How to get the most out of your marketing agency

by Tony Fannin, president, BE Branded

My goal here is to educate so clients can get the best out of their advertising agency, know what to look for when they are looking for an advertising agency, know how to use their agency effectively, and, in the end, have a better relationship with their marketing partner. Now, I know that to experienced marketers, some of these points may be basic, but it never hurts to remind ourselves of the basics once in a while. In fact, we all lose business because we forget to do the simple things at times.

Know why you want one – This is not as clear as it first appears. Do you want an agency that is strong in strategy? Breakthrough creative? Someone to execute your ideas? Based on your marketing needs, look for an agency that will deliver what you want. For example, you have a very defined vision of what you want. You are told that you need to find a creative ad agency. That’s the benchmark. So, you go out and hold a review and select one after several rounds. During the initial development process, you lay down your vision and how you want it executed (you are involved in everything from model selection, colors, fonts, and even layout). Your decisions are mostly based on personal tastes, not on market research. What you have effectively done is hired an agency who is known for breakthrough creative and turn them into a production house. Here’s the problem. First,  you’re going to overpay for a commodity service – production. You should have hired a production house for half the hourly rate. Second, the agency will give you only their juniors to work on your account and still charge you rack rate. And finally, the agency and you will end up not really happy with the relationship. If you don’t know what your marketing needs are, then I suggest you clarify that first before you begin looking for a marketing agency.

How to use an ad agency – Based on the reasons of why you have the need to hire one, leverage what they do best and minimize kind of work that doesn’t allow them to use their talents to their fullest. Advertising agencies may have one or two areas of expertise, while some may have them all. Here are a few examples (among many) of agency qualities:

Breakthrough creative – this quality is about innovation, unique ideas, and dramatically changing the status quo. They specialize in breaking the norm and pushing the edge. This gets you out in front and to be known as a groundbreaker and pioneer. Some marketers say they want this, but when it comes down to it, they are too afraid to be the “first ones” to do something or feel they may offend someone. Great creative, by nature, will most likely alienate a few groups, but that should endear you to your core audience. If you don’t want to be on the edge, this quality is something you shouldn’t be looking for.

Strategy based – this agency looks at marketing through the lens of an MBA. They understand business, how it works, and where advertising fits into the overall business strategy. The best use of this quality is to have an end result in mind, but not dictate how to get there. That’s what you hired them for. You have your experiences and insights to share, but you’re great at making widgets, not marketing, or accounting, or corporate law, etc. This agency is creative in a different way. They research and discover a different or new marketing strategies, messaging, and media channels to communicate with your core audience where they live and deliver your message in a medium they are open to. If you already know how you want to market your company, this agency quality isn’t for you. You’ll be buying a service and not using it and that’s a waste of money. If you already know for certain that your consumers only shop online and listen to NPR, then you need your agency to develop a creative, entertaining campaign that will appeal to your audience through web tactics and radio sponsorships. Strategy is not needed here.

Production house – this quality takes less investment. If you already know where your audience is, how to communicate to them, and what you want your marketing to look and sound like, this is the quality for you. All you need is a production house to execute your ideas and strategy. This service is usually half of most other services. A company that is purely a production house can charge less because they only need technicians, not creative brilliance or strategic thinking. If you expect this group to provide insightful strategy or groundbreaking creative ideas, more times than not, you’ll be disappointed.

These are just a few of the qualities an advertising or marketing agency can bring to the table. The key is know what NOT to expect just as what to expect. There are several other ways to misuse your marketing partner:

• Giving them busy work when you have capable people already on staff – this is like using a tank to kill a rat.
•  Not carefully listening and honestly considering their recommendations – if you’re not going to listen to them, why hire them? That’s a waste of money.
•  Thinking that YOU are their customer – in reality, your customers are what’s important, not your opinion. I’ve told several clients before, even if you hate it, but your clients love it, would you still be against it? The job of the marketing agency is to endear your message to your customers, not you.
• Being cheap – you do get what you pay for, both in talent and in results. If you pay low, you’ll get bottom feeders. The best don’t need your kind of business. If you invest little into the marketing campaign, but still expect huge results, you don’t understand business physics very well or you’re counting on “that viral buzz thing” that is gotten for free. Good luck waiting on that one. As I’ve heard before, you can’t expect splashy results just by dipping your toe in the water. Just as you can’t promise the world to your customers for the price point of your product, why do you think it’s different with your suppliers and partners?

Understanding when you need an agency, how to chose one, and how to leverage their talents on your behalf will not only give you a great relationship, but a very powerful and profitable one as well.


About Be Branded

Tony Fannin is of President of BE Branded, an integrated marketing firm who helps clients BE Somebody to their customers. If you aren't somebody, then you are commodity.

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