Fact Checked

What Is a Commercial Advertising Agency?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A commercial advertising agency focuses on the production of advertisements for commercial purposes, including the sale of consumer goods and brand awareness campaigns. This contrasts with political, nonprofit, and public outreach advertising, which have different goals. Such agencies can produce ads in a wide variety of formats including print, television, and radio, and typically maintain large staffs to meet the needs of their clients. Most are based in urban areas like New York City where clients have ready access.

A client can approach a commercial advertising agency for a single campaign, or to establish a long term relationship. Most agencies establish a reputation for advertising with a specific look and feel, or with advertisements in particular industries. Car companies, for example, usually prefer working with an advertiser who is familiar with the needs of the industry. Industry familiarity is also important for liability issues, as advertisements are subject to regulation and an experienced agency can help clients stay within legal boundaries.

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Businessman giving a thumbs-up

Work at a commercial advertising agency can include a broad scope of projects for clients large and small. Clients pay a fee for the development of a campaign, and for placement in appropriate media outlets. Many agencies need to be prepared to sell themselves to clients in an initial meeting where the client may want to see proposals and ideas that the agency will have to work up even though the client has not yet committed. Commercial advertising agencies also have to brand themselves so potential clients get familiar with their work and services.

Some commercial advertising is specifically geared at selling a product. The agency must design a campaign that distinguishes the product from competitors and stimulates consumer interest. Consumers might seek out a product that appeals on the basis of cost, lifestyle factors, or other characteristics. The commercial advertising agency must be ready with proposals for ad campaigns and research to support its ideas. The research provides information about target demographics and the kinds of campaigns they respond to.

Other advertising is more subtle. It sells a brand and builds brand awareness, and thus needs to have very different content. Companies use advertising to build up an image, and need a commercial advertising agency to help shape, define, and develop that image. A company may, for example, want to establish itself in the luxury market. Its ad campaigns need to focus on the luxuriousness of its products and their high quality in comparison to competitors, in a discreet manner that also projects characteristics consumers may associate with wealth and prestige.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


@StarJo – I used an ad agency, and I was really impressed with their ability to span the entire market. They had the connections and the know-how to make me look good in print, online, and in broadcasts.

Instead of having to go to television stations, newspapers, and magazines separately, I got all of my advertising needs met in one place. They handled all of the telephone calls and paperwork for me.

It cost all that I had in my savings account, but my business saw such an increase in sales that it didn't matter. I had the help of professionals, and that is the best thing that any business can do for themselves.


Enlisting the help of a commercial advertising agency is expensive, but you get your money's worth. My company desperately needed help establishing a good identity, and the ad agency helped us with everything from redesigning our logo to getting our message onto television and radio stations.

They focused first on brand identity. They told us that our logo should reflect a certain professionalism, and they managed to design the perfect one for us.

From there, they were able to use the logo in all of our advertisements. They got it onto ads in newspapers and magazines, and they even did an animated ad for our website that features the logo racing from the left side of the screen to the right and forming out of a ball of light.


@Oceana – It just makes the process go so much more smoothly. If the agency were to send a rep to meet with the clients, and then she were to pass the specifications onto you, there would be room for things to get lost in translation.

I worked at a commercial ad agency where the reps talked to clients and then passed the info onto us, and I can tell you that many of the revisions I had to make during my career could have been avoided if I had met with the customers first. Some reps didn't have good communication skills at all.

Overall, the client gets their campaign delivered to them more quickly and with less hassle if the designer sits in on the initial meeting. When I left that job and went to an agency where this was the norm, I had many more happy clients.


I thought I might want to work for a commercial advertising agency when I started studying graphic design in college, but I quickly learned that it wouldn't be ideal for me. Though I was great at art and layout, I wasn't so great at dealing with customers, and once my teacher informed me that this would be a major part of landing a job at such an agency, I decided to do something more small scale.

She told me that many ad agencies would expect graphic designers to meet with clients face to face to get a good idea of what they wanted before starting on a project. I had always thought that ad reps would handle this, but apparently, the highest paid designers have to do it all.

They also have to present the campaign to the clients when it is ready. They have to take criticism and do revisions, which I could handle if it were passed onto me by a rep, but I couldn't deal with that in person.

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