Mike Fromowitz
Aug 13, 2011

How do you know when you’re working with the WRONG ad agency?

If you're an advertiser and you are growing frustrated with your ad agency’s creativity not hitting the mark, it could very well be their lack of strategic ability. If that is the case, there’s ...

How do you know when you’re working with the WRONG ad agency?

If you're an advertiser and you are growing frustrated with your ad agency’s creativity not hitting the mark, it could very well be their lack of strategic ability. If that is the case, there’s something seriously wrong. After all, the basic skill of an ad agency is to produce strategically effective advertising, so it touches the hearts and minds of an audience and evokes a reaction. If you continue to question your agency’s ability to create effective advertising, it could mean they have no idea about your business nor what it’s going to take to attract customers to it.

Both the account team and the creatives should have performed due diligence to know your service and your products cold. They should know your customers like they do their own parents. They should know your product's positioning in relation to your competitors—without repeated explanation from you which burns up your time and budget. If that’s not the case, and you feel their efforts are more of a barrier than they are a bridge to reaching your customers, then you’re with the wrong ad agency.

The best ad agencies are those who see the sales potential in their ideas right from the start. From much of the advertising I see today, I have no doubt that many ad agencies are actually producing ads for the client, rather than their audience. This is a problem. It often means an agency is doing "suck-up" ads that appeal to the client's vanity in order to make the client like the ad agency.

How many clients tell their ad agency what to do? For example, a client likes football and demands that the agency create a campaign around football. And what if football has no relevance to the product? These type of ads eventually backfire because they fail in the marketplace, and guess who takes the blame? The agency. You don't think the client's going to take the blame, do you?

What do you do when your ads don’t work? When was the last time your agency held itself accountable? On what do they base their recommendations for media and creative? Is your agency a partner or a vendor? Do you continue to have faith in your agency and see them as entrepreneurial and down-right strategically smart?  If you don’t know the answers, your with the wrong ad agency.

The best clients are smart clients, and they need to be listened to. After all, it's their money you are spending and they know their marketplace pretty well, or else they wouldn't be where they are. All too often, agencies fail to listen before they leap. Egos get in the way. I've seen agencies win new business pitches because they were good listeners. If your present agency doesn’t have good listeners, your with the wrong ad agency.

If you are an advertiser, it doesn’t matter how enthusiastic you are about your product or service; if you’re advertising with a message that appeals to you but not to your customer, then you’re wasting your money.  The message needs to be relevant to the buyer, not the seller. You may be too close to your product; know it inside out; you want the public to know it and love it too. However, most advertisers are not emotionally capable of making the distinction between what they want to say and what the consumer wants to hear. That’s why we employ ad agencies. But if you’ve chosen your present agency for the wrong reasons, you won’t take their opinions any more seriously  than you would your golf-pro or someone you met for the first time in a pub. If you can’t trust their opinion, your with the wrong agency.

There are two kinds of advertising. The dull, boring, expected kind you see everywhere—and many agencies are good at this—and the exciting, innovative kind we see all too rarely. Of course, you need to spend far more money on the first to make it work.  If you believe your product or service is much better than the advertising your getting, your with the wrong ad agency.

Consumers are turning off, tuning out and many, would prefer not to see any ads at all. When this happens, some ad agencies tend to produce advertising that pleases everyone. Advertising that tries to please everyone is often void of a strong strategy and is doomed for failure. If your ad agency is producing advertising that pleases everyone, including you (the client),  your with the wrong ad agency.

Strategy is the heartbeat of communications. Strategy is discipline. It may come as a shock to many, but discipline is key to creative freedom. As creative guru Neil French once noted, “Strategy is not bureaucracy, it is essential. And it is proof that we all understand the question, before we provide the answer”.  A well written strategy proves to a client that his agency doesn’t just rush into pretty pictures; that they think about his business before they think of their own.  So, if your ad agency is producing ads that look beautiful but are short on smart strategic thinking, your with the wrong ad agency.

So you think you work well with your ad agency?

Most likely, you don't. Companies go to ad agencies with the hopes that they will get results. And if you enter into a relationship believing you are the boss of them just because you are paying them, you will have a one-way relationship with a group of people that will only say “yes” to your every demand--robots, rather than true business partners.

To make sure you're doing all you can to make your relationship with your ad agency the best it can be, read on.

Know what you want. A lot of companies go to ad agencies knowing what they don't want. This is not a strategy and will not get you the desired results you’re after. Without a strategy you're relying on the ad agency to guess what works best for your business. You're also going to waste plenty of time shooting down any ideas the agency will give you.

Don't assume you know everything about the market and the consumer. If you know all the answers why are you going to an ad agency then? You should know what you want out of advertising, but don't expect the agency to follow every guideline you put forth. Remember, you're going to professionals—a company that specializes in advertising. Use their expertise.

Don't bounce ideas off your wife or your mother or that pretty tart next door. Make your own decisions. When it comes to advertising, everyone has a different opinion. You know your company best. Your marketing manager knows your marketing best (hopefully). The people who know the problem best (your ad agency) should be making the decisions with you.

Realize that a solid strategy behind your advertising stands a greater chance of success. Some companies look at ads and think, "That looks pretty. That's the ad for me!" No, it's not. If it is the ad for you, most likely it’s wrong—it should be for your targeted customers.  So if you're ad agency is talking strategy, lucky you. You’ve most likely found a good one. So listen up!

Have one decision maker. An advertising idea appeals to different people in different ways. If you have more than one decision maker, surely disagreements will occur and the ad agency will get confused and discouraged working with you. Review your internal processes to determine who can say 'yes' and who can say 'no', and reduce the number of people in the decision chain accordingly. Try to make your ad agency relationship collaborative and keep the number of team members small.

Don't assume you know everything about your customers. If you have never done market research, then chances are you don't know your customers very well.  Most likely you don't know their motivations for buying your product or service. The bottom line is: if your ad agency needs to do market research, let them!  You'll get far better results.

Don't cut advertising when there’s an economic slow down. Remember, advertising is not an expense, it’s an investment. Having a short term outlook of ROI is not good. Sales may be down because your advertising is wrong. If you cut your ad spending it will cost you twice as much to get back in the game.

Have your ad agency work with you, not for you. Make them feel part of your team. The more you work with your ad agency, the better the ads will be.

Remember, value is more important than price. Having a short term view of your ROI can be damaging to your business. If you're looking for the cheapest ad agency, then you're looking for worthless advertising. You may not need to go for the most expensive, but certainly don't go for the least expensive.

If you can’t find a good agency, find someone who can. The best way to begin the process is to figure out where you want to go in the future. Think about what that future will be like, and what it will take to get there. You may not know exactly what the future holds for your company, but I can assure you that it will be different. The next step is to find a consultant who can help in the process, someone who understands marketing and the advertising business, and whose time will be far more valuable to you than what you pay them. If you listen to them. Can't find a consultant and still need help? No matter your marketplace, I’ll help you find a good agency. Email me at: [email protected]

How to choose the “right” advertising agency.

These days, choosing an ad agency in the traditional manner is like looking for a wife in a bar. An ad agency that makes the best presentation, or one that presents with all the bells and whistles, may not necessarily be the best long-term partner. What attracts you in the first place may not be the values that last. While the work may look good to the eye, it may fail strategically. Besides, what you see may not be what you get.

That being said, choosing an advertising agency is not something you can do with your eyes closed. Before zeroing in on the right one, here are a few parameters you should include in your evaluation.

Not all agencies are very good at what they do. First, accept the fact that most agencies do not excel in all disciplines—even though they would have you believe they do. Most are staffed by ‘generalists’, and in large numbers. What you really need is an agency that will bring experts, specialists and entrepreneurs to your table, people capable of uniting strategic insight with endless imagination, to create ideas that drive more sales and to convince the competitors’ customers into becoming your customers.

Agencies view a client’s needs through their own set of capabilities and fixed resources. No matter your set of complexities and challenges, their answer is always an ad, either an Internet video, a print ad, or a TV ad—the one thing that brings the ad agency the greatest profit. Fact is, you may not need an ad. The best ad agencies don’t push to sell you ads. You may not need any. You may need changes to your website, your packaging, or you may need event marketing or a social networking idea. The ad world is changing. Business-as-usual advertising is becoming less and less effective. To compete, you may need to do some things differently than you have in the past.

Be certain that the ad agency realises that advertising is only a small portion of marketing. The agency must demonstrate that it knows there are many other marketing weapons and that it is capable of using all the appropriate ones in your potential marketing arsenal. Don't settle for less.

Be aware: media buying agencies are really ‘agents of the media’. The more media they get you to buy, the more they profit. What you need to make sure of is that they’re using the right resources for your specific needs. The object of your marketing efforts is not to buy more media, but to create ideas that sell more products. Your ad agency (and media buying agency if they are separate), should follow a simple philosophy: Don’t outspend the competition. Outsmart them.

Be realistic. Do they have experience in your field? More important, are they really committed to doing great work for you?  Be sure they have the desire and the ability to give you both the service and the work you need and do so profitably.

Be sure you are sincerely desired. If the focus of your business is in 'high-tech', there should be people in the agency who understand ‘high-tech’. To be honest, most agency people are, for the most part, quite reluctant to work on ‘high-tech’. In fact, most consumer-oriented ad agencies treat ‘high-tech’ as a disfavored step-child.

Be sure you choose an agency whose staff is eager to work in your industry. Be positive that the people you will work with have a knowledge of your business, an interest in your business, and a knowledge of the competitive situation. If they've done their homework by the time they present to you, they'll have these things. If not, you're not interested.

Know what it will be like working day-to-day. Many agencies employ new business teams whose sole purpose is to get into and win competitive "pitches". They have no interest—and no involvement—in the day-to-day running of your business. Once your business is in the door, they just move on to the next courtship leaving you in the hands of 'junior' members of the agency. So always ask who will be working on your account.

Ask about Leadership. Ascertain that your business will be considered special and deserving of the agency's key people and top talent. Be sure that you meet and talk to the people who will be serving on the front line and will actually be doing the strategic planning and creative. Look for committed and expert leadership. Beware of layers of hierarchy. Ask to see what the agency has created for other clients. Ask about the results. Is the chemistry right between you? Don't underestimate the immense power of good chemistry.

Focus on your needs. Be sure that your agency is focused and understands your company's objectives and considers them reasonable. This understanding will be reflected in the marketing and advertising strategy that the agency creates for you. If it's missing, look elsewhere.

Ask to see a portfolio of their work. Let their work speak for itself. Every advertising agency will talk about how creative it is, but does their work for other clients live up to the ‘hype’? Many agencies slag off the winning of awards—mostly because they’ve failed to win some themselves. Fact is, most ad agencies that are often successful have a creative spark, have high standards and expectations, and are award-winning. Most important however, is that you listen to how they talk about the way in which their work has helped build their clients’ businesses.

Do you like them? How do you feel about the people you've met with? Will they bring something new to the table? Are they entrepreneurial? Or are they the usual ad agency ‘generalists’? Could you trust them? Will you look forward to talking with them every day?

What’s their attitude? Do they have attitude? Check to see that the people who will be working on your business have the right credentials, experience, and attitude. See if they are good listeners. Make sure that they understand the critical relationship between profitability and creativity. Agency client relationships are precisely that: a relationship.

Don't ask for premarital creative pitches. If the ad agency can solve your problems after just a few hours contemplation, it's probably just luck. Or it's not really a solution, just seductively flashy stuff. To understand a marketing problem requires in-depth understanding of the marketplace. From that comes a strategic positioning statement.  Rather than asking for a “pitch” with creative work, ask the agency to propose a strategic positioning paper and judge them on that. Creating the right big idea comes from sound strategic thinking and targeted communications. Advertising that looks good but fails to sell, is a waste of your dollars.

It takes teamwork to create bad advertising. Be careful if the agency relies too much on the use of smoke and mirrors. Big ‘creative’ presentations of clever, colourful ads presented by excellent salespeople is no guarantee the ads will work and sell your product. If your company hasn’t been doing the kind of advertising you would like to see, or if your advertising isn't as good as it could be, don't expect a simple change of ad agency to solve it. It takes teamwork to create bad advertising: if the problem is the work, and your organization changed the work, it really shares responsibility with the people who created it.

So, what do you think of your present agency?

Is it possible that you're not entirely convinced that your present agency is capable of turning out effective campaigns that can accelerate your growth and profitably?  Maybe you have a nagging feeling that they are your agency for all the wrong reasons. They do as you ask. They’re nice people. They produce advertising that doesn’t challenge you. But are they giving you the best advice? Or do you feel your competitors are getting even better advice from their ad agency?  If you have this nagging, uncomfortable feeling, it’s time to look for a new ad agency.

Along the way you may find an agency that’s strong creatively. Or one with a great planning department. Or one that has won more awards than any other agency. Or one that has a super-creative rock-star at the helm. Or one that has some powerful new media ideas. You may even discover what you think is the best ad agency. But all that’s not important. Because what you’re really looking for isn’t the best agency. It’s the best agency for you.

Mike Fromowitz



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