Tips and Techniques for Finding the Right Ad Agency
What do you need?
Do you need a whole new campaign from soup to nuts? Want to update some old but effective creative? Do you need someone that specializes in web design or in direct marketing? Do you want to generate phone calls and store traffic, or is this more of an image campaign? This is where your marketing communications plan and strategies come into play. You should have a very good idea of what your advertising needs to do so you can choose the agency that can best help accomplish your goals.
Do Your Homework
Before you bring in a parade of agencies to make presentations, do some digging. Talk to other companies who have great advertising and do some research on the Internet about agencies in your area. Most agencies’ web sites allow you to see client lists and view samples of their advertising, so you can get a good feel for what the agency does.
Make a list of five to ten agencies you are interested in. Then call them, introduce yourself and let them know what you are looking for. This is also a good time to find out about any “deal-breakers.” There is no point in talking further if their office is out of town and you want a local agency or if they work for your primary competitor and can’t work for you.
If you like what you hear on the phone, ask the agency to submit a package of materials that describes the agency’s strategic approach, staff, capabilities and clients. Also ask for some references you can talk to and some samples of recent work. This is your chance to compare and contrast the agencies on your own – away from the emotion of an in-person presentation. From your review, make a short list of three to four agencies you would like to meet with. (There is no magic in limiting presentations to three or four, but it keeps the process manageable. Having too many presentations becomes confusing and takes up too much of your time.)
Next step: presentations. Ask the agencies to make a presentation that covers their capabilities, highlights their work and discusses how they approach business. You will also want to discuss fees, who will be assigned to your account and other issues. Be sure to allow plenty of time for questions and answers.
What you need to know
Your goal is to find an agency that can produce great work and work well with your organization. Here is what we look for when helping clients find creative talent.
•Any firm who works with you must understand how what they do fits into your overall communications goals. A firm specializing in web site design should help you integrate your web site with everything else you do. A web site is important, but it’s just one piece of the marketing mix. When you interview for creative services, be aware of the emphasis they place on strategy and how the pieces fit together.
•Is the work good? Look at the agency’s work with a critical eye. Is it powerful? Does it make sense to you? Does all the work look the same? You should see strong creative concepts and good execution. You should also see a good range of work – different approaches and techniques for different types of clients.
•Look at results. The work – whether it is advertising, web sites, brochures or other marketing tools – shows the caliber of the firm. But don’t be caught up in great creative materials. Did the materials achieve their objectives? Did they get results? How were they measured?
•Who will work with you? The head of the agency may make the presentation, but you won’t be seeing him or her on a day-in, day-out basis. It’s important that the people working with you are a good fit. Meet the people who will actually be doing your work – web design, creative, media, research. Do your personalities mesh? Can you really talk with them the way you need to? Do they listen?
•Big Firm vs. Small Firm. A big name group may be the best fit, but it may not. Sometimes larger firms bring the capabilities you need. Think about whether you want to be a small fish in a big pond and what that will mean in the day-to-day work.
•Be positive the people you will work with have knowledge of your business, an interest in your business, and a knowledge of the competitive situation. The group you work with should have experience in projects like yours. That doesn’t mean they specialize in your industry or have worked for competitors, but you do want someone who has worked in similar situations, understands the logistics of your industry and the factors that affect your organization.
•Look at turnover. It is true clients come and go, but great agencies help their clients grow and find new ways to help them. You want a firm that can help you over the long term, increasing its value as they learn more about your organization.
What the agencies need from you
New client presentations are a part of life for agencies, but they do require work. There are a few ways you can make things easier – and show your prospective agencies you value their work and their time.
•Tell the agencies you talk with what your process is and set clear deadlines. Tell them how and when you will make your decisions.
•Provide agencies with some information about your organization and projects so they can tailor their presentations and materials to your needs.
•Don’t expect agencies to produce “spec” work. You probably have heard about agencies pitching accounts by mocking up sample advertising for the client. This requires an enormous investment from the agency and generally happens only for accounts worth millions of dollars a year. In addition, an agency really can’t know enough about your business at this point to produce speculative work well.
•Let all the agencies you talk to know your decision. It’s unfair to leave agencies hanging while they wait for your decision, only to hear through the grapevine or newspaper you hired someone else.
Building a good, long-term relationship with an agency can help you produce outstanding materials and results-driven advertising. But put aside the glitz and glamour and focus on the nuts and bolts. With a little work and planning, you can find the right agency to make you shine.
If you still feel lost in a sea of possibilities for creative services, we can help.
E-mail us, and we will send you a detailed list of questions you can use in interviewing your prospective agencies. If you need more help, we can manage the selection process or review your strategies to make sure you are headed in the right direction before you hire an agency.