How do you choose an advertising agency?

How do you choose an advertising agency?
-by Tracy Harven

I grew up professionally in advertising. It truly is my first love and I still love it. It sparks my soul to dive into a new client or industry or new marketing plan or my favorite rebranding strategy. Working on both the advertising agency as an account planner and the client side, I’ve worked through both sides of the process for over 25 years. (Wow! 25 years sounds like a lot when seeing it in black and white).

Once you’ve decided to hire an advertising firm, here are the steps I recommend taking:
• Collect data on your customers. Who do you service now? How old are they? Where do they live? How frequent do they shop you? WHY do they choose you? These are important to determine how best to reach/communicate with them.
• Do some research. Find two – three advertising agencies that fit your needs. If you’re looking for a branding assistance or someone to buy radio and television spots or some graphic design. You may not know everything you need just yet, but you should have a good idea.
• Call and set up an appointment at their office. You want to see where all the magic happens and feel the energy. It may sound a little like fairy dust but you want to feel chemistry. Most of the agencies I’ve worked with produced great creative/graphic design/TV concepts. Since there is really no wrong answer when it comes to design work, where I pay the most attention is to the account planning people that will be working on my account. They will be the ones executing the projects and plans. I’ve seen it too many times where amazing creative was poorly executed and wasted money.
• Be ready for their questions! If they don’t ask these key questions, they’re not seasoned enough to execute the strategy.
• Who is your audience?
• Why would someone choose your company? Or What is your point of difference from competitors?
• How do you measure success of an advertising campaign?
• Other important questions:
• What is your budget?
• What was your best promotion?
• What is your biggest challenge?
• Biggest customer complaint?
• Ask your own questions:
• What are your capabilities?
• Pricing structure?
• Step by step, how does a project go from start to finish?
• Who will be your primary contact?
• What are their expectations of you?
• How will you be updated on progress of projects?
• Do they do post analysis on promotions and media buys?
• Will I own all artwork created for my business?
• Write an RFP (Request for Proposal) – This may be a little formal in today’s world, but it will give you all the answers you need to choose the best advertising agency for you AND it will all be in writing so there’ll be no surprises. The RFP should include:
• A paragraph or two about your company
• Your goals
• What type of marketing or advertising you would like to explore
• Any project deadlines you may have
• How you will measure success
• Budget (if you know)
• Fee structure (per project, commission, etc.…)
• Ask for the proposed plan by a specific date
• Ask for references
It’s OK if they have questions for you. It actually impresses me when the agencies ask intelligent questions versus no questions at all or even worse they ask questions that you’ve already answered in the RFP. If you want to have a more formal document check this website
• Review all responses and make sure they answered all your questions to your satisfaction. For instance, if an advertising agency says they will charge $150 per hour for a project, make sure it’s clear to you how many estimated hours it will take. Do they charge for client meetings or drive time? I actually had an agency bill me for miles they drove to get to a meeting with me! Do they only give one creative option or concept or multiple?
• Choose your best partner. Be ready to spend some time with them to get ready for your plan. This is a team effort. The more input you give in the beginning the more on target the overall project or plan will turnout. When a client and agency truly partner in the beginning the costly revisions after the creative has started are kept to a minimum.
As a client, I preferred to be kept in the loop and give approval after each step on major projects and new agency relationships. For example, if producing a print ad, I would approve the job form/creative brief, then the copy/message, then choose from the graphic design options, then approve final artwork. This way, if one piece is off target its caught quickly as to not rack up costly redo’s. For giggles, check out some of these very bad ads
Remember, there’s a million different ways to market your business. Count on the advertising experts to help guide you put a plan together and execute. It’s a giant puzzle of print, TV, radio, outdoor, gorilla marketing, trade shows, social media, search engine marketing, digital display advertising, streaming radio, streaming TV… to name a few. The best agencies will do an analysis and recommend changes or improvements. They will always keep you informed of timeline changes, price changes and plan changes.
Best of luck in your business growth and have fun.