Small brands, startups, and nonprofits need the benefits of advertising just as much (or more) than big brands and yet usually lack the resources, people, money, or know-how to invest in media. Founder David Gaz established The Bureau of Small Projects as a separate division of a large firm where he was a senior executive and loved the concept so much he spun it off and left to manage his new venture. It is our obvious choice for best affordable option/small projects advertising agency.
In business since 2014 and based in southern California, this well-rounded agency has assembled a team of like-minded veterans of big brands and agency advertisers. By adopting dramatically simpler processes and accelerating decision-making, they offer an affordable, high-quality range of advertising services to small businesses, startups, and nonprofits. Minimum project sizes start as low at $1,000 and hourly rates range between $150 to $200.
Of course, the Bureau of Small Projects can’t be all things to all people and has some limits. They are primarily a branding agency that works on web advertising. Other advertising forms and many related services will need to be provided by other agencies. In addition, this is an agency with primarily a U.S.-based clientele and there is a limit to the platforms they work with.
Best for Multicultural Advertising: Burrell Communications
While other, more general advertising agencies attempt to understand multicultural and transcultural consumers as an extension of their client base, Burrell Communications is one of the oldest advertising agencies in the U.S. and is solely focused on this emerging, evolving, growing, and often underserved consumer base. Burrell is our choice for best transcultural and multicultural advertising agency.
Experience to reach an increasingly diverse consumer base
Wide range of industries
Advertising mostly limited to digital
Burrell Communications was founded in 1971 and is headquartered in Chicago, Illinois, with another office in Dallas, Texas. Initially, Burrell Communications focused on marketing to African American consumers, but that target has expanded to include multiple, growing, and increasingly diverse cultures across America. This unique focus makes Burrell Communications our clear choice for best transcultural and multicultural advertising agency.
Burrell Communications' strength is in quantitative and qualitative analysis that informs a creative process and seeks to develop messaging that creates an emotional connection between the consumers and the brand. This transforms them from shoppers into loyal purchasers. Their focus is on increasing the commercial result of the brands they work with and they carefully measure all campaigns they work on.
Burrell Communications offers a solid range of advertising capabilities, focused on digital advertising across social and commerce platforms. Their strong expertise is with consumer products, automotive industries, and entertainment. With a starting project cost of $10,000 and hourly rates of $100 to $150, Burrell Communications is an affordable option.
While the company's website offers a high-level view of its scope of services, for a clearer picture of the range of advertising options provided, you will need to reach out to Burrell Communications directly.
Although the responsibility of a brand’s marketing department, advertising is such an advanced specialty that even the largest brands don’t always develop as an in-house capability. When they are most effective, advertising agencies work to create an emotional connection between their clients' target consumers and their brands.
We’ve identified seven of the best advertising agencies that can help your company do just that. Based on company size, Ogilvy & Mather is our recommendation for all-around best and is most appropriate for large brands, and The Bureau of Small Projects is our top choice for small brands, startups, and nonprofits. For companies looking for a particular advertising specialty, The O Group is best for print advertising and building luxury brands. Digital Silk’s singular focus on digital commerce makes them our logical choice for best digital advertising agency. When you need to launch a TV/Interactive media spot, we recommend studiobfilms.
|Best Advertising Agencies|
|Company||Why We Picked It||Key Strength|
|Ogilvy & Mather||Best Overall||Massive one-stop agency that does it all|
|The O Group||Best for Print||Building luxury brands|
|Digital Silk||Best for Digital||Total focus on digital commerce growth|
|studiobfilms||Best for TV/Interactive||Every possible video format, for any industry and purpose|
|Ignite Social Media||Best for Social Media||The original, they wrote the book (actually two) on social media advertising|
|The Bureau of Small Projects||Best Affordable Option/Small Projects||Large company experience available for startups, small businesses, and nonprofits|
|Burrell Communications||Best for Multicultural||Creating an emotional connection between the consumer and the brand|
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What Is an Advertising Agency?
Advertising agencies are engaged by a brand or business to create a message that explains and sells the brand to its target consumer. The best ads are memorable and create an emotional bond between the consumer and the brand. The agency usually determines the best format for the ad (print, audio, visual, animated, testimonial, comedy, drama, and so forth) and the most appropriate outlets in which to present the ad (TV, magazine, newspaper, digital, billboards, and more), times of day to show the ads, frequency of showing the ads, and so forth. They generally negotiate the media rates on behalf of the brand and monitor the results.
Advertising agencies often provide additional upstream services like market and competitive research, branding, product naming, color schemes, brand logo development, and so forth. They also may provide downstream services, such as promotional development and execution, and sales.
Who Should Use an Advertising Agency?
Advertising is the responsibility of the marketing department but is a specialty often contracted to one or more third-party agencies. Even very large companies often have only a small in-house advertising team that mostly interacts with and manages external agencies.
Advertising agencies can help save headcount costs and are often more effective. As a result, companies and brands of all sizes and types would benefit from engaging an advertising agency.
What Does an Advertising Agency Cost?
The cost of an advertising agency can vary dramatically, depending on the range and extent of services engaged. Many of the firms we reviewed work with a minimum project size of $10,000 and hourly rates in the $100 to $200 range, while some can be much more expensive.
If a budget is small, the brand can get more out of its budget by clearly defining in advance the strengths of the brand, what makes it different from the competition, the target consumer, and the objectives of the project. Brands should interview and check several candidates before settling on a particular agency, clarifying in advance the agency’s fee structure and communicating the brand’s budget.
How We Chose the Best Advertising Agencies
We arrived at these seven top companies after reviewing more than 20 firms, conducting an in-depth review of their websites and available third-party online reviews. We narrowed this list to the seven best based on various criteria, including their industry and geographic experience, specialties offered, reputation, and, where available, costs. We also took into consideration the full range of creative capabilities and services provided.
NASDAQ. "Ad group WPP targets return to 2019 net sales by 2022." Accessed Jan. 10, 2021.