Where Ad Agencies Come From

Growing up, they tell you stories about tea parties in Boston, Paul Revere’s ride, and the Star Spangled Banner but they never tell you the story behind the ad agency. It’s an important story, especially for us.

The ad agency can be traced back to two guys, Volney Palmer and N.W. Ayer. In 1843, ol’ Volney decided to open up an ad agency in Philadelphia. His agency also happened to be the first ad agency America had ever seen. Essentially, Volney was a space broker and nothing else. He bought cheap ad space in local newspapers then marked the price up and sold it to companies.


The Ad Agency’s Founding Fathers (aka 1800s Hotties)

These companies seemed content to create their own ad content until 1869. That’s the year another agency by the name of N.W. Ayer & Son opened in Philadelphia. Unlike Volney’s agency, N.W. Ayer promised to create the entire advertising campaign and buy the newspaper space for their clients. With that, the agency became America’s first full-service ad agency.

Fast forward almost 150 years, and you’re looking at today’s ad agencies, a mix of Palmer and N.W. Ayer. Though most agencies are full-service, offering strategic, creative and media services, they still rely on media buys to pay the bills. Handling the creative process is the most fun part of our job, but it’s also the part that pays the least. Fortunately, most of us agency folk aren’t in advertising to get rich, we’re here to make good companies better.

For more about the history of advertising, check out this cool timeline from Advertising Age.

Hope you’re having an awesome 4th of July! We’re just trying to stay out of Mike’s way as he sets up for tonight’s fireworks show. If we don’t answer the phone tomorrow, you’ll know why.