Question: How do I select the right advertising agency?

Answer of Kit Vernon, Blue Horse, Milwaukee: Selecting the right agency is no different from successful performance in your company’s other operations. Yet few executives do it often enough to achieve even minimum competence. However, some simple, common-sense approaches will help you do it efficiently.
Identify the specific attributes you seek in priority order. Build the rest of the process around finding the agency which matches up best.
Agencies will claim they’re skilled at a wide range of activities. Some are; none is equally adept at everything. Make sure agencies prove their expertise through recent client work, and provide client references.
Which agency attributes are most important?
Your first reaction will probably be “creative.” But what’s most important varies from company to company. Perhaps you value strong marketing and strategic skills, or specific market experience. For others, media negotiating or media planning may be at the top of the list. Or you might favor integration of a full range of communications activities.
The person with the most agency contact should be charged with culling agencies to a reasonable number, distributing information to them, and facilitating the selection process. The weight of each person’s vote will vary from company to company, but the people who’ll work with the agency on a frequent basis should have an important voice in the decision.
It’s finally time to start talking. Make the first call to your current agency. Tell that agency you’re conducting a review and why. If the current agency will be seriously considered, tell it. If not, thank the owners and tell them you’ll be naming a new agency. Don’t do the firm the “courtesy” of involving it unless it has a real chance. Don’t try to hide the review. Chances are it will find out anyway.
Most companies interview too many agencies. They think saying “We reviewed questionnaire responses from 42 agencies” makes them look thorough and important. In fact, a “cattle call” is an almost certain sign of an amateur who hasn’t done the necessary homework or someone looking to impress management.
Well-managed reviews rarely include more than six to eight agencies. Do your homework and narrow the field before serious conversations. Visit Websites. Ask knowledgeable friends, colleagues, media reps and vendors for their suggestions.
If some names pop up repeatedly, give that firm a closer look. Informal discussions with more agencies is okay, but limit RFPs or questionnaires to serious contenders.
RFPs often take dozens to hundreds of hours to answer. Don’t waste the agency’s time, or yours, unless there’s a fair chance the agency might be selected.
Invite the select few in for an exhaustive interview. Before the meeting, tell them precisely what you expect from them, in qualifications and in the meeting. Make sure your questions really work at finding who meets your priorities.
Your team’s chemistry with the agency is important. Before a good relationship can occur, you must like and trust the agency and want to work with them. Never hire an agency you aren’t excited about, just because they scored highest on a scale. If you don’t like it now, you probably won’t like it any better in a year.
Many clients ask for speculative creative presentations. In most cases, it’s a waste of time. It’s extremely rare that agencies get enough background to produce meaningful work. “Spec work” is scarcely ever produced. But agencies generally feel they have to do it, if asked.
The selection of an agency is a grueling, expensive process, for both agency and client. Don’t subject yourself or a group of agencies to it unless you truly seek a partner for the long-term. If you need only short-term project help, you can find an agency to help you. But the process, and your expectations of agencies, should be much different.
Make a commitment to the agency you hire. The cost, the learning curve and the disruption of your program make this absolutely necessary. Good client/agency relationships are like a good marriage. They require respect and effort from both sides. the right advertising agency?e right advertising agency?
Answer of Todd Robert Murphy, Todd Robert Murphy Communications, Milwaukee: Running a small business is what you do best. Whether you intend to grow your company or keep it small, you’re in business to make a profit. You need customers. You need to advertise.
As a small business owner, you may have no idea how to do that. That’s why you need an ad agency. The advertising industry is changing rapidly. No longer are agencies accessible only to large companies. Smart agencies are positioning themselves to meet the needs of small businesses like yours.
An advertising/public relations agency is, first and foremost, a consultant and advisor for all of your advertising, marketing, promotional and public relations needs. You should use your agency as you would your other professional consultants, such as your attorney or your accountant.
Your ad budget will depend on the type of business you’re in, the size of your company, your competitive situation, the media consumption habits of your potential customers, their buying season and many other factors.
Your agency can help you decide on an appropriate, cost-effective campaign. Advertising is something that , if done right, pays for itself.
A true full-service agency is a one-stop shop, providing strategic planning, marketing plans, creative and production services, media strategy, and placement for all types of print, electronic and other paid advertising, as well as collateral (brochure) design and production, public relations, media relations and public affairs.
A good agency handle both small projects and large campaigns – and treats them with the same respect.
What if an ad rep says you don’t need an advertising agency?
Think about it. A salesperson representing a single media outlet has a vested interest in getting control of as much of your advertising budget as possible. It’s called a sales commission. Advertising agencies make money on media commissions, too, but they have no vested interest in recommending one station over another, or one media over another. The agency’s commission is the same regardless of which media outlets it recommends.
Your business is your business. If dealing with advertising reps is wasting critical time you could be devoting to something else, you need to turn it over. A good agency will save you time and money while reaching more of your target audience.
The key to a good agency is that they can do it faster, better and cheaper than you could do it yourself.

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