This little primer is something I wrote for Potion's first client. (Potion is a small design agency that I co-founded.) We realised that their expectations and ours weren't meshing very well. So here's what we sent them. They partly liked what we had to say. But they were also quite unhappy with some of it. Nevertheless, if you want your relationship with your ad agency to flourish, you'd best take a look at this piece. -- Roy Blumenthal
1. Your ad agency has your best interests at heart.
This has to be the number one premise that a client and agency work from. As a client, your goal is to get great work out of your agency, so that you can flourish. Your agency wants to give you great work, cos they want you to flourish, cos they want to build a long, beautiful, mutually fruitful relationship that goes long into the future. All agencies want great clients, and they want to keep them.
So, the premise HAS to be that we're working together for the same goals.
This means several things. When your ad agency asks you difficult questions, you need to assume that they're coming at those questions to help you. They're not trying to show you up. They're not trying to throw hurdles in your path. They're trying to help you get clarity. Sometimes they have experience that you might benefit from. If you assume the best, then you'll answer those questions clearly.
If you assume the worst, then you'll answer those questions reactively, and progress will not be made.
If you find yourself reacting to something that your agency has told you or asked you, let your first line of attack be to reflect on things. We're on your side.
2. Your business benefits when you know exactly what objectives you want to achieve with a particular piece of communication. Your advertising benefits when you communicate with your agency.
Advertising is never general. It always has a specific objective or set of objectives. Each ad should have a single minded purpose. If an ad has more than one purpose, it is a bad ad. One purpose means one ad. Two purposes means two ads.
If you don't know what your purpose is, then you have a generic ad. A broad ad. If you say to your ad agency, 'We want an ad that'll get EVERYONE to call us,' then you haven't found your purpose.
Know your purpose. Write it down. Examine it. Plumb the depths. You might THINK you know what you want, but maybe there's more to be discovered if you take the time to think hard about what you're after.
Use these four questions when you're setting your purpose:
o Who is the target of this ad?
o What are we offering to them?
o What proof to we have to back up this offer?
o What do we want them to feel and do once they've experienced this ad?
If you don't have CLEAR answers to each of those four questions, you're not ready to make an ad.
Once you have those answers, put them down in writing. A written brief is the only way an ad agency can proceed. There is too much room for error in conversation.
And remember, if your brief is unclear, your agency will do one of two things... either they'll create an ad based on the unclear message, or they'll come back to you with questions. It's your job as a good client to answer those questions clearly.
3. Just cos you're paying someone doesn't mean they must do what you want.
Contrary to popular belief, the ad agency does not give the client what the client WANTS. It is the job of the ad agency to give the client what the client NEEDS. Needs and wants are very different things.
Just cos you THINK you want 'everybody to call' does not mean this is what you need. This can sink your business faster than you can blink. One-hundred calls in an hour are impossible for two individuals in a small office to take. And the one or two people who can't get through MIGHT be the ones you NEED to speak to. You'll never know if you're trying to answer the phones all the time.
When you say 'Jump', your ad agency's job is to say, 'Why? What do you want to achieve by asking us to jump?' It is not our job to say, 'How high?'
If you want people to help grow your business, treat us as professionals. We have other clients. And we have lives. We are not at your beck and call. However, we ARE available to do work for you on a reasonable schedule.
Just as you have objectives in your business, we have objectives in ours. A client who insists on hundreds of face-to-face meetings is wasting everyone's time. Email is one of the wonders of the modern world. Please use it. A client who gives tight deadlines doesn't allow an agency to do great work. Whenever reactivity is at play, quality suffers.
4. Agencies are very happy to fire clients. Having cash flow is not the same as making a profit.
We all want to work wisely and productively together. Bearing in mind that we're professionals is a good way of keeping that objective on the table.
Money is also trivial. In most cases, ad agencies look for clients who pay realistic amounts of money for services rendered. They also look for multiple clients. If a client wants an agency to be dedicated to them exclusively, they really need to consider having an internal department doing that work.
Just cos you're paying, doesn't mean we're hopping around on the end of a piece of string.
5. Bring your agency into things VERY early on in the process, so that we can share our thinking with you, and so that we can plan our time.
The more lead time we have, the better result you'll get. Many clients THINK that they're giving their agency a reasonable lead time. But they can always involve the agency earlier in the process.
As soon as you even START thinking about a project, bring the agency into that thinking.
Do this via email. Meetings are not productive for this, unless they're formal brainstorms. And brainstorms are billable. Our expertise is at your disposal. But it's serious expertise built up over years. So we're going to charge you for it.
6. When an ad runs, there are consequences. Have a clear plan on how you will deal with those consequences.
Quite simply put, an advert is just the tip of a marketing iceberg. Unless you have a plan on how to deal with response, you will be floundering, and will be caught on the back foot.
Have a marketing plan and an action plan for every advert you run.
If you're running a classified ad asking for agents, know exactly what you're going to ask those people who call you so that you can quickly evaluate whether or not they're likely to be suitable. Know exactly what you're going to do when you meet them face-to-face. What documents must you photocopy? What must they sign? What happens when you accept them? What happens if your reject them? Do you need to offer them tea or coffee or drinks?
Know your breakevens. The numbers count. What response will justify the cost of the ad? How will you know if it succeeded or not?
If your ad agency asks you hard questions about how you plan to deal with the consequences, be prepared to show them your marketing plan. If you don't have one, you're going to be in trouble. (You're not going to be in trouble with your ad agency. You're going to be in trouble with your business. Cos you'll have a host of unpredictable results that might hurt very much.) Plan so that you can have upsides.
It is your ad agency's job to know what you're expecting. And they're supposed to help you meet realistic expectations.
7. When you don't know something, ask. Humility leads to knowledge.
Nobody knows everything. That's why we ask questions, and why we learn. We all want to know more. And we all want to be better at what we do.
A good ad agency wants to feed their clients with knowledge and expertise. It should be the goal of every ad agency to make themselves redundant to their clients. The more the client knows about advertising, the better the work the agency can deliver.
If you don't know something, ask. Humility has a way of generating goodwill. Arrogance has the opposite effect. When an ad agency deals with a client who is arrogant, they tend to think, 'Hmmmm... this guy knows very little. He doesn't WANT to know anything. All he wants is for us to kiss his butt. On balance, I don't think I want to work with him. It's a bit too unpleasant. There are better clients out there in the world.'
On the other hand, a client who says, 'I really don't understand why you're saying this particular thing. Would you mind sharing your knowledge with me?' has a very different response. We'll movemountains when we know someone genuinely wants to know something.
The business shelf at most major bookshops is a goldmine. Not just for advertising. But for marketing and business process too. Read voraciously. Even if you just skim chapter headings while standing at the bookshelf in the store. (One chapter heading that I remember vividly from a sales book is this: 'If you don't HAVE an assistant, you ARE the assistant.')
You do not have the time to NOT read. Do it. Learn. The more you learn, the better client you'll be, and the more successful you'll become. And the easier you'll be to work with.
Our job is to try to understand YOUR business as much as we can. We should become a valuable partner in your business, and that means WE need to be humble too. We need information from you in order to make the best communications.
8. What to do when your ad agency doesn't want to work with you.
There will be times when you find that your ad agency no longer wants to work with you. This could come about for many reasons.
One reason could be that you're simply a horrible client. You give unrealistic deadlines. You make unrealistic demands. You ask your agency to do unethical work. You ask them to do work that is not in your best interests.
Another reason could be that you've outgrown your agency. Perhaps your business has grown to a size that the agency can't cope with.
Yet another reason might be that your business has remained small. You're not able to pay a realistic amount for the services your ad agency is providing.
Another reason might be that the agency has picked up business that is a conflict in interest with yours.
Whatever the reason, sometimes a divorce is necessary.
All parties need to get together and chat, and then go separate ways, with all outstanding work either dealt with or delegated. Often, the agency leaving the client will have recommendations of other agencies who might be more suitable.
9. What to do if you want to continue working with your agency.
When things are going right, you might want to contiue your relationship. Know that storminess happens in the best of relationships. Keep cards on the table. Communicate with your agency. Let them know what they're doing right. Let them know what results you're getting off their efforts.
Always bear in mind that it's always a two-way street. What's working for you needs to work for them. And vice versa.
Communication is the key here.