Is your business capability optimally expressed to your audience?
Outsiders usually look upon communications professionals as wonderful and almost mythical magicians. That said, the professionals who work in communication / advertising agencies are to be admired for their sudden or instant effusion of bright and innovative ideas. But communications is not all imagination; nor is it all inspired creativity. It is hard work.
Today, top advertising agencies perform all kinds of special services for their client’s ― from conceptualisation of messages to selection of media and models, from discovering unique selling propositions (USP) to sophisticated market research and analyses. And there are a lot of agencies – from global conglomerates, to multinational corporations, to Indian giants, to shops run by gifted individuals.
Which brings us to the all-important question.
How to choose a Communications / Advertising agency?
A communications / advertising agency is a business service organization engaged in planning, creating, pre-testing, media selection, message placement and post-testing of communications and messages for clients, big or small.
How do a communications agency and a client enter into a business relationship to evolve a plan and execute the work?
The process can start from either side. A client has communication needs. An agency needs work and profits.
Let’s say that the prospective client has a communication objective. It might be sell a product, or raise support or funds for an idea or even to win an election!
What the client should ideally do is to collect and analyze the communication done by competitors.
The next step is to find out the agencies that are in the business.
Tips on AD agency selection:
Working with an agency is like getting married! If it is going to work for you, you need to know your partner and select the right one, says Taylor. (1)
It is obvious that there must be the right kind of chemistry between the client and the agency.
Normally, a company needs agency services when it has grown big. It may find out, much to its surprise, that its own ad department can no longer render the services required especially for organizing a major advertising campaign. But, one does not have to wait for growth before approaching an agency. Even small or medium companies can look for better services. All companies, big and small, want to grow bigger. And one way to grow is to increase sales and thereby improve the company’s image and public acceptance. Communications plays its role here.
Often, when the agency feels that the client is asking for fresh services (not in the original agreement), it will need a revision of the financial agreement. Some clients agree to it; then there is no problem. But if the agency and the client disagree, the rift will widen. Everything depends on the readiness of the one to get along with the other.
There are however, two major issues that are not negotiable:
- Basic disagreement over the philosophy and strategy of brand marketing. The agency may feel that the client is making unreasonable demands and unworkable proposals and strategies. It may oppose the client’s strategies with genuine conviction that no amount of advertising will improve the marketing strategy.
- Sudden growth in the volume of business on either side may affect the relationship. An agency that has suddenly become big may not attend to the needs of a small or medium company with its original enthusiasm. Similarly, a client that has grown suddenly big may get the feeling that the agency is too small to handle the large volume of its new business.
What to look for in a new agency:
When looking for a new agency, the client must check the following: (2)
- Quality of the people assigned to the company ― is it up to the mark? Are the qualifications, background and experience of the people suitable for handling the account?
- Are the marketing agency personnel competent to handle new accounts in the most efficient manner? What new ideas are they able to come up with?
- Is there full agreement between the client and the agency on the goals and objectives of the marketing and advertising strategies?
- Has the agency handled similar accounts in the past? If so, why did it leave those accounts? Or, is it keeping those accounts even now?
- If the agency has not handled similar accounts, is it competent to learn the characteristics of the new client’s products and services?
- Has the agency earned a market reputation for integrity and honesty?
- Will the agency say ‘yes’, ‘yes’ to whatever the client suggests or will it be frank enough to point out where the client makes unrealizable objectives? Will it be straightforward enough to question some of the client’s pet theories and objectives when it is convinced otherwise?
- Is the agency physically situated in a nearby area which is accessible to the client’s staff? (This may not be a big problem in these days of instantaneous electronic communication). One can, however, say that for frequent personal meetings, it is better to have an agency or its branch located closer to the client’s headquarters.
- If you are a small business, do not look for a big, international agency. If you are a big company, do not be foolishly thrifty (to the point of being miserly) by going to a small agency, especially one that has not handled any big account in the past.
Check if the Advertising agency fulfils three basic functions:
- Learn everything about the products and services of the client, the sales, marketing and publicity objectives of the client, the management and personnel philosophy of the organization and the amount of money set apart for the marketing and communication efforts in the company’s budget.
- Design a creative plan for solving the problems associated with communication and marketing, and to create actual pieces for insertion in the various media, through the combined efforts of the agency personnel.
- Do the essential research and survey required to draw up a realistic and effective plan for the translation of the client’s sales and marketing aspirations into concrete action.
The client can arrive at a final decision, depending on his ad budget, business volume and need for specialized services.
Advice before choosing an Agency
Before choosing the agency, the advertiser can prepare a list of creative agencies. The Triple A-I (Association of Advertising Agencies in India) can supply a useful list of agency names, their volume of business, year of establishment, accounts handled, etc. Business and professional organizations can also help with names and addresses of agencies.
Once the client settles on a list, he can, he ought to, query the agencies in the list and collect essential data.
Based on the response from different agencies, the client can prepare a short list and invite the agencies in that list (say, six or maximum seven) for personal discussions in separate meetings.
The personal interviews will help both parties to determine whether they like each other (remember the marriage analogy).
Then a really short, short list can be prepared by the client ― say, a list of two or maximum three agencies.
These agencies can be asked to prepare a portfolio on the agency’s plan of action. Assess the strengths and weaknesses of the agency’s plan.
If an agency claims that it has no weaknesses, the client should beware. Perhaps the client may even drop such a ‘perfect’ agency!
Have more meetings with the three finalists. Get all the people of the agency who will be handling the account and make an in-depth assessment of how they are going to handle it.
Give an assignment to two finalists;
Let them work on it as if they are your ad agency. Then let your financial people discuss with the agency’s financial staff on how media contracts, invoices, checking procedures, etc., are to be handled.
While making the final choice, let all those who attended the several meetings, conducted the practical aspects and interacted with the agency executives and staff, record their final impressions and recommendations with reasons. Both positive and negative impressions have to be recorded by each member. The client’s top executives (the Chairperson/CEO/MD, Heads of Departments and all who handled the selection process) make their final choice.
The client company has to inform the selected agency about its decision as quickly as possible. Let the agency not receive the new through the grapevine or from the market. Let them know it straight from the horse’s mouth.
If those agencies that were not selected want a meeting with the client to ascertain what their strengths and weaknesses have been according to the judgements of the client’s executives, that should be conducted as quickly as possible.
- James W. Taylor, How to Write a Successful Advertising Plan, Lincolnwood, Ill. : NTC Business Books, 1993, pp. 7-16.
- James W. Taylor, op. cit., p.8.