How to choose an ad agency

How to choose an ad agency from Octarine Communications

By: Octarine Communications  01-05-2009
Keywords: Advertising and design, Ad agency

You’ve decided it’s time to advertise and you want to use an agency. But having made the decision, how do you choose the right advertising agency? If you don’t know anyone in the industry who can guide you, it isn’t easy to choose the right agency.

On one hand, you want to know that the one you settle on isn’t a fly-by-night set up, and that they have the resources and skills to give you the quality of work you need. But on the other, you don’t want to be the small-fry client, too insignificant to be worthy of much interest from the agency. If you have a small to medium sized business, you might consider a freelancer, but while they are often great at design or copywriting, when you need collaborative work with both of these aspects, your freelancer might not be up to the task. And since freelancers are the creatives, they are unlikely to be able to advise you on strategy or media selection and may have a Rolls Royce approach to production. They may want to create a work of art. You need advertising that will grow your business!

You need to be honest with yourself, and get perspective on your place in the pecking order. Big agencies aren’t geared up for smaller budgets. And by that, I mean less than several million. I used to work in a big agency, and was always amazed that we’d get calls from little companies who wanted to find out about working for us. Didn’t they know that we weren’t really interested in their paltry budget? Of course, most reputable agencies will tell you very politely that you are too small for them, and one or two may even direct you to a small agency, often run by an ex-staffer who has set up independently but left on good terms. But some will tell you that they’ll take on your work; an overly optimistic junior AE might field your call and decide he’d get credit for bringing in new business. And then you’ll find you just don’t get the service you need.

It’s a truism in the ad industry that the smaller the client, the more attention they will demand. Instead of viewing the advertising budget as an investment, they are more likely to turn over every penny (several times) before they commit. And the big name agencies just don’t have the time to invest in small clients when they are chasing after Megabuck Corporation. Of course, from your perspective, this is real money you’re talking about and you need to know that you are getting the best possible value for money.

So you need an agency that is small enough to see your budget as important, and big enough to deliver.

The best place to start is to know your budget. You could phone the big agencies and ask to speak to whoever is in charge of new business. Simply tell them who you are and what sort of budget you have and find out if they are interested. And if they decline, ask them if there is anyone they might recommend.

You can also scan magazines, newspapers and your industry publications. Most ads carry the by-line of the agency in very small print discreetly in the margin. See which agencies have created the ads you like, and give them a call.

You can also look up ad agencies in your yellow pages and then check them out on the internet. But don’t be overawed by their web-sites – if they do web-design they might well have a site that is built to impress, even if they are a small agency. The corollary of this is that a basic web-site shouldn’t put you off either. If the agency doesn’t do web-design their site might not have all the bells and whistles but as long as it is professional and gives you the information you think you need, don’t hold a lack of fancy features against them.

Once you have established a possible partner, you might want to meet with them and get a feel for the people. Does it feel right?

Needless to say, the agency will present some of its best work to you. But don’t just accept the pretty pictures. Ask who was being targeted, or what was the strategy and you’ll get a sense of whether they know their clients’ needs.

If they have won awards, they will tell you this as though awards are guarantee of quality. The reality is that creative awards are precisely that: awards for creativity. They are no indication that the ad worked from a client point of view or was appreciated by their target market. And if there are too many awards, you might be talking to a trophy-hunter: an agency that focuses on winning creative awards to promote their own business, rather than on achieving their clients’ objectives and driving their business. Bear in mind, too, that there is a fee for every entry and that time and resource is dedicated to submitting work for awards. And somebody has to pay for all this.

Of course, the people are key. You should expect to meet with a senior client service person and possibly a junior who will do most of the work. The smaller the agency, the more senior the person you should expect to deal with on a daily basis. Simply because there are no juniors and AE’s are expected to do their own running around. In a bigger agency, you might have a senior person who has several juniors reporting to him, who call on him when they run into trouble or need extra input. Now clearly you need to feel some connection with the person who will be working on your account. A sense that you can trust them and enjoy working with them. And you need to respect them too. There’s no point in appointing an ad agency and then second-guessing every recommendation or suggestion they make.

Ultimately, the agency you choose will spend your budget. Don’t expect to have any change. Any decent ad agency will look at your budget and decide how best to allocate the available funds. It isn’t about cutting costs and saving 10% here and 5% there to give you money back. It’s about giving you the best possible job within the financial resources you have available. So you need to be able to trust your agency and believe that they are doing their best for you. Which they really will try to do. After all, if they can help you grow your business, you’ll probably increase your spend and grow theirs in return.

For more information, contact Ann Druce on 031 564 6921 or email [email protected]

Keywords: Ad agency, Advertising and design

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