A Guide On How To Pick An Ad Agency

Short in marketing dollars but long in marketing needs? Ivana Taylor shares her secret to choosing the right firm.

This may not be your ideal way of picking a creative firm to help you with your marketing. It may not be the corporate way, the politically correct way or the way that ad agencies want to be chosen. This is how I have come to choose creative marketing firms based on over 20 years of experience as a marketing manager and director for mid- to large-sized industrial organizations who are short on marketing dollars and long on marketing needs.

The other day a colleague of mine called asking for some advice on choosing an ad agency. She was looking for referrals to a small to mid-sized agency to service her relatively large but “hometown neighbor” branded bank.

As we talked through her needs for an ad agency, I wondered if this experienced marketing professional needed to review her needs and figure out how to hire the right ad agency. Maybe you had these same questions.

Do you actually need an ad agency?

If you know who your ideal customer is in painstaking detail, you know the most profitable products you want to sell to them, and you even have some ideas about what triggers them to buy and choose you—get yourself a creative ad agency. They can help.

If you aren’t clear about your marketing objectives or your ideal customer and what’s important to them, don’t look for an ad agency yet. Look for a marketing strategist first—there is a difference.

Creative firms will tell you they do strategy and that they can help you create a marketing plan—maybe there are some that do. But I’ve run across few of these firms in the last 25 years.

Let me explain. My experience has been that you, as the business owner, are responsible for knowing who your ideal customer is—what’s important to them and which products and services solve their problems. You need to understand your costs and what products are most profitable. It’s not fair to ask a creative firm to know the ins and outs of your business. They say that they do—but their strategy will only be as good as the data you give them.

If, however, a creative firm comes in and offers to dig into your data, do customer research and analyze your product line and give your recommendations based on this, take it. But be ready to pay. This kind of work or insight doesn’t come cheap—especially when paired with a creative firm.

The bottom line is knowing your customer, your strategy and what products make you profitable before you bring the creative in. Their job is to take what you give them and make it pretty. Your job is to give them the information and strategy that will make you profitable.

How to pick an ad agency

This may offend my ad agency friends, or movie or TV producers, but the scenes they show in movies and on TV about how businesses choose ad agencies doesn’t remotely resemble the world of small business. (It’s much messier than the big boardrooms and slick presentations.) The closest experience I had where an ad agency did our marketing strategy and came in to present their concepts was completely off base from what our data was telling us…they almost got laughed out of the boardroom.

So how do you choose an ad agency that you can build a long, trusting relationship with? Here is my process.

1. Create a spreadsheet

I’ve created a quick and dirty template for selecting an ad agency that you can download. When you open the template, you can customize it for yourself by adding your own criteria and then inserting the ad agencies that you are considering.

2. List your criteria of what’s important to you

Do you want your ad agency to be local? In my friend’s case, this was very important. They are a local bank and they wanted to support local businesses. Another way you might want to do this is to ask yourself what you need to be successful. Do you need next day turnaround? Do you need them to have Web design capability? Open your spreadsheet and put these items in the first column.

3. Make a short list

Your short list can come from a variety of sources. Get referrals and take a look at companies whose marketing materials and strategy you admire and ask them who their ad agency is. Select no more than five ad agencies and list them across the columns at the top.

4. Weight the importance of each item

In the second column, give a weight to how important each of these items is to you in your decision. You can use any scale you like; 1-5 or 1-10. If you know that you always have last minute projects that need fast turnaround and you want an ad agency that turns work around quickly, give that a weight of 10.

5. Meet them in person

Here is where my advice differs from the standard practice: DO NOT ask them to come in and present. Even if they beg and plead, just say no. Schedule a meeting and meet with the owner if it’s a smaller firm or a senior account manager if it’s a larger firm. At this meeting you get to know each other and you will use your spreadsheet to ask them questions about the items that are on their list.

6. Rate their capabilities against your list

No matter where you meet, the ad agency will certainly bring a portfolio. Since you’ve been researching the ad agency, you’ve probably seen much of their work already, so now you’re looking to see how well they perform in real life against your requirements. This process will save you hours of time in boring meetings and will save the ad agency hours of time preparing presentations that may or may not meet your needs.

7. Choose

After you’ve met with all the ad agencies on your requirements and rated them, you’ll have a guide to choose the one that works best for you.

I’m sure that you will get your spreadsheet results and maybe think, “I wish agency ‘A’ rated better.” That tells you that there is something about an ad agency “A” that you really like. Use the sheet to help you decide, but not get you to decide—and hopefully this process will make it easy and your decision clear to you and your team.

Source: How To Pick An Ad Agency | American Express

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