The 5 MyThs of Working
  WiTh AdverTising Agencies
                       By dAn gershenson




7000 W. palmetto pk. Rd., ...
You’ve got a big decision in front of you — considering a marketing partner. Hopefully
it’s someone you’re going to have m...
MYTH #1:
Bigger agencies equal bigger teams on your account,
which equal bigger solutions.
This argument presupposes that ...
SOLUTION:
Put evaluation of structure and process for arriving at a strategic and creative
solution aside, at least tempor...
comes fast and furious doesn’t mean the information can’t be absorbed very intensively
by a team that has worked outside o...
between? Are you able to see all of the projects going on at the moment, not through
a weekly report but through daily act...
for it and was hailed as an innovator at the time. But come back in the time machine, set
your dial to return to the prese...
It’s about what they can do for you now and tomorrow, not what they did for other people
before you. Longevity is to be ad...
with 50-somethings who have 2 kids, make over $75,000 and live in Coral Springs, Florida.
The same goes for the newspaper....
Harry. Remember, it’s your money. Any rep that rushes you to meet their monthly sales
numbers is not your problem. By the ...
all the time. Which is never more relevant than when you are considering experts who are
supposed to elicit a positive fee...
The 5 Myths of Working with Advertising Agencies
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The 5 Myths of Working with Advertising Agencies

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This paper is a helpful guide to Brand Managers and C-level executives looking to make a more informed decision prior to beginning a relationship with their next agency. As they begin the process, they’ll hear a variety of arguments on why certain agencies should be selected for their branding efforts, but this paper helps such decision-makers not only identify certain arguments from agencies that are thin on substance and the reality that exists in place of each myth, but the suggested solution to keep the search and selection process on task, focused and to the company’s end benefit.

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The 5 Myths of Working with Advertising Agencies

  1. 1. The 5 MyThs of Working WiTh AdverTising Agencies By dAn gershenson 7000 W. palmetto pk. Rd., suite 300, boca Raton, fl 33433 • t 561.862.6004 • f 561.862.6009 . . www.thecreativeunderground.com
  2. 2. You’ve got a big decision in front of you — considering a marketing partner. Hopefully it’s someone you’re going to have more than a vendor-client association with and instead become a lasting relationship you’ll find quite fulfilling. Before you begin this process, there’s something you should know. Several agencies are going to come to your doorstep touting why you should choose them. Some will have smart, compelling arguments and some will come with fluff posing as legitimate reasons. What’s a C-level executive to believe these days? That’s why this paper exists. I’m but one person but I believe this one person’s point of view can be very valuable to you. Because frankly, I haven’t worked in a silo of one place. I’ve worked with big agencies, mid-sized firms and small shops. I’ve worked in big cities and smaller suburban-like towns. I know what it means to work on the international company’s account and the local roofer’s account. None of this is to overinflate my resume but to say that these varied experiences have now given me some much-needed perspective to address what I know from within an agency environment and pass along to you in order to provide you with the most unbiased look at what to believe, what to expect and what to discard as complete B.S. As agencies, we often tout our ability to build concepts that “cut through the clutter.” Yet, in the same breath, some of our own self-promotional clutter needs to be cut through. It’s my hope that the following will bring a bit of clarity to help you make a more informed decision prior to beginning a relationship with your next agency. 7000 W. palmetto pk. Rd., suite 300, boca Raton, fl 33433 • t 561.862.6004 • f 561.862.6009 . . www.thecreativeunderground.com
  3. 3. MYTH #1: Bigger agencies equal bigger teams on your account, which equal bigger solutions. This argument presupposes that there will be one agency team working together collaboratively at the management and employee levels to arrive at the solution in the client’s best interest. REALITY: Collaboration among one big happy family of a team working together to share ideas and strategy is a concept that is rare at best in the big firm environment. Major accounts don’t always have a large team of people collaborating with one another. They can have several small teams of 1-2 writers and 1-2 designers working for one Creative Director. But we’re not done yet. Those small teams then work against other small teams with their own respective Creative Directors. So what you have is not one giant bowl of open collaboration but an intensive competition between mini-agencies for survival of the idea (if not their own jobs). As a result, Creative Directors don’t necessarily communicate. Artists and writers didn’t necessarily share ideas. People are fiercely protective of their work and even secretive. While they may smile and say hello to one another in the hallway and talk about the collaborative atmosphere, it’s not collaborative. In reality, when a large firm such as this has 5 mini-teams that don’t openly communicate, competing with a small firm that has 1 team working together to arrive at the best solution, I hardly see any advantage at all from the large firm. This is not to discredit the efforts of large firms, but instead to discredit the assumption that the big agency environment with its competition of mini-teams inherently provides a level playing field in which the best ideas and strategies rise to the top. Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn’t. Add to the fact that subjectivity and politics can influence decisions in large environments just as much, if not more than a small environment. Which makes that aspect no different from a small firm. Which in turn means it is not outside the realm of possibility that great solutions can come from any firm, regardless of size. 7000 W. palmetto pk. Rd., suite 300, boca Raton, fl 33433 • t 561.862.6004 • f 561.862.6009 . . www.thecreativeunderground.com
  4. 4. SOLUTION: Put evaluation of structure and process for arriving at a strategic and creative solution aside, at least temporarily. How they say they’ll get there isn’t as important as how original and customized the solution is when they get there. MYTH #2: Specialization of agency means better strategies and ideas. This argument says that if a firm that is focused primarily on working with clients from one type of industry, it is qualified to provide greater insights and will ultimately provide better results than a firm that works with several different types of industries. REALITY: The boxing in of one firm in terms of industry may not allow their creative people the ability to approach each challenge as a new and totally different one — which is what every prospective client deserves. In all likelihood, prior to thinking about strategy, such specialized people will inevitably think, “Remember what we did for Client A? Maybe there are some parts of that solution that would work well for Client B.” The “I know how the people in this industry operate, I know what works and what doesn’t” mentality can take over. And that’s not as much of a good thing as you might expect. This line of thinking is based in the past, not so much the present and definitely not the future. Secondly, this line of thinking is very general and broad — and what works for one company does not always apply neatly to another. It’s one thing to see some consistencies. It’s another to assume the people and companies of one industry will walk and talk exactly the same. I’m a fan of recycling plastic for the environment. I’m not a big fan of recycling ideas. True, maybe some ideas just aren’t the right fit for a company at the time and can be a better fit for another later on. However, advertising and marketing is a field in which people have to learn about new industries extremely fast. They have to dive into materials, interview a variety of key contacts about their processes and history, evaluate where the company is going in terms of its goals and more. But just because this learning curve 7000 W. palmetto pk. Rd., suite 300, boca Raton, fl 33433 • t 561.862.6004 • f 561.862.6009 . . www.thecreativeunderground.com
  5. 5. comes fast and furious doesn’t mean the information can’t be absorbed very intensively by a team that has worked outside of that industry. SOLUTION: Invite industry-specific agencies if you wish but invite at least one agency that has a variety of work done for several different industries under their belt. Evaluate the strength of their strategies, ideas and results for clients outside of your industry, for those situations may not be as removed from your situation as you may think. As the decision to hire someone is never a small decision, you deserve fresh thoughts from all angles. If a specialist is as good as they say, their strategies and ideas will clearly shine above all. And if they’re not, you’ll see that too. MYTH #3: Our agency is in the same town as yours, so it will be easier to work with us. REALITY: Client service isn’t about proximity of agency. It’s about frequency and consistency of communication. An agency that works its client service tail off in another town can beat a lazy agency next door to you. And that’s what you want. You want to work with someone who is going to do whatever it takes to be accessible to you, communicate with you on every major detail (and most of the minor ones), be fully transparent about project timelines and touch base regularly to plan with you for what’s ahead. At the end of the day, a client needs to feel like they are very much a member of the brand development team. SOLUTION: Ask the out-of-town agency, “what are you going to do to make it feel like you’re in the office next to mine?” For that matter, the agency in town should be answering this too. Do you have everyone’s cell phone number at the agency on your account? Do you have a conference call or video chat with them on a weekly basis and as often as you like in 7000 W. palmetto pk. Rd., suite 300, boca Raton, fl 33433 • t 561.862.6004 • f 561.862.6009 . . www.thecreativeunderground.com
  6. 6. between? Are you able to see all of the projects going on at the moment, not through a weekly report but through daily activity? We live in a world with plenty of technology at our disposal. It doesn’t mean agencies use it the way they should. Some are still amazingly inefficient from an internal standpoint. For example, in a climate where decision-makers can be connected via e-mail, social media, videoconference and more, I’ll bet you there are still some agencies who can’t hold a meeting until all the appropriate heads are physically in the same conference room. Why? That’s not nimble. That’s stupid. It holds back the agency and by association, the client. Projects need to keep moving, meetings need to happen faster and teams need to be highly adaptable. If such kind of agency environment exists, you the client will suffer because they don’t have the answers you need fast enough. And because they don’t have the answers in place fast enough, they may not communicate with you fast enough. What kind of advantage is it to work with an agency like this? Not much regardless of where they are. Today, successful businesses are being built all the time without the presence of physical offices and co-workers in the same space. A workplace with such an environment has a simple choice: Run smoothly or die. They have to communicate seamlessly with themselves and in turn with their clientele. If they can do it and do it well, anyone can do it. Location was never less important to an agency’s success than it is right now compared to its ability to deliver results. And if an agency that is in another town has to work extra harder to grow the client relationship, I believe that agency’s client will benefit that much more from the effort. MYTH #4: Longevity of agency equals longevity of ideas and strategy. REALITY: The agencies that are slow-moving today and tomorrow will lose, regardless of what they did yesterday. And their clients will lose with them. This myth begs the question — are you hiring an agency or a museum? It’s great that an agency created a landmark ad campaign back in the 1980’s, won a thousand gold statues 7000 W. palmetto pk. Rd., suite 300, boca Raton, fl 33433 • t 561.862.6004 • f 561.862.6009 . . www.thecreativeunderground.com
  7. 7. for it and was hailed as an innovator at the time. But come back in the time machine, set your dial to return to the present day and let’s talk about the challenge in front of you now. As I completed this paper, Chevrolet fired the agency it had worked with for 90 years. This should be the ultimate wake-up call to clients and agencies alike not to get too comfortable in past successes, no matter how wonderful they may have been. You can’t rely all that much on where someone has been before to give you any indication of where they’ll take you now. Think about your own business and compare it to where you might have been long ago. Is the audience different? Yes, they’ve probably evolved to an extent. Do you have a new competitor or two? Almost certainly. Is your budget the same as 25 years ago? No. Has your service line changed a bit? Probably. Why did these changes need to happen? Because other changes outside your doors were happening, right? And because you felt the need to innovate with those changes. Well, in the marketing world, for quite some time, some people didn’t follow this logic. Certain agencies refused to believe that the Web belonged to sit at the same proverbial table as the media options in the past that had made them a great deal of money — TV, radio and print. Granted, those mediums still have much relevance in certain cases today too. But we know better about our world. We know how important the Web and Social Media tools can be to a brand’s success. We explore the new media options, we evaluate and when it makes sense to our client’s brand, we integrate what’s next into what’s worked. You have to if you want to operate in your client’s best interests. SOLUTION: Don’t base your decision on how well the agency fills out an RFP, shows you old work for someone else or talks about their patented “formula.” Give them budget parameters but a blank canvas in terms of media options. What does research tell them? What insights have they found about your company’s target audience? Is the work strategically and creatively brilliant? What feeling do you get about the people presenting to you — do they appear sales-y or have they given genuine thought to solving the business challenge? 7000 W. palmetto pk. Rd., suite 300, boca Raton, fl 33433 • t 561.862.6004 • f 561.862.6009 . . www.thecreativeunderground.com
  8. 8. It’s about what they can do for you now and tomorrow, not what they did for other people before you. Longevity is to be admired, but I despise agencies that use it as a crutch to make the insinuation that what applied yesterday will work just as wonderfully today. Not so. What’s more, that work wasn’t done for YOUR COMPANY. You company has its own set of challenges, which drives its own brand identity. An agency founded in the last 5 years may very well be in position to create a better business solution for you than the one that’s been around for 55 years. The elder may beat the younger, but hopefully not at all because they’ve had their doors open longer. Hopefully the winner will win due to the efforts of better planners, creatives and account people coming together to build answers that are customized to today’s issues. MYTH #5: We’re not just the media choice you can turn to. We also have creative people in-house to provide you a cost savings! REALITY: Media such as newspapers, cable providers and printers, in certain cases, can have limited creative resources and lack sound strategic planning. In such cases, any cost savings of using that team for true brand building is negated. It’s fine for a newspaper or radio station to say they have writers and designers, but this type of thinking assumes that all creative people deliver the same quality of output. Not true. Without getting into a subjective argument about the quality of in-house work vs. agency work, let’s agree that it’s not a given that all creatives are, well, created equal. And in the event that the in-house creative product is not as high a quality as the agency creative product, the value of working with “everything and everyone under one roof” is not as significant as these media outlets claim them to be. But let’s say the creative product in-house is quite good. You still need to be careful before you jump on that great sounding deal the media rep is offering. Do you know if that radio station is going to be transmitting to your exact demographic? Don’t tell me about how popular their morning drive time host is. Tell me if that host connects 7000 W. palmetto pk. Rd., suite 300, boca Raton, fl 33433 • t 561.862.6004 • f 561.862.6009 . . www.thecreativeunderground.com
  9. 9. with 50-somethings who have 2 kids, make over $75,000 and live in Coral Springs, Florida. The same goes for the newspaper. Sure, it’s got a great circulation. But who from your demographic — based on your brand strategy — reads that paper? Media reps love to throw their media kits and impress about how their outlet has so many readers, viewers and listeners. But they need to be pushed to do their homework and frankly, some just don’t have the resources to answer these types of very important strategic questions. So if they can’t answer how they integrate into your brand strategy, instead of how you have to hop on a deal that expires by the end of the week, how can you invest in them with confidence? Finally, consider how the agency has a wider palette of media choices at their disposal without any biases. When you choose a media source’s in-house creative team exclusively, you’re limiting your options. Even the large media sources that tout a diversity of print, TV, web, etc. still have the umbrella of their own specific units to push you toward dealing with. All they’re doing is giving you a bigger canvas to work with but the same limited colors to use. SOLUTION: First, recognize that you have a choice and you don’t have to use that media source’s creative people. They’re an option. If the media source is positioning their creative team to be on the same level as an agency team, then they need to be evaluated as such. So make them prove it. Ask them to show you what they would do for your brand and then invite others into the evaluation process. Otherwise, they’re not on the same level they claim to be. Secondly, you can use outside people as often as you like and those outside resources can provide guidance to the brand, which includes acting as a liaison between you and the media source to direct which way the brand should go. This relationship with these parties can and should work seamlessly. If the media rep doesn’t like it, tough. They’ll deal with it because they want your business at the end of the day. Finally, when you are evaluating a deal, take the rep out of selling mode and force them into strategic mode. It’s not about the great deal that’s available for “this week only” in order for you to fit into their media. It’s about how they can understand where you want to take your brand and how they can fit into that overall vision. To that end, make them show you numbers that correlate to your audience profile data, not the media kit they show every Tom, Dick and 7000 W. palmetto pk. Rd., suite 300, boca Raton, fl 33433 • t 561.862.6004 • f 561.862.6009 . . www.thecreativeunderground.com
  10. 10. Harry. Remember, it’s your money. Any rep that rushes you to meet their monthly sales numbers is not your problem. By the way, true story — a salesperson once asked me if he could get my business not because he demonstrated why it was smart for my client’s brand but because he needed to make his sales numbers — are you kidding me? Media reps can meet their figures and your brand’s goals at the same time if they do their job well. CONCLUSION: ➥ It’s not about size. ➥ It’s not about specialization. ➥ It’s not about proximity. ➥ It’s not about longevity. ➥ It’s not about convenience of resources. So what is it? Ironically, buying into an agency isn’t about a firm very much at all as much as the people in it. What you’re buying into isn’t an agency but a collection of relationships about to be forged. With strategic planners. With creative people. With account service representatives. And more. Those relationships can go one way or another, but make no mistake — these are the true assets that you will be dealing with every day. Can you visualize that? When you know who your daily account service contact will be — and the agency had better be able to indicate that — what do you feel about that person? If you like the Creative Director’s style, will you be dealing with them when you want to or will today be the last time you see them? Have these people made an effort to understand your situation by putting your challenge and a tailor-made (and amazingly creative) solution at the forefront of their presentation or is their approach largely a capabilities presentation rooted in past accomplishments? You can ask an agency to fill out an RFP, but also give significant weight to chemistry, as in the connection you feel with the agency’s people. Let’s not pretend that this point doesn’t matter — decisions to choose professional service providers are made based on feelings 7000 W. palmetto pk. Rd., suite 300, boca Raton, fl 33433 • t 561.862.6004 • f 561.862.6009 . . www.thecreativeunderground.com
  11. 11. all the time. Which is never more relevant than when you are considering experts who are supposed to elicit a positive feeling from your target audience to buy your product or service. Remember that a brand is built heavily on emotion, less on logic. That emotion includes the feeling you get about the brand of the agency itself. The personalities of the people. The customization of their strategies. The creativity of their ideas. Don’t apologize for that. Ever. Then make your decision. As co-Creative Director of The Creative Underground, a brand development agency with offices in Boca Raton and Chicago, Dan Gershenson has helped a biopharmaceutical company enjoy its best year ever, a country club obtain a budget surplus of $700,000 and a beer company take down the likes of Budweiser, Miller and Coors in head-to-head competition. If you want to follow him and his agency further, follow him on Twitter at DanOnBranding or connect via e-mail at dan@thecreativeunderground.com. on shens Dan Ger ireCtor eDiv Creat 2.60 09 6 F. 561.8 62.6 004 ite 30 0 t. 561.8 rD., Su Park e t to . Palm 4 33 70 0 0 W , Fl 3 3 raton Boca oun D .com DON’ Dergr T JUS iveun T Dan @t hecre at BUIL BUILD A DAB B awa RAND UZZ. th rene ss is a . ings nice sh o u start ld ran . Bu t like k mu we b sellin ch hig eliev g p ro h er t eaf cust d u ct han a ew o m er . a nd ware you li s to motiv nes s ke w s p re ating . ildfir ad th e, lea e goo loyal ding d wo to m rd ab o re s out old p ro d u ct. 7000 W. palmetto pk. Rd., suite 300, boca Raton, fl 33433 • t 561.862.6004 • f 561.862.6009 . . www.thecreativeunderground.com

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