Where do you draw the line?

At what point to you make the distinction between an individual doing work for a client, and an agency as it’s own entity doing work for a client?

Is it when the business becomes its own legal entity? If so, there’s a whole helluva lot more links that I need to add to the list.

Is it when the business becomes a brand, and that brand takes on a life of its own? If that’s the case, who gets to decide? Me? I think not. My opinions are just that. Opinions.

So, I throw the question out there to you, dear readers…where do you draw the line?

12 Replies to “Where do you draw the line?”

  1. I don’t believe that you would call an in-house marketing team or manager an agency. Even though they are incorporated that way.

    Having an in-house agency is just an easy way to get the agency discount.

    As far as an individual just helping out a client…it is hard to say. If someone has a business that provides services that are consistent with what an advertising /marketing/creative agency would do, than they deserve to be part of the Idaho Ad Agencies blog.

    But, at a previous job, I worked with an agency that only handled one client. They basically did all of the media placement for a large regional business. They only placed Idaho and they happened to be a retired employee.

    I would not consider this an agency.

    Tough call Brian….

  2. I think if it’s an individual, that’s not an agency. Boise has a lot of freelancers and contractors. Some of the individuals are even savvy enough to partner with other individuals to give themselves the appearance of an agency.

    If you have a company that employs multiple people that could constitute an agency. Granted many agencies start out as individuals and grow from there. Once they have multiple employees I would call that an agency.

    That’s my take at least.

  3. One person = freelancer.
    two people = freelancers.
    three people = agency.

    Not exactly.

    “Agency” (very out-dated term) implies a significant breadth and depth of capabilities.

    A freelance designer can hook up with a freelance copywriter who can connect with a freelance media buyer. But they are still just a bunch of freelancers.

    An agency is a much more cohesive team than a gaggle of f-lancers.

    But the bottomline is that I disagree with you in that I think you SHOULD be the one making that call. It is, afterall, your blog.

  4. There is SO much gray area that it’s difficult to nail down a solid, in-the-box answer. The real question is what defines an agency? Is it having a structured business? Many freelancers (myself included) have this. Even a legal entity (such as an LLC) can still be just one person running the show (Fuze Interactive seems as such) Is it having a place of business? Freelancers often have this, for $100 a month you can have a virtual day office and an address. Is it a team or group of people working together, but each handling different aspects of the job? Freelancers do this as well, although maybe not as cohesively as a larger firm. I know of people who set up virtual agencies and act as a singular business entity, despite the fact that the workers themselves are spread throughout the world. Even a single freelancer can have a “breadth and depth of capabilities”.

    All an agency really means is an organization of “agents” who provide a service to people. Is a freelancer not also a free “agent”? What defines an “agency” is getting more and more subjective.

    So I guess what I’m getting at is that you almost can’t draw the line anymore. The lines dividing business entities and individuals operating as a business entity is blurring. And I think a lot of that has to do w/ how we (freelancers especially) position ourselves. As much as I hate to use myself as an example, if a regular business owner looking for creative takes a look at my site and the services I offer, they would most likely see it as an “agency”, despite the fact that it’s just me working out of my spare bedroom. So I think an individual can provide the services and support of an agency, albeit with a much more simplified and personal approach and relationship with the client.

    There again is my question. Before you can define a line, what defines an agency? Can you even put it neatly in a box anymore?

  5. Good points, transit.

    I agree you can’t put just about anything “in a box anymore.” But that doesn’t make everyone the same either.

    Categorization is helpful. It makes it easier to find stuff. Even Wikipedia entries have a table of contents.

    Categorization doesn’t make anyone less (believe me, I think most agencies are over-rated. More true, the larger they get). Categorization just shows how they are different. But, alas, categorization will always be a subjective exercise.

  6. In line with what Transit said, this is the new reality of marketing. It is no longer about building an empire of employees that march to the beat of the same drum. Marketing is becoming an outsourced world. Even “agencies” in town with employees still outsource a significant portion of work.

    There are freelancers, which means a hired gun specializing in a certain discipline (graphic design, web, PR, copywriting). But there are one man agencies out there.

    Take DNA for instance. David was a one man show for a while, but he was still an agency because he marshaled the resources together to create a campaign for a client. I think Tom Scott has the same arrangement. I do the same thing. I would consider these agencies, because they deliver consulting and campaigns, not because of the number of people.

    Freelancer = Single Discipline
    Agency = Consulting and Campaigns

    That’s my two cents anyway.

  7. The comments are appreciated — keep ’em coming!

    This is a question that has been banging around in the back of my head for a while, especially when it comes to adding people to the roster on the main page.

    One of these days I will get the Resources area organized a little better — maybe that’ll helpe…

  8. Interesting posts…

    Well, maybe the quality of work should be the litmus test for you. I’ve seen better things come out of a few unorganized freelancers than many shops in town.

    And where to put all the links? Might need to reach out to a design consultant to get an opinion on 2.0 blog organizational strategies.


  9. I’ll second that q&a. Just because you call yourself an agency or have a team of employees doesn’t mean your work is superior to a freelancer.

  10. I don’t think that anyone is arguing the fact that “agency” work is any better than “freelance” work.

    An interesting fact comes from our owner. In the past, when working as a GM of many different television stations they had specific definitions of what specified an agency. To receive the agency discount with a media, an agency had to have 3 or more clients.

  11. I think you should just decide the old-fashioned Boise way: include those that you like, and exclude those that you don’t regardless of quality or merit. Thank you.

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