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Ad Agency 101: A Match Made on Madison Avenue

Ad Agency 101: A Match Made on Madison Avenue

This article originally ran in The Gazette’s Business 380.

So you want to work with an ad agency. Of course you do. Who wouldn’t? After all, look how glamorous we are. Clark Gable, Cary Grant, Dustin Hoffman, Tom Hanks… all played ad agency guys in the movies. We’re all just like that. Why, just last week I was in a dairy barn with a client. It doesn’t get much more glamorous than that.

Excuse me a sec, I have to pour another scotch. It’s almost 10AM.

But glamour aside, there are some solid reasons to have an ad agency help your business with its marketing. Like getting an objective point of view, fresh ideas, training and experience that can make the most of your budget and avoid expensive mistakes. Not to mention being able to manage your efforts across different media. But the best and simplest reason is you just plain want your marketing to be better. Because that’s what good agency people really want to do… help you do it better. Hiring an agency to save money? Eewww – that’s icky.

So let’s assume you’ve decided to hire an agency. But how to pick one?

Watch TV for a few nights, read the paper, look at magazines, go where your customers go. Make note of the advertising that you like, find out if an agency made it and who they are. Agencies come in all shapes and sizes. Local, regional, national, international. They’ll have different abilities and costs attached. Visit with the agency in person. This has as much to do with chemistry as anything. Do you like these people, and do they like you? I took on a client one time even though I really didn’t like him all that well as a person. It lasted about three months and was like a bad prom date. Expensive and no fun.

Ask to see their six best samples in different media. Pick work you like. Talk with the agency about budgets and costs. An agency is going to cost you something, it’s just a matter of how much your budget can tolerate. Discuss technical “stuff.” Who owns the ideas, how are you going to get billed, how long does it take to develop the work? Discuss expectations. Be realistic. If you just want the agency to produce your ideas, then tell them. Not everyone will work that way, and it’s better to walk away.

Now you have an agency. How are you going to get the best work?

Creating anything – great writing, great art, great ideas – is an emotional investment. And emotional investments come from committed relationships. Now, don’t you have some relationships in your life that are more inspirational than others? And likewise, relationships that are an emotional drain? Yeah, that one. You know who I mean.

Well, it’s not much different with agencies. I work with some clients that really draw the best out of you. Everyone wants to work with them. In fact, we’d pay them for the honor. OK, well not quite. Well, not at all. But I’ll talk about money in a minute.

So how can your agency relationship be like this? How do these clients get the best work?

1. They don’t buy a dog and do their own barking.
They picked us because they trust us, and they let us do the work. Sure, they discuss concerns, send us back to the drawing board, ask for more, share ideas… but they let us do it. They’re honest with us, but they take into account that we’re emotional, sensitive, insecure creative geniuses. Evidently it’s worth it.

2. They share information.
They tell us everything. And what’s said in the agency stays in the agency, (wink-wink, nod-nod) if you know what I mean. They tell us what their sales are, how much they’re increasing, their market share, where the problems are, the challenges they’re facing. They tell us how we’re performing. And… they tell us how much money they have to spend. (gulp)

This is a scary one for a lot of businesses. Better hold your cards close in case we come in lower than your budget. (Did a pig just fly by?) Most agencies worth their salt will always have another idea, if you’ve got another buck. Give them a realistic budget and expect a lot from it. Which brings me to #3.

3. They pay fairly.
Your agency should stick to a budget. No question. But don’t haggle. These are professional services, just as important to your success as legal or financial counsel. Now, our clients will say “no” to proposed budgets, or they’ll say, “wait.” But honesty gets rewarded with honesty. Think long-term. And this has nothing to do with me having three daughters. (Have you seen the price of a wedding?)

If you think this sounds OK, then let the glamour begin. If not… well, “woof, woof.”

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