Decoding marketing agency jargon

Published Jun 18 2024 7 minute read Last updated Jun 18 2024
agency jargon
Contributors Dropdown icon
  • Sean Dougherty
    Written by Sean Dougherty

    A copywriter at Funnel, Sean has more than 15 years of experience working in branding and advertising (both agency and client side). He's also a professional voice actor.

For the uninitiated, marketing agencies can feel like mysterious (even dangerous) places. Step foot inside, and you are sure to hear people talking about shooting, executions, bleed and breadcrumbs. But once you learn the ropes, you’ll realize it’s not so scary.

The truth is, this is all just code and jargon to communicate ideas faster in an industry where every second is precious and billable. Sometimes, though, agencies can take things a bit too far, so we thought it was high time to remind the industry how silly it can sometimes sound. 

Welcome to our explanation of agency jargon — a lighthearted take on what agency folk say and what they actually mean. 

Very valuable verbiage

Let’s kick things off with some agency jargon that might sound more fancy than it actually is.

Engagement

How exciting! Sort of. While the average person might connote the word engagement with nuptials, it means something far different for your average marketing agency. For those in the industry, engagement tends to connote interaction on social media. 

As social media (then known as new media) began to take the marketing world by storm in the late aughts, marketers were afforded new ways to reach and interact with their audiences. They could communicate directly with individuals while drawing customers to their channels where those customers were invited to like, share, subscribe, etc. 

The original idea was if a prospective customer interacted with and engaged with your brand, there was a higher likelihood that they would eventually make a purchase. 

Today, some marketers consider engagement to be a vanity metric, though it has become a mainstay of any agency’s vocabulary. 

Assets

Most people consider assets to be anything that holds inherent value. Cash, cars, homes and equipment all carry some form of monetary value. When it comes to marketing agencies, though, this term begins to carry a different meaning. 

When you hear agencies speaking about assets, they are talking about creative materials including logos, imagery, graphic elements, videos and more. You’ll often hear your agency rep asking for all of your brand assets during the onboarding process. 

Don’t worry, they aren’t asking you for the keys to your office building — although creative assets do serve as the building blocks for the materials they will create. 

Bespoke

In the fashion world, the term bespoke refers to clothing that has been designed and built for a specific individual. Bespoke garments go beyond usual tailoring and are crafted to accentuate the natural figure of the person who is wearing the clothes. 

Sounds fancy right? Who wouldn’t want a team of Milan’s top haute couture designers building the perfect wardrobe? 

The thing is, agencies know this word sounds fancy. That’s why they use it, too. It’s just a fanciful way of saying that something is customized. When you step back and realize that every business is different, you also realize that everything an agency creates must be customized, tailored or bespoke in some fashion. 

At the same time, why not let those agencies make you feel like you're being pampered on the French Riviera by indulging their use of the word?

arno-smit-lndaG6uN1yw-unsplash
Life on the French Riviera

Some food for thought

Working hard on crafting bespoke assets for clients all day can work up quite an appetite. Perhaps that’s why marketing agencies sometimes borrow words associated with food to communicate their ideas. 

Organic

This can mean many different things depending on what country you reside. For instance, organic may mean that produce is grown according to standards that bar synthetic pesticides, or they are cultivated in ways that preserve local biodiversity. 

For agencies, organic takes on a much different meaning. While each marketer may differ on the exact definition, it generally means stuff that isn’t paid advertising. 

Let’s use web and SEO agencies as an example. These folks may be focused on driving organic traffic to a website, which are the users who enter a website through regular search or typing the URL into their browser. On the other hand, social media agencies will consider organic posts to be those that are distributed to users’ feeds through normal algorithmic means (not as an ad or promoted content). 

If this idea is still confusing, think of organic marketing like organic food: it’s supposed to be more natural and less artificial. 

Breadcrumbs

We love a good schnitzel as much as the next person (tip: use panko for extra crunch), but agencies aren’t talking about crusted food when they mention breadcrumbs. 

Instead, they are using the term as it is used in the classic fairy tale “Hansel and Gretel.” In this story, the titular characters leave a trail of breadcrumbs as they head into a forest. They believe that these crumbs will serve as a trail back to where they started, should they get lost. 

Similarly agencies refer to breadcrumbs as a website navigation style. We even use this style of navigation on our blog articles. A quick scroll to the top of this page will show you some small breadcrumb navigation above the headline: Blog > Digital Marketing. 

A dangerous game

We hinted that agency language can seem scary and dangerous, but it is in fact harmless. Let’s decode some of those terms. 

Executions

No ads, animals or account executives were harmed in the writing of this article. When your marketing agency starts talking about executions, they are simply talking about the individual tactics and actions that are undertaken. 

In an advertising agency, this often means the individual ads that are executed from a master concept. For instance, when a client signs off on a master ad concept, the agency must then apply the creative to every single ad space that has been purchased from the media plan. Digital display ads, print ads, point of sales materials, radio spots, TV spots and billboards can all be thought of as executions of the concept. 

In fact, each of these tactics will likely have multiple executions according to the various dimensions of each ad placement. 

Shoot

At this point, you’re probably catching on that marketing agencies aren’t planning on discharging firearms when they mention a shoot. Rather, they are talking about photoshoots and video shoots during which they will capture brand new creative assets that will be used in a campaign’s plethora of executions. 

Most clients think shoots are glamorous. They envision beautiful models, exotic locations and maybe even bespoke costuming. 

While shoots can require travel to far-flung destinations, everyone who has worked on a shoot knows that they are a TON of work. Shoots require long days and even longer nights. Pulling off a shoot requires a full team of producers, crew, talent, creatives and more to manage all of the moving parts. And, as you add complexity to any shoot, the effort required to pull it off increases exponentially. 

Bleed

While it is often forgotten in today’s digital-first marketing environment, bleed is still a very important concept. Originating in print media, bleed refers to the point at which artwork runs off the edge of a material – sort of like the edge of an infinity pool. 

Think about printing a photo on your home printer. The piece of paper may likely have a white border around the image. This is a clean space where the printer “grabs” the paper and feeds it through the writing process. Once printed, you want to trim that paper (aka crop it) so that the border is removed. This will make the image run to the edge of the paper. In other words, the image bleeds past the trim area. 

Which is a perfect segue for…

Live area

If your marketing agency sends anything to a printing press, they will pay specific attention to three distinct lines: the trim, the bleed and the live area. 

When printing thousands of copies of any physical execution, the exact trim line will vary a bit due to slight variations in how the paper sheets are fed through the printer. Your agency needs to account for this movement and variation in their designs. To do so, they need to ensure that important things like headlines and logos aren’t too close to the edge. Otherwise, they risk those elements getting trimmed off. 

Depending on a printer’s needs, designers will assign a safe space within the trim area (say, 0.25” inside) to place all of the important elements. This is the live area. 

Say what? 

While these next terms do necessarily fall into a tidy category, they do make some marketers stop and go, “huh?”

Above the fold

This is another “old school” marketing term, though it’s one that has been adopted by modern agencies – specifically web agencies. 

Originally a newspaper term, above the fold meant any content that appeared above the point at which the finished newspaper was folded across. This upper area of the paper was the first thing any reader would see. As such, editors ensured that the paper’s masthead and the most important stories appeared above that fold. 

annie-spratt-hWJsOnaWTqs-unsplash
All of the content you can see here is "above the fold."

Similarly, website designers push their most important content toward the top of any given webpage. The fold for a website is a digital one, and it can vary from user to user. In this context, the fold is the bottom of a browser window. Any content below this point requires a user to scroll down. 

Evergreen

A bit like organic, evergreen can mean different things to different marketing agencies. For those who work with content marketing, it essentially means assets that can be reused. 

Taking direct inspiration from evergreen trees, evergreen content is an asset or assets that are continually relevant to an audience. Things like news and trends may not be relevant in a couple of weeks or months, but evergreen content can last for years. 

Proof

Hold on there, Scooby Doo; we’re not trying to solve any mysteries. For agencies, the word proof typically means one of two things. 

First, proof can be used as a verb. In this case, it’s shorthand for proofread. Every execution and asset should be proofed before it is sent off for printing, to run as an ad or sent to a client. 

The second way proof can be used is as a noun. Here, a proof is something your agency typically gets back from a printer. Much like an agency proofreads anything that goes out, a printer wants a signoff from the client and agency that everything is positioned correctly and appears with the correct colors on an initial sample. 

Once a proof is signed by all stakeholders, the printer moves into full production.

Specs

Short for specifications, specs are the format requirements that will guide any agency’s work. 

A web design agency will want to know the specs for the number of pages, accessibility requirements, SEO ranking goals and more. An advertising agency will surely want to know the dimensions of every asset they need to execute. Also, expect content agencies to ask about word counts and imagery specs. 

Along with the project brief and budget, the specs are the foundation of any creative output. 

EOD / COB

These acronyms stand for End Of Day and Close Of Business, respectively. Essentially, these mean the same thing with EOD being more popular in America while COB being more popular in Europe. 

However, when an agency uses either of these phrases, they can carry wildly changing definitions. End of day could mean 5 p.m., midnight or “sometime between the client logging off for the day and when they open their computer again in the morning.”

Crafting bespoke creative assets takes a lot of work, and sometimes ideas need a bit more finessing in order to get things just right. When this happens, the agency account team may not get an exact definition from the creatives as to when a presentation or asset will be ready to share with a client. 

In order to set client expectations, the account executive may advise that a presentation will be sent “end of day” — thereby buying a bit more time while reassuring the client that they will see some work soon. 

Decoding agency language

Marketing agency mumbo jumbo shouldn’t deter you from getting the most out of your creative partners. With a few tips and a bit of practice, you too can speak the way of the creatives. Start organically by engaging with a couple bespoke executions – you may even become a pro by close of business today. 

Want to work smarter with your marketing data?
Discover Funnel