How To Tell If It’s Time To Fire Your Ad Agency

Should You Fire Your Ad AgencyGoing through an ad agency review for a is both difficult and energizing. Every meeting brings new insights. You see opportunities, solid creative and begin to see how this could help bridge some of your sales gaps.

Make no mistake, the effort involved is overwhelming in identifying and selecting a new marketing communications firm. Programs are on hold and the team is making do because the compelling new marketing theme/tagline/look is just around the corner. That’s the hope anyway.

Is it time to fire your ad agency?

Is It Time To Fire Your Ad AgencyMark Mitchell and I discuss this topic in length in his recent blog Is it Time to Fire Your Agency? posted on Whizard Strategy.

While there are a few good B2B client/agency relationships, Mark has seen over and over that find the majority of them are not very strong.  The result is that the client doesn’t get the results they should.

We explore 10 key situations that undermine a strong relationship.

  1. They don’t understand your business
  2. Purchase motivations are more complicated and nuanced than, “The customer will make more money selling your product”
  3. They don’t ask why
  4. They think increased spending is the only way to succeed
  5. You don’t have access to the leaders
  6. Constant turnover of your team
  7. What is their measure of success?
  8. A focus on creativity over strategy
  9. You feel taken for granted
  10. You can’t imagine the agency leaving you

More importantly, we provided you an actionable Ask Yourself tip to each one to help you better understand if that might be your situation.

There are a lot of agencies who do a good job of servicing their clients. Mark notes, “In my experience, there are a lot more who make a number of these mistakes. It’s like any good relationship, you have to work at it and not just take things for granted.”

What if the problem is you?

Time To Fire Your Ad AAgencyMark and I also see a lot of good agencies who can’t do a good job because their client gets in the way.  I know – I’ve been that client. Here are some ways this happens.

  1. Thinking that you are the creative person
  2. You hold back information
  3. You are cheap

Agency client relationships are the best when both groups are open and honest about the issues the business is facing and what it will take to overcome them. When these relationships are true partnerships, both companies will ultimately succeed and grow.

Good Selling!

About The Authors: Mark Mitchell is a Sales and Marketing Consultant who specializes in helping business owners and senior executives in the building materials industry overcome difficult sales problems. Using his extensive hands-on experience, he shows them how to creative effective strategies to identify and eliminate blind spots that allow them to get past the roadblocks that keep them from realizing their revenue goals. Click here to learn more about his one-day workshop “Selling Today’s Building Materials Prospect.” Or sign up for his monthly building material marketing newsletter here. 

Greg Bonsib gives his perspective from the client side. Greg has extensive experience in working with agencies in his marketing leadership positions at ODL, Owens Corning, Rubbermaid, Sentry Safe and Zenith Products. Greg also publishes an industry leading blog on Channel Marketing.

Active Search Results (ASR) is an independent Internet Search Engine using a proprietary page ranking technology with Millions of popular Web sites indexed.

What’s Your Advertising Agency Accountable For?

Hold your ad agency accountable for resultsAds, of course.  Lots of ‘em.  Creative ones.  Ones that win awards.  Ads your boss will love.  Ads the agency loves to work on.  Beautifully illustrated, brilliantly written ads.  Oh, and a media plan.  Carefully crafted for the highest delivery, more points, lower CPMs.

That’s all swell, except you don’t need ads or CPMs.  What you need are customers that are buying your product.  Unfortunately, what many advertisers fail to do is to hire an advertising agency for accountable results.

Amazingly, accountability is a concept that often strikes fear in the hearts of both ad agencies and marketing managers.

 in the hearts of both ad agencies and marketing managersIs that because the agency’s creative director is more interested in making “cool” ads than boosting sales?  Is your marketing manager more interested in going on the photo shoot than delivering customers?  Is the account executive spending more time on the fairway than talking to your distributors?

You may have heard (or even made) those kinds of accusations at one time or another.  But, in all likelihood, they’re unfounded.  The real problem is the lack of a plan.  Without a plan, neither the agency nor your marketing staff know, with confidence, what is expected of them.  The accountability for the advertising plan starts at the very top of your corporate ladder.

There are four essential links in the planning chain that precede the ad plan.  Like any chain, if you remove a link, it falls apart.  And, if you expect to make your advertising agency accountable, they need to be familiar with all the elements that provide the foundation for the advertising plan.

In order of occurrence and importance:

1.  Mission Statement – Whether you’re a billion-dollar public company or a half-million dollar retailer, you should have a straight forward mission statement that everyone – yes, positively every employee in your company – should know and understand.  In one simple paragraph, you should state why you’re in business.

2.  Strategic Plan – This is a three to five-year view of how you plan to achieve your mission.  It anticipates risks and opportunities in the marketplace, and strategies to prepare your business for them, through organizational structure, capital investments, distribution channels,  product mix, etc.  A strategic plan should be a continually evolving document, although one that changes too radically or too often is impossible to implement.

3.  Marketing Plan – The marketing plan is an annualized version of the strategic plan, emphasizing tactical implementation:  What do we want to do this year and how do we plan to do it?

4.  Communications Plan – One of the subsets of the marketing plan, the communications plan should incorporate advertising, public relations, employee communications and community relations.  It should clearly identify communications objectives, strategies and tactics.

5.  Advertising Plan – Finally, we’re there.  But don’t get too comfortable.  You’ll probably need multiple advertising plans, one for each campaign or each brand, product or service that you plan to advertise.

Who Is Responsible for the Advertising Plan?

The ad plan should be written by the agency – probably a team effort of the account supervisor, planner, creative director and media director.  They don’t pull the information out of thin air – the input comes from the client.  The ad plan encapsulates all of that input (often gleaned from days of meetings and pages of research) into a simple and brief document (not more than a couple of pages) that confirms the agency knows what is expected of them.  The plan should be presented by the agency to everyone responsible for approvals at the client company, and a consensus reached.

What’s In the Advertising Plan?  

Avoiding badvertisingThe advertising plan consists of a series of basic questions and simple, straight-forward answers to each.  Specifically:

Why are we advertising?  There is only one reason to advertise:  To create a fundamental change in consumer behavior.  What behavioral change are you trying to make with your advertising campaign?  Among the most common possibilities:  Cause consumers to buy your product and not your competitors’ products; Cause customers to buy your product more often; Cause customers to pay more for your product; or, Cause customers to visit the point-of-purchase more often.

“To increase sales” talks about internal goals, but doesn’t address changes in consumer behavior.  Similarly, “to improve our image” or “increase brand awareness” are attitudinal rather than behavioral changes that fail to address a tangible result.

Beware of multiple answers.  If you have more than one goal, you should expect the results of each one to be diminished accordingly.

The next two questions need insightful, unbiased knowledge of your marketplace.  Whether you commission your own research study, purchase syndicated research or get the data from a sophisticated trade association, it is essential that you reach beyond your own empirical knowledge of the marketplace.

Who are we talking to and how do they act?  This question combines quantitative and qualitative issues.  “Who are we talking to” is a matter of defining your target audience in every possible respect.  Traditional demographics (age, gender, income and geography) are essential data for a consumer media plan.  For a business-to-business plan, the answer must identify markets and/or industries, typical titles of buyers and influencers, etc.  The more narrowly you define the audience, the more effectively targeted the advertising can be, in both media and creative terms.

“How do they act” addresses behavioral issues.  For instance:  Are they skeptical, conservative buyers that demand proof or are you after early adopters?  Are they driven by practicality or status?

What do they think of our product/service/company?  Do consumers perceive your product as the best quality, most desirable, best value, lowest cost, market leader, prestigious, – or all the opposites?  Maybe they don’t think of it at all!  If you’re launching a new product, go further and identify consumers’ attitudes towards your brand.

What do we want them to think of our product/service/company?  How do you want your product positioned in the minds of consumers?  Should it change?

What is the competitive environment?  What other messages are consumers receiving from your competitors?  What threats or opportunities do they pose for your advertising campaign?

What is the single most persuasive idea we can convey?  This is sometimes called a unique selling proposition, or USP.  What is the most important reason someone should buy your product or service over your competitors’?  The answer should always be stated in terms of consumer benefit, not simply product feature.

Why should they believe it?  The last question was reason to buy, this is reason to believe.  Your ad makes a claim, back it up.  Offer a free trial, cite independent research, refer to past experience – the more real your claim, the more sound and credible the evidence must be.

What 3 to 5 words define the brand personality?  Brands, even institutional and industrial products, have personalities associated with them.  Words such as “elegant,” “tough” or “trustworthy” convey that sense of personality.  Researchers sometimes ask consumers about personalities in terms of animals: “If brand-x were an animal, what would it be?”  Answers to this question can be enlightening and frightening!

Bewitched ad teamHow will we know if the advertising was successful?   Finally, we’re back to accountability.  To answer this, you’ve got to go back to the first question about why you’re advertising.  Having identified that goal, how will you measure it, and what performance is acceptable?

If you want your agency to be accountable, you have to agree to a plan that everyone can follow, beginning with a mission statement.  Include your agency in goal-setting, and the budgeting process to meet those goals.

Let your agency know that they’re accountable for results, not for ads or CPMs.  What about those great creative ads and brilliant media plans?  Truth is, they’ll never deliver results without them.

Special thanks to Todd Steele for his help with this post.

10 Guidelines for More Effective Advertising

Marketing Communications EffectivenessFor most companies, advertising is used on a very limited basis.

Even when it is used, rarely does a company spend enough money to create the kind of exposure that would be sufficient to create high customer demand or brand recognition.

What’s more, companies struggle to be able to “measure” the success of their advertising. This is due in large part to the fact that unless the advertising is sufficiently strong in relationship to other marketing elements (price, product quality, packaging, convenience of purchase, economic climate, competition), it is difficult to show a positive relationship between advertising and sales results.

With so much on the line, why is there so much bad advertising?

106478240One reason is that many companies view advertising as an investment rather than an expense because it provides a continuing payout over a period of time rather than a recoverable short-term cost.

This tends to lull companies into having vague and even conflicting goals for their advertising. See my Channel Instincts post “5 Essential Tips for Effective Advertising.”

Creativity springs from tightly defined problems  

Advertising EffectivenessIt really boils down to not having clear goals that are articulated in a creative brief that everyone agrees to and understands.

The smaller you can define the problem to be solved, the more focused and creative the solution will be.

Follow these 10 guidelines for more effective advertising

  1. Know why you are advertising and what you want to accomplish.  Set clear goals and design advertising to meet these goals.
  2. Don’t try to do too much with too few advertising dollars. Don’t spread your efforts too thin.
  3. Don’t choose an advertising medium based on its low rate rather than on its cost per thousand readers or listeners.
  4. Advertising too infrequently is often no better than not advertising at all.
  5. Don’t make advertisements bigger than they need to be. This will result in overspending.
  6. Don’t imitate the advertising of other companies. Your advertising needs and requirements are special and need to be based on careful analysis.
  7. Always judge an ad layout in the size and context of the medium in which it will appear.
  8. Always keep the “purpose” of the advertisement paramount in your mind when determining copy, layout and placement.
  9. Always design advertising keeping in mind the particular advantages of the medium utilized.
  10. Always capitalize on the inherent nature and unique advantages of the product, services or company advertised.

If you are using an advertising agency, don’t try to tell them how to do their job

Granted you are the industry expert, but they are the marketing communications experts.

You can avoid this concern by choosing an advertising agency with the proper expertise to service your account. Look for a good balance between marketing and creative ability as well as an intimate knowledge of your marketplace.

Good Selling!

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