How to choose an Advertising Agency.

Looking for an advertising agency? Our guide on how to choose an advertising agency is worth a read.


How to choose an Advertising Agency.

Looking for an advertising agency? Our guide on how to choose an advertising agency is worth a read.

Welcome to the ultimate guide on how to choose an advertising agency.

It’s an accepted fact that advertising agencies don’t advertise, at least not to their client base. Oh they’ll advertise their successes in an “aren’t we cool” fashion in publications aimed at their peers and the industry as a whole – “look at our awards, drool over our super new offices, check out our brilliant campaign or meet our new creative genius” etc. etc. Which is all rather impressive if you’re in the advertising game but where are the ads in mainstream or specialist media specifically designed to generate business for the agencies? Don’t hold your breath.

Why don’t ad agencies advertise? If you asked around, you’d get told that agencies work in a business-to-business environment but their product is best suited to the business-to-consumer space. So there’s theoretically no real “fit”. The thing is, lots of agencies have major clients that operate in a business-to-business environment and these agencies happily manage to accept money for services rendered, so let’s scratch that excuse. Maybe they just don't need to advertise because they're so busy? Come on, there are very few businesses out there with that (nice to have) problem, and ad agencies aren't among them.


So if they’re not advertising, how do they get new business? Advertising agencies traditionally rely on public relations. As mentioned above, they talk themselves up big time, hoping that a “buzz” will vibrate out into the business world, trusting that their reputation (and the universe) will provide. As an aside, they’ll throw in some cold calling but you can bet that there’s lots of networking happening, not to mention a fair amount of schmoozing, which is nothing more than PR really.

This all sounds terrific but when was the last time your advertising agency told you to stop all your advertising and rely purely on good publicity, networking and a bottle of wine with the right people to entice customers to buy your products? Hypothetically, this plan could work if you could somehow manage to have a leisurely one-on-one lunch with every single potential client, but that’s a pretty ambitious strategy to say the least (unless you’re the local Bugatti agent perhaps). 

What could advertising agencies say if they actually advertised? It takes a brave person to admit to it (and few in advertising land ever will) but when you cut through the illusions, advertising agencies are much of a muchness, and the work they do is only altered ever so slightly from agency to agency.

Now the good folk in the Parnell and Ponsonby advertising agency scene will vehemently disagree, but it’s true, regardless of how cynical it sounds. It must be, or massive companies wouldn’t find their advertising agencies so effortlessly and ceaselessly interchangeable.

If you were responsible for your company’s advertising budget, how would you choose an advertising agency to partner with, considering that advertising agencies are great at spending your money but are more than just a touch reluctant to spend their own?

There are seven factors to consider:

  1. The Size
  2. The Work
  3. The Results
  4. The Cost
  5. The People
  6. The Long Term
  7. The Smoke and Mirrors

How to choose an advertising agency based on size.

How to choose an advertising agency based on size.

In part one of How to Choose an Advertising Agency we take a look at size. And the truth is, size really doesn't matter.

It can be quite prestigious working with a big advertising agency, a sign that your business has made it, much like wearing a Rolex tells people that you’ve hit the big time (theoretically that is – most folk can’t pick a replica from the real thing).

Big advertising agencies can do great work, and they’ll definitely have a good supply of heavy hitters and experienced creatives aboard. Then again, if your company happens to be one of the smaller clients in the stable, you have to wonder exactly where you’re placed in the pecking order.


This doesn’t necessarily imply that big advertising agencies are elitist operations but the Pareto Principle, also known as the 80/20 rule, doesn't lie.

If you’re not one of the mighty top twenty percent of that agency’s clients (who bring in a big chunk of the revenue), then how much do you genuinely matter to them? This raises all sorts of scary questions such as:

  • Who’s actually handling your account?
  • How much attention do you get from the media buyers when they plan your campaign compared to the agency’s top ten clients?
  • How many interns are indirectly involved with the day-to-day running of your business?
  • Are you a number or a client?
  • Will they fire you if a bigger opportunity comes along?

As long as an advertising agency has the capacity, expertise and vision to take on your account, you might well be better off with one of the smaller players. You’ll know without doubt that they’re going to work themselves to the bone to keep your business, and that senior people in the agency will have an eagle eye on your account, assuming they’re not actually involved themselves.

Your account manager will be inclined to treat your business as if it was his own, and to treat you with care and respect because you make a huge difference to his pay packet at the end of the month. He’s likely to get to know you personally and to deeply understand your brand and company values. In fact, everyone at that smaller agency will be very aware of how much your account matters to the bottom line – that tends to sharpen the pencils, get the creative juices flowing and inevitably gets you the best results, which is good for your bottom line.

In part two of this series we'll look at how an ad agency’s work can affect your decision to run with them or to just run.


How to choose an advertising agency based on their work.

How to choose an advertising agency based on their work.

In part two of How to Choose an Advertising Agency we learn a lesson from Jackson Pollock.

One man's Pollock is another man's trash. An advertising agency’s portfolio of work needs to stand on its own merits, and you have to critically look at that work to make sure that the agency’s overall creative vision is what your business needs.

Most advertising agencies can generate good creative work or plan big campaigns, but one man’s food is another’s poison, so the agency’s style and approach has to be right for your company. If you’d like to move strongly into the Permission Marketing space but your advertising agency is all about eyeballs and reach, then you may have a problem. The same might be true if the agency staff wants to get as wild and creative with your account as possible, which may not be what you want. After all, you’re the client and you employ the agency to improve your sales, you don’t give them money to create cool stuff, or to win awards that ensure their own survival while your business underperforms and falls behind your competition. 

How to chose an advertising agency based on their work.

So forget about how good their portfolio looks, how well it’s presented or how much they talk up past successes, you need to know if their work will drive sales for you? If not, why not? Seriously, if the ads don’t exist to improve your sales, then why do they exist at all? 

Look at the agency’s creative track record and ask yourself how much of it is focused on winning awards and how much seems to be aimed at getting real results – the two are often very different things.

In fact, it’s best just to ignore any awards – at best they’re about being creative, at worst, they’re nothing more than the ad industry patting itself on the back. Only a tiny percentage of the work an agency produces goes into their portfolios. Even less gets entered into awards, and only a fraction of that might actually win anything. All the work a major agency produces in a year might go on to win less than half a dozen awards.
You should be finding out how the agency has helped to build their clients’ bottom line by making them stand out in a crowded market, and by minimizing the need to discount. As the immortal line goes: “Show me the money!” and by “the money”, I mean, some feedback, any feedback that shows that the agency not only gets results but is aware that sales is the real motivation.
We all know that there’s nothing as inconsistent or as difficult to measure as advertising but you should be able to get a feel for the agency’s focus after just one meeting. Ask the hard questions, pick an account and ask to see all the work done on that account in a year, not just the good stuff and see if they squirm and sweat or if they really do have the drive and vision that you need.


How to choose an advertising agency based on their results.

How to choose an advertising agency based on their results.

In part three of How to Choose an Advertising Agency we look at the fifty-fifty assumption.

As Lord Leverhulme, the founder of Unilever, famously said, “I know that half of my advertising budget is wasted, but I’m not sure which half.” That’s as accurate an assessment of the ad game as has ever been made. Advertising isn’t an exact science and there’s no easy way to measure its overall effectiveness, which makes advertising agencies some of the least accountable organisations on the planet, with perhaps only those bodies responsible for military procurement being less responsible for their decisions and actions.

While few adverts have absolutely zero effect, there’s no precise way to measure the success of an advertising campaign, and it’s almost impossible to measure how many dollars of sales were generated by each advertising dollar that you spent. The reality is that any number of factors could contribute to an increase or a decrease in sales, and often, you’ll be unable to control these factors. Your agency certainly can’t control them, and will never guarantee the success of its work.

How to choose an advertising agency based on their past results

The best any advertising agency can say about a planned campaign is something along the lines of: “Based on our extensive experience, heaps of research and the best efforts of a team made up of gifted creative people, we think this campaign is going to work. All in all, about half of the advertising created by our agency is effective, we just don’t really know which half is which and we can’t say with absolute certainty which half your campaign is in.”

Imagine dealing with a freight company that stated: “Based on our extensive experience in the trucking industry, a well maintained fleet and the best efforts of our drivers and dispatchers, we’ll be able to get half of your deliveries where they need to be when they need to be there. We can’t tell you which half that will be and we’ve got no responsibility for what happens to the rest of your goods. Oh and you have to pay us for the lot, even the stuff we leave in the rain somewhere between Huntly and Hamilton.”

Or try eating at an upmarket restaurant that has this approach: “Based on our chef’s decades of experience, our highly trained waiters and a state-of-the-art ordering system, we’re confident that about half of the meals that leave our kitchen will be wonderful fusions of exotic ingredients that will leave you breathless. The other half on the other hand, will probably be less than satisfying, with the occasional melange of onion juice, raw eggs and cornflakes finding its way to your table. In some cases, it won’t even be food, let alone edible. But don’t hate the player, hate the game, and your meals will be charged at full price regardless.”

I’m exaggerating for effect but to an extent, you are paying for something you might never get. Given how important your advertising is to your company, and how hard earned your marketing budget is, wouldn’t you like some kind of assurance that your ads will work? If you can’t get that (and you can’t), then how about some way to at least measure how effective your campaigns are, rather than hurling them into the world and hoping for the best?

A good advertising agency will have a number of methods that can give some kind of an idea as to whether its ads are hitting the mark or not, which need to be in place over all the media platforms they use. Some of this should have been covered when you were looking at the agency’s work and you asked them to prove that they’d gotten tangible results for clients in the past. They must have measured something somehow to come up with that proof, so how did they come up with the numbers? By how many people viewed the ads? Please, spare me. 

It’s worth doing some research here and making sure that there wasn’t an obvious factor to explain the claimed results. Did the client’s main competitor drop the ball around the time of the campaign with an inferior product or a truly lackluster ad campaign? It happens, and if it did, then the agency’s work wasn’t the main reason for the improvement (beware of the smoke and mirrors).

Assuming there is a measurement mechanism in place, long before you start a campaign with your new agency, you have to ensure that you’ve established clear campaign goals to measure against.

You might want to boost your overall revenue, but your objectives need to be more specific: to increase sales of a new product or service, to build awareness of your company, to spur volume during a certain time period, or to expand your business in a particular market. Tailor your evaluation methods to your goals because you can't gauge success if you don't know what you're trying to achieve. Make absolutely sure that your agency team is on the same page; in fact they should be the ones coming up with the measurement suggestions. 

Before you sign up with an agency, it’s worth finding out how it handles testing. Do they test at all? Are they amenable to testing concepts on a smaller scale (i.e. in a social media, direct mail or online environment) before spending up large with a wing and a prayer TVC? How much will this testing cost? Focus groups are expensive and the client usually ends up paying for them. Just about any significant testing will cost money, and if the testing proves the work is bad, there's the cost of starting over and who pays for that?

Or does the agency seem to think that it’s your money, and as such, the long-term relationship with you is actually the test phase? If so, you need to keep looking until you find an agency run by people who spend your money as if it was their own.


How to choose an advertising agency based on their people.

How to choose an advertising agency based on their people.

In part four of How to Choose an Advertising Agency we explore the fact that people do business with people. 

This is undoubtedly true but advertising agencies operate in an area where the smoke and mirrors side of the industry can rear its ugly head. When you ask an ad agency to pitch for your business, you’re likely to get a great response, and a team of smart suited go-getters will arrive at your door, ready to promise the Earth and more. Ah the joys of dealing with motivated people.

Or maybe not. While all that attention is wonderful, and having the senior management team showing off for you is a good feeling, what happens once you sign on the dotted line? Do the MIBs and VIPs whoosh back to their corner offices and leave you to the tender mercies of your designated account manager (or suit, as they’re called in the game)? A lot of that depends on the size of the agency and how important your account is in the big picture of money in vs. resources out. 

How to choose an advertising agency based on the people that work there

If the only agency body you ever get to meet is your suit, and he tends to vanish into the depths of the agency with your brief, emerging days or weeks later with something from the creative team, well then your account might just be less important than you think.

Find out well in advance exactly which people you’ll be dealing with on a day-to-day basis, how senior they are, how long they’ve been with the agency and what their track record is like. You’re trusting them with a great deal of your company’s money and a lot of your time.

Wasting either of these resources isn’t good for your career, your company or your stress levels, so be sure these people are dedicated, on your wavelength and most importantly, that you can get along.

Many agencies frown on clients meeting creatives. We’re not talking about the Creative Directors and senior staff here but rather the people who actually put the pedal to the metal on your account. If you don’t get to discuss your ideas with them, brief them in person, or just have the occasional brainstorming session over a beer or two, you might end up suffering from the dreaded “misinterpreted brief syndrome”. By the time the concept goes from you to your suit, into the depths of the agency and back again, it may bear no resemblance whatsoever to the original instructions. 

It’s nice to know that the creative team understands your business, and that the media buyers genuinely know what you’re trying to achieve, both with a specific campaign and in the long term. Do they listen to you or talk at you? Do they even know what your company does? Who’s your competition? What could change in your market? Maybe the creative team and your suit could benefit from driving your cars, visiting your factory, sampling your yogurts or just getting deeply involved in whatever it is that you do so they really get with the program? Otherwise you might get young graduates planning campaigns or buying space for products they barely understand (and I've seen this happen over and over when I've sold advertising space, so it happens).

If there’s a major ego at work on your account, then you may hit strife on a campaign but it’s far better to have that discussion face-to-face in the early days, than to go back and forth with your harassed suit acting as mediator/interpreter. 

While we’re talking about people, we need to talk about processes and resources too, because they’re all linked. The best people in the world can’t deliver all they're capable of if they’re hamstrung by an inept management team, or by a workflow system that barely copes from Monday to Friday and then works like crazy on the weekends to catch up. You might get told that it’s none of your business how the agency manages its people or its job flow, but they’re actually your people and in all seriousness, that’s your job flow. Is it worth asking what perks and benefits the staff get to keep them fired up and happy? Is it worth asking to meet the production manager and be shown round the offices? You bet it is. The more you know about the inner workings of the agency, the more likely you are to step into a productive long term relationship instead of a two-year fling.


How to choose an advertising agency for the long term.

How to choose an advertising agency for the long term.

In part four of How to Choose an Advertising Agency we break down the issues you might have with commitment.

Are you ready to commit? Back in the distant past, when I was still in the early days of my sales and account management career, I was hired in a sales role by a small IT company to replace one of two very experienced account managers (both had been headhunted by one of the company’s own major channel partners). I spent years with this company, so it was a great fit, and together, we put some serious numbers on the sales reports. 

A few years later, after a great deal of success, the small IT company was bought by a somewhat larger IT company. The General Manager pointed out an interesting anomaly that appeared in the company’s books while the bean counters were doing the due diligence. Every so often, throughout the company’s history, there were unexplained dips in the sales figures; things were going swimmingly and then, out of the blue, the graph dropped before picking up a little later.

How to choose an advertising agency based on long term relationships

Eventually the powers that be figured out what had been going on. The dips occurred whenever a good account manager left the company, with the biggest fall taking place when the two experienced account managers left. It always takes time for a new account manager (even a good one) to get up to speed on the products, the clients and the corporate culture. While they’re doing that, sales aren’t being driven, customers aren’t been seen as often or attended to quite like they should be, and the competitors are making hay while the sun shines.

Unless your agency team was doing a truly lousy job, the same thing is going to happen when you fire your advertising agency. It’s going to take some time for the new team to get to know you and your business, and for you to get to know them. They’re also likely to want to apply their shiny “new broom” and change as much as they can in order to stamp their own unique vision onto the account. All these changes are going to have an effect, and the transition is never going to be seamless.

The consumer will notice a change, for the better one hopes, but maybe not. Your business could suffer while you figure out the new fit, and your new look and feel might not actually look and feel all that good. Then again, it may seem that nothing’s changed except for the agency’s address. 

Do this shuffle every couple of years and you’ll never really get ahead, the only constant will be your logo (unless the new guys are into a rebranding exercise). You’ll never get to know or trust your agency, and why should you if you’re of the mindset that they’re an expendable and easily replaceable part of your business, much like the multifunction printer in reception? The corollary of this is that the agency never really commits one hundred percent to your company if you’re known for churning agencies – savvy agencies may even reject your account.

As mentioned here, people do business with people, and when people move, business can also move. Clients switch agencies based on a change in personnel; either someone senior in the marketing department moves on and the new honcho wants to start afresh, or a key person in the agency shifts and the replacement doesn’t quite gel. Sometimes the agency goes out the door along with the marketing person, and the company is left holding the can. These are excellent reasons for the client – agency relationship to be something that exists between more than two people; a marketing manager/suit relationship is a precarious thing to build trust on, so make your agency relationship as deep and multifaceted as possible. 

Agencies also fire clients, so find out how long the agency tends to stick with its customers. Ask about the last few accounts they lost and find out what happened. If you can speak to an ex-client or two, do so.

Once you’re committed to a long-term relationship with an agency, and your expectations are clear to them, then they need to be delivering everything they promised when they pitched for your business. More importantly, they should be exceeding your expectations on a regular basis and they should be surprising you every so often by pushing the boundaries, and by suggesting new and innovative ways to reach your market. 

Your agency team needs to be on top of every new development in the world of advertising and marketing, and bringing you ideas that make you a little nervous, that break new ground, that you haven’t seen before. If you only ever see executions and campaigns that you expect, then the agency isn’t really looking to grow your business as much as they should be. So before you commit, ask any agencies that want your business to show you the five most surprising, challenging and innovative things they took to their existing clients over the past year. A blank look at this point is sufficient reason to usher them out of your office, but a fired up and enthusiastic response showing some really clever thinking – well, that’s a very strong reason to keep chatting.

As for those aforementioned expectations - results, including the utterly vital sales increases take time, so the goals and benchmarks you set in conjunction with your agency should be realistic but you should damn well expect to see some kind of growth. You should also be very aware of what all this innovation and brilliance is going to cost your company.


How to choose an advertising agency based on their cost.

How to choose an advertising agency based on their cost.

In part five of How to Choose an Advertising Agency we act like Tom Cruise and scream out "Show me the money!"

So how much is this gonna cost you? That depends on your definition of cost. Let’s start with the money. The most important question of all is: what are you prepared to pay for an agency’s creativity? Let’s face it; if you were creative, you could do it yourself and you wouldn’t need an agency at all, but you’re not, so you’re stuck with pulling out the cheque book.

In 2008, Saatchi & Saatchi charged the state of New York $17 million to redesign and relaunch the state’s iconic “I ♥ NY” logo. The amount paid for the relaunch of the “I ♥ NY” logo became public very quickly and a lot of people immediately assumed that Saatchi & Saatchi were nothing more than Snake Oil salesmen. However, as is often the case, the public, the media, and even most key stakeholders were only privy to the final product, and not to the development process or the big picture. The $17 million wasn’t just for a logo – it was for the entire campaign, which included rollout, development and execution.

How to choose an advertising agency based on how much money it will cost you

Think of the McDonald’s arches or the Nike swoosh – it seems like they could have easily been sketched on a serviette but chances are they weren’t. The process of developing creative work is usually long, involved, comprehensive, even plodding, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s worth $17 million. Or that it isn’t.

A common reaction to the  “I ♥ NY” logo is: “My kid could have done that!” Jackson Pollock and Van Gogh probably heard that quite often when they were alive, but what you’re paying for is that unique combination of expertise and talent. Anyone with a set of pliers can pull a tooth, but only a dentist can charge $200 for doing it. It’s his training and skill that makes the service worth paying for, and this is especially true with advertising. As the buyer of advertising, you decide the value at the end of the day. If you think something is worth $17 million, then it is. It’s as simple as that. Make sure your agency understands this.

As you no doubt know, putting a price on creativity is very difficult but there are a number of ways to pay for creative work. Have you considered paying an agency based on a commission for the increase in sales they get for your business? Traditionally, regardless of whether an agency increases your sales or not, they still get paid. Hell, if the campaign is a total flop, they still get paid. If they were working on commission however, and they knew that the amount they’d get paid at the end would depend on the amount of effort they put in at the start, then imagine the accountability they’ll feel for what they do. Now we’re talking about a strong relationship and genuine commitment.

Now that we’ve spoken about money, let’s talk about cost.

Big agencies cost a lot. They take a lot out of their staff and the churn rate is gargantuan. This, in turn, takes a lot out of their clients in the amount of time that has to be reinvested in bringing replacements up to speed. You see, there’s a pattern to life within these large agencies, and it’s not specific to a particular agency, but to all of them. If you deal with them long enough, you get to recognize the language, the values, the legends, and the rituals. You also get to recognize the types of people who work at these places and how they operate.

The big ad agencies are mostly run by bureaucrats. This lot started off as fired up and passionate creatives, talking incessantly about change, and about being different. They lived for their work but as they climbed the corporate ladder, they became overwhelmed with the big picture and global corporate policy. They’re not involved on your account. They may like you to think that they are but it isn’t the case, they’re jet setting or driving their Ferrari along Tamaki Drive.

As the potential client of a big agency, you need to know what you’re buying and the potential cost to heart and soul. It may well be very cool to have a big agency working for you, with the major faces onboard but it’s just like having a pet tiger – impressive, but if it totally ignores you, there’s little you can do about it, and if it rips your arm off, well don’t say that we never told you so.

However, I’m not naïve enough to believe that small is better than big just because I prefer working with small agencies. The small ad agency environment has its fair share of con men, carbon blobs and bullshit artists, who can test your mental strength as easily as anyone in a large agency.

However in the small agency world, you’ll generally find a group of young mavericks intent on becoming bigger than the founding fathers of the industry and this can work to your benefit. Their hunger for success can be a great motivator or they can burn out and go under and leave you stuck in the lurch. You see, every option has its cost. But as I said before, you as the client decide what you’re prepared to pay, and you get to call the shots. The agency is never, ever in charge of the money.


How to choose an advertising agency without being duped.

How to choose an advertising agency without being duped.

In part six of How to Choose an Advertising Agency we magnify the deception factor inherent in the advertising industry.

People will believe what they want to believe. While you work carefully through the various factors involved in partnering with an advertising agency (and it is a very intimate partnership that shouldn’t be taken lightly), you’ll need to be aware of the smoke and mirrors effect.

Always remember that you’re dealing with an industry that has a singular purpose – to make things look good, to perhaps even lie about the benefits of what they advertise. Even average things can be spruced up almost beyond recognition, and while this creativity is great when an agency is attending to your account, it has its negatives too. When an organization exists to make a boring car sexy or to make toilet paper desirable (as if), then it isn’t a major leap to take that mindset and apply it internally.

How to choose an advertising agency by seeing through their lies

This happens in many industries – young stockbrokers drive luxury European cars to look the part even though the bank owns the car, their house, their boat and probably their Hermes attaché case as well. There are fancy restaurants with ultra-swish décor that have less than satisfactory hygiene standards, or companies creating stunning gadgets that are made in unsafe factories by underpaid workers. However, when it comes to pulling the wool over the client’s eyes, no one does it quite like an advertising agency. It’s actually saddening to have to highlight this occasional failing of the ad industry but it needs to be said, especially when you consider that some players in the game actually delight in playing the smoke and mirrors card.

There’s a well-known ad-land tale of a fledgling agency that “fleshed out” their new building for a pitch to a potential new client. The agency was small back then and they needed to look mightily impressive, so friends and family were put to work, acting like productive and happy employees, ringing the phones and just generally making the place look far busier than it actually was. The client was awestruck and the deal was done. Clever? No, it was pure illusion and about as cool as eating dolphin soup with a side of snow leopard fritters. 

Then there’s the recent column about the art of pitching in NZ’s advertising trade magazine. The writer mentions the use of “specialist new business rainmakers to find the nuggets that create the difference” – i.e. finding creative ways to snare new accounts. He goes on to highlight a case where the rainmaker discovered that the prospect was a family man, complete with photos of wife and kids in his office and in his wallet. The agency codenamed him ‘Family Guy’ and carefully selected a team to match the client including a “family man with kids the same age as Family Guy’s”, photos were placed on agency desks and conversations with references to family were encouraged. The agency got the account and Family Guy was thrilled to have found such a perfect fit. I wonder if he ever realized that he’d actually been cynically manipulated? How can this type of illusion be a good thing? This, by the way, is light years removed from an agency assigning its keenest petrol head to the account of a sports car maker or a serious eco-friendly vegan to manage a distinctly green brand – that’s clever allocation of resources that should lead to a synergy, the other version isn’t.

The bulk of the column is less skeptical and explains that agencies need to do their research, and should pick the right people for each account. The writer talks about relationships, about good manners and respect, which is all great but I can’t quite reconcile the Family Guy thing as being respectful – was the team chosen the best fit for client’s account or the only way the agency could get the business? I’m sure the client wanted the best people for the job…

So with this in mind, keep your eyes peeled for sudden serendipity or the magical appearance of the “perfect fit” and remember that if it seems too good to be true, that’s probably because it is actually, too bloody good to be true. If you’re a dedicated collector of vintage Italian umbrellas (for example) and the agency’s creative director just happens to have recently discovered an interest in the subject, then you’re probably the subject of a con. Run a mile and guard your umbrellas with your life. 

There’s a time and place for smoke and mirrors though, it can be a force for good. One of the great advertising anecdotes is about Peter Marsh, the somewhat over the top boss man of Allen Brady & Marsh. Marsh brought in the British Rail account using smoke and mirrors to prove a point. As the tale goes, the British Rail bigwigs arrived at the Allen Brady & Marsh offices to hear the agency’s pitch.

They were met by a bored receptionist, who made them wait in the foyer, and carried on filing her nails. The foyer was less than flash, featuring coffee-stained tables and scummy overfilled ashtrays. It slowly became packed to the brim with other visitors, some of them looking rather nasty. 

Time passed excruciatingly slowly as it does in such situations and the British Rail bosses became increasingly incensed at the way they were being treated. Just as they reached boiling point, and were making to storm out in a mighty huff, Marsh and his team appeared. "That's how the public sees BR," Marsh told them. "Now let's see what we can do to put it right." He got the account.


The conclusion of how to choose an advertising agency.

The conclusion of how to choose an advertising agency.

In part seven of How to Choose an Advertising Agency we think it's important to note that the light at the end of the tunnel isn't a train.

Seriously, it's not all doom and gloom. As we reach the end of this enlightening "How To" guide, I’m mindful that someone reading from start to finish would conclude that:

  1. Choosing an advertising agency is about as difficult, not to mention about as much fun, as finding your way thorough an unmapped minefield with a toothpick in the dark.

  2. I really have a downer on the ad game.
How to choose an advertising agency based on all this information

As far as the first conclusion goes, to an extent it’s spot on. There are so many ad agencies out there that want your business, and that’s true if you’re a tiny startup or if you’re a multinational. Some agencies are good, some average; a few are great, while others are undoubtedly dire. The bell curve tells all, but knowing exactly where an agency sits on that curve is hard. You could shortlist a few prospects in very little time, and have an agency signed up and ready to roll in short order but will you find the agency you need?

That question ties into the second conclusion, which concerns the bad attitude of myself and my brother Greg. Do we have a bad attitude to advertising? I can’t speak for Greg but I only have an atrocious attitude towards bad advertising. I love the advertising industry; I appreciate the freedom it offers, the opportunity to innovate and to come up with something different and really effective, and most importantly to treat the customer and the consumer the way I want to be treated (i.e. not like a sheep, a robot or a dumbass). 

So you can forgive me when the glut of same old-same old advertising out there infuriates me. There are so many superb creative people out there and an absolute wealth of talent and passion, but so much of it ends up being crunched into a nefarious corporate grindstone that keeps most everything looking exactly the same way it always has. I think that if the bulk of agency people were totally honest with themselves, they’d agree that there’s room for improvement in ad land. 

So, to cut a long story short, back to the crux of the issue – will you find the agency you need? Maybe, but only if you steer away from the middle of the funnel because you already know exactly what you’ll get, and so does the consumer. If that’s what you want, then you’re golden. If not, then you need to be fussy. 

Great agencies exist, they’re a pleasure to deal with, and they’ll drive your business to new heights because they’ll behave as if it was their business. Find a really fired up agency that understands you and what you do. Demand more from them than even they expect to deliver. Look for the best and don’t settle, or your ads are guaranteed to look like everyone else’s. Your market share will be about as much as it always was and your sales figures will look the way they always did. 

That’s a lousy outlook but even worse, you might end up with someone singing about your products on the radio, resurrecting a bad song for your TV ads, or thinking that it’s a cunning plan to pop an interruption based ad in front of me every time I try to read the news on the NZ Herald iPhone app. That’s not a good thing for you or your company, and it’s terrible for my blood pressure. So look outside the square for your ad agency, and if your current agency isn’t taking a sinister delight in making you question what you know about advertising and marketing, then find an agency that will.

If you’re locked into your current agency for some mysterious corporate reason, then there’s nothing wrong with setting aside some of your budget for a Blue Sky project, which allows you to work with a smaller, more innovative agency. After all, it’s your money. Grab the chance to try new things, to break away from the centre and see what works and what doesn’t, albeit on a small scale. At the very least, you’ll be learning something new about an evolving market, and if your competitors are standing still, you’ll find yourself in the lead.

Thank you so much for taking the time to read this far. If you have any thoughts, opinions or gripes you'd like to share with us please feel free to do so. We'd love to hear from you.