How to Get the Most from Your Ad Agency

by Art Zimmerman

While managing inefficiencies within an organization is vital to a healthy bottom line, it’s also important to make the most of the company’s investments in outside resources as well. If you are the person in your company responsible for managing an outside advertising agency, or you are called upon to work with one from time to time, there are several ways you can increase their productivity without increasing your advertising budget.

Whether you are a small retailer or a large conglomerate, here are 10 suggestions that will help you maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of your advertising agency:

1. Create a working partnership. The principals and managers of your ad agency are likely to have marketing communications expertise in a wide variety of businesses and industries. To make the most of this resource, treat agency members as part of your company. Whenever possible, include them in the strategic planning process, regardless of how formal or informal it might be in your company.

Encourage your agency representatives to meet with your employees, your distributors and anyone else in your organization who can give them a better insight into what makes your company tick. To be effective, the agency needs exposure to all levels of your company, including your senior management. Because your agency can play a powerful role in creating and promoting your public image, help them to understand what makes your company and its products and services unique. And as the primary contact for the agency, your role in the partnership must be active; your own insight, combined with a knowledgeable, objective viewpoint, will greatly enhance the results of your communications programs.

2.Eliminate the fear of failure. The real business of any advertising agency is creativity—fresh ideas, innovative concepts and new approaches to existing and future challenges. To help your agency deliver, allow them to push the edge of the creative envelope. Discourage conservatism because “we’ve never done it that way” or “my boss will never agree to that approach.”

Once in a while, the agency’s efforts might misfire. But if you create a green-light environment, chances are you’ll end up with a superior creative product that will reach your market with a powerful message. Remember, safe usually equals dull.

3. Listen with an open mind. One of the obvious advantages of using an outside ad agency is the unique perspective they bring to your business. Take full advantage of the agency’s inherent objectivity by remaining flexible in your thinking and encouraging creative risk-taking. Whatever you do, don’t force the agency to give you what they think you want, rather allow them to give you what they think you need.

4.Be clear and consistent. If your standards of excellence change from one meeting to the next, you may inadvertently press the agency to be cautious in their creative approach. Once the creative environment is set and the ground rules established, stick to them. It’s also helpful to be specific about your marketing and business goals to avoid having the agency spin its wheels, wasting valuable time and money. And when your goals change, be sure the agency understands the new direction to avoid wasted effort.

5.Be decisive. Once you take a stand on the agency’s work, stick to it. If a campaign you’ve approved is challenged by upper management, be prepared to defend it. Rather than waffling on your position with the agency and your superiors, have a point of view and express it. Everyone will respect you for it in the morning.

6.Don’t over-analyze copy. Advertising copy is written for your markets, not for you. It must reflect your company’s image, style and positioning. When reviewing copy, stick to the objectives and agreed-upon strategy. Let the agency do the creative job you’ve hired them to do.

7.Establish clear financial guidelines. Get a clear and fair compensation system with your agency established from the beginning. Then monitor its performance, costs and profitability on a regular basis. If a money problem does arise, establish its significance and address it directly with the agency as quickly as possible. And remember, you are both in business to make a profit.

8.Share the credit. Keep in mind that the agency-client relationship is, above all, a collaboration. When you hear positive comments about the agency’s work, pass them along. A client’s genuine “thanks” is a powerful agency motivator. Everyone appreciates a pat on the back, whether or not they care to admit it.

9.Share the heat. When problems occur, don’t rush to put all the blame on the agency. Share any negative comments, then help formulate a plan of action so that you can move forward together. Don’t abandon the agency partnership every time the going gets tough.

10.Insist on an annual check-up. At least once a year, you and your agency should sit down to discuss the progress and results of the relationship: What was achieved? Were the results in keeping with the program’s objectives? Are there problems or complaints on either side? Every relationship needs an organized opportunity to clear the air once in a while.

The common link to all these ideas is a basic understanding of what drives advertising agency people to go the extra mile for you, day in and day out. It has very little to do with financial compensation and very much to do with human nature. Agency people will go through walls to exceed expectations when they are motivated, supported and appreciated.

The environment you create for your agency is fundamental to its—and your—success. Provided you’ve hired strong talent which matches your company’s needs, these suggestions should improve your chances of maximizing your agency’s creativity and productivity.

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Art Zimmerman is President of Zimmerman & Murray Associates, Inc., a full-service Charleston advertising agency. ZMA was started in July of 1998 and currently handles several local retail, corporate and media clients.