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How to Get More Value for your Money:
The Keys to a Strong Agency Relationship

By: Christopher M. Vernon

Christopher M. Vernon is Chairman and CEO of Blue Horse Inc. Blue Horse is a full service marketing communications firm, providing advertising, public relations, marketing, research and direct communications services for business-to-business, consumer, financial and healthcare clients. The agency, with capitalized billings of $29 million, is headquartered at 839 N. Jefferson Street, Milwaukee.

As a marketer, youíve established yourself as a magician - doing more with less. As a decision-maker, you have no choice but to make sure that every part of your communications program works with maximum productivity.

One surefire way is to make sure your advertising agency relationship is productive and cost-effective. The environment you create with your agency can be the single most important factor in ensuring you get the most for your marketing communications dollar.

Be your agencyís best client.

Not necessarily the agencyís biggest client, itís least demanding client, or even itís nicest client; "best" means the agencyís most respected, most professional client. It means long-term commitment, respect, detailed organization and planning. It means hard work. But the results are worth it. Without this effort youíll never know how good things can be.

Good client/agency relationships are like good marriages. You canít take them for granted. Good ones arenít one-sided. Both take a lot of work, especially after the honeymoon is over.

Use this checklist periodically to see how youíre doing.

1. Communicate! Communicate! Communicate!
Poor communications causes more problems than any other factor. Improving communications corrects problems more quickly than anything else.

This means being a good listener, even to things you donít want to hear. Encourage questions. Ask some yourself. And donít expect simple answers.

Require that important information be put in writing: conference reports, plans, and estimates. Then read and act on them!

2. Create an atmosphere of trust.
Trust is the most important factor in a good relationship. Be forthright every day you work with the agency. Make sure they understand your goals and objectives and your resources. If you canít trust your agency with sensitive information, get a new agency.

3. Think of the agency as a true "marketing partner", not as a vendor.
Agencies want a consultative relationship, like your company has with its accountants, its attorneys or its bank. They hate being thought of as vendors. If you count the agency on your vendor list, you donít have a partnership.

4. Make the agency part of the companyís team.
Make sure they get sales bulletins, internal newsletters and key correspondence. Make sure they attend relevant marketing and sales meetings, sales and product training.

Keep the agency current about your products, distributors, competitors and markets.

Help your agency team develop close relationships with the key people at your company.

Ask for thinking, not just execution.

5. Long-term commitment is crucial.
Things wonít always go smoothly. But if you and your agency are committed to making the relationship work, youíll find ways to solve, not just live with, problems large and small.

6. Planning is crucial.
Get your act together before you meet with the agency on a project. Clear goals and objectives not only give you and the agency an effective road map, they also give you a basis to judge the creative and to measure the results.

Good planning will save wheel-spinning and can save you more money than anything mentioned in this list.
7. Be dependable.
Be there when you say you will. Return approved copy and layout when you say you will. When you canít, let them know why. Donít leave your voice mail on all the time, and do return your calls.

8. Be knowledgeable about the agencyís resources and the agencyís business. If you donít know - ASK!
Youíll work smarter, and avoid a lot of frustration. Understand what you can do to benefit the agency, and what you may be doing unintentionally which cuts into profit, which wastes their time or makes their jobs more difficult and more frustrating.

9. Become friends with your agency.  
Theyíll work a lot harder for you for friendship and respect than theyíll ever work for money alone.

10. Treat the people who work on your account with respect.
Respect begets respect. Youíll be the winner. If people on your team truly donít deserve your respect, ask management to replace them with people you can respect.

11. Be an advocate for great work.
Demand your agencyís best work. Give them the information they need. Give them a chance to succeed. Then be very demanding!

12. Share the credit with your agency. Share the heat.
Make your team look good in front of your management and the agencyís. Theyíll work to make you a hero, too!

When things go wrong, share the blame. Work with the agency to develop a plan for improving the future.

13. Do the little things.
A thank you note, or you bringing the doughnuts for an early morning meeting will be appreciated beyond your expectations.

14. Make the agency your ally in saving money.
Ask your agencyís help in making your money do more. Appeal to their ingenuity. Look for off-the-wall ideas and donít reject them out of hand.

Demand estimates, then understand the difference between estimates and quotes. Remember, the power of a terrific idea can make you a lot more money than you can save by squeezing nickels.

15. Eliminate the fear of failure.
Encourage the agency to push the envelope creatively. Discourage "Weíve always done it that way" thinking.

The agency will have to take chances. Some efforts will miss the mark. Explain why and urge them on to the next plateau.

16. Donít cry wolf! Set reasonable expectations.
Donít treat every job as an emergency. Your account team can become cynical amazingly fast. Give them the time they need to do the job right.

17. Create a "nuclear free" zone.
Make sure the agency knows professional disagreement isnít dangerous. Let the agency suggest what they think you need, not just what they think you want to hear. Donít pull rank. You donít need to. The agency already knows you control their destiny on your business.

18. Be consistent. Be decisive.
Donít change your standards from meeting to meeting. Once youíve approved the agencyís work, be an advocate for it. Itís no longer "something the agency came up with," itís "something the agency and I think will work very effectively".

19. Insist on regular check-ups.
Meet periodically with your account executive and agency management to review progress, achievements and problems. Discuss how the relationship and the work can be improved. Be candid and demand forthright answers. Work together to improve the future.

If your account manager isnít responsive to your important concerns, ask agency management for a replacement, If management isnít responsive, look for a new agency.

At least annually, ask your agency to show you some of the best work theyíve done for other clients. If yours isnít up to par, find out why, and ask what you can do to make it better.

20. Keep the agency insulated from office politics.
Nothing can be more damaging to the agencyís credibility than getting them in the middle of office politics. Donít ask them to take sides.

© Copyright 1999, Christopher M. Vernon, Blue Horse Inc.

The author assumes full responsibility for the contents of this article and retains all of its property rights. MarcommWise publishes it here with the permission of the author. MarcomWise assumes no responsibility for the article's contents.

 

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