Who Needs A Title?

I tell people that I work at Creative Soapbox, a branding and web studio. But what does that mean?

Steve Norell

July 8, 2009

If creativity is intangible, how does one define it when branding themselves? There are many different ways to say what it is that we do. Some call themselves an “ad agency,” others refer to themselves as a “firm.” So what is the difference? And what do you do if you just don’t fit into one of the above?

This question arose at Creative Soapbox one day while we were updating our own brand. People ask me where I work all the time, and the answer they get varies. Or at least it did. I’m hoping by the time I reach the final punctuation of this post to have it pretty well figured out. Generally, I tell people that I work at Creative Soapbox, a branding and web studio. But what does that mean? How does the term, “studio” mold people’s perceptions about what we do. This is an important topic to tackle, because let’s face it, most people really don’t know how we do what we do.

Now to be perfectly honest, I don’t know the actual and subtle differences between an agency, studio, firm, collective, design house and butcher shop. Nobody does until they have spent a little time behind the scenes of each. So that said, I am going to try to discern the differences of what those titles represent.


Let’s start with the agency. This one is probably the most used, and it generally denotes a lean toward marketing and advertising. An ad agency’s workspace is colorfully chaotic. There will probably be yoga balls, bean bags and maybe even someone’s dog running around. If you work there, you can find inspiration at every turn. If you are the least creative person on the planet, the second you walk into an ad agency, and inhale the colors, you will know that you are in a place of ideas. At least that’s the idea.


A firm is a little more difficult to nail down. In some cases, firms are all business and the success of a project is measured in terms of bottom-line. However there are also companies calling themselves firms who focus less on advertising and marketing, and more on branding. These places have atmospheres more like agencies. Firms can be elusive, sometimes they are suits and ties, sometimes they’re skateboards and foosball tables.


Now we come to the studio. This is another one whose meaning shifts depending on the venue. In photography, a studio is where you go to get your (generally awkward) family photos taken. Sometimes you can get your hair cut in a “studio.” People live in studio apartments, films are shot in studios and artists sometimes sleep on the floor of their studio. The point is, the studio can be quite eclectic, if it wants to be.

Before I had ever thought about it, this topic seemed pretty cut and dry. An agency called themselves an agency because they were an agency, if that makes any sense. While my notions of what an "agency" is have changed a bit, I still believe that's true. If you specialize in ads, you're an agency. If brands are your thing, then you're probably a firm. But where does that leave the rest of us? Here at Creative Soapbox, we do some ads. We love to build a great brand, and we are always aiming for the next interactive innovation. And I guess that's why we are calling ourselves a studio. You can stop by for an awkward family photo. We have, on occasion, pulled some all-nighters to meet a bottom-line. And if you feel the need, we could even give your business a brand new haircut.

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