The history of the term ‘agency’ can be traced back to the 19th century when Volney B. Palmer opened the first agency in the US.
He referred to his business as an ‘agent’ and operated essentially as a media agency, buying up print ad space in bulk and selling it to clients with a profit on top.
Since the Golden Era of advertising in the 1960s, marketing agencies have come a long way.
Image source: NCLAC
They’ve adapted and evolved through the internet boom in the 90s, the mobile tech boom in the 2000s, the disruption caused by the pandemic in 2020, and now the AI boom in 2023.
Side note: check out our great article about how top digital agencies are using AI in their business process optimization.
One thing that has remained consistent over the decades is the need for agencies to organize their teams into specific structures in order to service client requirements. A marketing agency structure refers to how staff and teams are organized in your organization.
Here at SEOptimer, we speak to our agency customers all the time and it fascinates us how different agencies organize themselves into various work structures.
For this article, we've polled a few leading digital agencies to get a sense of the structures they've implemented to ensure that their teams operate as efficiently as possible.
We'd like to thank the following contributors for sharing insights on the marketing agency structures they've implemented within their organizations:
- Kyle Smendziuk @ WebMarketers, Canada
- Andy Beohar @ SevenAtoms, United States
- Paul Mario Vratusha @ D Studio Consulting, United Kingdom
- Daniel Samples @ Nurdit, United States
- Holly Rollins @ 10x Digital, United States
Generally speaking, most business owners don't care too much about their company structures. But for agency owners, this is actually a very important element of their business. The reason is that most agency owners are dealing with a large volume of deliverables, as such, they tend to be under a lot of pressure and stress.
By implementing an agency structure, agency founders can design their businesses to operate as efficiently as possible, and ultimately, scale them to make more money.
Typical Marketing Agency Structures
Traditional Marketing Agency Structure
The traditional marketing agency structure is an approach that has stood the test of time. Large advertising agencies have used this model to help them manage teams and to centralize authority, creating an upwards reporting flow.
All specializations (SEO, social media marketing, web design, etc.) and business operations (accounting, human resources, etc.) are grouped into their own individual teams.
So this marketing agency structure will result in different teams based on their specializations. For instance, the SEO team will consist of a director of SEO, senior SEO, junior SEO, etc.
Likewise, the social media team will consist of the head of social media marketing, senior media buyer, junior social media managers, etc.
Each team, or division, is managed by a department head (e.g. director of SEO) who reports to the general manager or another executive like a Chief Operating Officer (COO).
Pod Marketing Agency Structure
As the name suggests, the pod marketing agency structure divides the organization into teams or “pods” on a per-project basis.
This results in teams consisting of a project lead or strategist and then various individuals from different specializations who can deliver the services.
A pod in a market agency using this structure might consist of the following members:
- Project lead or account manager
- SEO Specialist
- PPC Specialist
- Social media marketing specialist
- Graphics designer
So you’ll have one “pod” servicing all your restaurant clients, another servicing all your ecommerce clients, and so forth.
In the pod marketing agency structure, the project manager reports to the general manager, chief of client services, etc.
Furthermore, back-office operations such as finance and human resources are divided into their own respective pods.
Matrix Marketing Agency Structure
The matrix marketing agency structure is almost like the traditional structure, however, it allows for the flexibility of the formation of cross-divisional teams like with the pod marketing system.
You can actually think of the matrix marketing agency structure as a hybrid between the traditional and pod agency structures.
In the matrix marketing agency structure, teams are grouped according to departments or divisions (SEO, PPC, email marketing, etc.), however, they have the ability to form cross-divisional teams for individual projects.
There’s no “one size fits all” marketing agency structure.
The structure that you choose will ultimately depend on the size of your agency as well as the number of clients that you have, but more on this topic later.
Also, remember that a marketing agency structure isn’t permanent, you can always mix things up and change your structure to find the best one for your specific agency.
Marketing Agency Structure vs Agency Org Chart
You might have heard of the terminology “agency org chart” before.
But, what’s the difference between your marketing agency structure versus the agency org chart?
Well, simply, the agency org chart is just a visual representation of the marketing agency structure. The agency org chart shows the different agency roles and responsibilities, as well as the reporting workflow.
Why is Thinking About Your Marketing Agency Structure Important?
Selecting the best marketing agency structure requires some careful consideration. With that being said, there are several reasons why you need to properly think through and consider the best option for your agency:
Essential for Scaling
The most important reason for implementing a marketing agency structure is because it boosts overall productivity.
A marketing agency structure streamlines your agency’s processes and operations. And as a result, work gets done faster and more efficiently.
An agency that is able to work efficiently is able to scale its operations by simply replicating what is already working.
When there’s a clearly defined marketing agency structure in place, all staff members will know exactly who to report to and what their roles and responsibilities are.
Image source: Runn
Makes it Easy to Track Progress
There are a lot of different processes and things going on in a digital agency, from client services, to service delivery.
A marketing agency structure makes it easier for managers and project leaders to stay up-to-date on work that is relevant to them without getting bogged down by unnecessary information.
Marketing Agency Structures in a Remote World
With the rise in the demand for remote working jobs and the benefits of having remote teams, almost all marketing agencies have had to implement remote operating procedures and structures to ensure that operations remain efficient.
In fact, remote work is here to stay. Studies show that by the year 2025, 36.2 million Americans will be working remotely. This is a 16.8 million increase from before the pandemic started.
Managing a remote team has its challenges. And as a result, choosing an effective marketing agency structure for your remote agency is of utmost importance.
We asked agency founders and executives the following two questions to understand their agency structures:
- What marketing agency structure are you using in your agency?
- How do you ensure that work gets done when managing a remote team?
Successful Agencies Tell Us About the Structure that Works for Them
Kyle Smendziuk - WebMarketers
Kyle is the CEO of WebMarketers, a 40-person digital agency based in Canada consisting of both in-office and remote employees.
He notes that scaling an agency successfully requires you to focus on high retention rates in order to avoid new sales matching churn and running into a growth barrier.
“In a digital space that is now much more complex, businesses are relying more and more on multidisciplinary teams to manage their marketing efforts.
Maintaining KPI’s at scale requires agency owners to invest into experienced middle management as an owner can no longer lead campaigns and relationships for all clientele.”
Andy Beohar - SevenAtoms
"Our team at SevenAtoms is structured based on specific areas of expertise and function.
Each member has a complementary skill set that contributes to the team's overall effectiveness.
We prioritize collaboration and flexibility, which is why we operate under a flat structure with fewer layers of management. This allows us to work together more efficiently and adapt to changing needs and priorities."
To make the most of the remote culture, companies must create a virtual office environment that mimics the in-person experience as closely as possible.
This includes setting clear expectations for communication and defining channels for faster response times.
For instance, instant messaging can be used for time-sensitive requests, video calls for meetings, and tools like Wrike or Slack for project management. Moreover, it's crucial to establish a well-defined workflow that clarifies tasks and activities, enabling team members to understand expectations and deadlines.
By implementing these strategies, agencies can reap the benefits of distributed teams while maintaining productivity and ensuring the success of their remote workforce.
Paul Mario Vratusha - D Studio Consulting
"Our team is divided into five groups, each with their own unique responsibilities."
Paul notes that their management team oversees the business side of things and ensures that everything runs smoothly. They work closely with other teams to ensure that clients receive the highest quality service.
The sales team is dedicated to finding new clients using inbound marketing strategies. Once they identify a potential lead, they work with our service experts to create a tailored offer that meets their needs.
Once a sale is made, the onboarding team takes over, making sure that they have all the necessary access to clients' advertisement channels, services, and websites. If any of these assets are missing, the onboarding team will create them for the client.
"Our service experts are highly specialized in their respective areas and work as both account managers and service providers. If a client orders multiple services, our main service expert delegates tasks to specialized service experts who are well-equipped to handle them.
Any tasks that require additional support are delegated to junior assistants, who are qualified and eager to help out in design, coding, writing, etc.
Overall, the benefits of our team structure outweigh the risks, allowing us to provide high-quality service."
To truly optimize the efficiency and effectiveness of a remote team, agencies should employ a myriad of tools and strategies.
Regularly scheduled check-ins and meetings serve to provide a dynamic platform for discussing progress, identifying and addressing issues, and most importantly, ensuring alignment across the board.
In addition, agencies should leverage the power of project management software to seamlessly track deadlines and delegate tasks, all while fostering a collaborative work environment that empowers team members to communicate with ease throughout the workday.
"At D Studio Consulting, we take great care to establish clearly defined expectations and realistic deadlines for each and every project, ensuring that our team members are equipped with the required resources and support necessary to fully actualize their goals."
Last but certainly not least, prioritize trust and communication as integral components of your organizational ethos, cementing a foundation of strong relationships with each and every one of your team members, even in the context of remote work.
Daniel Samples - Nurdit
"As an Amazon PPC agency, we use a hybrid structure that combines elements of a functional and divisional structure to maximize efficiency and productivity.
We prioritize communication and collaboration by using various communication channels such as email, phone, and video conferencing. Regular check-ins and meetings are essential to ensure that everyone is on the same page and to address any issues or concerns promptly.
We leverage project management tools such as Trello, Asana, and Monday.com to streamline our workflow and maintain transparency and accountability."
Daniel also promotes a healthy work-life balance by encouraging his team members to take breaks, prioritize self-care, and disconnect from work during non-work hours.
"Our innovative marketing agency structure and effective remote team management enable us to provide exceptional services to our clients.
We assign functional groups to specific client accounts, allowing for tailored services and personalized attention. By prioritizing our team's well-being, we are able to foster a positive work culture that promotes productivity, creativity, and satisfaction."
Holly Rollins - 10x Digital
"At 10x Digital, we make use of a combination of functional and flat structures."
In a functional structure, the agency is organized into different departments based on the functions they perform, such as SEO, PPC, PR, and social media. Each department has its own team members who specialize in their respective areas of expertise.
This structure works well in a remote environment as each team can work independently and collaborate virtually when needed.
In a flat structure, there are few layers of management, and team members have a high degree of responsibility. This structure works well in a remote environment as it allows for greater flexibility and agility in responding to clients' needs.
Each client has a Project Manager who oversees the monthly retainer, sets meetings, creates tasks for other team members, and reports to upper management.
Holly also notes that they have a weekly production meeting to review each client and provide status updates. Teams at 10x Digital utilize project management software such as Trello, Basecamp, and Workzone to organize projects and assign tasks to different team members.
How to Structure Your Marketing Agency
As mentioned earlier, there are two main factors that can have an impact on the marketing agency structure that is best for your organization.
The services that you offer at your digital agency will have the most significant impact on your agency structure.
Image source: Munro Agency
An agency specializing in SEO will have a much different structure than a large international agency offering multiple marketing services.
As an example, if your agency only offers specialized services such as SEO for local businesses, then it might be best to implement the pod marketing agency structure where you have different teams for different projects.
So you’ll have a team dedicated to servicing all your plumbing clients, another that services healthcare clients, etc.
An agency offering multiple services such as SEO, social media, content marketing, etc., will likely use the traditional marketing agency structure. In practice, you will have a team dedicated to doing SEO for all of your clients and a separate team managing social media for all your clients.
Size of Your Agency
The larger your agency, the more complex your structure will get.
An agency consisting of several employees, freelancers, or contractors will likely require a lot more reporting and management oversight than a smaller agency.
As such, smaller agencies tend to stick to the pod agency structure, whereas larger agencies tend to use the traditional or matrix structure.
Implementing a marketing agency structure is a must if you want to increase efficiency and productivity in your agency.
If you haven’t clearly defined what your structure is or if you’re just starting your own agency, be sure to choose a market agency structure that best fits your organization’s unique needs.
Has your agency implemented a marketing agency structure that we didn’t mention in this article? If so, we’d love to know what your model is. Tweet to us @seoptimer.