Several years ago, a local accounting firm contacted me to see if we could help them with some content marketing. They had a regular newsletter they sent to clients and prospects and they wanted to make it “sexier.” Yes, they actually use the words “accounting” and “sexier” together. I thought it was an interesting challenge, so I obliged and met them to learn more. Little did I know, the work they were doing was actually fascinating.

Besides the regular tax planning, audit work and bookkeeping they did for clients, they also specialized in forensic accounting. Forensic accounting is the stuff you see on TV crime shows and on the news. They were hired by insurance companies and CEOs who were looking to untangle and prove financial and insurance fraud. They were trained not only in how to detect fraudulent activity by reviewing financial records, but they also went through FBI-like training on body language and eye movement to determine if someone was being deceptive in an interview session. The stories they shared were eye-opening and I grew to have a much greater appreciation for the expertise they had beyond what I expected from what I thought an accounting firm did.

That experience made me think about what perceptions people have about the business of an ad agency. I think most people would be shocked at the difference between what they perceive an ad agency does based on watching Mad Men (pitch creative ads, buy media, take long lunches) — and some of the things we actually do for clients today.

Do we still create ads and buy media? Yes. But today, it’s not just on traditional media like TV, radio, print and outdoor. Digital advertising across social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn are part of the mix. So are video ads on YouTube and streaming services like Hulu. We place ads on streaming audio like Pandora and Spotify. We develop search engine marketing campaigns (for people searching on Google, for example). The media opportunities today are endless. It takes a lot of expertise to identify the right strategies for each client project and to track performance.

But even all that is just a part of what we do. What else should you be looking for from an “ad agency” today? Here are a few key areas you should definitely be coordinating with your brand.

Brand strategy

The media universe has splintered into endless options. It has become even more important for clients to establish a strong, consistent brand. That doesn’t just mean a logo and tagline. It means a consistent tone and voice. It means a consistent look and feel that ties together every place a person could experience your brand — online or off. That includes your website, your offices or store, your advertising, your sales channels and more. It also means having a simple, consistent message that is memorable and relevant. We’ve developed a smart process to help clients do this, called the Triple M (Master Messaging Matrix). It’s designed to reign in and simplify messaging — and it’s been a great tool for any and all clients.

Insights and research

There are market research firms big and small. They usually do a nice job of providing both qualitative and quantitative research. But too often, the reports don’t provide practical, actionable ideas. Often these firms aren’t close enough to the industry to even know what questions to ask or how to identify the right people to ask. Ad agencies are though. It’s amazing the insights you can gain from asking the right questions to even a small group of customers or sales reps. Many times we take on less-formal research assignments that prove to be much more beneficial — we better understand the customer and industry and can dig into the weeds as to why a customer would choose another product over yours. These insights don’t often show up in bar charts and pie graphs. But, as we’ve seen, they can make a long-term impact on sales.

Content marketing

According to Hubspot, Google processes approximately 5.6 billion searches per day. How do they find you? That’s where content marketing comes in. Understanding how people search, what terms they use, where they are located, etc. can give you a huge advantage in showing up on searches. Developing relevant, interesting content helps you do that. What kind of content? Blog articles, white papers, testimonials, videos, feature stories, research reports. Developing content is an investment, but when done right, it can lead to a lot of opportunity. You can use it in social media channels, email content, PR efforts, native advertising and more. Done with a smart strategy behind it, content marketing can reduce your need for paid advertising. Your investment can be used multiple times in different channels and formats.

PR and influencer marketing

Have you ever learned about a new product because it was in the news or because you read an article, blog or social media post about it? You may not know it, but that’s influencer marketing. It used to be that PR was the only real “influencer” marketing audience marketers paid attention to. But with social media and digital platforms, there are a lot of people paying attention to a lot of other people who may not be news anchors or editors, but have developed a knack influencing others in a specific industry or product niche. Podcasters, bloggers and YouTube celebrities play a big role in introducing products to new customers and bringing a level of credibility through their endorsement. Marketers should definitely consider these opportunities in the right circumstances.

Digital marketing

Your website is the hub of all your digital marketing. It’s possibly your most important marketing tool. If your website isn’t optimized for marketing with a smart web strategy, user interface design and optimized for search engines, you’re losing marketing opportunities. It used to be that you could build a website and not really worry about it for the next 3-5 years. Today, if you’re not continually updating and optimizing your website based on your analytics, you’re probably falling behind your competitors who are. But websites and digital media aren’t the only things you should expect from your ad agency.

The ability to target your audience down to a defined radius (geotargeting) or even to the household level (IP targeting) is possible. With a smart use of your database, the level of sophistication in targeting your message to an audience is amazing. If your marketing team isn’t talking about this potential, ask.

Events and sponsorships

The past year has seen a lot of event marketing opportunities go away. It’s also seen innovative online events be created. Whether live events (like client hosted sales meetings, customer conferences or trade shows) or digital (online events and meetings) a smart marketing strategy can go a long way in squeezing the most value out of these. You should be talking about lead generation, data gathering and post-event followup. And if you’re not leaning on the creative skills of your ad agency for booth ideas and online presentation production, you’re missing out on some big opportunities.

Just like the perception I had of the accounting firm I met with years ago, it’s easy to pigeonhole an ad agency based on what you think they do. But today the world of marketing is complex with a lot of moving parts that touch customers at completely different times in the buying cycle or customer journey. If you’re not coordinating all of these potential touch points, it’s easy for a customer to miss the messages you’re trying to communicate.

Of course, if you’re ready to pull all of these efforts together, we’d be happy to help!