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Getting the most from your ad agency a two-way street

In the advertising business, there are clients who are wide open to any idea ad agencies throw out. Then there are clients who will literally sketch out an ad on paper and ask the agency to make it “look pretty.” And then there are a host of clients in between.

I’ve worked with just about every kind of client, all having their pros and cons.

“Wild and free” clients are often the hardest to please, even though they are open to a host of ideas. Many times, these clients simply don’t know what they’re looking for. On the other hand, many of the most innovative campaigns are executed for this type of client. Clients who “just want it done” often sacrifice the best creative product. However, the straightforward direction these clients provide allows creative staff to focus their energies most efficiently.

The truth is that good, creative, effective work can be accomplished for any type of client. It is important to note, however, that achieving this level of work is a two-way street. Your ad agency must be willing to listen to your needs and put your objectives above all else. On the flipside, you should be willing to let your agency give it their best.

What I’ve discovered is that, for most businesses, it is not that they don’t care to have highly creative work, but there are misunderstandings of the best way to use an ad agency. As your humble ambassador from the ad agency world, I would offer the following tips.

Treat your agency like a think tank

If an agency can’t make an ad “look good”, then the agency has no business being in business. What separates the best agencies from the mediocre is not how pretty their ads look, but rather their level and range of thinking.

True enough, a primary function of ad agencies is to churn out commercials and print ads. However, upon reviewing the employee base of most ad agencies, you will find a team of highly talented people with a range of specialties beyond pure artistic capabilities. Some are the designers and artists of traditional sense. Others are highly skilled researchers, marketing strategists, public relations practitioners, brand developers and promotional experts.

Point being, there are numerous “non-traditional” competencies for which agencies can be utilized. Sure, some projects will only require a single facet like graphic design. But in many cases, it is worth thinking about how an agency can enhance your project through their other areas of expertise.

By utilizing the full cognitive ability of your agency, your projects will ultimately have more depth and impact.

Time can make a big difference

The dynamic is a given — the ad agency wants more time, and the client needs it now. Surprisingly, ad agencies understand that tight deadlines go with the territory, and must be met.

However, when possible, giving the agency more time will usually result in a stronger, more creative and more effective end product.

The old adage says that your first idea is usually the best. This is true a lot of the time, and not true a lot of the time.

Speaking strictly by statistics, there is no way the first idea an agency has for a particular project can be the best idea every single time. And even if the first idea is the best, it can only get better with more development time.

Remember, quicker doesn’t always equal better, and even ad agencies need time to “sleep on it.”

Agencies don’t hate parameters

Contrary to popular belief, ad agency folks don’t hate parameters. The exact specifications of a project being dictated is one thing; giving general direction as to messaging, desired take-away and overall tone is another. There’s a big difference between providing valid, concise direction, and micromanaging the creative process.

The common problem that occurs here is that many businesses don’t realize what they want their advertising to be. In the worst case scenario, a client doesn’t realize they don’t like something until they see it. This means the ad agency has to go back to the drawing board, through no real fault of their own.

On this front, ad agencies can help themselves and their clients. Almost every significant, time-intensive advertising project begins with a written creative plan. In years past these have been referred to as “creative platforms” or “creative briefs.” Oftentimes, “brief” was an oxymoron, as these documents could be quite extensive.

In today’s world of faster and better, the “creative brief” has been reduced in girth, but not in importance. Shorter creative plans give agency creative teams a general direction, without placing too many unnecessary restrictions on the creative process.

Once complete, agencies should share this creative plan with their client. This puts the necessary information in a form clients can easily review, gives structure to thought, and prevents unnecessary parameters that can hurt the end product. In this stage, clients can agree, disagree, revise, and refine before the agency spends time and resources chasing ideas in the wrong direction.

The big lesson here — a little direction goes a long way.
So there you have it, three tips to “get your money’s worth” from your ad agency. By following these suggestions, everyone will work more efficiently, the end work will be better, and ad agency folks will live in harmony with their clients. I promise, it’s not a pipe dream — it just takes cooperation from both sides of the street.

Tim Mask is vice president of brand planning and development at Maris, West & Baker advertising in Jackson. He can be reached at tmask@mwb.com.

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