How to Work With an Advertising Agency
So, you’re the owner, manager or CEO of a small to medium sized business and you’ve outgrown your in-house marketing capabilities. You’ve never worked with an advertising agency before but now you’re considering it. This is new territory for you and you want to proceed firmly but with caution. Here are 10 principles to follow:
1. Choose an agency whose culture matches yours.
Sure, you want to work with a firm that does great work but, more importantly, you’ll want to choose an agency with a compatible culture. You are entering into a marriage of sorts, the foundation of which will be shared beliefs, values and standards of doing business. Pick the right partner and be the right partner by aligning yourself with people you would want to invite into your home.
2. Commit to your agency.
Once you decide on an agency commit to it. This means treating your agency as a partner in your business, not just another outside vendor. And this means starting with . . .
You have a right to expect great work out of your agency, but in return, they have a right to expect that you will trust them to do great work. And to do great work they have to be informed. They have to understand your overall business strategy and goals, your sales and margins, your plans and results. If you’re not comfortable with sharing proprietary information with your agency you may have picked the wrong agency. Go back to number one and start over.
4. Listen and be heard.
You will always know more about your business than your agency, so it is their job to listen to you when it comes to business development strategies and goals. Conversely, your agency will always know more about advertising than you, so it is your job to listen when it comes to creative strategies. Telling your agency how to do their job is not going to serve you well. Trust your agency to do what they know how to do.
5. Follow the process.
Every agency has a process that they use to gather the information they need to do their jobs. If you want your agency to perform you must engage in their process. That means giving them your time and doing your part to make sure they are informed, prepared and positioned for success. If you’re not willing to do that you are setting your agency—and yourself—up for failure.
6. Be open to risk.
One of the basic goals of advertising is to differentiate you from your competition. That means it has to be . . . different. And anything that hasn’t been done before comes with a certain amount of measured risk. Be open to that risk. After all, if you want advertising that’s already been done you don’t need an agency.
7. Don’t micromanage.
As the leader of your company your job is to keep an eye on the big picture, provide strategic direction, and communicate your vision of where your company is heading. Your focus should be on the overall trajectory of your brand, not on the details of every ad. Be a strong enough leader to trust that your agency knows how to create the marketing communications you need to realize your vision, and then step out of the way.
8. Kill the committee.
The road to poorly conceived, watered down, and sometimes just plain awful creative is paved with the good intentions of your board of directors, CFO, operations manager, HR director, secretary, spouse, etc. The inherent subjectivity of the advertising business too easily opens it up for influence from people who aren’t qualified to be at the table. The result is usually a compromise position of the lowest common denominator and an inferior product. Don’t allow this to happen.
9. Stand by your agency.
There will inevitably come a time when an employee, colleague, friend or competitor who doesn’t understand the context or the objectives of an ad will make sure you know that they don’t like it. Or, a customer with an ax to grind will call to complain. Don’t allow these mostly well-intentioned people to sow seeds of doubt and create a reactionary response that derails your campaign. If you’ve followed the above principles and done your job on the front end, you should stand by the work with confidence.
10. Pay your agency fairly and on time.
There’s nothing so demoralizing to an agency than always being low man on your accounts payable totem pole. If your agency is staying within the budget you approved, they deserve to be paid according to the agreed upon terms. Your agency is not your bank; treating it as such will quickly and inevitably sour your relationship.
Having a good agency relationship depends on you being a good client. And good agencies are fiercely loyal to their good clients. Follow the above suggestions and you can develop a powerful and mutually beneficial relationship that helps meet your marketing objectives.