How to Choose an Advertising Agency

 

How to Choose an Advertising Agency
by Kevin W. Brown, M.B.A.

Choosing an advertising agency is more difficult than it used to be.  Not too long ago, ad agencies gained virtually all their revenue from designing and placing ads for print media (newspapers, magazines, direct mail, etc.), TV, billboards and radio.  The agencies also charged big bucks to develop their ad campaigns and it was a very lucrative business for them.  So, if you needed a firm to create an ad campaign, you knew who to contact.

Things are different now …
Times have changed, especially with the invention of the internet.  Advertising revenue has decreased in virtually all types of media across the country, forcing many ad agencies out of business. So what are most of the remaining ad agencies doing, now that their services are not in high demand?  Reinventing themselves — acting as if they can provide services that they don’t have the expertise or credentials to offer!

Check it out yourself and you’ll see how advertising agencies now offer everything from “strategic planning” to “branding” to even “business development programs”!  And what are their credentials to support these services?  You’ll see a background in “Communications” or “Graphic Design” – and often a degree (if they have one) that is not even related to business or marketing.

This makes it even more difficult to choose an advertising agency.  The people running and working at the agencies don’t really have the capabilities to offer top-notch services beyond advertising, yet they are great in making it look like they do – until you actually pay for the work and are disappointed in the results.

Figure out what you really want
So, no wonder the typical business owner gets confused when looking for an advertising firm!  You read that they can offer a number of services, so of course, you figure that they can do what they say.  Then, after not getting what you paid for you become disillusioned.

The first step in selecting an advertising agency is to figure out what you really want.  If you truly only need assistance in an advertising campaign, then it is easier to figure out which agency will best meet your needs.  On the other hand, if you need a greater depth of marketing services, then contact a full-service marketing firm.

What is the difference between advertising and marketing?  Simply put, advertising is a subset of marketing, so advertising is just a small part of what a full-service marketing firm can offer.  Not to belittle advertising, however, it is only a portion of what a can be done to effectively market your firm’s services.  So, hiring an agency, by its nature, limits your firm’s ability to market itself.

Advertising, by definition, is communication aimed at persuading an audience to take action with respect to products, ideas, or services.  It is part of the “marketing communication mix” which includes public relations, publicity and promotion; these are all subsets of marketing.  Advertisements are viewed via various media, including print (newspaper, magazines, etc.), television, radio, outdoor advertising, direct mail, or a wide realm of internet-based media.

Most businesses need more than just advertising, so knowledgeable business owners seek full-service marketing firms to provide for virtually all of their needs.  Since marketing is actually far more in-depth than advertising, a highly-qualified marketing firm will employ professionals with superior credentials and will offer fully-developed capabilities

Interviewing tips

If you are interviewing advertising agencies, ask questions such as:

  • What is your degree(s) in?  If it is only in communications or design, you will find that the person likely lacks an understanding of how businesses (and professional services firms) are run.
  • What do you know about our industry?  What is your experience with serving similar firms?  Most advertising agencies have very little, if any, experience working with professional services firms.  Many are basically order-takers, not strategists, and you can spent an incredible amount of time guiding them and reworking their efforts.  If he/she barely understands the basics of your practice area, how successful do you think the person will be?  You’ll also be paying for their learning curve, each step along the way.
  • What specific services do you offer? You may be surprised to find out that their services are very limited — or they offer services (such as Marketing Plans) that they are unqualified to effectively provide.�
  • What is your experience in the specific media that we’ve discussed?  Each media (print television, radio, outdoor advertising, direct mail and internet) has specific target audiences and expected results.  You’ll want to see samples of the agency’s work.
  • What are some results of your advertising campaigns?  You need to know how the ad campaign has affected image, sales opportunities and revenues.  All too often, ad agencies don’t understand the business strategies that drive advertising.   They create “pretty” ads that lack results. �
     
  • How will your work mesh with our other marketing programs?  Often, an advertising campaign isn’t an isolated marketing tool – it needs to work in conjunction with other intra- and extra-firm marketing activities.  Unfortunately, many advertising people lack an understanding and education of the full breadth of marketing, so you’ll find that your overall marketing efforts may lack cohesion.
  • Who will we work with from your firm?  Are you going to get a lower-end person when you were sold on the campaign by a top executive?  It is important to be comfortable with your day-to-day contact(s).  This all goes into the value proposition.  Some ad agencies spend so much on their overhead that clients foot the bill vs. getting quality, high level professionals.
  • What size are your normal clients?  Will you be a small fish in a big pond or vice versa?  When times are tight some big agencies will hunt for small fish to fill their work schedule but not give them the attention they deserve.  As a general rule, avoid being much larger or much smaller than the agency’s typical client.  You want to receive the agency’s best ideas and creative output.
  • How much do you charge for your services?  What is your hourly rate?  What is the length of the contract?  You need to know how the agency is compensated so that you can judge how effectively they will work for your firm.  Be careful of long-term contracts, especially if the agency needs to learn more about your industry and get up to speed.  Don’t pay for that – just pay for their actual efforts working on your firm’s behalf.

If you need outside advertising assistance, only hire an agency that has worked in advertising campaigns for professionals. You’ll save yourself lots of time, money and headaches.

About the author: Kevin W. Brown, M.B.A. has worked with professional services firms for over 20 years.  His firm, Kevin Brown Marketing & Consulting, is a full-service marketing and management consulting firm that  specializes in serving lawyers, CPAs and other professional services firms. The firm is also a qualified advertising agency and public relations firm. Phone: (714) 965-1556. Website: www.KevinBrownMarketing.com