Maybe “Agency” Isn’t a Dirty Word Anymore

by David Heitman

If there’s one thing that you’ll likely find on most ad agency websites, it is a bold statement that the firm is definitely not an ad agency.

The agency doth protest too much, methinks because that kind of declaration is the surest sign that you’ve landed at an ad agency website.

I’d like to think we were trendsetters here, when ten years ago, we determined to be the un-agency. We wanted to distance ourselves from the controlling, overpriced prima donnas that everyone hated—even if they had to work with them.

We were anti-agency when anti-agency wasn’t cool.

But now I’m re-thinking this one.

I’m not sure if it’s the advent of AMC’s Mad Men or what, but it occurred to me that “agency” may not be a dirty word after all.

Merriam-Webster defines an agency as: a person or thing through which power is exerted or an end is achieved.

Not sure about being called a thing, but that’s pretty much what we and other good shops do. We help organizations reach their business objectives.

“Agency” is used to describe government organizations (Central Intelligence and Environmental Protection being notable examples). Travel agents help people who are not experts in travel. Athletes and artists have agents who protect their interests, keep their personal stock high and create opportunities for them.

Sounds a lot like what we do every day for our clients.

So maybe this is the beginning of the return of the good reputation of the word “agency.” It just can’t be modified by the word “ad” any more due to the exponential complication of the marketing business. But “advertising-public relations-digital media-promotions-social media agency” is a mouthful, so that won’t work.

Maybe “agency” just gets to play with the other words again—sort of like the kid that returns from reform school and tries to get back in with the rest of the neighborhood.

Perhaps “agency” can begin to suggest the high calling of being the trusted steward of clients’ marketing budgets and the value of their brands. If that’s the new definition of “agency,” then we’re all in.

But for now, just don’t add the “ad.”