The Major Departments of an Ad Agency

Understanding the advertising industry begins with a grasp of how the agencies operate. Advertising firms are unique businesses that use creativity and business hand in hand. Those two sides break down further, into departments.

The departments work together to accomplish the agency’s goals. There are a lot of departments that can exist in an agency, but traditionally there are four major departments in a typical firm.

  1. Account Services
  2. Account Planning & Research
  3. Media Planning & Buying
  4. Creative Department

Other possible departments could include an interactive department, production department, human resources or traffic department. (Hassan; 2001) (Burgoyne; 2009) (Working At An Ad Agency)

1. The Account Services Department works with clients to maximize their coverage of target markets. They’re working to ensure that a client’s money is being used as efficient as possible – and to make sure that the clients are satisfied. Account Services act as liaisons, constantly negotiating and communicating with the client. They also coordinate with the other departments working on a project.  Generally, it’s their purpose to manage a client and their happiness with the ads.

They also must generate new business. Account Services market the agency with the same knowledge they use to communicate with existing clientele. (How Advertising Agencies Operate) (Working At An Ad Agency)

2. Account Planning & Research is tasked with the responsibility of determining the needs, wants, and desires of a target market. They do this by researching and surveying a demographic. They discover the best ways to promote a product or service. With this information, they devise a marketing strategy, which helps other departments understand the target market. (How Advertising Agencies Operate) (Working At An Ad Agency)

3. The Media Planning & Buying Department organizes the placement of the advertisements. Media Buyers purchase the airtime or space for an ad to exist in any medium. They negotiate prices with media companies. Media Planner’s main goal is distributing the ads as effectively as possible within a budget, and planning creative content to match the marketing strategy for the campaign. (How Advertising Agencies Operate) (Working At An Ad Agency)

4. The Creative Department is vital to the agency’s success, and the most well known department. They’re the creative teams that produce advertisements for clients. They have a large staff of artists each with their own varying creative skill sets. Photographers, writers, artists, and more. These creatives must incorporate media strategy in their content. The department communicates with all other departments to ensure that their work is precise to the marketing strategy and media plan. (How Advertising Agencies Operate) (Working At An Ad Agency) (Hassan, 2001)

How Do the Departments Work Together?

Increasing sales for a client is the “product” of an advertising agency, and each department has its role in delivering this product.

Producing an advertisement campaign is no simple process. The workflow of an agency depends greatly on cooperation and interaction between departments. Projects are a work in progress for each department until the client is satisfied.

The process begins when the Account Services department generates new business. When a client is obtained, Account Planning & Research will examine the client’s markets and devise a marketing strategy. Afterwords, the  Media Planners and Creatives devise a media plan that organizes and plans for creative work. Then, the Creative Department will generate advertising drafts, with guidance from both Account Services and Account Planning & Research. When the ads develop enough, they will be presented to a client. When the client approves, the Media Planning & Buying Department will purchase ad space and distribute the ads. If not, the advertisement will be revised or redone until the client approves. (Bram; 2009)  (Burgoyne; 2009)  (Mackay; 2009) (Hassan; 2001)

To gain more insight into who advertisers are and what they do, view this lecture with advertising veteran Becky Swinson.

Closing Thoughts: I really believe that understanding the workflow of an agency helps anyone understand what advertisers do. There’s a general sense of familiarity, but not many people really understand how an agency gets work done. It’s a complicated and long process, and understanding that provides a lot of context to what a career in advertising would be like. Make an effort to understand it. If this wasn’t enough, take an extended look at Ed Burgoyne’s “how the agency works.

Moving on: The departments employ staffs that work together to accomplish the department’s goals. Find out about The Jobs in Each Department.



Burgoyne, E. (2009). How the agency works. Retrieved from

Hassan, J. (2001, Septeber 21) Structure Of Advertising Agency. Retrieved From:

Mackay, A. (2004). The Practice of Advertising, London: Butterworth-Heinemann.

Swinson, B. (2011, March 23) “What It’s Like at an Ad Agency” [YouTube] TXLutheran. Retrieved from

The Marketing Association of Australia and New Zealand. (n.d.) How Advertising Agencies Operate? Retrieved from

Thursday Bram. (2009). The 8 Steps of an Advertising Campaign. SmallFuel Marketing. Retrieved from

Working At An Ad Agency. (n.d.) All Advertising Agencies. Retrieved from





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